Country houses for sale

Country estates for sale

The sale, announced by Savills in this week’s Country Life, of the Marquess of   Bute’s Dumfries House at Cumnock, in Ayrshire, on Scotland’s west coast, has been hailed as ‘Scotland’s Easton Neston’ for the importance of its architecture, or even ‘Scotland’s Mentmore’ for the importance of its contents. But this flower of Scotland’s landed estates, with its pristine, A-listed, Georgian mansion built by the brothers John, Robert and James Adam between 1754 and 1759, and set in 1,945 acres of woods and farmland on the banks of the Lugar Water has no need of southern hyperbole to underline its international credentials, says selling agent Guy Galbraith (0131?247 3720), who has already seen interest from buyers in Europe and the US, as well as from closer to home.

Dumfries House was commissioned by William Crichton-Dalrymple, 5th Earl of Dumfries and Stair, as a new main house for the Cumnock estate bought by his forebears in 1635. In 1747, Lord Dumfries discussed plans for the house with the architect William Adam, on the recommendation of his friend, Lord Hopetoun, whose remodelling of Hopetoun House, begun by his father in 1721, was finally nearing completion. When William Adam died a year later, his sons John and Robert took over the practice and the contract for Dumfries House, which was eventually signed in 1754, after much haggling between architects and client over its design and cost. The final contract specified ‘a Body of a House, two Covered Passages or Collonades? Two Pavilions towards the South and Two Low buildings? towards the North with Back Courts, Coall and Ash Yeards’, and a budget of £7,979 11s 2d; five years later, the house was completed, coming in bang on budget.

The Earl took two years to decorate and furnish his new house, buying most of the furniture from Thomas Chippendale, with other pieces commissioned from leading Edinburgh makers such as William Mathie, Alexander Peter and Francis Brodie. It all adds up to one of Britain’s most remarkable private collections, which, following the National Trust for Scotland’s decision not to buy the Dumfries estate, will be sold by Christie’s (020?7389 2031) on July 12 and 13. The proceeds are likely to far exceed the sale price achieved for the estate itself.

During the 1890s, the 3rd Marquess of Bute, an enthusiastic patron of Victorian architecture who was reckoned at one time to be the richest man in the world, commissioned the architect Robert Weir Schultz, designer of St Andrew’s chapel in Westminster Cathedral, to enlarge the original wings to the house. In the early 20th century, Schultz added more rooms for the 4th Marquess, among them the panelled Billiard Room Library, which has shelving for 3,500 books, and later the Chapel Library, which has room for 10,000. Schultz was also involved in the design of the formal gardens. The last member of the Bute family to live at Dumfries House was Eileen, Marchioness of Bute, who died in 1993.

Savills are offering the Dumfries estate in six lots, seeking offers over £4 million for the core of the estate, comprising the 14-bedroom mansion house set in its own parkland, 743 acres of policies, woodland and farmland, and seven further houses, plus fishing rights on Lugar Water. The remaining lots include two farms, various estate houses, cottages and buildings with development potential, and a block of bare land offers of more than £6.75m for the whole. South of the border, two more trophy estates are likely to hit the ground running this week. A confident Mark McAndrew of Strutt & Parker (020?7629 7282) quotes a guide price of ‘excess £8m’ for the scenic, 324-acre, Old House estate adjoining Wakehurst Place (part of Kew Gardens), between Turners Hill and Ardingly, in the heart of Sussex. The estate was bought four years ago for a reputed £4m by its present offshore based owner, who has renovated the 13,500sq ft, eight-bedroom manor house, its grounds and buildings, but now finds he has little time to enjoy the fruits of his expenditure.

‘A new owner has only to unpack his suitcase,’ quips Mr McAndrew, who sees the rolling grassland estate as being of particular appeal to City buyers, who are known for being ‘cash rich, but time poor’. But should he feel a project coming on, there is always the option to convert the extensive range of farm buildings to a state of the art equestrian complex, Mr McAndrew adds.

The expansion and refurbishment of Hethfelton House and its surrounding 124-acre estate overlooking the Purbeck Hills, near Wareham, Dorset, has been a six-year labour of love for its owners, who bought the estate in 2001. There has been a house on the site since the 11th century, when Hethfelton was part of Bindon Abbey. The early 18th-century manor house, destroyed by fire in 1923 and rebuilt above the original cellars in 1929, has now been renovated and extended to provide five reception rooms, three bedroom suites, five further bedrooms and two further bathrooms, plus an orangery and an indoor swimming pool.

Knight Frank (020?7629 8171) quote a guide price of £4.75m for this impeccable small estate with its wonderful landscaped gardens and grounds, in an area of Dorset where large country houses are notoriously hard to find.