Exclusive, extraordinary and for sale. These are the homes that just have to be seen – so we've hunted them down for a fascinating and very private view
This week: Shurland Hall, Isle of Sheppey, Kent
What: A restored 16th century gatehouse, saved from collapse by The Spitalfields Trust. This five bedroom house is for sale with seven acres and outbuildings for conversion and is where Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn spent their honeymoon.
We say: Five years ago it was a crumbling shell, without a roof and about to collapse. But, because of its fascinating history and royal connections, it has rescued by a charity with a passion for saving English history. It still needs some work but this once grand abode has the potential to return to its former glory.
The historic home rescue squad
“We saved another one,” beams Oliver Leigh Wood of The Spitalfields Historic Building Trust when I go to meet him and his colleague Tim Whittaker at Shurland Hall on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. I'm curious to know why anyone would be crazy enough to buy crumbling ruins off a local farmer for £1 and set about giving five years of their time to bringing a former Tudor courtiers’ palace back to life when everyone else seemed happy to let it fall down. Especially when, given the restoration, the profit margin is slim.
“We aren’t property developers,” says Leigh-Wood, “we’re repairers” and repair is what they have done to Shurland, on a grand scale. Armed with a £300,000 grant from English Heritage, a low interest loan from the Architectural Heritage Fund plus some money of their own, this not-for-profit charity, based in east London, is nearing the end of its biggest, longest and most expensive venture yet. Oliver says; “it’s been fun. We just need to sell it and then we’ve achieved our objective”. And they should know, it’s the 70th home Oliver and the Spitalfields Trust has rescued in the past 30 years.
Make do and mend
The hard work is over and while the last touches are still underway Shurland Hall is now on the market. The Trust has given it a new lead-lined roof, walls, a mix of wooden and tiled floors, hand-made wood sash windows to the north side and original looking lead windows to the south.
There are traditional features throughout and rescued fittings from all over the country. “We like other people’s rubbish” says Leigh-Wood. He and his team have paid attention to Shurland Hall’s history and, despite a modern day re-build, it has many old features, even if they don’t all originate from this building: the wood paneling door frame in the great hall (picture left) is mostly made of original Tudor wood; the fireplace in the great hall is part original - they found the right hand part in the ruins and recreated the other half as an exact replica and there is a lead window in an en-suite that they found on a tip. Any original bricks were reused and even the mortar in the chimneys is made as it would have been in the 16th century – mixing local seashells into the mortar. It is this attention to detail that highlights Leigh-Wood and Whittaker’s true passion for historic buildings.
People have lived here since before the Romans and it was the site of a Castle in the 12th century. Henry VIII’s courtier, Sir Thomas Cheyne, built a huge estate here in 1500, which included a chapel, mews, offices, kennels and accommodation for up to three hundred, but the gatehouse is all that remains today.
Sir Thomas gave Shurland a lavish extension in 1532 in preparation for the arrival of Henry and his soon to be wife, Anne Boleyn, and the couple honeymooned here and therefore escaped the London Plague. They stayed at Shurland Hall for three days of shooting on the estate with their entourage of more than three hundred, en route to visit King Francis I in Calais, France.
Sir Thomas’ son chose to move his family to one of his other inherited estates, in Bedfordshire, where he often entertained Queen Elizabeth I. However, the cost of entertaining royalty was so vast that he began to sell off the land in Kent and, although he kept Shurland, the building was neglected.
In 1570 the Crown was concerned by the condition of the property and took back Shurland, subsequently leasing it out to a farmer.
Shurland Hall was apparently sold in good condition in 1927, with eight bedrooms and a garden. But at the outbreak of World War II it was occupied by the armed services as a garrison, and by 1949 its lead roof had been removed, its lead windows stolen and part of the structure collapsed. Shurland was left to rot and was later sold to a farmer for its land. Despite becoming a listed building in 1955 it was not rescued until the Spitalfields Trust came along in 2006.
Property for sale in Kent
There’s still work to be done though, so a potential buyer will need between £100,000 and £500,000 to cover the finishing touches. Planning permission is already in place to convert the farm buildings into five cottages, which could generate income as holiday homes. Alternatively, there is scope to transform these into a large barn, which, coupled with Shurland’s picturesque backdrop, could make it into a perfect wedding venue.
The Spitalfields Trust had the vision to see crumbling Shurland Hall’s potential and invest time and money in its restoration. Now the great search is on for the buyer who shares Leigh-Wood and Whittaker’s belief in this unique property with the fascinating history.
Guide price £2 million.
The great search is on for the buyer who shares Leigh-Wood and Whittaker’s belief in this unique property with the fascinating history.