Country houses for sale

The ‘last grand country house in Wiltshire’ is lying empty and unloved, and seeking a saviour (with deep pockets) to bring it back to life

Zeals has been a Wiltshire landmark for centuries, but has fallen into a sorry state. Penny Churchill takes a closer look.

If you’re looking for seclusion in the west, Grade I-listed Zeals, which stands in 58 acres of parkland near the small town of Mere on the borders of Wiltshire, Somerset and Dorset, to the north of Gillingham, the south-west of Warminster and the east of Wincanton, with far-reaching views over its own lake towards the rich pastures of the Blackmore Vale. It needs a bit of work doing to it, but could be ready to party in next Christmas; Ed Cunningham of Knight Frank quotes a guide price of £5.5m.

According to its Historic England listing, Zeals, has evolved over many centuries. Built on a rambling L-plan of limestone rubble with Welsh slate roofs, the earliest range consists of a two-storey, 14th-century hall house, probably re-built around an earlier dwelling acquired by one Matthew de Clevedon in 1372.

The Chafyn family (later the Chafyn-Groves) acquired the house in 1452, extending it to the north-east in the 17th century. Their descendants further extended the house in the 18th and 19th centuries.

During the Second World War, an airfield was created at nearby St Martins Farm and Zeals was requisitioned as a base and mess for RAF officers. After the war, Zeals became a school for boys until, in 1956, the family, now the Troyte-Chafyn-Groves, ended the lease and moved back in.

The unbroken ownership of Zeals by the Chafyn family was ended in 1968, when Alex Garnet Phippen bought the house and restored the 17th-century orangery and the dovecote.

Since 1968, Zeals has been sold four times and is now standing empty and deteriorating, according to SAVE Britain’s Heritage, which describes it as ‘the last grand country house in Wiltshire’; it comes with numerous ancillary buildings, including two gate lodges, an orangery, dovecote, stables, granary and ice-house. Marcus Binney, executive president of the charity, expects ‘this splendid property to readily find a purchaser in the present market.

It is not too large to be a family home and the numerous outbuildings are suitable for working from home and for holiday lets’.

For sale as a whole, Zeals offers 14,241sq ft of interior space in the main house, with a further 3,025sq ft in the clock tower.

Accommodation in the main house is arranged on three floors and includes three main reception rooms, a study, kitchen/breakfast room, summer kitchen, boot room, cellars and gym on the ground floor; a principal bedroom and bathroom, six further bedrooms, four bath/shower rooms and a library on the first floor.

There are four further bedrooms, bathroom and storage rooms on the floors above.

The garden and grounds comprise extensive lawns, parkland, pasture, woodland, a lake and pond.

Zeals is for sale via Knight Frank at £5.5m — see more pictures and details.

Mere, Wiltshire: What you need to know

Location: Just off the A303, on the edge of the Cranborne Chase AONB. It’s more or less directly south of Frome and roughly half-way between Yeovil and Amesbury.  The proximity of the A303 — and good mainline railway connections at Yeovil —

Atmosphere: The local ‘Visit Wiltshire’ tourist board website describes the place as ‘charming and historic’, and that’s spot on for a lovely little town full of interesting independent shops, and centred around a 19th century clocktower. It’s small enough to keep a touch of villagey charm, but big enough to have a library, museum and doctor’s surgery.

Things to do: Spoilt for choice. The spectacular National Trust gardens at Stourhead are just a few minutes away, there are several archaeological sites not far away (Stonehenge is under half an hour). Both Shaftesbury and Frome are about 20 minutes away, while Bath is about 45 minutes.

Schools: There are primary schools in both Mere and the village of Zeals itself (the house is half-way between the two) that are rated ‘Good’ by Ofsted, while a C of E school just a little further away in Bourton has an ‘Outstanding’ rating. The nearest secondary school is in Gillingham, also rated ‘Good’.


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