For most Norfolk country house agents, 2012 was probably not the most exciting year of their lives. But spirits were lifted towards the end of the year when a sudden resurgence at the top end of the market produced a flurry of sales, including that of pretty, Georgian Staithe House at Brancaster Staithe, on the north-Norfolk coast, which finally found a buyer through Savills at a revised guide price of £3.75 million. ‘People are drawn to Norfolk for all sorts of reasons-the scenery, the schools, the lifestyle- but, at this level of the market, it’s first and foremost the quality of the house that dictates their decision to buy,’ says Louis de Soissons of Savills in Norwich (01603 229210), who has also agreed the sale of The Old Rectory at Wood Norton, between Fakenham and Holt, at a guide price of £1.65m.
Together with joint agents Jackson-Stops & Staff (01603 612333), Mr de Soissons has celebrated the New Year in style with the launch onto the market of one of Norfolk’s most prestigious country houses, Grade II listed Keswick Old Hall at Keswick, three miles from Norwich city centre, at a guide price of £1.75m. Last seen on the open market in 1747, when it was bought by the Gurney family of Norfolk banking fame, Keswick Old Hall has been the much-loved family home of Michael Gascoigne Falcon, the distinguished former Norwich Union chairman and High Sheriff of the county, who acquired the house privately in 1968.
Keswick Old Hall £1.75m
The Old Hall’s architectural credentials are just as impressive. Originally built in about 1600, the house was substantially remodelled in the late 18th century, with significant contributions from Sir John Soane, whose signature bow window with full-length sashes and barrel-vaulted ceiling are defining features of the hall’s splendid drawing room. Its English Heritage listing also attributes the steep-curved cantilevered staircase, with its cast-iron balusters, to Soane, who made his name as a country-house architect in the 1780s largely thanks to his work on a number of fine Norfolk houses, including Letton Hall at Shipdham, Saxlingham Rectory at Field Dalling and Shotesham Hall in south Norfolk. Keswick Old Hall stands in some 10 acres of beautifully maintained walled gardens and grounds, interspersed with spring-fed ponds, woodland and grazing meadows, yet is within easy reach of the cathedral city, with its thriving business community and excellent schools. Before long, the massed banks of snowdrops scattered throughout the grounds will provide an even more enchanting backdrop to the house.
The present owners did a huge amount of work to the house when they first bought it, demolishing an unsightly Victorian service wing and refurbishing the interior; they also had it rewired in 2007. Forty-five years on, it could again do with some updating, with the six-room attic floor an obvious target. Otherwise, the classically Georgian interior, with its light, bright and beautifully proportioned rooms, calls for little alteration, especially as the main ground floor rooms are set above a semi-basement, giving wonderful views over the gardens and grounds. Notable rooms include Soane’s charming reception hall with its Venetian tripartite window, his elegant drawing room, two further reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, six bedrooms and three bathrooms. To complete the picture, there is also a two-bedroom cottage and a range of outbuildings.
Unlike Soane, who achieved success on a national scale on the strength of his Norfolk portfolio, the Victorian architect Thomas Jeckyll was acclaimed mainly in his native East Anglia, where he started out as a Gothic Revivalist, designing rectories and schools, and restoring churches and historic houses. In 1847, Jeckyll, aged 20, founded his own practice in Norfolk, working frantically until 1876, when he suffered the first of a series of mental breakdowns, later dying, aged 54, in a hospital for the insane. In 1857, Jeckyll was commissioned by the Church to remodel The Old Vicarage at Horning, a mainly late-18th century former rectory with 17th-century origins, in a sought after village at the heart of the Norfolk Broads, 11 miles northeast of Norwich. He also designed the adjoining coach house, which is separately listed Grade II. The Old Vicarage stands in 3.5 acres of gardens and grounds overlooking the River Bure and its valley towards Ranworth Church on the far horizon. The land slopes gently down to the river and includes extensive mooring, with direct access to the river and the entire Broads network. In 2007, Savills sold the house on behalf of the Church to its current owners, who have carried out a major programme of restoration and refurbishment.
The same agents are now offering the house at a recently reduced guide price of £1.585m -surely a New Year bargain? The Old Vicarage has 5,128sq ft of living space, with large, bright and well-proportioned principal rooms, most of which are south-facing to take advantage of the spectacular setting. The accommodation includes entrance and staircase halls, four reception rooms, a kitchen/ breakfast room, five bedrooms, three bathrooms and the one bedroom coach-house annexe.
The third of an impressive trio of country houses currently on offer through Savills is the striking Ormesby Manor at Ormesby St Michael in Broadland, 20 miles from Norwich. Built of brick under a slate roof, the manor, listed Grade II, dates from about 1800, and was remodelled by an unknown architect with the addition of an Italianate façade in the mid 19th century. It stands in 12.5 acres of park-like grounds and has impeccably refurbished accommodation on three floors, including four reception rooms, a superb kitchen/breakfast room, eight bedrooms and four bathrooms. The agents quote a guide price of £1.45m.
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