Inside the £3 million Wren Wardrobe

April 7, 2014 by  
Filed under Wind Energy Tips

“I saw the Wardrobe advertised in a magazine,” she explains. “The picture was
the pedimented back of the house with the wisteria in full bloom. I was in
love. But I didn’t know about the royal or Wren connection until I bought
it.

“The house was very run down: the dining room had no fireplace, or anything
else much to speak of. Plus we have replaced the kitchen and bathrooms and
generally refurbished throughout.”

The house is being sold by Daniel Hutchins of Savills, who handled the sale
when it last came on the market, in 1994. He says that even in a historic
area such as Richmond, homes like this are thin on the ground.

“The property is unique,” he explains. “Historically it’s an absolute gem. In
27 years of working in Richmond I haven’t seen anything else like it.
I can’t think of any other property where you can say that Elizabeth I died
next door.”

The site’s history dates far further back than the Tudors, to the 13th
century, when the Royal Residence was built here at Shene (now spelt Sheen).
On December 21, 1497, Henry VII and his family were staying at the Residence
when fire broke out. Nobody knows what caused it, but with Christmas in
the air it’s hard not to think that some kind of party was involved. Perhaps
a capon was left on the hob too long, or a brazier caught on some drapery.
The blaze raced through the palace for three hours. Although the Royal
family were able to escape, the damage to the property was irreparable.

Panel show: the interior of the Wardrobe has been extensively
refurbished, but retains all its historic character

In its place Henry built Richmond Palace, perhaps the country’s finest
residence until the construction of Hampton Court Palace. A survey of 1649
recorded a 100ft great hall, as well as turrets, gardens and beautiful
tapestries.

When Henry VII died in 1509, Henry VIII took it over, and celebrated Christmas
here with his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Richmond Palace was the
centre of those things with which we most associate the king: tournaments,
feasts and general carousing.

Just down the road, however, Cardinal Wolsey was bringing Renaissance airs to
Hampton Court. After Wolsey’s demise in the 1520s, Henry forced him to swap
palaces. Richmond was increasingly used to house the marginalised women in
the Kings life.

In 1533, it became the official home of Mary, and then in 1540 it was handed
over to Anne of Cleves as part of her divorce settlement from Henry.

When Mary became Queen, perhaps fuelled by memories of her own treatment, she
banished Elizabeth to live at the property. Elizabeth, however, was fond of
the place, and tried to stay twice a year as she made her way around her
great houses across the country.

She kept her clothes in the Wardrobe building, hence its name. As many as
2,000 dresses stored in chests in the roof were found 200 years after her
death. She hunted stags in the deer park (now Richmond Park, where they
still roam) and took refuge from the “chill” of Whitehall at Christmas.

When Francis Drake returned from his circumnavigation of the globe in 1580, a
trip that had seen him plunder a fortune in Spanish gold, it was at Richmond
that the Queen received him. Eight years later, the council of war sat
within Richmond Palace’s walls, monitoring the progress of the Spanish
Armada. In 1603, the Queen died here after an illness.

The house passed to the Stuarts. But although James and Charles enjoyed the
sport here, they preferred the Palace of Westminster. Richmond was never
again the centre of authority it had been. Hoping to raise funds, Cromwell
sold off most of the palace brick by brick, using the materials for other
projects.

The surviving buildings had not finished their association with the rich and
powerful, however. After the Restoration, during the reign of Queen Anne,
the Wardrobe was remodelled extensively by, it is believed, Christopher
Wren. He put in many of the features that survive today, including the
wood-panelled reception room and master bedroom.

There are three bedrooms in total, with planning consent for two or three more
and another bathroom. In the hallway a Tudor beam is visible – this was
where the original entrance was, before Wren’s remodelling. In general, the
front of the house is Tudor, while the brickwork at the back is a Wren
improvement.

“It’s difficult to say which is my favourite part of the house,” says Helen.
“The drawing room is fabulous, and the bedroom is so large I call it my
‘withdrawing’ room. For some reason the staircase always has a feeling
of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind.

Go with the grain: The grand staircase is fit for a modern day king or
queen

“But despite the history I have never felt spooked here; it has a very calm
atmosphere. The ghost of Elizabeth I is supposed to turn up on the
anniversary of her death (March 25), but I have never seen her. I have spent
lots of time on my own in the house, and have never had any trouble. You get
the odd tourist wandering up, but certainly not busloads.

“It’s the sense of history I will miss most,” she adds. “That, and the
200-year-old wisteria. Just to think Elizabeth I, Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn
and all the others must have come to the Wardrobe, to inspect and choose
their regalia. The whole house speaks to the past.

“Behind some of the early-18th-century panelling in the drawing room there is
Tudor panelling, and there are vaults under the lawn. But I have never found
any rings or jewellery, just the odd shard of Georgian property.”

Though it is technically one of three homes in the Wardrobe, this property
feels extremely private. There is a spacious, peaceful walled back garden.
The house is located between Richmond Green – Henry VIII’s old jousting
ground – and a pretty part of the Thames.

It is quiet but still convenient for the city. Overground trains run straight
from Richmond to Waterloo, while the Underground’s District Line cuts right
through the centre of London. Heathrow and Gatwick are an hour away.

“What is unusual about the Wardrobe is that although it’s such a historic
building, it’s also a great family home. Old houses have a reputation for
being a bit gloomy, but this has plenty of natural light. Thanks to the planning
consent it would suit a small family looking to expand just as well as those
looking to downsize. Richmond is the perfect mix of English town and
country, so I expect there to be interest from central Londoners, as well as
from overseas.”

Homes this beautiful, with this much history, do not often come on the market.
But it is time for Helen to move on.

“I love doing up properties,” she says. “I saw a house that got my decorative
antenna up, and has made me feel I am ready for another project. But as long
as the new owners love and respect the Wardrobe as much as we have, I don’t
mind who buys it after us.

“You’d have thought that whoever buys it would be interested in the history.
But it seems to me that there are a lot of people today buying old houses
who want to obliterate every historic feature they can.”

Between Tudors, Stuarts, Cromwell and Christopher Wren, the Wardrobe lies at
the intersection of some of the most important moments in our national
history. The building has lived through a glorious past and emerged as a
calm, beautiful home in the present. It will be up to the new owners to
decide what the future holds.

The Wardrobe is for sale for £3.65million through Savills (020 8614 9100; www.savills.com)

Top tips on listed buildings

Are you happy with the layout? Planning permission can be hard to obtain for
listed buildings, inside or out. If you don’t love it, don’t buy it.

Structure: A thorough engineer’s survey should make sense of arcane building
practices and make sure you know what to expect.

Research Defer to those with specialist knowledge of period architecture, such
as the Georgian Group (www.georgiangroup.org.
uk
), Victorian Society (www.victoriansociety.
org.uk
) or the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (www.spab.org.uk).

Energy costs Invest in some thick jumpers – or consult the English Heritage
website (www.english-heritage.org.uk)
on how to make a listed building more energy efficient.

Make friends Get to know your neighbours, who are potential allies in any
planning disputes that may arise.

Be patient On the whole, working with listed property takes longer than with
unlisted ones. Be prepared to liaise with architects and planners to get
what you want. The Listed Property Owners Club has a wealth of resources (www.lpoc.co.uk).

GALLERY: Fit for a king: homes with royal
connections for sale

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