Date Published 09 February 2022
The Tudor mobile mansion that was moved 90 miles goes on sale for £12,950,000.
In the 20th century, the mansion had a string of owners, uses and renovations
A Grade II-listed Tudor mansion that was dismantled and meticulously moved brick-by-brick from Essex to Kingston-upon-Thames has been put on sale for £12,950,000.
Dubbed the 'Lego' mansion, the historic pile was originally built in 1483 by a wealthy salt merchant on the banks of the River Colne, close to Colchester.
It was rumoured to have been occupied at one time by Henry VIII's sixth wife Catherine Parr (although that has never been proved) before becoming a pub called the Perseverance in the 1833. The name seems apt considering what came next.
In 1910 an eccentric antiquarian and landowner Walter Thornton-Smith spotted it and bought it for £350. His ambitious plan was to move it to a plot of land he had purchased next to the new Coombe Hill Golf Course near Kingston-upon-Thames on the Greater London–Surrey border – a 96-mile journey today via the M25.
The mansion first came under threat of demolition in 1961
By then, parts of the then 442-year-old timber frame pile had fallen into disrepair and a section of the roof had collapsed. Despite its fragility, Thornton-Smith paid the Ipswich architectural practice JA Sherman £30,000 to move the property brick-by-brick. The team lettered and numbered every movable item and erected it in the leafy suburb of Coombe.
The operation took two years and gives new meaning to the term 'mobile home.'
The Tudor mansion was remodelled too: bricks in a herringbone pattern were used between the timbers instead of the original wattle and daub. Bathrooms, hot water and radiators were added, as well as servant quarters. Thornton-Smith then renamed his new home Coombe Woodhouse.
In the 20th century it had a string of owners, uses and renovations. When the First World War broke out, it was let to Lord Crewe, the Secretary of State for India, British liberal politician, statesman and writer. It was then sold to Sir Ernest and Lady Horlick who added the new east wing to house the kitchen and more domestic quarters.
Between the wars the Mayor of Maldon and Coombe, Major John Hill, took up residency and added a snooker and billiards rooms and put in deep oak window seats and beams – staying true to its timber heritage. Then, in the 1950s, Sir Charles Colston – inventor, ex-Hoover director and founder of electronic conglomerate Colton-Aristotle – bought the property and tested his dishwashers there
The whole operation to move the property took two years
It came under threat of demolition for the first time in 1961. The new owner applied for permission to knock it down and replace it with three homes. Following a row with the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, it survived and was eventually bought for £40,000 by the Teresian Association – a religious organisation which was founded in Spain in 1911 to promote Christian values in the fields of education and culture. The name was changed to Cedar Court and it was run as a residential English language school until it finally went back on the market in 2002 for £4.5 million.
It is thought to have then been snapped up by an international dignitary and his young family. They put it up for sale for £14 million in 2014 but it didn't shift and are now trying to sell it again through the estate agents Rokstone Properties of central London, at the adjusted price of £12,950,000 million.
"It is the oldest house I have ever sold," says Becky Fatemi, managing director and founder of Rokstone, who can more typically be found buying and selling elegant Georgian townhouses in Knightsbridge, Mayfair and Kensington for clients. "For a residential property to survive for 550 years is highly unusual. But it was also transported across the southeast, renovated multiple times and has fought off demolition attempts by developers. It's a fascinating place," she says.
It was run as a residential English language school until 2002
There is unusual plasterwork in the master bedroom which hints at links to Henry VIII, such as the large crest of his and Catherine Parr's initials with wild boar, deer and fleury-de-lys. It is also thought to be a reference to the nearby Richmond Park with its status as one of the Tudor king's favourite hunting grounds. There are stained-glass windows throughout the house ranging from the 15th to 17th century, and dark panelled walls.
In 2014, after it failed to sell, the owners refurbished it once again, shrinking the number of bedrooms from 20 (as reported in The Telegraph in 2002) to 12 but making them bigger. It has seven bathrooms, two kitchens and a two-bedroom annex, all within a one-acre plot which is shrouded in mature trees, next to the Coombe Hill Golf Course.
The entrance, centralised in the black timber frame facade, is through a clump of fir trees and up steep stone steps. The heavy wooden door opens into a vaulted hallway under a casement window. There are flagstones on the floor, an inglenook fireplace and ahead is a wooden staircase framed by a stain glass window.
The west wing houses the Tudor Hall which was used over the centuries for entertaining and dining and the morning room which overlooks the lawns at the front.
Narrow corridors lead through to the east wing which has been modernised. The kitchen-diner has marble-topped work surfaces and an island, and beyond there is a pantry and utility room, and steps that lead down to the cellar.
The 14,447 sq ft home more than tripled in asking price between 2002 and 2014 but the relaunch price of £12,950,000 is reflective of the pandemic and the "Brexit malaise" as Fatemi calls it. She is referring to the four years after the referendum when the luxury London property market fell quiet.
"The timing of this impressive mansion coming to market is significant," says Fatemi. "After the first two years of the pandemic, we are seeing a return in demand to live within Greater London but there is still a focus from buyers on achieving as much indoor and outdoor space as possible, which invariably takes them into the leafy super suburbs. This will tick all the boxes for a high net worth family who want to buy the ultimate trophy home, steeped in character and history, with plenty of space, close to good schools and within easy reach of central London," she says.
The closest property on the market in the borough of Kingston-upon-Thames in value and size is also in leafy Coombe, priced at £10,500,000. The new build mansion is smaller and covers 12,476 sq ft. The area, in travel zone 6, is known for its grammar schools and parkland, such as Bushy Park and Ham Common, with an average asking price of £775,186 according to Rightmove.