Dropmore, near Cliveden, was built in 1795 for Lord Grenville, who as prime minister later piloted the abolition of the slave trade. Grenville knew the spot from rambles during his time at Eton and valued its distant views of his old school and Windsor Castle, five miles away.
On his first day in occupation he planted two cedar trees and by the time of his death in 1834 the estate was renowned for its extravagant garden buildings, exotic tree specimens and 50-acre “pinetum”— a matchless collection of rare conifers. Today the magnificent country house has been carved into many substantial homes suitable for stylish Londoners thanks to the hard work and attention to detail of its disarming 44-year-old-owner, developer Andre Meyers.
‘I thought how wonderful. If it turns into a white elephant, I’ll live here myself’
But in 2000, Dropmore Park looked very different from the splendid, re-emerging estate of today. The main house had been so ravaged by fires in the Nineties that it was on English Heritage’s Buildings at Risk Register. Historic grounds, including a formal Italianate garden, pavilions, an aviary and Chinese tea house linked by 200 yards of ornate trellising, had been neglected or vandalised. Thieves had made off with stone sculptures and ironwork.
Since Grenville’s day, occupants of Dropmore had included the Army, a newspaper magnate, an American university and an ambassador. In 1972, it featured in a Doctor Who episode, Day of the Daleks.
Meyers, dressed casually in jeans, opens the imposing wrought-iron gates of the 220-acre Buckinghamshire estate he acquired eight years ago.
A winding three-quarter-mile drive through woodland leads to the 18th century Grade I listed, cream-stucco mansion, adorned by those two rare, now giant, cedars on the front lawn — an impressive sense of arrival that Meyers never tires of.
“The first time I saw it I thought, how wonderful, if it turns into a white elephant, so what? I’ll live here myself,” he says.
‘The mansion has been restored using 100 detailed drawings held by the British Library’
Meyers has a developer’s eye for a property opportunity. But he also has a passion for beautiful buildings and possesses the deep pockets that must inevitably go with such projects.
It took four years for Meyers’ company, Corporate Estates, to get planning consent for redevelopment into 57 homes. The mansion has been restored with the help of 100 detailed drawings held by the British Library, and split into 17 grand apartments.
A Victorian dairy block and stables are being turned into a courtyard complex of cottages and flats, while a new-build block, screened by a brick colonnade, will have 23 homes overlooking a lake.
A four-storey water tower, dating from 1901, will become a single residence. Cottages and potting sheds in the grounds are to be made into houses.
“It’s a brave project,” says John Brushe, South Buckinghamshire District Council’s conservation officer. “The house was in an appalling state — a third of it had been knocked down to its foundations following the first fire. Now restored, it will be a fantastic place to live.”
There is more than a touch of Pride and Prejudice about the building’s elegant grandeur, and it is easy to imagine a Mr Darcy jauntily stepping up to the porticoed entrance and reception hall.
Within the house, original rooms, such as Gren-ville’s octagonal double-height study have been reinstated along with replica marble fireplaces and pillars. Apartments are arranged over five levels, from the brick-vaulted cellars to the bow-windowed upper floor capped by saucer domes at the rear.
“Country cool” describes the new interiors, which have luxurious fixtures and fittings: Pedini kitchens, underfloor heating, wide oak-planked flooring, mosaic-tiled wetrooms, mood lighting and home entertainment systems. Some have a wine cellar, steam rooms or gyms. Mezzanines provide a sense of space and height in the main living areas. Sizes range from 900sq ft to more than 3,000sq ft.
‘Who will buy? Not footballers. The lack of bling will not be to their taste’
Prices start at £850,000 and rise to £4 million. Call estate agent Savills on 01628 526792. A hidden underground car park with storage rooms has been created below a mound on the front lawn and has direct access to the main house.
Who will buy? “Perhaps not footballers,” smiles Meyers, believing that the lack of bling will not be to their taste. It could be affluent young families coming out of London or discerning downsizers who want a secure lock-up-and-leave home close to London and with a lifestyle draw of Michelin-starred restaurants, polo clubs and golf courses typical of this wealthy swathe of the South East.
Being an entirely private estate with 24-hour on-site management and concierge services, Dropmore is also likely to appeal to security-minded buyers looking for pampered seclusion. A spa and tennis courts are being built and there is talk of an equestrian centre.