Historic homes

With many period properties in south west London and Surrey, we take a look at the joys and realities of owning an historic home

From magnificent mansions, once home to the powerful and famous, to Georgian townhouses and our rows of Victorian terraces, the many styles and periods of properties we have in our locale offer the chance to live in a home full of character and history.

Juliet Peacock and writer and actor Eric Deacon moved from Wimbledon to a period property in Esher. Clive Place was built in 1767 and subsequently added to, to make a huge entertaining space. The wraparound balcony (pictured below) is where party guests would have stood to watch the ‘cascade’ flowing down around a grotto. An entertainer, dressed in rags, would then emerge and sing songs and recite poetry.

Says Eric: “For years, the grotto remained hidden under ivy and bushes – we only discovered it by chance. The head gardeners of Painshill Park and Claremont Gardens have been to see it, as well as local historians and The National Trust. They say some of the boulders used to build it weigh half a ton!”

Many homeowners are finding hidden gems in their property. While you may not have a grotto in your garden, the rediscovery of a boarded up Victorian fireplace is enough to stir the imagination. Some research into the history of your own home is well worthwhile. According to Historic England, the public body helping people to care for England’s historic environment, it’s easy to track the heritage. Make use of the wide range of resources available – in libraries, local archives, local study centres, museums or on specialist websites. Look up whether your house is listed on the National Heritage List for England, which records a brief overview of the date of construction.

It may not even be the building itself but a famous occupant that gives a home history. Check out census records. Adds Eric: “Around 100 years after the house was built, it is said that Justice Wills, the judge that jailed Oscar Wilde, lived there. As a writer, I’m intrigued to be sitting in front of the same fireplace – and, weirdly, my birthday, 25th May, is the date Oscar Wilde was sentenced.”

Eyhurst Farm House, in Kingswood, comprises seven bedrooms, and includes the original servants’ quarters where staff once resided when it was originally built in the traditional oak-framed style for a knight of the shire.

As a 14th century property, it has stacks of personality, something owner Reg Steel and his wife fell for. “We made the decision to buy it within five minutes of seeing it and have been here 26 years. We just loved the feel of the place, its history made it such a warm house.” They’re now moving so the incredible property is on the market with Fine & Country for £4.25 million.

The Historic Houses Association is the body charged with supporting some 1,600 private homes, many of which are vast estates with an important place in history, and yet are still lived in to this day. “These places are beautiful and the sense of history is intoxicating – many have never changed hands nor emptied of their contents, so hundreds of years of history can be found in every cupboard and drawer,” says the association’s James Probert.

Some homeowners open up their properties to the public to share their pride and joy, others rent their homes out for film and photo shoots. Parts of hit TV series The Durrells were filmed at the Richmond property The Green.

But while they bring much joy, historic homes, particularly if they are listed, are a serious commitment. James adds: “It’s a huge amount of work looking after some of these places, obviously physical maintenance is a constant demand – some of our members have literally acres of roof, and even a small leak can mean big problems down the line.”

There is also the question of getting the right craftsmen in for the job to ensure that repairs are inkeeping with the period of the property.

Reg is all too aware of the difficulties that can come with such a property. “It took quite a bit of restoration work to make it water-tight and liveable, but it was more of an enjoyable hobby than a chore.”

As well as the upkeep, how do homeowners deal with the period theme and keep the interior inkeeping while making sure their home is functional and in line with modern demands? If there are no building restrictions, some homeowners go completely modern on the inside providing a stunning contrast to the historical exterior.

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Unusually large or properties previously used for another purpose, such as a school, lend themselves to being converted into apartments. Grade II listed Eagle House in Wimbledon Village has been meticulously restored and converted into eight luxury apartments by developer Octagon and overseen by English Heritage. A team of craftsmen painstakingly restored all the existing period features, including moulded ceilings and stained glass windows. There are many treasures to choose from in south west London and Surrey, and while modern homes have their many advantages, there is something special about an historic home with all its features and unique tales of previous occupants.