Country houses for sale

Inside Sir John Madejski’s spectacular Berkshire mansion as it comes on to the market

Penny Churchill takes a look at Adshead Park, a few miles outside Reading, where Sir John Madejski's country house is for sale.

Despite the restrictions on movement imposed on various parts of the country as a result of the Covid pandemic, the country-house market is set to record its best year since 2007, says Crispin Holborow, of Savills, who has overseen the disposal of some of England’s most prestigious country houses and estates since the re-opening of the UK housing market in May.

Although many of the biggest deals have been done behind closed doors, Savills has broken cover with the launch onto the open market — at a guide price of £10 million — of pristine Adshead Park, a striking Arts-and-Crafts-style country house set in 136 acres of formal gardens, woods and farmland in the hills above the west Berkshire village of Lower Basildon, three miles from Pangbourne and eight miles from Reading.

Adshead was the realisation of a dream for its owner, the charismatic businessman Sir John Madejski, whose ability to see ‘the bigger picture’ led to the foundation of a diverse business empire. It started with the motor classifieds magazine Auto Trader —launched with £2,000 in the 1970s and sold for £260 million in 1998 — but went on to span publishing, hotels, restaurants, radio, a top flight football team (Reading FC) and property.

Dealing with business is one thing; dealing with planning applications is another matter entirely, and it took all of Sir John’s legendary skills to negotiate the labyrinthine process required to build a new country house on virgin farmland in one of the most heavily protected areas of the Home Counties.

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‘Having bought the land in the mid 2000s, I applied for planning consent to build a Palladian mansion on the site of a farm bungalow that was built at the top of the hill in the 1950s. Unfortunately, the west Berkshire planners decided they had all the Palladian mansions they needed and the application was rejected,’ he recalls with wry humour.

Following a series of further failed applications, Sir John and his London architect parted company. He then turned to a local firm, Hives Architects of Reading, at the same time hiring a former planning officer to help smooth the planning pathway.

As a result, plans for the present Lutyens-style house set in five acres of Jekyll-style gardens and grounds and surrounded by farmland and woodland, were eventually approved. Two years later, the dream finally became a reality.

Lutyens himself would surely have appreciated the design, layout and workmanship involved in the construction of this impressive country house, so cleverly positioned in the lee of the hill with views over the Chilterns AONB. The comparative sobriety of the exterior, which blends seamlessly with the surrounding landscape, is offset by the richness of the interior with its grand open spaces and beautifully proportioned rooms.

All the bricks and tiles used throughout the property are handmade. Bronze windows are fitted in oak frames, floors are Italian marble or limestone and the joinery is solid oak throughout.

The latest in technology includes air-conditioning in the principal rooms, under-floor heating generated by a geothermal system, discreet, but effective security and sophisticated audio and lighting systems.

In all, Adshead Park offers some 8,000sq ft of elegant and stylish living space on three floors, all three accessed via stairs or a lift that runs up the turret.

Highlights include the grand entrance hall with its working fireplace and cantilevered staircase; the rectangular drawing room with French doors leading to the garden; the kitchen/breakfast room with its bespoke Smallbone kitchen; and the intimate sitting room with built-in oak joinery.

The first floor houses a splendid master suite and three further bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms and the lower ground accommodates a wine room, a cinema and a leisure complex comprising a swimming pool, steam room, Jacuzzi and sauna.

Even Gertrude Jekyll would give a steely nod of approval to Adshead Park’s five acres of beautifully landscaped, south-facing gardens, complete with signature ‘rill’ and Yorkstone terracing, its perimeter enclosed by deer-fencing to protect it from incursions by the wildlife that thrives in the surrounding woods and fields.

Sadly, these days, Sir John rarely has time to enjoy ‘this very special place’, which, he says, ‘needs a family to make the most of all it has to offer’, hence his reluctant decision to sell.

Adshead Park is for sale via Savills at £10 million — see more details and pictures.