Few homes set the heart racing more than grand apartments carved from heritage buildings such as country mansions, Victorian hospitals, former convents and colleges in the leafy commuter belt. High-quality conversions that retain the best of the old architecture while creating new floorplans and interiors to suit modern lifestyles always impress, and buyers’ appetite for them is keen.
It is about more than classic good looks and a sense of history. Often these homes are set in lavishly landscaped grounds and reached via a carriage drive or tree-lined avenue, making for a marvellous sense of arrival.
Properties are usually leasehold and residents pay service charges for amenities, such as a gym or concierge, and for upkeep of grounds. But charges are rarely more onerous than for typical city apartment schemes.
Jacobean magnificence: Preston Hall, Kent
“Refurbishment and reinstatement of historic features is much more expensive than building from scratch so it takes commitment and expertise to make these projects work,” says developer Bob Weston, whose latest challenge is Preston Hall, a magnificent Jacobean mansion with a grand stone façade, stained-glass windows, high, ornate ceilings, rich wood wall panelling and marquetry, and festooned with turrets, towers, stone carvings and heraldic symbols.
The house stands on the River Medway at Aylesford, Kent, with the journey to St Pancras just 34 minutes from Strood station. Built in 1102, Preston Hall was once the home of Joyce Culpeper, mother of Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard. Sir Thomas Culpeper, another member of the family, was Catherine’s secret lover. Both were executed when their affair was discovered.
In Victorian times the house was enlarged by railway baron Edward Betts, and in the First World War served as a hospital for shell-shocked soldiers. It became part of the NHS but was bought in 2012 by Weston Homes after a period lying empty. Bob Weston unleashed an army of craftspeople to restore the mansion and create 36 luxurious one- to four-bedroom apartments with double-height mezzanine spaces, and new villas in the grounds carved from stables and an orangery.
The three-storey great hall with its original oak staircase, gallery and glass cupola has become a communal space for residents. English Heritage will not accept “false history”, so anything reinstated must be as true to the original as possible. Weston Homes brought back into use a network of Tudor tunnels and wine cellars.
Two stone lions, sculpted in 1838 and later stolen from the estate, have been returned to their plinths at the entrance to the house, while a restored Versailles-style stone fountain with four mermaids is the focal point of the 2.5-acre grounds.
A two-bedroom show flat is open for viewing. Prices start at £190,000 and rise to £700,000, with completion due this summer. Call 01279 873 333.
Arts & crafts prize: King Edward VII Estate
Heritage specialist City & Country understands this niche market better than most, taking on challenging restoration projects such as dilapidated Victorian asylums. As its name suggests, the company brings back the beauty of the original structure and adds metropolitan design glamour.Chief executive Tim Sargeant works closely with heritage organisations to return buildings to use.
King Edward VII Estate, near Midhurst in West Sussex, lies within the South Downs National Park. Built in 1901 as a tuberculosis hospital, it has been hailed as an Arts & Crafts masterpiece and includes a Grade II*-listed chapel with prized stained-glass windows that is due to become a café and shop for residents when the 162-home project is complete later this year.
The listed grounds, originally planted by famed horticulturalist Gertrude Jekyll, are an early example of ”therapeutic gardens”, linking with the buildings and the wider landscape. Five miles of footpaths are being created through the estate’s mature oak woodland and heath. Residents will also have a swimming pool and gym.
Trains to Victoria take just under an hour. The first homes go on sale in March, with prices from £195,000 to £995,000. To register, call 01730 817979.
Other City & Country projects include The General, Bristol, a former hospital being converted into 206 homes priced from £285,000 and The Galleries in Brentwood, Essex, another hospital restoration, includes stunning loft-style spaces. Prices from £420,000.
Georgian grandeur: Woolley Hall
David Simpson is managing director of developer Millgate. He and his team are recreating Woolley Hall, a grand Georgian mansion near Littlewick Green, a few miles from Maidenhead station, which is 24 miles from London and soon to be Crossrail-linked. The listed estate dates from 1780 and is set in 24 acres of woodland. Six grand apartments, up to 3,700sq ft, are being created in the main house with original wood panelling and fireplaces, ornate plasterwork and stained-glass windows. Prices from £825,000.
Five new houses, from £3.1 million, are being built in the gated grounds, plus mews houses and homes in a restored stable block. Call 01628 674234.
A grand old Edwardian: Royal Connaught Park
Royal Connaught Park in Bushey, Hertfordshire, is set in 100 acres of parkland and was originally the Royal Masonic School for Boys. The architecture is grand Edwardian and it doubled as Hogwarts school in some scenes in the Harry Potter film franchise.
New homes have been created from the school’s ancillary buildings, which have big windows, vaulted ceilings, ornate stonework, wooden beams and plaster cornicing. Prices range from £429,950 to £2.79 million. Call 01923 222292. There is a gym, swimming pool for residents and a free shuttle bus to Bushey station, from where the fastest trains to Euston take 18 minutes.