Lord's Wood is a true labour of love, having been in the same ownership since 1974 and meticulously cared for. Penny Churchill takes a look.
The last time Grade II-listed Lord’s Wood, near Marlow, Buckinghamshire, appeared on the open market in November 1973, an article in Country Life was curiously dismissive of the architectural merits of the handsome Lutyens-style house. Half a century or so later, it’s hard to see why.
The house was built in 1899 for the artist Mary Sargant-Florence, a prominent member of the Bloomsbury Group, whose daughter, Alix, married James Strachey, youngest brother of one of the group’s founders, Lytton Strachey.
The opening paragraph reads: ‘The house would hardly merit a second look as a piece of architecture; you can see dozens similar in the millionaires’ belt north of Regent’s Park, or in the plushier interstices between the South Coast resorts. But as the contents have been dispersed, and as the house will no doubt fade into managing-directorial anonymity, it is worth recording its history as a Bloomsbury footnote.’
Far from fading into ‘managing-directorial anonymity’, a year later a For Sale sign for Lord’s Wood caught the eye of London art dealer David Messum and his wife, Millie, who were then living in Old Beaconsfield. They bought it within a week, without commissioning a survey and apparently unaware of its Bloomsbury connection.
Now, 47 years on, having transformed the house and its former studio set in 35 acres of extensive gardens and grounds on the beech-covered hills of the Chilterns AONB, north of Marlow, into a charming country home of rare distinction and a showcase for art and sculpture, the Messums are ready to move on.
Mary Sargant-Florence was a suffragette and an ardent feminist, who insisted on retaining her maiden name when she married Henry Florence, an American music student, in 1888. He died in the early 1890s and, some years later, Sargant-Florence decided to build a home in the country for herself, her son, Philip, and her daughter, Alix.
She settled on Marlow, then the site of an artists’ colony led by the sculptor and potter, Conrad Dressler. True to her feminist convictions, she tried to change the name of the property to Lady’s Wood, but tradition prevailed and Lord’s Wood it remained.
Her architect, Granville Streatfeild — who trained with Reginald Blomfield and the eminent Sir Thomas Graham Jackson and married suffragette Lucy Deane, Britain’s first female factory inspector — designed the new house, built of local bricks under a Westmorland slate roof, in the Queen Anne style of the day.
Sargant-Florence adopted the functional principles of William Morris and supervised every phase of the build. No plaster was allowed on the walls; many of the doorways were left without doors and covered only by curtains. Water closets were taboo and it was only when Alix and her husband moved to Lord’s Wood during the Second World War that the plumbing in the house was modernised.
Both were psychoanalysts, chosen by Freud to translate his works into English — a mammoth task that they completed at Lord’s Wood, where they lived permanently after Sargant-Florence’s death in 1954, surrounded by mementos of Bloomsbury past.
It’s all a far cry from Lord’s Wood today, after nearly half a century of the Messums’ stewardship, during which time much creative energy, inspiration and hard cash has been expended in transforming every aspect of the house and garden. During their tenure, staircases have been repositioned, walls have been removed, fireplaces have been rebuilt and exposed pipes and electrical wires concealed, but important original features such as high ceilings, classic cornicing, period fireplaces and elegant windows have been carefully retained.
The main house provides 4,964sq ft of elegant living space on three floors, including a bright and cheerful reception hall; a large drawing room with French windows leading to the parterre garden; the little-altered hexagon-shaped dining room overlooking the gardens; and a light and spacious kitchen/breakfast room.
The first floor houses the principal bedroom suite, three double bedrooms (two with en-suite bathrooms) and a separate shower room, with three more double bedrooms, a single room, a bathroom and a hobby room on the second floor.
Standing next to the house is the large studio where Sargant-Florence worked as a muralist and where she taught the artist Stanley Spencer the craft of mural painting. Currently used as an art gallery/office complex, it offers a further 2,393sq ft of useful space on two floors. Outbuildings include the Lytton Barn and the James Barn, both currently used for storage, but with potential for conversion, subject to planning consent.
And so to Lord’s Wood’s pièce de resistance—the five acres of wonderful gardens painstakingly created by the combined efforts of the Messum family over many years. They feature richly planted herbaceous borders, mature trees, yew hedging and topiary, a parterre planted with box, a flagstone terrace and a formal garden mainly laid to lawn.
A pergola walkway leads to the wildflower meadows with their glorious views over the Chilterns and a private area, accessed via a brick arch, houses an outdoor swimming pool—a splendid place for entertaining.
Marlow: What you need to know
Location: In the Chiltern Hills AONB, just under 5 miles from High Wycombe and approximately 5.7 miles from Maidenhead. Marlow station provides rail links into London Paddington. There are further rail services at High Wycombe and Maidenhead. Heathrow is approximately 25 mile away.
Atmosphere: The sought after town has a bustling and friendly atmosphere, and is known as one of the loveliest locations along the River Thames. The town attracts a great number of visitors thanks to its beautiful settings and is famously known as the place where Mary Shelley finished her gothic novel Frankenstein.
Things to do: The Georgian market town is home to a number of boutique shops, restaurants and cafes. The annual summer regatta is held in June with family races and activities. There are lots of walks to enjoy, including the Thames Path, plus the Pub in the Park festival which is held every September.
Schools: Schooling in the area is fantastic, including St Peter’s Catholic Primary School, Sir William Borlase in Marlow, Eton College and Wycombe College.
Catch up on the best country houses for sale this week that have come to the market via Country Life.