Friday, 17 September 2021

English summer day has given us the abbey habit

Property reporter LUCY BOON spent a quintessential English summer’s day being seduced by the 13th

Property reporter LUCY BOON spent a quintessential English summer’s day being seduced by the 13th century Medmenham Abbey, which despite being  jaw-dropping has yet to be snapped up. It’s so amazing that we can’t help but wonder why George Clooney isn’t living in it...

MEDMENHAM Abbey — if you’re a local, you’ve heard of it. A beautiful 16th century abbey in one of the most peaceful settings imaginable — there are no immediate neighbours, and even though you have Thames river frontage you’re protected from prying eyes thanks to a well placed natural island in front of the house.

Not many ancient abbeys have survived the ravages of time — and Tudor kings. It’s a shame we don’t have more of them. Which makes this Grade II* listed property, four miles downstream from Henley, all the more special.

“Such a prime piece of property doesn’t come to the market very often,” says Matthew Mannall of the Henley branch of Knight Frank, which is marketing the property.

Originally built on the site of a 13th century Cistercian abbey, when Henry VIII broke with Rome and began to dissolve the monasteries the smaller ones, like Medmenham, were broken up first.

It got worse for Medmenham when the property came into the possession of the Pole family — cousins to Henry. In a fit of paranoia, the king beheaded the heir for treason, and his manor — and abbey — was claimed by the Crown.

Fast forward a few centuries to when then-owner Francis Duffield leased the abbey to local hellraiser Sir Francis Dashwood and his merry Hellfire Club (Google it and you’ll blush!)

It’s Dashwood who is responsible for adding the ‘ruined’ folly tower to one side , and having the “Fay ce que voudras” (“Do what you wish”) coat of arms carved in stone over doorways and fireplaces.

And, as it happens, this motto couldn’t be more fitting for the property — as Standard Property discovered on her visit.

Medmenham Abbey is exactly the kind of place to do — well, whatever takes your fancy. There’s so much choice, the mind boggles.

Want to open-water swim? Go fishing for bream in a prime spot? Or cruise down the river in a launch (there is a wet dock for two boats, as well as riverside moorings)? What about hiking for miles around beautiful woods that only you will get to see?

If you fancy something closer to home, take a dip in the outdoor heated pool, work out in the gym, or spend a day in the spa bathroom with its steam room sauna, hot tub and massage shower. Your reward could be curling up with a book in the library, trying out the piano in the music room, cooking up a storm in the professional kitchen, or enjoying a cocktail in the loggia.

No? Not enough drama for you? Then how about watching the new Bourne blockbuster — or better still playing a game of Half-Life — in the fully-fitted cinema. The 20 plush seats all have cup holders, just like your local Picturehouse. There’s even a bar from where to buy your popcorn or enjoy a pre-viewing glass of wine.

And if you ever find yourself tiring of these things, you always have the house itself to fall back on. Explore curious nooks and crannies and ancient curved doorways; discover where each of the four staircases lead to; gaze in wonder at the leaded stained-glass windows; admire the carved stone mantels; marvel at the detailed plasterwork and carved wooden panelling; and admire the ingenuity of the marriage between the original block stone and ancient wood front door and minimalist glass atrium.

Needless to say, the current owner has spent rather a lot of money on his home. Most of it, it has to be said, has gone on important renovations and restorations that will stand the property in good stead in future decades.

So alongside more mundane updates such as connecting to mains drainage and replacing the entire pipe network, there are loving restorations of the plasterwork and preservations of the fireplaces. Each herringbone brick had to be removed and replaced before being sealed.

Standard Property estimates that around £2.5million has been spent on updating the property to date. Although, naturally, some of this went towards extravagances such as top of the range marble in all of the 10 bathrooms and a riverbank boardwalk that runs continuously for some 1.5 miles.

Only a few months ago, a brand new entrance to the property was created, including a long, winding shingle drive that accesses the rear garden, as well as the property having a fresh lick of paint both inside and out.

“The property is now in the best condition it can ever be,” says Matthew Mannall. “Plus you now have the choice of entering the property through the quadrangle gate or via the new drive from the rear.”

Matthew says planning permission is now in place to have the existing six-car garage block (part of the quadrangle) “properly attached” to the rest of the property — another bonus.

As for that new drive, it now means that you can take in the splendour of the property when you pull up. When parked, you not only see the house at its best, but also the river, the swimming pool, and finally the meadows and woodlands beyond. The latter stretches on for around 42 acres, in fact.

Obviously, with such an extensive home, you’ll need a few people to help you keep it in top shape. Hence, there are separate lodgings in the grounds — ideal if you need your gardeners to live in.

There is also a separate staff block attached to the house. Currently this is used by the live-in personal assistant of the owner. However, this accommodation set-up would work equally well for elderly parents or teenage children.

Matthew adds: “Medmenham Abbey is an exceptional home on one of the most attractive reaches of the Thames. It has so much to offer someone searching for a house with history, a setting of absolute tranquillity, and yet every modern advantage — a truly rare opportunity.”

Medmenham Abbey is on the market with Knight Frank. Offers in excess of £10,000,000 are invited. For more information or to book a viewing, call Matthew Mannall on (01491) 844900.


• Bedrooms: nine, all en suite, including master suite which has its own study

• Bathrooms: nine en suite plus a separate spa bathroom with steam room, sauna, shower, hot tub and more

• Reception rooms: seven

• Other: entrance halls; cinema/bar wing; gym; utility room, attached housekeepers’ cottage with own living room, bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, utility room and downstairs WC; other outbuidings/staff buildings; garage block with planning in place to become annexed with main house; three downstairs WCs, extensive storage; second floor balcony; gym; wet dock; 42 acres of land

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