This article summarises the history of England’s stately homes and gives examples of current houses for sale.
You will learn about:
- The background to England’s stately homes
- Their changing role over the years
- Measures taken to preserve stately homes and the current challenges they face
- Stately homes on the market today
England’s stately homes
Their heyday was in the 17th and 18th centuries, when the majority were built as the focal point of an agricultural estate surrounded by farmland. The owners received income from renting out the farms and often enjoyed revenue from other sources such as mining, industry or the railways.
Stately homes were built as demonstrations of wealth and power in which to entertain and impress. As owners competed to build ever grander houses, several architectural styles went in and out of fashion. Such houses often formed the focus of entire communities, playing a pivotal role in the local economy, providing jobs, homes and farm produce.
But gradually England’s stately homes began to struggle for survival. A combination of substantial death duties imposed on landed families and a decline in agricultural rents led to the demise of many great houses. In efforts to raise funds, estate owners tended to sell off land as a first option but this in turn made the big house unviable and since the 1900s over 1,000 were demolished.
During both world wars, numerous country houses and stately homes were taken over by the military and often served as hospitals or convalescent homes. Many houses sustained damage as a result, which many owners found too burdensome to deal with after the wars. As no legal mechanism existed to save such properties, many lapsed into disrepair and they were often pulled down, often in the 1950s and 1960s. In the mid-19thcentury, there were around 5,000 mansions in England whereas around 3,000 remain today.
New Role for Stately Homes
Stately homes received renewed interest from the late 1940s onwards when some of the country’s finest examples began to open to the public. Gradually, more great houses followed suit as owners decided that public admittance was the only way to make such properties viable.
The 1976 Finance Act came to the rescue of hundreds of country houses; it allowed the owners exemption from inheritance tax in return for them keeping the house open to the public and maintaining it. Many of these houses began looking at alternative revenue opportunities and embarked on businesses such as holiday lets and hosting weddings, corporate events and festivals.
The National Trust and Historic Houses
More assistance for stately homes came with the establishment of The National Trust in 1895. The Trust’s aims are to protect all forms of heritage and open its sites for everyone to enjoy; it currently owns 300 country houses. Another support organisation, Historic Houses, is an association of 1,500 independent historic houses. It promotes heritage as the UK’s major attraction in terms of its contribution to the economy and highlights the role that such houses play by generating £1bn a year to the economy.
The main challenges facing stately homes today include huge maintenance costs, considerable taxes on succession and latterly, closure to the public due to the Covid-19 pandemic and a resultant loss of income. While many properties were unprepared, some adjusted their operations to offer attractions such as staycation opportunities. Others were able to open their gardens on a socially distanced basis, which kept them in the public eye despite suffering a financial loss.
The successive lockdowns arising from Covid-19 have led more wealthy buyers to look for a larger home, often in the country. The surge in demand led to price rises: desirable large country houses sold quickly and attracted competitive bidding during the pandemic. The ongoing shortage of such properties coming to the market means that demand remains high.
As Covid-19 restrictions end, more country houses are expected to be placed onto the market and it is anticipated that prices will adjust to less frenetic market levels. The end of the Stamp Duty holiday along with the prospect of rising interest rates and increased taxes will undoubtedly impact the country house market. Further price rises appear to be less likely and a period of adjustment following last year’s strong growth is anticipated.
Here are 12 of the most interesting country houses currently on the market:
Eardisley Park, Herefordshire, is a Queen Anne style country house which was totally reconstructed 20 years ago following a fire which saw the original house, which dated from 1700, burn to the ground. The present house was rebuilt on the existing footprint using material salvaged from the fire-damaged property. The house has seven bedrooms, four bathrooms and stands in around 15 acres of grounds which include stables and a swimming pool. There are four reception rooms which open onto each other, creating a circular route for entertaining. The garden was laid out 20 years ago and includes an orchard, lawns and a water feature. There are extensive outbuildings dating from 1650 to 1850 which have development potential.
The restoration work was completed in 2001 and the house won the Restoration of the Year award soon after from The Georgian Society, and the Restoration of the Century award from Country Life magazine. It also features in Marcus Binney’s book, `In search of the Perfect House’. The property extends over 6,224 square feet and enjoys views over the Wye Valley. Ludlow and Leominster are nearby and Hereford is 15 miles away. Knight Frank https://www.knightfrank.co.uk/ are selling the property which is priced at £1,950,000.
Milbourne Hall, Newcastle-on-Tyne, is a grade II listed house believed to date back to 1807. This eight-bedroom property which stands in 24 acres of grounds, is built using Belsay stone, flecked with iron nuggets. It has a guide price of £3,950,000. One of its main features is the unusual design which features oval rooms, an oval staircase hall and an octagonal library arranged around an octagonal courtyard.
The house is mentioned in Pevsner’s `The Buildings of England’ which describes the oval rooms as `ingenious.’ There are four bathrooms, four reception rooms, an integral four-bedroom guest apartment, garages, stables and outbuildings, two further reception rooms and three self-contained apartments in the carriage house, which offer an opportunity for rental income.
Features of the house include a central rotunda with a dome, elegant sash windows, high ceilings, curved doors and period fireplaces. The grounds and gardens comprise formal lawns, a walled garden, a pond, paddocks and a summer house. The property is close to Morpeth, Newcastle-on-Tyne and Gateshead, and is a short distance from the Northumberland Heritage Coast. It is for sale with Strutt & Parker https://www.struttandparker.com/in Morpeth.
The Ewelme Park Estate, Nettlebed, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, features an unlisted Lutyens-style country house which overlooks the Chilterns Escarpment. This is a traditional farming estate comprising a 741-acre block of arable farmland including 184 acres of woodland. The property is being marketed at offers in excess of £23,000,000 with Savills https://www.savills.co.uk/.
The house has eight bedrooms, a boot room, game larder, cellar, bar, sauna, garaging for five cars, an established pheasant and partridge shoot and six estate cottages. The house, which stands in 20 acres of gardens, grounds and paddocks, was built in 1913 in an `H’ plan with a long timber-framed central range connecting the east and west wings. There is an oak panelled hall, a drawing room with a double height barrel-vaulted ceiling and a minstrel’s gallery.
On the second floor there are a further seven bedrooms requiring refurbishment. The gardens include an orchard, arboretum, swimming pool and tennis court. There is also a range of cottages, a farmhouse, stable yard and farm buildings. Henley-on-Thames is seven miles away.
Southways, White Lane, Guildford, covers 15,094 square feet and stands on one of the town’s most desirable roads on the edge of the North Downs Way. It has a guide price of £12,500,000. The house was extensively renovated in 2018 to a high standard; it features solid timber doors and the original staircase, combined with modern fixtures such as air conditioning and a fully integrated audio, visual and CCTV system.
There are seven bedrooms, a staff flat, an indoor pool complex, steam room, hot tub and tennis court. The house stands in just over nine acres of grounds which include formal gardens, a kitchen garden and courtyard; a paddock and loose boxes occupy six acres. Guildford High Street is two minutes away and the train to London’s Waterloo Station takes 34 minutes. Southways is for sale with Knight Frank https://www.knightfrank.co.uk/ and House Partnership https://housepartnership.co.uk/
Moor Place Manor in Hertfordshire is a grade II listed red brick Georgian mansion which is for sale at £12,000,000. Situated in Kettle Green Lane, Much Hadham, the property includes 80 acres of park, farmland and woods. It boasts 14 bedrooms, 13 bathrooms, an outdoor swimming pool and a tennis court. Inside, there is a cantilevered stone staircase, six bedrooms on the first floor and a further five on the second floor.
There is a library, dining room, drawing room and further accommodation in the 1886 Norman Shaw designed west wing. Features include arched loggias, balustrading and marble fireplaces. The property, which is ten minutes away from Bishop’s Stortford, is being sold by Sotheby’s International Realty, Belgravia https://www.sothebysrealty.co.uk/enb
Hurst Lodge in Berkshire is a grade II* listed house dating back to 1580. The accommodation includes 12 bedrooms and 10 bathrooms, a grand reception hall and a drawing room with a vaulted ceiling. The classically proportioned accommodation includes period features such as Delft tiling, 17th century oak panelling, a vaulted ceiling in the drawing room and original fireplaces. An extensive modernisation scheme has been undertaken in recent years.
Further accommodation is provided by a four-bedroom gardener’s cottage and a coach house which is in need of restoration. The south view from the house overlooks fields, lawns, a rockery and lily pond; there is also a Dutch garden with formal flower beds and two part-walled gardens. The property includes 45 acres of paddocks, stables and a barn as well as three agricultural buildings and a glasshouse. Nearby Reading, Maidenhead and Twyford have fast train services to London, taking around 28 minutes. The property is priced at £8,500,000 and is for sale with Savills https://www.savills.co.uk/.
Caulin Court is described by the selling agents as possibly the finest country house to be built in England in recent years. Adopting a Regency mansion style, the house is constructed from Bath stone and stands in 18 acres of landscaped parkland in Ladywood, close to Droitwich Spa in the heart of Worcestershire. The house is sumptuously fitted out, featuring state of the art equipment such as air source heat pump technology and a Siematic kitchen with a Gaggenau range.
The accommodation includes nine bedrooms, 10 bathrooms, an orangery, a plant room, a landing with an oval gallery and lift, an extensive leisure suite with a swimming pool, home cinema, sauna, steam room and gym. There is also a detached three-bedroom cottage and extensive garaging. The grounds include a lake and a stocked fishing pool. The price is available on application and the property is being marketed by Addland https://addland.com/
Georgian country house living is offered with the sale of Blofield House in Norfolk, an eight-bedroom property which has been sympathetically updated to a high standard. It stands in 18.34 acres of gardens, paddocks and parkland and has a tennis court and heated swimming pool. The many period features include sash cord windows with shutters, panelled doors, marble fireplaces and a staircase with a roof lantern.
The accommodation extends over three floors and includes a bespoke kitchen with an Aga and marble worktops, a study, offices and a cellar. On the top floor there is a further bedroom or study. Outside there is a walled courtyard, formal lawns, terraces, a productive kitchen garden, a greenhouse and a gym. The sale includes a three-bedroom cottage with a walled garden. The property is nine miles from Norwich and is for sale through Addland, https://addland.com/ priced at £2,750,000.
Erinmoor is a substantial house set in the heart of Kineton, Warwickshire. Built 17 years ago, the house has five bedrooms and occupies 6,075 square feet. Inside there is an impressive reception hall, a drawing room with triple aspect windows, a dining room and a kitchen/breakfast room with oak units, granite worktops and a 4-oven Aga. There are three bathrooms, and on the second floor there is a home office, sitting room and kitchen. Outside there is a triple garage, lawns and patios. Kineton village is a short walk away and Warwick is 11 miles distant with Leamington Spa and Stratford-upon-Avon also nearby. Erinmoor is being sold by Knight Frank https://www.knightfrank.co.uk/ and is priced at £1,695,000.
An 18th century grade II listed manor house near Halifax is on the market for £1,650,000. Ashday House on the edge of the village of Southowram, stands in 8.5 acres of gardens, grazing land and woodland. Features in the house include sash windows and decorative ceiling cornicing. The accommodation comprises a grand entrance hall and foyer, a drawing room, dining room, a kitchen with integral appliances and an Aga, a billiard room, boot room, office and galleried landing leading to six bedrooms. The open staircase has a cast iron balustrade and a gym is currently installed in the spacious cellar.
The house is approached via an impressive driveway and has formal gardens with tiered terracing, a water fountain, barbecue and hot tub area, orchard and tennis court. The outbuildings, which include a helicopter hangar, offer development opportunities subject to obtaining the required planning consents. Ashday House enjoys views over the Calder Valley and is a short drive away from Halifax and Brighouse town centres. It is being marketed for sale by Charnock Bates, Halifax https://www.charnockbates.co.uk/
At the heart of the Efford Park Estate in the New Forest, Hampshire, is a Grade II* listed Georgian country house which has significant historical and architectural interest. Standing in parkland, it is approached via a sweeping driveway and is two miles from Lymington and the south coast. The estate includes 127 acres of paddocks and woodland, a listed stable block with planning permission for conversion into accommodation, a tennis court and outbuildings. The estate is for sale with Addland https://addland.com/sale/country-houses and has a guide price of £10,500,000.
Thornhill, Wealden, East Sussex is a Victorian country house set in 19 acres of gardens and grounds with views to the South Downs. The sale includes a three bedroom cottage, a barn, indoor swimming pool and tennis court, plus a Victorian walled garden. The guide price is £4,500,000 and it is for sale through Addland.
Other country houses that are currently for sale include:
- In Herefordshire, The Old Rectory at Pudleston, a Grade II listed Georgian country house near the market town of Leominster. This restored 18th century property has nine bedrooms and is being sold with 53 acres, five traditional cottages and a partially converted barn. There is also an indoor swimming pool, a tennis court and gardens. For sale with Savills, it is priced at £3,500,000.
- Careston Castle, Brechin, Angus, a Category A listed mansion of significant architectural interest, build of red sandstone. The six bedroom castle is set in 345 acres near the east coast of Scotland; there are also three estate cottages, woodland and arable land. Priced at offers over £2,900,000, the castle is for sale with Savills.
- Weston Hall near Towcester, seat of the Sitwell family for 300 years, is for sale at £4.25m with Knight Frank. The 10 bedroom Grade II listed property in Northamptonshire was placed on the market during Covid-19. It has six reception rooms, a justice parlour room, an orangery, stable block , swimming pool, tennis court and walled garden. There is also a two bedroom lodge and the property stands in 48.29 acres.
- The Street, Lympne, Hythe in Kent is on the market at £11m. This Grade I listed castle and estate comprises 137 acres of woodland and pastureland and operates as a wedding and corporate events venue. Dating possibly from the 13th century, the estate enjoys views across the English Channel to France. It is for sale through Savills.
- Leasam House in east Sussex is a Grade II Georgian mansion set in 56 acres which is on the market for £9.5m with Savills. This lavishly restored property has eleven bedrooms, a cinema, seven reception rooms, gardens and parkland, along with a further three bedroom house, The Grange.
- The Sheriff Hutton Park estate in Yorkshire comprises a Grade I listed main house, a Grade II listed ranger’s house, a farmhouse and 203 acres. There is also a lake and woodland. The property is being marketed for £10m with Savills.
Savills. 2019. The stately homes of England. [Online]. Available from: https://www.savills.co.uk/blog/article/267767/residential-property/the-stately-homes-of-england (Accessed 25thAugust 2021)
The Critic. 2020. Is this the end for the National Trust? [Online]. Available from: https://thecritic.co.uk/is-this-the-end-for-the-national-trust/ (Accessed 25th August 2021)
The Critic. 2020. The future of Britain’s stately homes. [Online]. Available from: https://thecritic.co.uk/the-future-of-britains-stately-homes/(Accessed 25th August 2021)
CNN. 2018. How to fund a British stately home in the 20th century. [Online]. Available from: https://edition.cnn.com/style/article/country-houses-osm/index.html (Accessed 25th August 2021)
Historic Houses. 2021. Where history lives. [Online]. Available from: https://www.historichouses.org (Accessed 25th August 2021)
Knight Frank. 2021. Properties. [Online]. Available from: https://www.knightfrank.co.uk/properties/residential/for-sale/high-street-weston-towcester-northamptonshire(Accessed 25th August 2021)
Savills. 2021. Property for sale. [Online]. Available from: https://www.savills.co.uk/find-a-property/? (Accessed 27th August 2021)
Strutt & Parker. 2021. Buy a property. [Online]. Available from: https://www.struttandparker.com/ (Accessed 27th August 2021)