Country houses for sale

Restoring superb country houses

Every now and then, the perfect English country house stops you in your tracks and says ‘look at me’. Just such a house is historic Blackdown Park near Lurgashall on the Surrey/Sussex border, which comes fresh to the market in today’s Country Life, at a guide price of £9 million through Knight Frank (020–7629 8171) and Strutt & Parker (020–7629 7282).

Tucked into the side of Blackdown Hill, the magnificent early-17th-century manor house, listed Grade II*, surrounded by glorious gardens, pasture and woodland, surveys vast swathes of the south-east of England from a height of 500ft. It’s a very different picture from the one that greeted Charles and Lucy Fraser when they moved to Blackdown Park 11 years ago. ‘It was like something out of Great Expectations, as the family who lived there retreated, year by year, into smaller sections of the house, leaving the rest to deteriorate as time went by,’ Mr Fraser recalls.

It took a full seven months to remove all the asbestos from Blackdown House (above) so that the Fraser family could move in, and another seven to rearrange and redecorate the splendidly panelled interior. Now fully restored and modernised, it has six reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, nine bedrooms, two dressing rooms, five bathrooms and a self-contained staff wing.

The house was altered a number of times over the years, with the addition of the ballroom (now the billiard room) in 1820. In 1840, Capt James Henry commissioned the architect Salvin (who built much of the House of Lords) to add the large drawing room and the main dining room; in 1891, Sir Frederick Philipson-Stowe bought the estate and added the west wing. In 1941, the 1,591-acre estate was broken up and sold off, gradually
diminishing in size until the present owners bought the main house with 136 acres in 1996.

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There was little sign of the spectacular Edwardian gardens that were planted by Sir Frederick Philipson-Stowe when Charles Fraser first set out to clear the mass of overgrown foliage that surrounded the house, but gradually, the structure of the original walled garden layout was revealed as Mr Fraser and his gardeners hacked away. To the north, terraced lawns lead up to the tennis court and swimming pool installed by the Frasers, hidden by banks of rhododendrons, azaleas, beech-trees and oaks.

To the east, stone terraces lead to Mr Fraser’s sunken rose garden with its backdrop of rhododendrons and camellias. To the south, 17th-century terraces rise to a levelled croquet lawn where the 360˚ views represent a serious distraction for the players. High in the Chilterns, idyllic Dells Farm at Cadmore End, Buckinghamshire, was in considerably better shape than Blackmore House when Prof Graham MacGregor and his wife, Christiane, bought the Grade II-listed 17th-century farmhouse with 17 acres of pasture and woodland in the early 1980s.

But there was still much to do as the previous owner, an elderly gentleman who lived there on his own for quite some time, had rather let things go. Over the years, Mrs Mac-Gregor, with occasional advice from her husband, set about transforming the three-storey house, which now has three reception rooms, a conservatory, a new kitchen/breakfast room, seven bedrooms and four bathrooms. A courtyard of period farm buildings comprising stabling, workshops and various barns offers further potential for development.

But it’s Mrs MacGregor’s gardens that make Dells Farm such a special place. Expertly planned and planted with inspirational use of stone and water, the gardens offset the mellow brickwork of the main house, and include the original farm pond with a central island and a duck house, a swimming pool, a tennis court and a kitchen garden all with wonderful views over the woods and farmland of the surrounding hills. Savills (01494 731952) quote a guide price of £2.75m.