In a book entitled Small Country Houses of Today which was published in 1911, Upmeads in Staffordshire was described as being “fortress-like”.
“It not only lacks anything approaching prettiness, which is all to the good, but presents an air of austerity which shows the designer’s devotion to extreme simplicity and restraint,” mused the author.
However, their views on the “boxiness” of Upmeads looks was not something they were presenting as a negative. Rather they were praising its “oddness” and “originality” proclaiming that it “cannot fail to rivet the attention of everyone and the admiration of not a few”.
Upmeads, which is in Newport Road, Stafford, was then only three years old, having being built in 1908 for Frederick Bostock – owner of several local companies including Lotus Shoes and Evode Adhesives – his wife Mabel and their son, Anthony.
Both it and the gardens were designed by the Manchester architect Edgar Wood, a revolutionary in his field.
The flamboyant Wood, who was noted for his extravagant taste in hats which lead to his nephews calling him Uncle Headgear, was an admirer of John Ruskin and William Morris, and a contemporary and acquaintance of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
Upmeads, built of local brick and Bath stone by local craftsmen Espley and Sons, fully expresses his advanced ideas.
The use of shallow curves on the entrance side give the feeling of open arms welcoming owners and visitors.
The house remained in the Bostock family up until 1985 and it was probably this continuity that has resulted in Upmeads being possibly the best preserved of Wood’s buildings.
Nikolaus Pevsner hailed it as “one of the most interesting houses of that date in the whole of England”.
Now considered a classic of the Arts and Crafts era, the property has understandably been protected with a Grade II* listing.
The present owners – only the third in the house’s history having succeeded two Bostock families – have lived there for nearly 30 years.
There have been a few decorative changes in the century since it was built but it still retains much of the original character. The exterior especially appears virtually unaltered.
It is approached along a rising gravel driveway to a private courtyard with turning circle.
The reception hall is double height with a groin vaulted ceiling and upstairs balcony.
In the living room there is a marble fireplace and unpolished mahogany screen and inset mirror designed by Edgar Wood. The woodblock floor is made of oak.
Early photographs of the dining hall indicate it was not panelled as it is now. Mrs Bostock also had the windows lowered to match those in the sitting room and had clear glass put in.
Both the marble fireplace and the frieze and ceiling paper are original Edgar Wood designs.
A single door from the dining room leads into the butler’s pantry which had sinks where the washing machine is now. A small room under the stairs was a wine cellar.
The kitchen was designed as three separate rooms – a kitchen, a scullery and a pantry – but were joined into one in the late 1950s and a third window put in.
In the back yard, what is now a coal house used to be an outside toilet.
The cellar still houses one of the original coal fired boilers, though it is not connected. Coal was tipped directly into the basement down a chute.
Ten original radiators remain in the house.
Across the yard is a motor house, one of the first purpose-built garages in the country back when motoring was in its infancy. It has double doors at both ends – a wise precaution as reverse gears in cars were not reliable in 1908 – and an inspection pit in the floor.
A cast iron spiral staircase gives access to a self-contained, one bedroom apartment with kitchenette, sitting room and shower room. This was converted in 1994 from a large space that was a child’s playroom.
Other rooms on the ground floor of the main house include a cloakroom and toilet with original tiles.
There is also a garden room/study where when several layers of wallpaper were stripped away, they revealed dates scribbled on the bare wall beneath, presumed to be of staff holidays and when the last pears were picked in 1914 and 1915.
A door leads out from the garden room to a greenhouse.
Upstairs the hall and landing were redecorated in 2004. Four earlier wallpapers were discovered here. The first was William Morris’s famous Willow Boughs which was put up in March 1911. On the bare walls there were drawings of horses, riders and carts thought to have been the handywork of young Anthony Bostock.
A small room on the right of the first landing was known as the maid’s pantry.
It is believed to have been used as a kitchen by live-in help back in the 1950s.
Opposite is a small bedroom which would have been the maid’s. It still has original wallpaper at the back of the sliding cupboard.
The main bedroom has Edgar Wood designed panelling. It too has the first wallpaper inside the cupboards.
Opposite is a bedroom that was used by Anthony Bostock and is now an office. It has the original moulded ceiling and fireplace.
The first floor passage is lit by two round skylights in the flat roof above.
At the eastern end are two more bedrooms. The principal guestroom has the original dark wallpaper. The carpet, made in sewn together strips, has been laid since the early days of the Bostocks.
Opposite, a smaller bedroom was used as the cook’s room. It has an original moulded ceiling.
From the landing, further stairs lead to a large upper bedroom, possibly used as a schoolroom in the early days.
A shower-room was once a tank room where rainwater from the roof was collected before being used throughout the house.
For a time these upstairs rooms were a self-contained living space with a kitchen.
The house was listed in 1971 but shortly before then a window onto the roof was installed.
There was always a door to the roof because Edgar Wood intended the flat surface to be used as an extra outdoor living space.
A plain stone capped parapet runs right round it and it has far reaching views to the south and towards Cannock Chase.
The gardens extend to approximately 1.3 acres. A brick paved terrace spans the width of the property.
The gardens are designed as a series of outside rooms.
To the south is a sunken paved garden with four curved steps down from the terrace A productive kitchen garden includes raised beds and a number of trees including walnut, cherry and apple.
Mature Dawn Redwood Trees stand on the far southern boundary and are thought to have been among the first introduced into the UK.
To the west the garden is surrounded by yew hedging with a pergola in the centre and herbaceous beds around the edges. The pergola was originally in the garden of another Bostock-owned Arts and Crafts house in Stafford called Shawms.
To the north-west is a more natural area under a mature copper beech tree, a children’s tree house, revolving summer house and access onto a golf course.
Guide price: £995,000. Agent: Savills, on 01952 239500