THE MAIL ON SUNDAY: It’s a bit of a squash… but this old sports court has been transformed into a smashing little home

The Old Squash Court, Bayham Abbey, Lamberhurst, Tunbridge Wells.jpg
The Old Squash Court, Bayham Abbey, Lamberhurst, Tunbridge Wells.jpg

You reach it via a private road that sweeps through a verdant valley, over a sparkling lake and past an impressive mansion.

But while the unassuming four-bedroom house at the end of the lane may be overshadowed by its beautiful surroundings, its history is as colourful as anything else in the area.

What is now a family home was previously a squash court – and before that a pioneering 19th Century gasworks stood on the site.

‘In the kitchen you can see what was once the court’s front wall,’ says its owner, businesswoman Charlotte Haynes, 53, who is selling the house for £850,000. ‘It would once have been absolutely covered with black rubbery marks where it was hit thousands of times by balls.’

The Old Squash Court is one of more than 20 old buildings – including a carriage house, a fire station and a stables – on the Bayham Abbey estate, near Tunbridge Wells in Kent, that have been converted into homes.

The estate was acquired by the 1st Marquess of Camden in the 18th Century. He hired one of the top landscape designers of the day, Humphry Repton, who planned ‘a scene of Sylvan sublimity which can neither be described by words or painting’.

Decades later a gasworks was built on the site of what is now Charlotte’s house. In what was a forward-thinking example of energy production for the time, the gasworks powered all the lights in the Marquess’s stately home.

In 1910, the sporty 4th Marquess knocked down the gasworks to build a squash court to entertain his aristocratic guests.

In the mid-1970s the estate was divided up and sold off – and the squash court was later converted into the dwelling now called The Old Squash Court.

When Charlotte bought it 14 months ago, there were plenty of clues to its original purpose. The unusual layout, for example, is a pointer to its history. Take the door-sized window halfway up the central staircase.

‘There used to be outdoor stairs leading up to this opening, which was once a door,’ Charlotte, a mother of two, explains. ‘It led to a viewing platform where the ladies from the house could follow the game going on below.’

But the biggest clue to the building’s previous use as a squash court is the high-vaulted ceiling above the main living area – a feature that Charlotte says ‘presented a challenge’ when she tried to make the house more homely.

‘It was vast, airy and spacious but the space felt a little overwhelming,’ she explains.

Charlotte used her knowledge of feng shui, the Chinese system of harmony, to try to overcome this type of issue – which can often arise when a building’s original purpose is so different from providing a home.

‘Chi – or energy flow – follows the eye line so all the energy was draining towards the ceiling,’ recalls Charlotte of the house when she bought it.

‘To rectify this, I put up colourful blinds and a large, antique mirror in order to lower the sight line. Now the energy flows down, so, despite its size, this room feels very cosy and is great for entertaining.’

Charlotte, who runs Energise Your Home, a business that helps homeowners who are struggling to find a buyer for their home, says feng shui can play a vital role with the details that make a property attractive.

She adds: ‘It’s all about enhancing the energy flow and feel of the place – creating a sense of warmth. I am working with an instinctual part of the brain which makes people feel safe, and creates an emotional connection.’

Charlotte has also used feng shui to enhance the garden of The Old Squash Court, cutting the grass in a circular pattern ‘to ensure the energy doesn’t flow away from the house’.

‘I’ve worked on big old houses with long drives where the energy just flows off and never gets to the people at the end,’ she says. ‘Boundaries are very important, to concentrate energy around the home.’

She has erected a new fence and, to make the most of the view, constructed a viewing platform that overlooks the valley, so that she can watch the sun set with friends and a bottle of wine.

There is planning permission for an extension on the site, which could hugely increase the size of the house without impinging on the garden.

The property also boasts a writer’s cabin – with space for 6,000 books –and the outside space is equipped with a rope swing, glasshouse, vegetable garden, pond and hen coop.

In fact, the only thing The Old Squash Court appears to be missing is a squash racket.

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