St Giles House in Dorset, the ancestral seat of the Earls of Shaftesbury, has been announced as the winner of the 2015 Historic Houses Association (HHA) & Sotheby’s Restoration Award. The house, which has remained in the family since the 14th century, had been abandoned and left derelict for over 50 years. It has now been transformed through a truly remarkable restoration project undertaken by the 12th Earl and Countess of Shaftsbury over the past four and a half years. Lord Shaftesbury inherited the house and estate in 2005 following the tragic death of his father and, only a few months later, of his elder brother.
Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury (1621-1683), a founder of the Whig party, built the nucleus of St Giles House, recalling in a diary entry dated 19 March 1650, “I laid the first stone of my house at St Giles’s”. The estate continued to be developed over successive generations, including by the 4th Earl and Countess, who landscaped the gardens and introduced an enchanting two-room grotto, with walls lined with shells, fossils, coral and stone.
Uninhabited for the latter part of the 20th century, the house fell in to disrepair and by 2002 the condition had become critical with sections of the house at risk from collapse. Only a few years ago, snow was blowing into the library and the 18th century grotto was in an extremely fragile condition, with trees growing through the walls. With the help of grants from Natural England and the Country Houses Foundation, parkland buildings, including the magical grotto, and the house’s grand interiors have once again been returned to their former glory.
The Earl inherited the Grade I listed house, which sits on a 5000-acre estate, in 2005, aged only 25. Lord Shaftesbury said, “It is a huge honour to receive this award after four and a half years of hard work. It’s amazing now to look back at the project and think where we’ve come – it’s safe to say we’ve achieved far more than any of us imagined possible. Hopefully it will inspire others to do the same.”
Harry Dalmeny, Sotheby’s Chairman, UK Private Clients said, “The Earl and Countess of Shaftesbury have reawakened one of Britain’s great houses. This remarkable feat, achieved in such a short space of time, has not only preserved one of our architectural gems but also created a home fit for family life.”
Richard Compton, President of the Historic Houses Association, said, “We were delighted to see such a wide variety of applications for the Award from HHA Members this year, reflecting the commitment and dedication that so many demonstrate for the buildings in their care. The judges had a huge task deciding which project to award the principal prize to, but were unanimous that it should go to St Giles House. Here, Nick Shaftesbury has demonstrated extraordinary drive and imagination in bringing his family home back to life, by restoring long empty rooms, and the structure as a whole. I believe that St Giles now faces a certain and hopeful future as it now begins to welcome visitors and special events and the opportunity to play an important part in local affairs again. I am also particularly glad that the judges were able to commend three other, very worthwhile and important projects.”
THE HHA/Sotheby’s Restoration Award recognises and celebrates the restoration work that is continually being undertaken by members of the HHA throughout the United Kingdom. These projects reflect the dedication of owners to the care and sympathetic restoration not only of the principal houses but also of the gardens, parks and estate buildings. The Award seeks to generate publicity for the winning properties, to encourage more visitors to them and to stimulate increased interest in historic houses and support for the role of the private owner.
This year, from a short list of applications, the judges commended the following three properties alongside the winner:
THE LIBRARY, COMBERMERE ABBEY, SHROPSHIRE – Important restoration was undertaken of The Library at Combermere Abbey – the most impressive and historic room of this Grade I listed mansion, and which proudly displays the family heraldry
THE PALLADIAN BRIDGE, HAGLEY HALL, WEST MIDLANDS – The Palladian Bridge, a previously lost feature of Hagley Hall and its Grade I listed Park, has been restored as a major building at the heart of this important 18th century landscape
NETHER WINCHENDON HOUSE, BUCKINGHAMSHIRE – Nether Winchendon House has carried out fantastic repairs and restoration to the North Tower and 18th century screen of arches