Country houses for sale

J.B. Priestly’s glorious manor house, with secret passages and rotating bookcase, comes up for sale on the Isle of Wight

J.B. Priestley’s former home is brimming with history and intrigue, from a unique bookcase to a secret passage once used by smugglers. The plot thickens...

A Grade II*-listed manor house that the author J.B. Priestley once called ‘home’ is for sale in the heart of the Isle of Wight.

It’s little wonder that Billingham Manor appealed to the author of An Inspector Calls. It provides the perfect backdrop for a good plot. The historic property features an early 18th century rotating bookcase hidden by a sliding panel, which provides access to a secret passage under the house. It’s thought that this route in and out was once used by smugglers.

And unlike some secret passageways which are disappointingly well signposted, this one is genuinely hard to find. ‘The hidden passage is a great talking point, says agent Thomas Dawson of BCM’s Isle of Wight Office.

‘Most buyers have done their research before visiting the property, but they don’t all know the location of the rotating bookcase – I will keep this a secret but am more than happy to show the location to buyers when they arrive.

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J.B. Priestley is believed to have penned his autobiography, Rain Upon Godshill, from an ‘art room’ he created on the second floor of the house.

The attractive six-bedroom property and its 130-acre estate is on sale via BCM for £3,000,000, with the vendors happy to split the property in to lots. Those who want the house, cottage, farm buildings and surrounding 19 acres of grounds can do so for £1,950,000.

Billingham Manor was recorded in the Domesday Book and the current house dates back, in part at least, to 1631. It was remodelled around 1730 by Edward Worsley, the son of Sir Edward Wosley, a major island landowner at the time.

Accessed by a tree-lined drive, Billingham Manor enjoys a secluded and south-facing setting with panoramic views across open countryside.

The four-storey property retains many historical and architectural features, such as an oak staircase dating back to the Queen Anne period, Flemish bond brickwork, 12-pane sash windows, and a pedimented porch with triglyph frieze.

There are several impressive rooms, with oak panelling and patterned wallpaper the order of the day.

The drawing room has triple-aspect views and a marble-style open fireplace, while the sitting room has a dual aspect and a corner open fireplace. There’s also a large hall, billiards room, and a cosy kitchen with a utility room and larder.

Billingham Manor has no less than five staircases on the ground floor. Two lead down to the cellar and three lead up to the first floor. You’ll need to be fit to keep up around here.

It comes with a tennis court, walled garden, ponds, and a stone terrace with 180-degree views across the estate and towards St Catherine’s Downs.

There’s plenty of scope to roll up your sleeves and put your own stamp on Billingham Manor. A little freshening up wouldn’t go amiss. And if you’re feeling ambitious, the house has a large cellar as well as attic rooms on the second floor that are not habitable but could be converted, according to the selling agent.

The wider estate has numerous historic and modern farm buildings too, which have potential for alternative use. They include a dovecote, Grade II*-listed granary, stable, and various barns and sheds.

And did we mention the thatched, two-bedroom cottage and 123 acres of arable, pastureland and woodland that are also part of the sale? Billingham Manor Estate is available whole or in three lots.

It is located in the hamlet of Billingham in the Isle of Wight National Landscape (previously known as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).

The island’s many picturesque beaches, golf courses and, of course, sailing clubs are on the doorstep.

‘Billingham is one of the most attractive Georgian Manor Houses left on the Island that is still a private home,’ adds Thomas Dawson, explaining that ‘most have been purchased and converted into flats or for tourism accommodation such as a country hotel or guest house.’

This home has been spared that fate by the current owners, who have been here for over 43 years, adds Dawson, enjoying ‘many enjoyable times at the property, playing croquet, tennis and occasionally the grand summer party.’

Billingham Manor is currently on the market via BCM for £3,000,000 — see more pictures or enquire with the agent for further details.

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