Country houses for sale

Unique country estate for sale in Cumbria

Next week’s Country Life will see the launch onto the market, for the first time in more than 200 years, of the peerless Town Head estate near Newby Bridge at the quiet southern end of Lake Windermere, in Cumbria’s Lake District National Park. Selling agent Andrew Holmes of Carter Jonas in Kendal (01539 722592) is beside himself with excitement at the prospect of handling the sale of this unique estate, which has been owned and well maintained, but little altered, by successive members of the dynamic and much-travelled Townley family since 1804.

‘In my 15 years as an estate agent in these parts, the market has never seen such a complete Lakeland estate that has retained all its main assets, including its original Georgian house and farm buildings, 105 acres of unspoilt park and woodland, its original stone-and-slate boathouse and half
a mile of frontage to Lake Windermere, the longest lake in England. When you consider that, last year, we sold Otters-holme at Storrs Park, near Bowness-on-Windermere a traditional three-bedroom bungalow with an acre of grounds, a boathouse and lake frontage-for £3 million, the Town Head (pictured) estate looks incredible value for money at £5.25 million for the whole,’ says Mr Holmes.

Town Head estate

According to records supplied by fine-art dealer Charles Townley, the current owner, the Town Head estate was bought as a hunting lodge, in 1804 or a few years earlier, by his ancestor William Townley, High Sheriff of Lancashire. Some time between 1800 and 1820, William added the two Georgian wings either side of the original, fairly modest Elizabethan farmhouse, extended the farm buildings, and built kennels for his foot-pack of foxhounds in the surrounding forest.

The name of the builder isn’t known for certain, but a number of architectural details-such as the use of Dent marble (a local black limestone with distinctive white fossil patterns embedded in the rock) for the library fireplace-are characteristic of the work of either Kendal architect and stonemason Francis Webster or his sons George and Francis junior. According to Mr Townley, the splendid Carrara marble fireplace in the drawing room was brought from another Townley-owned hall, perhaps to ‘jazz the place up a bit’ for William’s hunting friends.

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The Townley family was a major landowner in the north-west of England, the family seat being Towneley Hall at Burnley, Lancashire, which was eventually sold with 62 acres of park to Burnley Corporation in 1901, and is now a museum. There were two branches of the family, one Protestant, one staunchly Catholic, but whatever side of the religious divide they found themselves on, both branches managed to live the lives of English country gentlemen, variously making their mark as art and book collectors, soldiers, churchmen and scholars.

The family passion for art and antiques seems to stem from the Catholic Charles Townley of Towneley Hall (1737-1805), who travelled widely in Europe, amassing a splendid collection of antiquities, including the celebrated Towneley Marbles, which were bought from the family by the British Museum for £20,000 in 1805, and to this day form the core of the museum’s Graeco-Roman collection.

The Townleys of Town Head have all been Protestant, and on William’s death in 1854 (he never married), the estate passed to his nephew Edmund, a clergyman and landowner who was curate of St Mary’s at nearby Staveley, in Cartmel, from 1828 to 1864. His successor at Town Head was Edmund James, a barrister at Lincoln’s Inn, whose brother, Col Charles Townley, also lived at Town Head for some considerable time. Col Townley was a Queen’s Messenger to Queen Victoria, who made history with a famous ride on horseback in 1849, when he carried dispatches from Lord Palmerston from Belgrade to Constantinople, covering the 820-mile journey in 131 hours.

Charles Humphrey Townley, the present owner’s father, inherited Town Head when his elder brother, Edmund Peregrine Townley, and his wife were murdered while on holiday in Sardinia in 1962. Repatriated in 1945 after three years in a German prisoner-of-war camp, he became a tax commissioner and fine-art dealer, who farmed in England and Scotland before moving to Town Head. His son, also a fine-art dealer, inherited the estate in 1987, when his parents retired to live at another family house in Cartmel.

Mr Townley and his wife, Roslyn, run the estate, which includes a thriving holiday letting business, virtually single-handed, where once 16 servants were employed in the house alone to cope with a constant stream of visitors, from Ruskin and Edward Lear, to Beatrix Potter and Arthur Ransome. Now approaching retirement age, they have regretfully decided to call it a day. Mr Townley will miss his much-loved Lakeland home, and Mrs Townley is particularly daunted by the prospect of having to sort out more than 200 years’ worth of family possessions, which have accumulated at Town Head over the years.

Town Head House, listed Grade II, is a wonderful family home-charmingly old-fashioned but extremely comfortable with three main reception rooms, a country-style kitchen, nine bedrooms, two bathrooms, extensive attics and cellars.

The grounds, which have been simply but beautifully maintained, include lakeside gardens and parkland, a walled kitchen garden, pasture and woodland. Ancillary buildings include a three-bedroom farmhouse, two cottages and substantial traditional barns. But the pièce de résistance is the romantic, wet-dock boathouse, with a ‘day room’ upstairs created by Mr Townley’s father, which was the scene of many a lively teenage party.

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