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The £1.75 million mansion for sale with love story that will break your heart

PUBLISHED: 12:22 18 February 2020 | UPDATED: 15:31 18 February 2020

Maria Pasqua and her husband Philip Candler Shepheard who lived at Abbotts Hall, Drabblegate which is for sale. Picture: Strutt & Parker/Archant Library

Maria Pasqua and her husband Philip Candler Shepheard who lived at Abbotts Hall, Drabblegate which is for sale. Picture: Strutt & Parker/Archant Library

Strutt & Parker/Archant Library

A country house is for sale with a tear-jerking tale of the couple who once owned it – like something out of a movie.

Abbotts Hall, Drabblegate, Aylsham was once lived in by Maria Pasqua, a beautiful Italian peasant girl who became an artist's model in Victorian times and was sold by her father for two leather bags of gold to an eccentric English-born aristocratic lady.

Maria would accompany her father while he sat for artists and her own striking features led to her becoming a child model.

Aged just six, Maria and her father crossed the Alps, mostly on foot, from Rome to Paris where she became hugely successful in an age when paintings of beautiful children were popular.

It was there the child caught the attention of the widow of a French aristocrat, Helena, Comtesse de Noailles. who bought Maria from her father who stipulated that she should never be painted again and must be raised as a Catholic.

Portrait of Maria Pasqua, entitled A Greek Captive,  by Henriette Browne, painted in 1863. Picture: Archant libraryPortrait of Maria Pasqua, entitled A Greek Captive, by Henriette Browne, painted in 1863. Picture: Archant library

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At the age of 21, while staying with friends of the Madame in Bournemouth, Maria had a chance meeting with the recently-widowed Philip Candler Shepheard, 20 years her senior. His farming family came from Erpingham, near Aylsham, although he had been practising as a doctor in Gayton, west Norfolk.

Painting of Maria by Charles Jalabert, exhibited in the Paris Salon in 1863. Picture: Archant libraryPainting of Maria by Charles Jalabert, exhibited in the Paris Salon in 1863. Picture: Archant library

The unlikely pair fell in love, married and Philip bought Abbots Hall where they lived and raised four children.

However, it wasn't happily ever after for Maria when one son died in childhood and another, Philip, was later killed at Gallipoli in the First World War. His name is recorded on Aylsham's war memorial.

To her regret, Maria never returned to the mountains and sunshine of Italy and died in 1939, aged 83.

Son Samuel never married and lived alone in Abbots Hall until his death in 1973, two weeks after a fire at his home which broke out while he was in hospital. He had been well-known throughout Norfolk as an active master of otterhounds.

Photograph from 1877 of Helena, Countess de Noailles who bought Maria Pasqua from her father. Picture: Archant libraryPhotograph from 1877 of Helena, Countess de Noailles who bought Maria Pasqua from her father. Picture: Archant library

The extraordinary tale only came to light when Maria's grandaughter, Magdalen Goffin, from Kent, wrote a book back in 2012.

Abbotts Hall, in more than five acres, is being sold by agents Strutt & Parker. It has six bedrooms over two floors and many original features as well as a conservatory with panoramic views and an indoor heated swimming pool. It also has its own former chapel, built by Mr Shepheard's sisters, which has been restored. The property also comes with former stables and a thatched barn.

Maria Pasqua at the time of her marriage in 1881. Picture: Archant libraryMaria Pasqua at the time of her marriage in 1881. Picture: Archant library

Philip Candler Shepheard, the north Norfolk landowner who became Maria Pasqua's husband. Picture: Archant libraryPhilip Candler Shepheard, the north Norfolk landowner who became Maria Pasqua's husband. Picture: Archant library

Philip Candler Shepheard  and son Samuel Shepheard outside Abbots Hall. Picture: Archant libraryPhilip Candler Shepheard and son Samuel Shepheard outside Abbots Hall. Picture: Archant library

Abbotts Hall, Drabblegate, for sale. Pic: Strutt & ParkerAbbotts Hall, Drabblegate, for sale. Pic: Strutt & Parker

Abbotts Hall, Drabblegate, for sale. Pic: Strutt & ParkerAbbotts Hall, Drabblegate, for sale. Pic: Strutt & Parker

Abbotts Hall, Drabblegate, for sale. Pic: Strutt & ParkerAbbotts Hall, Drabblegate, for sale. Pic: Strutt & Parker

Abbotts Hall, Drabblegate, for sale. Pic: Strutt & ParkerAbbotts Hall, Drabblegate, for sale. Pic: Strutt & Parker

Abbotts Hall, Drabblegate, for sale. Pic: Strutt & ParkerAbbotts Hall, Drabblegate, for sale. Pic: Strutt & Parker

You may also want to watch:

Abbotts Hall, Drabblegate, for sale. Pic: Strutt & ParkerAbbotts Hall, Drabblegate, for sale. Pic: Strutt & Parker

Abbotts Hall, Drabblegate, for sale. Pic: Strutt & ParkerAbbotts Hall, Drabblegate, for sale. Pic: Strutt & Parker

Abbotts Hall, Drabblegate, for sale. Pic: Strutt & ParkerAbbotts Hall, Drabblegate, for sale. Pic: Strutt & Parker

Abbotts Hall, Drabblegate, for sale. Pic: Strutt & ParkerAbbotts Hall, Drabblegate, for sale. Pic: Strutt & Parker


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