The £1.75 million mansion for sale with love story that will break your heart
- Credit: 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.
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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.
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.
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.