A RESTORATION DRAMA
The Times – 31 August 1996
Rachel Kelly on how 18th century designs have been used to create new homes at Wiltshire’s largest castle.
For the past four years, workmen have been busy knocking down, rebuilding, plastering, painting and gilding at Wardour Castle, Wiltshire's largest stately home and arguably one of England's greatest 18th-century houses.
Built for Lord Arundell in the 1770s with a house and chapel designed by James Paine. Wardour blends severe exteriors with brilliant interiors. Work is nearly finished converting the house into nine flats, two of which have been sold and six let at about £20,000 a year.
But after repairs, estimated to have cost at least £2 million, funds have run dry. Yet more work is needed on stone repairs, renovating the remaining 30 per cent of the house's interior which has not yet been refurbished and the restoration of the Camellia House, walled garden and landscaping.
The developer Nigel Tuersley hopes the remaining work will be funded by the sale of 16 additional houses in the grounds. Some will be conversions of existing buildings: others will be based on unrealised designs by the original architect. Richard Woods, including plans for a stable block.
This is standard practice. Few major restoration projects would be possible without what planners and developers term "enabling development": a trade-off whereby developers are allowed a limited degree of residential development to raise funds for an uneconomic venture perceived to be in the public interest. The only oddity with Wardour is the order in which Mr Tuersley has proceeded. Normally, a developer would begin work on an uneconomic restoration with his enabling development in the bag. But with funds from financial backers, Mr Tuersley began the conversion. Only now is he applying for his enabling development.
Plans for the completion of Wardour's restoration are with Salisbury District Council, and a decision is expected in six weeks. The plans are thought to be the first attempt to restore a historic house using the original 18th-century designs of the estate, much of which was never executed. Of course the plans have had to be adapted. When Woods suggested improvements in 1764. the park covered 700 acres: Mr Tuersley has just 53 acres. His plans include reinstating two east wing mews as four flats. These were part of Wardour's history for nearly 200 years, but were destroyed in 1969 to make way for new classrooms for the previous owners, Cranbourne Chase School. These extensions have been designed in a mirror image of the west mews, and their reinstatement will restore the house's symmetry.
Then there are plans to restore the four pineries in the walled garden as garden cottages. These were the heated buildings for growing pineapples. Clearly Woods did not envisage them as homes. Next is a scheme to realise Woods' proposals for a stable courtyard to the west of the castle, now to be eight family houses and one four-bedroom apartment to be sold on 99 year leases for about £300,000. These would replace three existing 1960s staff houses built by school. Again, Woods would not have envisaged a residential use.
Though not part of Woods' plans, Mr Tuersley hopes to construct a house and garage courtyard for residents to hide their cars and an orangery with an indoor swimming pool. All the buildings will be of local stone with slate roofs.
"We are trying to maintain the quality of design and execution expected in an estate of this importance when it was built, while generating sufficient funding to restore the main houses and grounds." Mr Tuersley says, restoration projects of this size are not without hiccups. There is an ongoing squabble between Mr Tuersley and the church's trustees about repairing the roof of the former private chapel at Wardour.
One resident of a 14 room flat in the east wing, Lord Rawlinson of Ewell, is unhappy about Mr Tuersley's plans for new houses in the park. He suggests that if more funds are needed to fund the final stages of the restoration, more flats could be sold and the state rooms could engender income. He also talks of "massive local opposition to the creation of 16 houses". Mr Tuersley counters that he made his plans plain in advance, and that they were fully provided for in Lord Rawlinson's lease. He also says he can count on local support.
And though the Georgian Group is in favour of allowing the stable courtyard development if the financial case linking it to funding the repair of the existing building can be proved, it wants the other new buildings shelved or moved. But Mr Tuersley has supporters. Other residents are in favour of his plans, and so broadly is English Heritage. There is no doubt that money from the courtyard sales will allow the rest of the castle to be repaired, allowing completion of the of the most ambitious and imaginative restoration projects this century.
John D Wood (01962 863131) is sole agent for the lettings and sale of houses on the Wardour Estate. There are eight houses and one apartment for sale in Wardour Court, four homes for let in the walled garden, end four in the east mews.