Country houses for sale

‘One of mid-Devon’s most captivating country houses’ for sale, with 400-year-old interiors and huge, rolling grounds

Penny Churchill takes a look at a splendid mid Devon manor house, which hosted the ill-fated Charles I: The Manor House at Bradninch.

A rare opportunity has arisen in the West Country as one of mid-Devon’s most captivating country houses, Grade I-listed The Manor House at Bradninch, has come to the market. Selling agents Knight Frank quote a guide price of £3.5 million for The Manor House, which offers more than 9,000sq ft of memorable living space.

There are exquisite reception rooms with a wealth of original features, a main bedroom where Charles I himself once slept, five further bedrooms and a self-contained, one-bedroom apartment on the second floor.

Outside is a range of excellent outbuildings, including a new garage block built around a large stable yard.

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The grounds are extensive as well: The Manor House stands in seven acres of beautifully designed gardens on the edge of this ancient village, 12 miles north of the cathedral city of Exeter.

The present owner — an eminent surgeon named Professor John Timperley, who has owned it since 2003 — utilised the skills of designers Jill Billington and Mary Payne to restore and enhance the gardens. Immediately in front of the house is a terrace for outdoor dining, beyond which a swathe of lawn leads down to the lake. Paths have been expertly cut and seating areas created at vantage points.

The house was originally built in 1547. Cross-wings were added in the early 1600s; it was remodelled in the early 1700s and further altered in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Writing in Country Life on September 13, 1916, Architectural Editor Lawrence Weaver attributes the survival of much of the manor’s richly decorated interior to its long association with the Duchy of Cornwall. According to Weaver, ‘Henry VIII, troubled in conscience by his theft of lands from the College of Windsor, charged his son by will to recompense the dean and canons. Accordingly, Bradninch was granted to them, and it was they who leased the rectory and lands to Peter Sainthill. From then onwards, it was held on renewable leases until the freehold was acquired in 1869’.

Only the south and part of the north wings of the grand, E-shaped manor, built of local brownstone by Sainthill, survive. Its agreeably symmetrical south front was created in the early 18th century, when the central portion of the house, containing the present dining room and breakfast room, was rebuilt in brick.

Sainthill was a successful lawyer, as was his grandson, also Peter, who ‘served Charles I loyally and liberally until the success of the Parliament brought him to ruin’. The master bedroom at Bradninch, known as The King Charles Room, commemorates an overnight stay by the ill-fated monarch in early 1644.

Following Cromwell’s victory, Peter Sainthill fled to Italy, dying there in 1648. His estate was sequestered and his ‘great and lofty hall’ largely destroyed, although the estate was restored to his son, Samuel, in 1653, on payment of a hefty fine. Samuel left his estates to a nephew, Edward Yarde, who, in 1732, was succeeded by his son, also Edward. His heiress daughter married Admiral Pearce, who planted many specimen trees, including a rare, majestic Lucombe oak.

The lease was later bought by Capt Anthony Martin, who acquired the freehold from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and sold it to the Duchy of Cornwall in 1874. ‘After 30 years of use as a farm in a state of some dilapidation the Duchy, always a faithful steward of its monuments, has restored it to a state of architectural honour,’ Weaver observed. The Manor House remained in Duchy ownership until 1976.

The house was sold several times from the 1980s onwards, but was generally in good repair when Professor Timperley bought it in 2003. By then, however, the library and The King Charles Room had lost their wonderful Jacobean panelling, which was, according to Historic England, ‘illegally removed in the 1980s’.

This left the 16th-century ‘Job’ room, or drawing room, with its decorative plaster ceiling, oak panelling and overmantle carved with scenes from the life of Job, as the showpiece room, although the vast, 18th-century dining hall was lauded by Pevsner as ‘a noble, restrained, classical room’.

The old servants’ hall and kitchen have been replaced by an indoor swimming pool, with access to a private terrace and lawn area to the rear of the house. Otherwise, Prof Timperley restricted his intervention indoors to upgrading the kitchen and bathroom and installing shower rooms.

Knight Frank quote £3.5 million for The Manor House — see more details and pictures.

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