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Monday, 22 January 2018
A DERELICT country estate that once served as a rehabilitation centre for US airmen has been put on the market for £10 million.
Coombe Park, a 19th century residence on the banks of the River Thames at Whitchurch, has not been maintained for about three decades, so would need extensive restoration before anyone could live in it.
Until a few years ago the six-bedroom property off Manor Road, which has 125 acres of grounds plus outbuildings and a boathouse, was inhabited by oil industry chief and former Slough Town Football Club chairman Martyn Deaner.
However, its condition was already deteriorating and the roof now leaks while sections of plumbing and wiring must be replaced because of infiltration by damp. Large areas of the gardens are completely overgrown with brambles and rhododendrons.
Estate agent Strutt & Parker, of Mayfair, which is handling the sale, says about 30 prospective buyers from around the world have viewed it since it went up for sale in mid-October.
Mark McAndrew, the head of Strutt and Parker’s national estate and farm department, said: “It’s a strange beast but a fascinating one and we’ve had a huge amount of interest at home and abroad. We’ve arranged an enormous amount of viewings since we went live.
“A wide range of people have looked at it with various purposes in mind. Some would like to recreate Coombe Park as their private home while others are looking with more of a development angle. They’d be looking to maximise its potential and build new housing, although there are currently no planning permissions to do so.
“For anyone wanting to live there, there’s a lot of work to do. About half of those considering it as a private residence wish to restore it while the other half would like to knock it down and start again – though that is also subject to planning and they would need to do their research.”
The estate, which lies in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, was built in 1865 by James Gardiner, an industrialist whose family made their fortunes in sugar and slave trading. The grounds were landscaped by Humphry Repton, who also designed the gardens at Longleat.
In 1898 it was sold to Charles Howard, who added a stud complex for breeding racehorses. Mr Howard’s widow Lillian allowed it to be used as a rehabilitation centre for the US Air Force during the Second World War, during which time it was temporarily renamed Pangbourne House to avoid confusion with a similarly-named centre in Dorset.
When the American Red Cross moved out after the war, the original house was in a poor state and uneconomical to repair so was demolished, leaving the old servants’ quarters and coach house, which was extended and refurbished in 1982.
Mr Deaner’s family lived there for some years before it was sold to Twinsectra, a property company based in London, for £4.1 million in 2015. It rarely opened to the public in recent years, although Mr Deaner hosted polo matches and occasional training sessions for Reading Football Club.
The main two-storey house has 13,368 sq ft of floor space with an entrance hall, reception hall, sitting room, study, kitchen, five bathrooms, dining room, drawing room, an indoor pool room, games room and cellars.
There is an old orangery and greenhouses in the grounds, a walled garden, a disused swimming pool and a complex of former coaching buildings with a courtyard. These include two three-bedroom cottages, offices, stables and paddocks.
There is also a separate three-bedroom lodge, a pavilion, a dilapidated indoor tennis court and a boathouse with a wet dock, dry dock and small upstairs flat.
Mr McAndrew said: “It’s in quite a sad state in some ways but it’s still there and not in terrible condition, all things considered. Given the extent of the deterioration, it must have started while the property was still inhabited.
“We aren’t putting a figure on the restoration cost because it would depend on the buyer’s aspirations. It’s a real beauty of a riverside estate and visiting is like going back in time.
“It’s crumbling with an air of faded glory but it could be so special if someone had the time, the energy and, of course, reasonably deep pockets. There’s a real treasure waiting to be dug out.
“Given the variety of interest, there are lots of balls in the air and I couldn’t say where they’re going to fall but I imagine there will be a buyer within a month or so.”
Vicky Jordan, chairwoman of the village’s history society, said: “I visited once during the Seventies when I first moved to the village as the Women’s Institute held a garden party there.
“I must admit I don’t remember much of that day as I had a young child to look after. I’ve never been inside the house and I don’t know anyone in the village who has. It’s always been very private.
“The estate has been dilapidated for years and although it would be lovely to open it to the public, I don’t know whether there’s much left to open. It would be nice if Humphry Repton’s grounds could be restored for people to visit and enjoy a cup of tea, but I’m not holding my breath.
“I'm not sure what sort of person would buy it. People who live on big estates value their privacy and I doubt they’d want to drive their Rolls-Royce along Manor Road, though I suppose they could always enter via the river!”
Whitchurch Parish Council’s vice-chairman Jim Donahue, who is overseeing the revision of the village plan, said: “I doubt anyone would take issue with the estate being restored and I think some people in the village would be open to limited housing development.
“However, it would have to be done in a way that doesn’t affect the quality of life in our beautiful village and there would probably be concerns about anything on a larger scale.”
At a glance...
THE COOMBE PARK ESTATE, WHITCHURCH
• Main house: entrance hall, reception hall, sitting room, study, inner hall, kitchen, dining room, drawing room, pool and games room. Master bedroom suite with dressing room and bathroom, guest bedroom suite, five further bedrooms and two bathrooms. Garage, extensive cellars with storage areas. Totalling around 13,368 sq ft
• Timber Lodge: master bedroom suite with dressing room and bathrooom, two further bedrooms, one bathroom, study sitting room / dining room, kitchen utility room
• Coach house comprising Stud Cottage (three bedrooms) and Clock Lodge (three bedrooms), five offices
• Outbuildings, boathouse, stables, sports pavilion, indoor tennis court, long carriage drive, paddocks, woodland, far-reaching views
• Land: about 125 acres / 50.6 hectares
Guide price: £10million
Agencies: Strutt & Parker on 0207 318 5172 and Knight Frank Henley on (01491) 844900
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