You don't need to be born with a silver spoon to save our heritage
PUBLISHED: 19:36 11 July 2019 | UPDATED: 19:36 11 July 2019
Nick Conrad says newcomers have done wonders with Grade 1 listed house in North Norfolk
Wolterton Park, a grade I listed Georgian estate in North Norfolk, is being lovingly restored by two successful London designers.
Peter Sheppard and Keith Day, the new owners of the grand estate, swapped the delights of Westminster for the lush green pastures of Norfolk. Nestled in scenery, worthy of John Constable's brush, is where you'll find this majestic Palladian house. The House would be a worthy protagonist for the great painter. Wolterton's profile has been eclipsed by its famous neighbours at Blickling, Holkham and Houghton. If I was ever lucky enough to own such an architectural gem, this would be the Norfolk house I'd willingly call 'home'.
On a crisp, winter's walk nearly a decade ago, I first fell for Wolterton's unique charm. An eerie morning mist lingered over the lake, crept up the front lawn and licked the lower walls of the house's stained stonework. A foreboding sense of cultural decay lingered with the vapour. I mused, if only I had the money to inject some love back into this country house. The scene I witnessed on my return was quite the opposite.
The brickwork and windows have been scrubbed, painted and restored. The shutters have been thrown open to allow the cleansing rays of the sun to penetrate the heart of the structure. Any fustiness is long gone. For this old house and park, these are better days. I'm instantly charmed by Keith's and Peter's enthusiastic tour of the house and grounds. As we move from room to room it's apparent that this restoration project has turned both gentlemen into historians. They are armed with facts and figures, making venturing around the estate most informative. One would imagine the responsibility of undertaking such a venture could weigh heavily on the shoulders. With a delightful panache, both regale stories of their efforts to expertly restore this house.
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If you are 'To The Manor Born,' one imagines the vices and virtues of living in a large country house might be second nature. If, like the majority of us, fewer silver spoons were placed into our mouths at birth the idea of being the custodian of a piece of National history might be a little more daunting. Luckily Peter and Keith have plenty of experience and a real passion for injecting life back into old buildings. They previously restored the award-winning Hales Hall, an architectural treasure in south Norfolk. But maybe this is their most significant project?
Wolterton was at the very centre of political power in Britain. Originally built by Horatio Walpole, brother of the first British Prime Minister and owned by the Walpole family from 1721 until 2016. Various famous names of our country's history, including Lord Nelson, have visited or resided in this house. If only the walls could speak, one imagines an avalanche of juicy gossip and illuminating revelations seeping out of the bricks. Alas, the structure is mute, but you only have to stand in the grand marble ball room, the stately bedrooms or the library to get a sense of past.
Historically the eldest son would inherit the property portfolio. From generation to generation primogeniture may have delivered savage inequality, but it has safeguarded many large estates. Of late something has changed. Thank goodness for this new generation of owners who are prepared to invest, renovate and cherish these houses as if they'd been in their own families for decades.
Wolterton's new owners are as charming and accommodating as the house. The work they've done, and significant sums invested, will safeguard this property for decades. Our country houses are unique and well worth saving. But with many other architectural priorities they languish down the priority list. This sympathetic renovation is both clever and progressive. Keith and Peter have inserted their own chapter to this extraordinary story.
Even better, visitors to the area and locals alike can revel in the designers' glory. Since purchasing the estate in 2016, Peter and Keith have artistically renovated four gloriously distinguished holiday lets, providing the indisputably superb opportunity to stay on the very same estate frequented by some of the greatest names in history. By staying at Wolterton Park, holidaymakers are helping to sustain this wondrous property and breathe life back into the estate.
Every stately house has a story. Wolterton's future is what really excites me. I'm delighted Keith and Peter have turned this house into a home again. They are worthy custodians to write this magnificent estate's next chapter.