See inside one of Norfolk's biggest mansions being restored by owners
PUBLISHED: 15:23 02 May 2019 | UPDATED: 17:53 02 May 2019
The owners of a stately home revealed their big plans for the historic estate. CAROLINE CULOT spoke to Peter Sheppard and Keith Day at Wolterton Park.
Designers Peter Sheppard and Keith Day, from London, bought Wolterton Park three years ago and got four beautiful holiday lets up and running to help sustain the property. They invited this newspaper along to see the work in progress at the main hall, which was built by Horatio Walpole, brother of the first British prime minister and owned by the Walpole family from 1721 until 2016. The present Lord Walpole had inherited the house from his father, who died in 1989. No one had lived in the house and it had been closed up with shutters preserving the contents from sunlight.
Peter, sitting in the hall's evocative library, surrounded by 3000 tomes which he purchased from the Walpoles, said: “The biggest challenge with refurbishing Wolterton is money, you end up putting a '0' on the end of everything.” “But do you know what our favourite books are?” added Keith, with a smile. He pulled down a section of the 'bookcase' to reveal a drinks cabinet concealed behind two rows of fake book spines.
This Georgian estate with the Grade I listed house at its centre is an enormous undertaking, although ironically, because it hadn't been lived in for so long, much of the main house was very well preserved. Peter and Keith previously restored the award-winning Hales Hall and Hales Hall barn, an architectural treasure in south Norfolk. The restoration of Wolterton Park started with the installation of a Smallbone of Devizes freestanding kitchen, marble vanities, a cast iron bath and Venetian light fittings. “The hard thing is trying to generate an income stream, this is necessary in order for buildings like this to survive.” said Peter. They are refurbishing the estate to live in themselves but once it is restored, they have a plan to let it as a whole for very special occasions. With the current holiday lets and the hall, it would sleep about 50 people in total.
Many of the hall's formal, double height 'state rooms' with gigantic floor to ceiling windows boasted hessian wall coverings which have been preserved but the couple have tackled the state dining room. Dark brown paintwork and gloss has been repainted in white and the '1950s Indian restaurant wallpaper,' replaced with fine, bright red woven silk panels, reworked from those restored in Strawberry Hill, in Twickenham, also built by Horace Walpole.
“It's trying to look after the structure,” said Peter. “This is a house which has been beautifully designed, it hasn't just grown up over generations. We have about 20 other buildings and enormous cellars which would have been used to store candles and fruit.
“What we are now creating are sympathetic interiors.”
Keith added: “One of the best things about living here is waking up and seeing the view.” The holiday lets; the East Wing, the Treasury, the Steward's House and The Garden House, boasting a total of 14 bedrooms, accommodating up to 28 guests, have been running for a year and guests, many from London, are now rebooking.
This means the couple can concentrate on refurbishing the main house. The ground floor boasts a large entrance reception and a beautiful 'floating' cantilevered staircase with a wide mahogany bannister inlaid with satinwood which winds up to the top. On the first floor is a formal 'saloon,' an older version of the French word 'salon' the largest, and grandest, room in the house. Off this is a portrait room with paintings of the Walpole ancestors adorning the walls. The couple purchased these from the Walpoles and positioned them so they all 'look at you' when you enter the room. “It reminds me of Harry Potter,” said Peter. “I imagine all the portraits talking to each other.”
You see a glimpse of some of the plans for the house in Peter's study – and this room is truly inspiring because it has the most spectacular Palladian arched window. Peter and Keith are also in the middle of refurbishing the state bedroom suite, putting in an en suite shower and bathroom as well as a second cloakroom. Other work includes putting back a staircase at the front of the house, which was originally built in the 18th century but demolished. An apiary of 12 hives has recently been established and the gardening team are planting an orchard with 68 different varieties of Norfolk apples to make cider. Then there are the cavernous cellars, which run underneath the hall, mirroring it, which are currently used as storage, to sort out, with one being transformed into a cinema room.
The estate includes a 120 acre park with a 10 acre lake and 100 acres of woodland and hundreds of acres of grazing land, with plans for a large wildflower meadow. The walled garden alone covers eight acres and is one of the largest in the UK. Peter, said, for him, one of the best things is the house's position.
“The house is right in the middle of the estate, which is one mile square, so you can actually say that you own everything the eye can see.”
To enquire about an Invitation to View tour, please contact Wolterton Park on 01263 768966 and to stay, you can click here