The astonishing and exquisite Linton Park has come up for sale with a £32 million price tag. Penny Churchill reports.
Grade I-listed Linton Park, with its Grade II*-listed gardens, woods and parkland overlooking the Weald, four miles south of Maidstone, promises to be one of the country-house sales of the year — if not of the century to date.
Described by Mark McAndrew of selling agents Strutt & Parker as ‘a jewel in the heart of the Garden of England’, the Linton Park estate comprises the impeccably restored, 28,824sq ft main house, which boasts 12 bedrooms, six principal reception rooms, garden rooms, a catering kitchen and extensive domestic offices; 20 acres of magnificent gardens, historic parkland, a lake and a cricket pitch, some 440 acres in all; and a coach house with a flat above and 16 further residential properties, all in excellent order and producing a considerable income. He quotes a guide price of ‘excess £32 million’ for the estate as a whole.
Alternatively, offers of more than £17.5m are invited for Lot 1, comprising the striking, stucco-fronted main house, the coach house, gate lodge, gardens, grounds, parkland, lake and cricket pitch—some 316 acres in all; Lot 2, the residential portfolio of 13 houses and cottages let on assured shorthold tenancies or service occupancies, calls for ‘offers in excess of £13.5m’, with ‘offers over £1m’ sought for Ranters Land, a 96-acre parcel of good arable and woodland to the south of the property, separated from the parkland by Butt Green Lane.
In the first of two Country Life articles by the magazine’s long-time Architectural Editor Christopher Hussey (March 29 and April 5, 1946), the setting of Linton Park is laid out in all its glory: ‘Looking over the Kentish Weald, the white front of Linton shining on the ridge forming its northern edge, is a familiar landmark visible for 20 miles. Approached over the crest by a wide and magnificent beech avenue, suddenly the ground drops, the beeches give way to tall elms, and you see the house below you with the blue expanse of the Weald stretching, for a moment, beyond and above it. It is a breath-taking glimpse that you do not see again till you come out on the Terrace along the south front…’
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The site, naturally favoured by its full southern exposure, protection from the north and sufficient height to be above the spring frost level, had, for two centuries, been further protected by plantings to the flanks, so that the terraces and adjoining slopes enjoyed horticultural advantages in addition to the rich soil long famed for fruit and crops. It was these conditions, Hussey reveals, that attracted Olaf Hambro of the eponymous banking family, when, in 1937, he acquired Linton from Lord Cornwallis. Hussey himself was already familiar with the magnificent planting on the estate carried out by successive generations of the Cornwallis family, which was originally described in Country Life in an article in February 1899.
From the late 12th century until the early 1700s, the site on which Linton Park stands was occupied by a house called Capell’s Court. In about 1730, that house was demolished by the estate’s then owner, Sir Robert Mann, who built the first part of the present house. On his death in 1751, the house passed to his son, Edward, and in turn to Edward’s brother, the diplomat Sir Horace Mann, who was permanently resident in Florence. Sir Horace was a friend and long-time correspondent of Horace Walpole, who, following a visit to Edward Mann at Linton in 1757, wrote to Sir Horace saying that ‘the house is fine and stands like the citadel of Kent; the whole county is its garden’.
Large additions were made by the 5th Earl Cornwallis in about 1825, when the architectural remodelling of the garden and south front was also undertaken. The building work was carried out by Thomas Cubitt, who added a third storey to the original house with two-storey wings to either side, possibly to the designs of George Basevi. The layout of the gardens was greatly influenced by the Scottish garden designer John Claudius Loudon, an early exponent of the ‘Gardenesque’ theory of garden design, who visited Linton in 1825.
On the eve of the Second World War, Hambro’s main task was to reduce the Victorian sprawl of the house to manageable proportions and, in the process, bring back to the interior something of its original Georgian character. Outside, the walled service yard to the north-east survives from the extensive servants’ court built in about 1825 and demolished by Hambro after 1938.
Following Hambro’s death in 1961, Linton Park was acquired by the Daubeny family. Thirteen years later, in 1974, the house and its nearest surrounding lands were sold to the Freemasons and were briefly operated as a school before being acquired in 1985 by its current owners, Camellia Group PLC, a UK-based group of agricultural companies with subsidiaries in 10 countries producing core crops, including macadamia, avocados and tea, as well as more specialised crops, such as wine grapes and blueberries.
Having established its headquarters at Linton Park, the company embarked on a long-term project to restore the estate, which by then was in a state of dire neglect. The company headquarters were set up on the upper floors of the main house while the grand 18th-century rooms were painstakingly restored to their historic splendour, even to the extent of sourcing original Cornwallis family portraits to hang on the dining-room walls. When, in 2015, the previously owned adjoining Linton Park land, cottages and parkland came back on the market, Camellia moved in to buy it, thereby restoring the estate to its original size and configuration, to the delight of company chairman Malcolm Perkins, for whom it was ‘job done’.
‘With planning consent now in place to restore Linton Park to residential use, all that remains for a new owner to do is to reinstate half-a-dozen bathrooms that have been used as offices,’ says an enthusiastic Mr McAndrew who, even in these unreadable times, expects to see enquiries flowing in from all over the world.
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