Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Castle that has been the home of many an illustrious Englishman

THEY say an Englishman’s home is his castle and that could certainly be true of White Cross with its castellated

THEY say an Englishman’s home is his castle and that could certainly be true of White Cross with its castellated rooftop. The Grade-II listed property in Wallingford was the perfect home for Dr Robert Fisher, his wife Julie and their four children.

“We wanted a large country home but I didn’t want it in the middle of nowhere,” said Julie. This was perfect as it felt rural but was really accessible.”

The property was derelict when they first saw it, having been boarded up for six years. White Cross dates back to around 1774 when the original house was constructed. It has an interesting history with a number of noteworthy owners.

Dr Joseph Arnould (17861859) also owned most of the riverside land in Winterbrook. In 1850 his daughter Anne Elizabeth Arnould married Henry Olivier in nearby Cholsey; the actor Sir Laurence Olivier was their grandson.

When Dr Arnould died, White Cross passed to his son, Sir Joseph Arnould (1813-1886). Joseph was a close friend of the poet Robert Browning and was a lawyer, journalist and poet. In 1859 he became Judge of Supreme Court at Bombay, for which he received his knighthood.

The property was later owned by Sir Rowland Whitehead (1863-1942), 3rd baronet, a barrister and Liberal MP. In 1893 he married Ethel Rathbone, (1869-1942); Basil Rathbone (1892-1967), the actor famous for portraying Sherlock Holmes, was their nephew.

Sir Rowland was later invested as a King’s Counsel (KC) and held the office of Lieutenant of the City of London. He was also Parliamentary Private Secretary between 1909 and 1910, to the Attorney-General. It is believed that during his time at White Cross Sir Rowland installed a statue of King Stephen in a recess of the flint wall which divides the grounds. Later in the 20th century, White Cross became a country hotel and was the home for Fairmile nurses before reverting to private occupancy.

Built in the mid-18th century as a country house, with later additions and alterations, White Cross has an impressive façade with a wonderful distinctive battlemented roof and central raised battlemented porch.

The house has been comprehensively modernised in recent years to create a charming period property with a wealth of character combined with the comforts of modern living.

Despite its sorry state, the Fishers could see the huge potential in the property and set about transforming it, creating what friends and family describe as a real “party” house. Indeed, any future owners will have quite a legacy to live up to as White Cross is the venue for a regular Christmas party and regularly hosts gatherings of up to 200 people.

When the Fishers first bought the property it had planning permission to be turned into apartments but they were pleased to have rescued it and preserved it as a family home.

Indeed, lots of former residents have called in over the years to see the changes that have taken place, many not even recognising the property as it is today.

“Someone said to us how nice to was to see radiators as it didn’t have any heating,” said Jane, a stress management and mindfulness coach. During the renovations, the couple tried to reflect the period of the property with the older sections of the house retaining their character while new additions have a more contemporary feel.

With a substantial amount of land, the couple set about building the leisure complex as it is today, thoroughly enjoyed by their four children and friends over the years, with regular rounders and tennis tournaments.

Now the children have grown up and are flying the nest, the couple have built a ski chalet in Switzerland that they are hoping to spend more time in as well as helping their children take their first steps on to the property ladder.

Jane said: “We will have mixed feelings when we leave. It is an exciting next chapter in our lives — it has provided us with the perfect family home but it is too big for us now. It really needs movement — to be filled with a big lively family who will enjoy the space as much as we have.”

Numerous interesting period features include stone mullion leaded windows, some of them within deep bays, a wealth of period fireplaces dating from the mid 18th century to 19th century in the main rooms and some of the bedrooms, an unusual mid-18th century Chinese Chippendale full height staircase with lattice fretwork and a carved mahogany fire surround. There are high ceilings, decorative cornicing, plaster mouldings, high skirting boards, carved architrave, wood-panelled walls, dado and picture rails as well as interesting architectural detailing including curved walls to the billiard room and a rounded ceiling to the master bedroom. There are exposed beams to the second floor while outside there is a flint wall separating part of the grounds, with a recess housing a statue believed to be King Stephen.

White Cross is a substantial and imposing property offering more than 7,500 square feet of well-proportioned accommodation arranged over three floors. The layout and design makes it equally suited to family living and entertaining, with versatile and elegant reception areas which flow into each other and enjoy wonderful views over the grounds.

There are many attractive features including the rather refined drawing room with its high ceiling with dental cornicing and ornate plasterwork above the picture rail. This also boasts a delightful open fireplace and large picture windows with the original shutters.

Also of note are the billiard room with its curved wooden bar and two sets of French doors to the terrace, and the more contemporary family room with oak flooring and large deep bay overlooking the grounds. This connects with the main kitchen which has been the subject of careful modernisation and features a part-vaulted ceiling revealing a high leaded window. This room has been fitted with a comprehensive range of units, integral appliances and a central island which is also a useful breakfast bar.

The upper floors boast a number of bedrooms, including a spacious triple-aspect master suite of generous proportions with a door to the roof balcony. This attractive room also has access to a bright ensuite bathroom and fitted dressing room. The guest suite is also stunning with French doors to the roof terrace and a striking “blue” bathroom with freestanding period bath and fittings.

There are six further double bedrooms, two with ensuite facilities, which might be used for other purposes if required. In addition, the split-level annexe has its own entrance and so can be completely self-contained or its accommodation integrated within the main house as desired. It enjoys its own private access and staircase with versatile accommodation on both floors.

White Cross is set within attractive and mature gardens with an abundance of trees and shrubs providing interest and seclusion, including a magnificent cedar and a black poplar. There are extensive formal gardens, woodland areas with firs, an apple orchard, a smaller lawn enclosed by trees and a flint wall separating the leisure complex from the formal lawn. To the front is a large carriage driveway with two sets of electric gates and a turning circle. There is ample parking for numerous vehicles and further vehicular access available in the courtyard on the north side of the house whose grounds extend to about 4.93 acres.

White Cross is situated near to the centre of Wallingford, an attractive and thriving market town situated on the banks of the River Thames. There is a monthly farmers’ market, plus a mixture of small businesses, antique dealers and well-known shops including Waitrose. For leisure, the Corn Exchange is the town’s independent cinema and theatre and there are some excellent bars and restaurants.

The property is available through Savills. For more details, call (01491) 843000.

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