The idea of conserving ancient estates that would otherwise have languished by allowing a relatively small number of people to buy their new homes in converted mansions seems to make sense.
Owners can enjoy the estate with all its open land and spacious interiors, without the vast expenses that would be faced by a single owner, and the estate retains much the same profile.
Wall Hall, Aldenham, Hertfordshire
One such estate is Wall Hall, the former home of John Pierpont Morgan, son of the founder of the American banking dynasty JP Morgan (which, until now, at least, has managed to survive the global money markets meltdown).
Wall Hall, a “gothic revival” mansion near the medieval village of Aldenham, Hertfordshire, was bought in 1910 by Morgan Jr, a keen sportsman and socialite who hosted hunting parties for royalty, politicians and magnates during the eight-week shooting season.
A philanthropist, like his father, he managed the estate in a paternalistic way, building homes for local workers and involving himself in parish matters. During the Second World War, Morgan Jr loaned the house to Joseph Kennedy, then American Ambassador to London, who used it as a weekend family retreat (former US president John F Kennedy spent some time there).
'Old barns and stables have been converted into homes, and impressive new family houses built'
When Morgan died in 1942, Wall Hall was acquired by Hertfordshire County Council and it later became a maternity hospital, then a teacher-training college. Five years ago, the estate was purchased by developer Octagon, which set about creating a prestige new address - but with a heritage look - in this prosperous part of the commuter belt.
Old barns and stables have been converted into homes, and impressive new family houses built - 125 in total. Fifty-five acres of parkland, originally laid out by Victorian landscape architect Humphry Repton, have been restored. The grounds include follies, an Italian garden and lake, as well as refurbished tennis courts.
Conversion of the listed mansion is the final part of the jigsaw. This castellated pile has been divided into seven grand homes - “residences rather than apartments, with names not numbers”, stresses David Smith, Octagon sales director.
The Windsor show home is a 4,000sq ft baronial-style space with a magnificent 45ft-high barrel-vaulted ceiling, stained-glass windows, oak panelling and minstrels’ gallery. It is a complete one-off, with eclectic interior design flourishes, including a suit of armour and a bespoke horseshoe-shaped dining table.
The biggest flat is 6,000sq ft, occupying a two-storey wing of the house. Another home features a silver vault, essential for bankers still in receipt of a bonus. Interiors are tasteful and good quality but not architecturally cutting edge. Octagon says the show home is likely to appeal to an unorthodox person with a sense of fun. For more information on Wall Hall, call 01923 850680.
The mansion stands alongside the new-build houses rather than in splendid isolation at the end of a long drive. Prices range from £700,000 to £3.6 million, which may just tempt modern-day “prudent” bankers who want a heritage home with a contemporary twist: they can play the country squire and still be within a 30-minute rail commute of the City from Radlett, the local train station.
Mayfield Grange, East Sussex
A Gothic Victorian pile designed by celebrated architect Edward Pugin. Weston Homes is converting the main listed house, which has a prized Great Hall and chapel, into grand apartments with vaulted ceilings, ornate stonework and original floor tiles.
The chapel is a single loft-style dwelling of 2,500sq ft. Eleven new homes and 39 apartments are being built in the 20-acre grounds, which include a cricket pitch and pavilion. Prices from £400,000. Call 0845 638 5008.
Essendon Park, near Hertford
Set in rural splendour only 20 miles north of the Square Mile, work is under way on the restoration and conversion of a listed 17th century mansion and courtyard buildings.
The first phase of four apartments and eight mews houses has been launched. In the main house there will be 10 apartments, ranging up to 3,060sq ft. There are tennis courts within the gated estate, which is ringed by Hatfield London Country Club golf course. Prices start at £599,950. For more information, call Millgate Homes on 01707 663502.
The Manor, near Newmarket
These apartments near Newmarket are being carved from the listed Edwardian mansion, while various estate buildings are being redeveloped into apartments and cottages - 53 homes in total.
Original interiors include Art Nouveau fireplaces, parquet flooring and panelled walls. It is an idyllic eight-acre setting, with a Japanese temple, ancient woodland, fields and lawns. Prices are from £225,000. Call developer City & Country on 01279 818900.
Swaylands, Penshurst, Kent
This historic "society" house is being converted into 28 apartments, plus six mews houses in former Victorian outbuildings.
Edward VII and authors John Buchan and JM Barrie were regular visitors in its heyday during the Edwardian period, when the house was owned by the wealthy merchant banker George Drummond. The 50-acre grounds have tennis courts, a lake and listed rockery.
Prices are from £499,950. For more information, call Oakdene Homes on 01737 249393.
Balls Park, near Hertford
A private, 60-acre estate with a listed Jacobean mansion, soon to be split into elegant apartments. Hollywood films and television dramas including Foyles War and Bleak House have been made there. Currently for sale are new-build houses and original gatehouses in the grounds.
“You feel like you are in the middle of nowhere, yet it is only five minutes to Hertford town centre,” says James Woodrow of developer Explore Living. Prices start at £499,950. For more information, call 0845 2417758.