The Mail On Sunday

Ever fancied yourself as something of a concert pianist? Well, Weycroft Hall could be the chance you’ve been waiting for to put your virtuoso skills to the test. The property, near Axminster in Devon, comes with its own concert hall – capable of seating an audience of 100 – and even boasts a minstrels’ gallery.

The Grade I listed building, which dates from the early 15th Century, is set in more than 80 acres and is currently used as a religious retreat. The property – built on the site of a fortified Roman camp – comprises the main house, which has seven bedrooms and two bathrooms, plus a three-bedroom annexe, a one-bedroom cottage and a three-bedroom lodge house.

‘The tenancy has come to an end and the family who own it have decided to sell,’ says Oliver Custance Baker, of agents Strutt & Parker in Exeter. ‘It’s been in the same family for generations.’

Weycroft’s stunning great hall is often used for musical events, while wedding receptions can also be held there. ‘And it looks fantastic at Christmas with a Christmas tree and a roaring fire,’ says Oliver.

‘Where else could you get a Grade I listed hall for £800,000?’ asks Oliver. To be listed, a building has to be on the Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest, which means it cannot be extended or altered without special permission from the local authority.

According to Oliver, demand for such properties is surging. ‘I’ve definitely seen a recent spike in interest from purchasers wishing to buy something like Weycroft Hall,’ he says. ‘Often it’s people moving away from the London area looking for a statement house.’

There are a number of other listed buildings on the market around the country, including The Oast, near Tunbridge Wells. The Grade II listed converted oast house has five bedrooms, three of which are en suite, a triple garage with a room above (which has planning permission for dormer windows), a workshop and a 1½-acre orchard.

The 16th Century Pilgrims House is located in the Norfolk village of Bacton, where 63 years ago on this very day, 80 people died when the combination of a spring tide and a ferocious storm caused catastrophic flooding in the area. Locals still live in awe of the North Sea’s ‘hungry waves’.

But Pilgrims House has always stood firm and is now for sale, along with its own mini holiday village, through Howards. ‘Luckily, the sea wall is just 500 yards away. Waves can still come over the top and when a big tide is expected we’ve taken precautions,’ says owner Vincent McCartney. ‘Last year, there was flooding a mile away but it’s never happened here.’

It’s possible that providence may have played a part. The house is named after the pilgrims who flocked to neighbouring Bacton Abbey, which now lies in ruins. The abbey was famous throughout medieval Europe, and even mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, for containing a piece from the True Cross, on which Jesus was crucified. The piece is said to be buried beneath the abbey’s ruins. Grade II listed Pilgrims House was built as the abbey’s farmhouse.

Vincent, 66, and his wife Margaret, 68, bought the property in the 1980s for £68,000, and they have turned a number of disused farm buildings into holiday cottages. The holiday village, which also contains an indoor swimming pool, is a thriving business that takes about 100 bookings a year.

‘Our family is grown up and we are ready to move on,’ says Vincent. ‘Whoever buys Pilgrims can do what they like with it – keep it as it is, sell it off separately or even create a boutique hotel and spa complex.’



The Mail on Sunday

It started out, 500 years ago, as a home for a successful man. And that is what it is right now. But in the intervening centuries it has served an array of purposes – not least as a cobbler’s store, a butcher’s shop, and even an abattoir.

Little clues throughout the house, which is in the village of Charlwood in Surrey, tell the story of the changes it has been through.

In what is now the music room there is a hook that was used to tether livestock and a strut from which slaughtered carcasses were hung, dating from the abattoir days.

And the four-bedroom home’s owner, Martin Cooper, says the floor in that room was originally slanted so all the blood, guts and urine ran down into the gardens where, he points out, ‘everything grows profusely as a result’.

In the Victorian era, the house was transformed into a butcher’s, and among Martin’s treasured possessions is a photograph showing the butcher standing proudly beside an impressive array of meat he was selling to customers at Christmas in 1900.

Then, in the 20th Century, it became a shoe-repair store after a cobbler was forced to move his business from the nearby village of Lowfield Heath when it was cleared to build Gatwick Airport.

Today, you can still see, to the right of the front entrance, an unusual door that leads to where the cobbler stored the lasts for his shoes.

But there is one aspect of the 1543 house that cannot be explained – its name. It is called Hunts, and Martin, even as a member of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, is at a loss as to why.

A centrepiece of the village of Charlwood, Hunts was first occupied by the local squire, and the smoke from the fires that would have burned in the building’s hall – now the main living area – still stains the attic rafters.

Thanks to its magnificent timber frame, impressive chimney stack and unique roof structure, Hunts, which is set in three-quarters of an acre of gardens, is Grade II listed.

For the past 18 years it has been lovingly tended by Martin, a 61-year-old builder. He fell in love with it when moving his family out of London in 1999.

When he bought it, for £345,000, it was semi-derelict and had no proper kitchen or bathroom. But it stood out for him from all the other properties in ‘typical Surrey suburbia’.

Ever since, he has preserved Hunts’ original character while transforming it into a warm, family home ideal for entertaining.

The father of two – who married and divorced the same woman twice and who, as a builder, specialises in the restoration of churches – sees himself as a custodian, rather than simply the owner, of the property.

But he insists that living in a listed building ‘has to be an experience you are willing to have – you can’t just stick radiators in regardless, as the building will warp and crack’.

Martin, who currently has 38 radiators running off a new boiler, found this to his cost last year when the plaster fell off his bedroom ceiling in the middle of the night, bringing down centuries of dirt and breaking his nose.

The ceiling is now fixed, but other challenges remain in Hunts, such as ‘the presence’ felt by some in the downstairs utility room and the almost total lack of mobile phone reception, which Martin attributes to the thick timber frame. ‘It’s as hard as iron,’ he explains. ‘You can’t even get a drill through it.’

Martin  sees his home as representing his life’s work – both as a builder and, thanks to his music room (which contains an organ and piano), as a church organist and music director of the Surrey parish of Redhill.

Although there is potential to convert Hunts’ loft and garage areas, subject to necessary consent, Martin is insistent that any buyer must be mindful of the responsibilities that come from owning a piece of our national heritage.

‘You have to be familiar with the limitations of what you can do – you can’t just transform a chocolate-box exterior into a place with immaculate floors and immaculate walls,’ he says. ‘What is special about Hunts is that it is a living, breathing piece of history.’