These houses have been cherished family homes for decades— who will be next?
With stuttering stockmarkets, under-performing pension funds and little prospect of a rise in interest rates any time soon, home-buyers looking to the long term could do worse than invest in a classic country house in need of refurbishment. Two much- loved country houses currently on the market—both period gems untouched by time or makeover mania—represent unmissable opportunities to create the kind of country home that no family will ever want to leave.
Strutt & Parker are handling the sale of the substantial, Grade II-listed Limington House, which stands next to the Grade I-listed, 14th-century Church of St Mary on the edge of the picturesque village of Limington, six miles from Yeovil, Somerset—and is ‘a snip’ at a guide price of £2.2 million, says Fred Cook of the firm’s Salisbury office (01722 344010).
Originally owned by Dorset’s Sherborne Castle estate, according to its listing, the present house dates from the late 18th century, when the substantial Georgian front was added to an earlier Jacobean house by a local Somerset architect, who was inspired by the work of Robert Adam. The new extension was built in the same Somerset hamstone and dressed with distinctive cast-iron balcony balustrades.
Limington House was offered for sale by auction through Humbert Flint Rawlence & Squarey in May 1931, when it was described as ‘a Moderate-sized Residence with 19 acres of Charming Grounds, Orchards and Meadow Lands’ along with the thatched, stone-built Wolsey Cottage, which was no doubt named after Thomas Wolsey, who was vicar of Limington before becoming a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church and Lord Chancellor to Henry VIII.
Some six years later, in April 1937, Limington House was back on the market through rival agents Osborn & Mercer, who advertised it in the pages of Country Life as ‘An Old Stone-built Residence of Historical Interest. Up-to-date with Main Electricity, Central Heating, lavatory basins in bedrooms, etc’. It boasted a ‘Lounge hall, three reception rooms, nine bed and dressing rooms, three bedrooms, etc’, along with ‘stabling, a farmery and two cottages, in all nearly 20 acres’.
According to Georgina Duncan, the current joint owner of Limington House, the property had already caught the eye of her grandparents, Lt Col Arthur Louis Anderson and his wife, Margaret, who were relocating back to England after a lifetime spent soldiering in India. Impressed by its ‘colonial’ size and style, they bought the house and had all the main furniture made in India, based on a V&A catalogue showing Georgian furniture in solid Indian walnut, which looked remarkably authentic in the well-proportioned Georgian rooms.
In 1989, Mrs Duncan’s father, Lt Col Russell Anderson inherited Limington House and it remained the family’s UK base except when he was stationed abroad. She and two siblings inherited the house when her parents died and it’s now being sold on their behalf.
‘You will note that it really hasn’t changed at all since my grandparents bought it in 1936/37,’ she says with a wry smile. Indeed, apart from three or four fewer acres, Limington House remains almost exactly as advertised in 1937 and, with some 6,370sq ft of accommodation, plus two cottages, outbuildings and stables, which are all now in need of TLC, the next incumbent will almost certainly be looking at another long-term occupancy in south Somerset.
Exuding the grace of Edwardian England and for sale through Savills (020–7016 3780) and Strutt & Parker (020–7629 7282) at a guide price of £2.5m, is romantic, Grade II-listed Rignalls, set in 10.3 acres of gardens by Gertrude Jekyll, plus an orchard, a paddock and woodland a mile or so from Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire.
Beautifully positioned on high ground overlooking the picturesque Hampden valley, between the historic villages of Great Hampden on one hill, and Little Hampden on the other, the house is protected on all sides by lush arable farmland and the iconic beech woodlands of the Chilterns.
Rignalls was built in 1909 for the eminent throat specialist Sir Felix Semon, a gifted German-born doctor who studied medicine in Berlin, Vienna and Paris, before moving to London in 1875, where he built a thriving practice and eventually became a naturalised British subject. His patients included Edward VII and Sir Winston Churchill, who sought his advice on overcoming a speech impediment early in his parliamentary career. Semon was knighted in 1897 and died at Rignalls in March, 1921.
The architect chosen to build his Buckinghamshire country retreat was the young Charles Holden, who worked for a time with the Arts-and-Crafts designer Charles Robert Ashbee, before joining the firm of Henry Percy Adams in 1899 and becoming Adams’ partner in 1907.
Later best known for his work on major commercial and institutional buildings that included the London headquarters of the British Medical Association, Rignalls is one of the rare country houses designed by Holden, which reflects both his early Arts-and-Crafts experience and his feeling for grand, light-filled spaces, ‘free from unnecessary decorative detail’.
Built of brick, part clay-tile hung and rendered under a clay-tile roof, the house is typically Arts-and-Crafts in style, with its steep, pitched roofs and prominent chimneys. Having more than 8,000sq ft of living space on three floors, it’s large but not unmanageable, with four/five reception rooms overlooking the terraced gardens and a double-height reception hall leading into the beautifully proportioned drawing room.
The splendid first-floor master suite enjoys spectacular views down the valley, with three other main bedrooms on that floor and three secondary bedrooms on the floor above.
The listed formal gardens, laid out mainly to the south of the house, are classically Jekyll-esque in style: elements include a sunken garden, a York stone terrace with steps leading down to the swimming pool, well-stocked shrubberies and lawned areas surrounded by laurel hedges or carpeted with daffodils in spring. Outbuildings include garaging, stables and a Victorian greenhouse.
For selling agent Mark Rimell of Strutt & Parker, Rignalls is a very special house which, over the years, has been appreciated by a succession of discerning owners. ‘During the Second World War, the house was owned by a member of the Free French government and Charles de Gaulle was one of many distinguished visitors to stay there. More recently, Rignalls has been the cherished family home of its current owners for the past 40 years and, not surprisingly, there is now some work to be done to restore the house and gardens to their original splendour. However, the right buyer would surely find such a project both inspirational and rewarding,’ he suggests.