Neglect is not something one would think would be to the benefit of old houses, the disinterest or absence of owners leaving them to crumble away until they are beyond repair.
However, neglect ultimately aided the preservation of Barlaston Hall in Barlaston, Staffordshire. It meant that very little had been done to change the house since it was built by esteemed architect Sir Robert Taylor for local lawyer Thomas Mills between 1756-8.
Carol Hall, who has lived there with her husband and family since 1992, explains: “The Hall is very special in that it hasn’t been altered throughout the years.
“If it’d had an interested owner throughout its history it would have Victorian alterations or Edwardian alterations.
“What you see in the house is what Robert Taylor designed in the first place.”
The Hall was built in place of a manor that had been owned by Mills’ late wife.
It was Palladian in style and had octagonal and diamond glazing to the sash windows and doors – a trademark of sculptor turned architect Taylor who also extended the facade of the Bank of England.
Thomas Mills must have been pleased with his red brick party palace, constructed as somewhere that he might entertain, for it remained in his family for many generations.
In 1816 Rosamund Mills married Ralph Adderley and it was lived in by their son, Ralph Thomas Adderley who was a High Sheriff of Staffordshire.
In 1937 the estate, which then comprised some 380 acres, was put up for sale and bought by the Wedgwood Pottery company.
It built its factory and a model village for its workforce in its grounds.
During the war the Hall was used by the Bank of England. After they vacated it became the Wedgwood Memorial College.
It did not stay there for long as dry rot was discovered. Worse was to come as its safety was compromised by subsidence due to coal mining operations and the fact it was on a geological fault, which led to severe cracks.
Wedgwood left it to its fate and at the mercy of vandals.
The company twice tried to have the Grade I listed building demolished. But in a famous conservation coup, SAVE Britain’s Heritage, a group which championed the cause of decaying country houses, stepped in to buy it for just £1.
The National Coal Board at first offered to pay for the damage caused by the subsidence and for the preventative works needed to protect the building.
It later tried to back out but when SAVE sought a judicial review and called on the Secretary of State for the Environment, its hand was forced.
Further grants and a loan aided the work which was completed in the 1990s.
It was then that Carol and James Hall were sent a picture of Barlaston by their estate agent.
They were living in London but James was working in Manchester at the time and they wanted a house that could make the commute less arduous.
“It was just a photograph but it clearly looked very special,” recalls Carol.
The Hall was now sound but there was still a great deal of restoration to be done.
“What we actually bought was an empty shell. Little bits of decorative detail were still in situ but most of it had been taken off and stored away,” she says.
“There was no electricity, no water, no heating, no doors, missing floorboards, no staircases. In places you could see from the ground floor up to the roof.
“I think the most daunting thing was after we exchanged contracts. We were visiting on a cold wet gloomy day and there was a brief moment of ‘oh dear, what have we done?’. But it was brief.”
The restoration took five years to complete. With no drawings of the interior to work from, they were guided by the decoration that still remained, the pieces that have been carefully stored and labelled and by the symmetrical design of the building.
The staircase was hanging off the walls but there was enough for the Halls to know what it should look like.
“When we show people round they think it is an addition but it is not. We utilised the remaining pieces of it. Eighty per cent of it is probably new but it was built in the same way,” explains Carol.
In the dining room and library, white plasterwork stands out against the richly coloured walls in an effect that seems very Wedgwood. However, Carol says this has nothing to do with the famous potters.
“That was just the style at the time it was built, the secondary plaster work picked out in white against a coloured wall.
“The paint colours are typically 18th century and they were based on the visual evidence of the remaining paint.
“It is different from having it technically analysed because over 200 years there are chemical changes and the colour would have changed. But we can make an intelligent guess as to what the colour was. These are typically Georgian.”
There are still a few places where repairs have to be completed, such as the fireplace in the dining room.
“We have no evidence of what the fireplace looked like. English Heritage’s line would be to put something in that, although sympathetic, is obviously a 21st century piece so there is no confusion. An architectural historian would know and that is the intention.”
Although she comes from a building family, Carol said she only had experience in small scale renovation before Barlaston.
“I now have an MSc in Building Conservation. It was rather the wrong way round. I did it after we bought Barlaston, not before.”
With their daughters grown up and another property that they visit regularly in Scotland, Carol and James say they have decided to sell because they are no longer using the house to its fullest potential.
“It is a fantastic party house. It is what it was built for in the 18th century. It comes alive when it is full of people
“We’d like to think that someone would use it in the same way and have as much fun as we have had.”
Barlaston Hall is approached off Queen Marys Drive along a gravelled drive that sweeps to the front door.
Steps lead up to the central doorway with pilastered and pedimented surrounds.
It opens to a beautiful Doric hall with high ceiling and attractive denticulate cornicing. At the core of the house is the stairwell hall.
The library and dining room are of equal size with symmetrical bay windows. The library is south facing with views over the garden and has built-in mahogany fronted book shelves. The dining room is north facing and benefits from meticulously restored Rococo plasterwork.
A lovely bright saloon has a bow window offering views over the surrounding parkland and across the Trent valley.
All four reception rooms have large fireplaces (three with log burners).
The lower ground floor has doors directly out to the garden and the main courtyard/parking area.
The principal room on this level is a vast kitchen/breakfast room with bespoke fitted units, Aga, central island and an open plan dining and sitting area with a walk-in pantry leading off.
The remainder of the lower ground floor comprises an inner hall with staircase, a large laundry/boot room, store room, wine cellar and a self-contained flat with living room, kitchen, double bedroom, bathroom and hall/ study.
Bedroom accommodation at Barlaston Hall is reached via the main stairwell hall and the restored cantilevered staircase designed by Sir Robert Taylor in the Chinese Chippendale style. It is capped with a classical domed sky light.
The first floor has a wonderful galleried landing that leads to four bedrooms including the master bedroom suite and a further room that is currently a study.
The second floor comprises four more bedrooms and three bathrooms with a sitting room that could be converted to bedroom accommodation if necessary.
There are also two further attic rooms accessed via a small staircase that leads to the roof.
The hall stands in grounds of approximately four and half acres with gardens originally landscaped by the well regarded William Sawrey Gilpin.
More recently some parts of the gardens have been redesigned by the six times RHS Chelsea Flower Show gold medallist Arabella Lennox-Boyd.
To the south of the house is beautiful woodland with walkways that meander through a variety of mature trees and extravagant flowerbeds. To the west is the main lawn which is bordered by a ha-ha.
North of the house is a courtyard and more recently constructed outbuildings including three garages, stables, stores, a garden room and greenhouse/orangery, all set around a formal kitchen garden. Beyond the courtyard is a further kitchen garden and a half acre paddock.
The hall sits beside the old church of St John the Baptist which has a medieval tower and churchyard.
It has been deconsecrated and is under separate ownership from the hall. It can be purchased separately.
The property stands on a wooded ridge above the valley of the Trent between the canal market town of Stone and just five-and-a-half miles from Stoke-on-Trent which provides local amenities and day to day facilities.
AGENT: Fisher German/Knight Frank
TEL: 01785 220044/0207 629 8171
GUIDE PRICE: £2,300,000