Crumbling Northamptonshire estate Lilford Hall – where the little owl was introduced to Britain – for sale for £10 million, a sum £35 million lower than in 2014.
On this basis, Lilford Hall – set in 321 acres near Oundle – seems a comparative bargain when considered against the £4,786 per square foot sought for a Lennox Gardens, Knightsbridge triplex flat The Steeple Times featured in May, but buyers need to remember this – parts of this crumbling building, most notably the major state rooms, have not been used since 1947.
Marketed last in 2014 for the even more punchy sum of £45 million, the “exceptional residential and amenity estate located on the River Nene,” is now offered by agents Savills. The “wonderfully proportioned” U-shaped mansion itself is constructed of grey limestone and includes over 100 rooms and amongst them are 7 “impressive” reception rooms, a ballroom, a ‘great chamber’ and 9 bedrooms. In addition, there are two Georgian pavilions that were formerly coach houses and stabling, three cottages, a former zoo, the oldest private softball court in the world, a former flamingo enclosure and a deer park.
“Impressiveness in the chief attribute of Lilford Hall as a specimen of architecture” claimed County Life in 1990 and as the seat of the Powys family from 1711 until 1990, it became not only a Downton Abbey-esque entertaining pad, but also housed nurses in the Second World War. Here, indeed, is an English country house that has seen lavishness and decline and thankfully here is an example that thankfully escaped the wrecking ball wrought so disgracefully on such houses in the 1950s and 1960s.
Fascinatingly in the 1880s, Thomas Powys, 4th Baron Lilford filled his aviaries on the estate with rheas, kiwis, pink-headed ducks, free-flying lammergeiers and it was from here that he also introduced the little owl into the UK. There are said to be around 5,700 breeding pairs today, but sadly, according to the RSPB, their numbers are now in decline.
More recently, in 1969, “sexually erotic” performance artist Penny Slinger took over the by then “derelict” mansion in conjunction with the filmmaker Peter Whitehead. Their resulting work, titled An Exorcism, was exhibited internationally and in 2004, after the current owners, Charles and Aziza Micklewright, acquired the house, they did something equally avant-garde; they attempted to sell burial plots in the grounds to Americans by citing the estate’s connections to the founder of the Brownists, Robert Browne – a man better known as ‘The Father of the Pilgrims’ and ‘The Grandfather of the Nation’ (of the United States of America).
Whilst Mr and Mrs Micklewright were lauded for their considerable efforts towards the “huge task” of restoring Lilford Hall, they came to the attention of Historic England in May 2019 when the building was listed on the At Risk Register. At that time, the Oundle Chronicle reported: “The roof covering is in poor condition leading to water ingress and distress to the upper storeys. The front bays require structural attention. A schedule of urgent repairs has been identified but not implemented, and no long-term solution has been agreed.”
Now, someone with very, very deep pockets is required to restore this gem. It would be helpful if they liked erotic art, bears, squash and owls also.
The Names & Numbers – The Lilford Hall Estate, Lilford, Oundle, Peterborough, Northamptonshire, PE8 5SG, United Kingdom
June 2020 – The estate is listed sale for £10 million ($12.5 million, €11.1 million or درهم46 million) through Savills. It includes 321.31 acres, of which 148.17 acres are pasture land whilst 157.48 acres are woodland. The majority of the estate is held on a freehold title, whilst the remaining 127.6 acres – known as ‘The Linches’ and ‘Lilford Woods’ – are held on a lease with 91 years remaining.
2015 – Promoted as ‘The National Memorial Gardens,’ burial plots in the gardens of the hall were offered “available to any UK resident or national for an outstanding price of only £1,250 ($1,568, €1,393 or درهم5,758)” by Mark Bailey of Harley Investments. Around the same time, a website dedicated to Lilford Hall marketed “a piece of the formal gardens” for sale for £299 ($375, €333 or درهم1,377) to include “an officially certified ‘Squire of Lilford’ [title] … with this little piece of history.”
March 2014 – The Irish Times reported that the asking price for the estate had been increased to £44.9 million ($56.3 million, €50 million or 206.8درهم million). They claimed the agents Coldwell Banker blamed “confusion over currency conversion rates and new instructions from the owner.”
April 2014 – The Lilford Hall Estate is listed for sale through Coldwell Banker on MyHome.ie for £33.7 million ($44.2 million, €37.5 million or درهم155 million) on behalf of “an English gentleman.”
2004 – The estate is acquired by the Micklewright family. Little information is available online about the Old Framlingham Charles Micklewright (born July 1958), but he is described as a “patent attorney” on Companies Houses pages. The businessman is mentioned also as a publisher and trustee of the Marsh Christian Trust elsewhere, whilst his Singaporean born wife, Aziza (born 1964), was a director of Lilford Properties Limited from 2013 to 2018.
A website operated by Sign of the Times Limited, a Hong Kong company of Lilford Hall, Lilford, Oundle, Northamptonshire, PE8 5SG, currently offers shares in a yacht named ‘Sinatra the Voice’ for £23.91 ($29.99, €26.64 or درهم110.14) per share. The boat was built in 1956 and is tenuously linked to Frank Sinatra by the fact that a one-time owner, Beale Poste, loaned it occasionally to the crooner between 1968 and 1974 in West Palm Beach, Florida.
1990 – The estate is closed to the public.
1980s – The house is used as a location in the BBC English Civil War inspired historical drama series By the Sword Divided.
1970s – Aviaries on the estate restocked by George Powys, 7th Baron Lilford (1931 – 2005). He “opened [the estate] to the public as a leisure park” and housed more than 350 birds of 110 species there. It remained thus for around 20 years and included a restaurant and shop. The aviaries and the 1,896 square foot restaurant building remain present still today.
1969 – 1970 – American British “sexual mystic” artist Penny Slinger (born 1947) and Liverpudlian filmmaker Peter Whitehead used the “derelict mansion” as the setting for their works An Exorcism and Lilford Hall. They are lauded as a “photo romance” and exhibited at the Blum and Poe Gallery in Los Angeles in 2014, at the Haywood Gallery in London in 2015 and at the Fortnight Institute in New York in 2019.
1949 – Stephen Powys, 6th Baron Lilford (1869 – 1949) died without having married or having had children. His properties aside from Lilford – a house in Mayfair, Bank Hall in Lancashire and the Bewsey Estate in Cheshire – passed to his second cousin twice removed.
1947 – The estate is sold to a company named Merchant Ventures by the Powys family (though they remain present on the estate until 1990).
1939 – 1945 – During the Second World War, the parkland of the estate was used as a military hospital for nearby airfields. From 1949 to 1954, some of the buildings constructed during this period were then used as a Polish school.
1923 – First-class Northamptonshire cricketer Major John Powys, 5th Baron Lilford (1863 – 1945) built the first private softball court in the world in the grounds of the hall. It is now in disrepair and the roof has fallen into the inner court.
1909 – 1910 – The hall was extended in the Edwardian manner including the provision of a new master bedroom with dressing room and bathroom by William Dunn and Robert Watson of Dunn & Watson.
1901 – The estate surrounding the hall reaches its largest size and totals a vast 8,000 acres of land. Around this time, Queen Mary, wife of King George V, is said to have visited the gardens.
1880s – Ornithologist and expert on the fauna of the Balearics Thomas Littleton Powys, 4th Baron Lilford (1833 – 1896) introduces the little owl into England on the estate. His aviaries were said to “feature exotic birds from all around the world” and a species of European lizard, the Lilford’s wall lizard (Podarcis lilfordi), is named in his honour. The 4th baron is repeatedly mentioned in the works of Charles Darwin for his contribution to the study of the science of evolution.
1840s – Further changes to the building are orchestrated by the architect William Gilbee Habershon (circa 1818 – 1891). The Campaign to Protect Rural England described these Victorian extensions as “sensitive” in 2006 – a rare accolade given most additions to English country houses during this period were simply brash and vulgar.
1740s – The Palladian architect Henry Flitcroft (1697 – 1769) adds “outstanding” Georgian interiors whilst “respecting the hall’s Jacobean exterior.” He “softened and brightened” the building as a result and also “constructed the Georgian pavilions and additional storeys to the east end of the two wings.” Other works by Flitcroft can be seen at Bower House in Essex, Wentworth Woodhouse in Yorkshire and Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire.
1711 – Lilford Hall is sold to the judge and Tory politician Sir Thomas Powys (1649 – 1719), Attorney General to King James II. Powys is best remembered for conducting the prosecution of the Seven Bishops in 1699. He is buried at Lilford.
1630s – Construction of the main exterior of what to this day remains Lilford Hall as a “Jacobean-style gentry house” by William Elmes (the younger).
1473 – The land that forms the estate is acquired by William Browne (1410 – 1489), a wealthy wool merchant and landowner from Stamford, from the estate of Baron Welles (who was beheaded by King Edward IV for treason). In 1495, “in a Tudor style,” he built a hall on the site and it passed to Robert Browne (1550 – 1633), the founder of the Brownists, ‘The Father of the Pilgrims’ and ‘The Grandfather of the Nation’ (of the United States of America).