A novel property
Laura Cartledge discovers how love and war have both left a mark on this remarkable home.
If Bedarra, in Billingshurst, was a book I would read it.
The property, an early 19th century wing of a Victorian mansion, boasts stories of secret tunnels leading into the village and a cellar where Canadian soldiers slept on benches in the Second World War.
In the kitchen is a safe where ammunition was kept and, in the hall, light floods through a window that is believed to have came from Fort Belvedere – the former home of the Duke of Windsor.
For the last seven years the pages of the story have been penned by the current owners who were drawn by the promise of space and a lifestyle that was impossible in London – but gained a lot more that just that.
“In the dining room the window seat is full of Gilbert and Sullivan gramophone records,” Shelly reveals. “The former owner told us they must never be moved and we’ll pass that story on to the next.
“We also found a whole crate of beer celebrating the coronation of King George V – it is now in our shed,” she laughs, “and there is definitely more to unravel.”
Despite Bedarra being over budget and in the wrong location for her husband’s commute, Shelly knew as soon as she saw it online that she would have to pay it a visit.
“Back then, when we decided to buy it, we didn’t know about the Canadian soldiers and, due to the fact my husband is Canadian, when we found out it seemed like fate.
“We were looking for a country house with lots of character which could be done in our taste and was in the centre of the village,” she explains. “I wanted to be able to walk to a restaurant or the shops and it was a godsend when I had my daughter as I was always going out as I had forgotten to get nappies.
“That [the location] was a big selling point for us but it was the house mainly.”
While an old, original, photograph shows the house to have been just grey brick, it was radically restyled by a gentleman who did not like the outside of it and decided to dismantle a Jacobean house and re-use its materials throughout the property.
As a result of this mix, the property isn’t listed but, from the lead windows to the original staircase, the result is stunning and striking – words which could also have been used to describe the décor when Shelly moved in.
“It was clear there was a lot of work to do,” she smiles. “For instance, the spaces between the ancient beams on the ceiling had been painted with different colours so it was striped.
“The walls were dark with gargoyles on it as well – the former owner was terribly proud of it – but it didn’t put us off.”
Now, thanks to Shelly’s carefully chosen Farrow and Ball colour palette and coupled with the stripped floors and exposed oak, the interior has a homely feel while offering plenty of room for entertaining.
The only problem is choosing where to hold the party – whether it is in the dining hall, which can comfortably seat 14 people, or through the French windows on the stone terrace, which runs the length of the property.
And then there is the barn-style garage that, I am told, has been known to house a marquee.
While for cosy nights in there is a choice of fireplaces to enjoy and, if the number of chimneys is to be believed, there are still more to find.
The blending of eras mean it has high ceilings, generous dimensions and numerous features, like partly panelled walls and square bay windows – all the better for enjoying the views towards Blackdown and admiring the property’s elevated position.
Another change has seen the couple add to the already spacious accommodation with a playroom, which now sees the home approximately measure 4,000 square feet.
“We can’t get over the space,” she admits. “I remember moving in here with our two pieces of furniture and cycling around the lounge, we even got walkie talkies so we could talk to each other on different floors.
“I think there is a capacity to add 25 per cent,” adds Shelly. “It is a continual project – there is lapsed planning consent for an extension to the other side of the house. And there is a big basement which hasn’t been used.”
Renovating the house has ranged from trawling eBay and local auctions to undertaking substantial building work – the latter of which is still ongoing, with work to add a fourth bedroom and new bathroom to the second floor which involves moving a staircase.
“It has been good fun and it has been a labour of love which will make it all the harder to leave,” admits Shelly. “I would like to move into a Victorian house or a wing of a house again. You get so much more for your money and they were so solidly built – you can’t hear anything or anyone as the walls are so thick.”
It is clear the family are reluctant to sell Bedarra but a change of work location for Shelly’s husband has left them with little choice, so what will she miss most?
“I love sitting in front of the AGA playing games with my daughter and equally I love sitting in front of the fire with a glass of wine or out on the terrace when the weather is nice.
“It is so nice to have spaces which work well in the winter as well as the summer,” she replies. “I have quite a few favourite spaces here.”
Bedarra is currently on the market for a guide price of £895,000 to £950,000 with Chewton Rose. To find out more,
visit www.chewtonrose.co.uk or call 01932 576600
March 16, 2014 Interiors and Property