Saturday, 25 September 2021

Abbey hunting ground

FOR her Tudor Issue, Standard Property found a couple of homes that could be the perfect setting for The Tudors or Wolf Hall

FOR her Tudor Issue, Standard Property found a couple of homes that could be the perfect setting for The Tudors or Wolf Hall. Off with their heads!

THE Tudors are probably our most notorious royal family. Who doesn’t know all about their gilt decorations and fancy finery? Tudor palaces are renowned for their opulence so it’s a shame more of them have not survived, which makes the Grade II* listed estate of Medmenham Abbey, down river from Henley, all the more special.

“Such a prime piece of property doesn’t come to the market very often,” said Nicholas Brown, partner of Knight Frank, which is marketing the property. “It has to be one of the most photographed houses on the River Thames, and one of only a handful of houses in the area that can claim to be truly iconic.”

Originally built on the site of a 13th–century Cistercian abbey, Medmenham Abbey was home to the De Bolebec family, including controversial Elizabethan nobleman Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.

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 Francis Duffield leased the abbey to local hell–raiser Sir Francis Dashwood and his merry oversexed bunch.

It’s Dashwood who is responsible for restoring the property, adding the "ruined’ folly tower to one side, and having a coat of arms with the old French for "Do what you wish’ (Fay ce que voudras) carved in various locations around it.

Subsequent owners continued to update the property while maintaining many of its original features, such as the leaded stained–glass windows, and beautiful stone fireplaces. However, it’s the current owners that history lovers have to thank for today’s incarnation.

Having inherited the 42.10–acre property from his father, the owner set about bringing the hand–cut timbers and herringbone bricks into the 21st century.

The current owner is quoted as saying: “My father carried out various renovations, but these were mainly at a cosmetic level, so in about 1998 I decided I wanted Medmenham Abbey to go from being a fine country home to something world class.”

Which he did, with bells on.

Essentially, the property consists of three floors of rooms including a modern kitchen/breakfast room, five reception rooms including a music room and a library, a master bedroom suite with dressing room and bathroom, eight other bedroom suites, as well as the current owner’s additions of a spa bathroom/steam room, cinema and gym.

There is also a separate housekeeper’s cottage, plus staff offices, garages and more.

Updating the house proved to be a larger job than was imagined, admits the owner. He said: “As well as the bigger things, there were the little things: I wanted floorboards that didn’t creak and there was asbestos in the kitchen that nobody knew about. I wanted it done properly.

“All the roof tiles and the herringbone bricks in the wall were removed and resealed. We’ve become connected to the mains drainage and we installed new water pipes, tanks and boilers. We had builders here for two years.”

Since that time, nearly £2million has been spent on updating the property, some of it going towards having marble in all the bathrooms, the addition of some 1.5 miles of riverside boardwalk “so you don’t get your feet wet or muddy”, and a hotel–style bar to showcase the owner’s collection of single malts.

“I wanted the 20–seat cinema to have the biggest possible screen we could fit,” said the owner.

Nicholas Brown of Knight Frank added: “The cinema is superb. It’s a very clever use of what was an old building adjoining the main house.”

Along with contemporary artwork, additions also include bespoke mahogany and oak cabinets, four–poster beds, detailed plasterwork, carved wooden panelling and a decked roof terrace on top of the folly.

Mr Brown said: “In the main house, another part that’s noteworthy is the spectacular River Room, which has a view of the Thames, both up and down stream.”

Today’s gardens are immaculate and need daily tending by a team of gardeners. The ornate box hedging is particularly stunning, and leads your eye down to the outdoor swimming pool with lawns beyond. However, the majority of the grounds are water meadows which you can walk around without need for your wellingtons thanks to the aforementioned boardwalk. There is also a wet dock with room for two river launches.

After years of improvements and then enjoying his endeavours, the current owner is ready to move on, although he admits he will try to remain local.

Mr Brown added: “The unique and historical elements of the house have been maintained and enhanced throughout.

“Now Medmenham Abbey is an exceptional home on one of the most attractive reaches of the Thames, between Henley and Marlow. I am confident we will receive significant interest from a global audience.”

Standard Property thinks she could be interested, if the owner were to throw in Damien Lewis as part of the packageâ?¦

• Medmenham Abbey is on the market with Knight Frank at a guide price in excess of £10,000,000. Call (01491) 844900 for more information.

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