Saturday, 25 April 2009

Apethorpe Hall

I viewed a new series on BBC Two last night called English Heritage, the first part entitled A Very Grand Design. It was about the future of the largely, though not entirely, restored Apethorpe Hall, a very large, rambling, historic Jacobean pile in Northamptonshire.

I love these sorts of programmes. I find them irresistible. One thing was clear, though: English Heritage (EH), which has spent millions of pounds worth of taxpayers' money, is somewhat desperate to recoup their investment forthwith, if not within the next few years. The programme focused on EH's head honcho, Simon Thurley, striding round Apethorpe, seeing what required to be done in order to make it saleable.

The sale has a number of snags attached; viz, that the new owner, preferably a sympathetic billionaire, is prepared to accept strict planning restrictions; that the sale includes a mere fifty acres; and that there is an enormous clump of Leylandii trees beside the front ornamental gates, thus restricting the fine prospect. The Hall must open its doors to the general public 28 days a year, too.

About the acreage: a very large house like Apethorpe would have been surrounded by a vast landed estate of 20-30,000 acres a hundred years ago, generating plenty of income for the owner. Fifty acres is actually small; sizeable enough for formal gardens, not shooting parties or hunts. I expect a billionaire would have preferred an estate of a thousand acres or so, at least.

As for the Leylandii, the former occupier, the Lord Brassey of Apethorpe, owns the trees and seems to be intent on retaining them as a sort of bargaining chip with a future owner, should they be prepared to pay his lordship sufficient funds to have the unsightly trees felled.

I look forward to the next episode.


michael mccusker said...

dear sir in 1976 i attended apethorpe school for boys i stayed for some 18 months and new george kelly well and im sure he will say that the hall and grounds were looked after very well by all of the boys each boy had specific jobs to carry out such cleaning polising on daily basis and we also had to maintain the place aswell each department would help out by the time i left in 1977 the place was in good repair but simon thurly of english heritage seem to be saying they were some what to blame this is not so good luck apethorpe

Anonymous said...

This Lord Brassey sounds spiteful. Obviously the money went years ago but the sour grapes remain.

Anonymous said...

Noble as the cause is, I was just struck by the ineptitude of English Heritage. The whole premise of restoration for private sale seems questionable to me, but to allow a TV programme to made of the process before securing a sale seems to have prejudiced their position. I didn't like the attitude of Simon Thurley, came across more as someone with pretentions to be one of the landed gentry himself, rather than a public servant.

Timothy Belmont said...

My initial thought was that it had more potential as a grand country house hotel. Presumably EH have been opposed to this till recently. I understand that they are now prepared to sell Apethorpe to an institution or an individual.

Still, it was a fascinating programme.

Joan of Oundle said...

Why not give it to the National Trust? Taxpayers' money has rescued it - and rightly so; it is a precious gem Why not let us all enjoy it and donate to it's future restoration. There are not many National Trust houses in this area as most of the stately homes are privately owned.

Timothy Belmont said...

That is a very good question to pose and it has crossed my mind, too.

Presumably the NT would require a property to be donated to them along with a bequest; so, I imagine that would not be acceptable to EH!

EH, I gather, wish to recoup as much money as possible.

I'd personally love Apethorpe to be cared for by the Trust.

Joan of Oundle said...

Eleanor of Aquitaine stayed at Apethorpe. Why let a beautiful,and no longer ruinous ,ancient monument, pass into private hands , when it could pass from one ownership to another,as it did before, and come to grief?

Unknown said...

The alternative suggestions made by previous posters are out of touch with reality.

Even if the National Trust was interested, it would not take it on without an endowment of - at a low guess - at least £20 million (the National Trust's endowment requirements are set out in something called the Chorley Formula). And probably not even then, because it has lost its contents, severely limiting its appeal to visitors, I don't think the National Trust has ever taken over a house in this condition, it preserves family houses with the contents in place. Also Apethorpe doesn't have a major garden to pull in the punters. Indeed the National Trust isn't at all keen to take on more houses.

As for the hotel option, country house hotels in large and highly sensitive buildings are generally only viable with large - 100 room plus - modern extensions. This house is very poorly suited for hotel use, as it has early 17th century type layout. Only the super-premium type hotel can afford to conserve a house of this age and quality in the long term, and Apethorpe's site is probably not large or appealing enough for a super-premium hotel. In any case, the market is saturated, and there is no call for further luxury country house hotels at present.

Use as a house is the most viable option in this case, but because the house was never modified even to Victorian standards of convenience, only an owner with a passion for this sort of architecture will be interested. Most modern super-rich aren't into that sort of thing. It may be a big house, but it is highly impractical, not at all the average billionaire's dream pad.

As for making the programme during the process, when on earth else were they supposed to make it? And did YOU know when the credit crunch was going to hit?

Timothy Belmont said...

Most interesting and illuminating, Philip; a difficult nut to crack!

Is there any news of progress re a potential owner for Apethorpe?


Anonymous said...

Dear Philip your post is most illuminating. Expect some news of a new owner for Apethrope shortly.
Best wishes

Anonymous said...

if any of the comments below are being written on the back of experience then i apologise...

from what i am reading none of you (all bar one)really have a clue about what to do with a house of this size, i have a house that is 20000 sq ft, and i have rather a-lot of land to go with the house.

Apethorp is a large property the house from a running perspective is doomed, seeing as the earning engine (land) has all been sold off.

The people that once owned the property probably (and i know through my own experience) spent very little of their own cash keeping the property the rent and other revenues from the land kept the going. The initial wealth was building the property, not keeping it, they are efficient when run properly.

to make the property last it needs to work, and wash its own face, a billionaire is not going to pour money into a property that is not viable (it goes against how the wealthy people make themselves wealthy!!)

Kind regards

a pissed off land owner