Through the keyhole at Bradley Hall
PUBLISHED: 11:51 08 April 2014 | UPDATED: 11:51 08 April 2014
Simon Foster Photography Ltd
Hidden down the country lanes east of Ashbourne is historic Bradley Hall
If you are lucky enough to find yourself wending your way through the winding country lanes of Bradley, you may come across the tiny ancient stone church of All Saints, with its vistas of verdant open countryside.
Directly opposite the 14th century church, and hidden from the little lane, stands historic Bradley Hall, which entices its visitors with a short drive through modest wrought-iron gates into its glorious grounds. Here mature English trees stand about like old friends. Their ancient knarled roots, at the time of my excursion, are bright with bursts of colour from clumps of crocus and brave little bunches of early snowdrops.
A sweeping gravel path crunches satisfyingly under foot and the only sound to be heard is the symphony of bird song; for we are deep, deep in Derbyshire‘s captivating countryside.
Fearless garden pheasants are undisturbed by the visitor’s arrival at beautiful Bradley Hall, which has the honourable distinction of being one of the oldest barn conversions in history!
The original moated, timber-framed manor house at Bradley was demolished sometime in the 18th century, while the ‘new’ Grade II listed Bradley Hall was built by Hugo Meynell around the 1770s. It’s believed it was intended as a stable block to accommodate his horses and kennels for his hounds which would serve a new hall that was never actually constructed. When the job was nearly done he inherited Hoar Cross Hall in Staffordshire – with were even more impressive stables – and converted the incomplete stable block into a house which he rarely used unless he was ‘hunting in the neighbourhood’. This grand-scaled stable block of immense length is now in the hands of Ute Partridge and her husband Fraser.
Bradley Hall is no ordinary stable conversion. It is a highly elegant, staggeringly spacious and stylish family home, enriched with and defined by original mid 18th century architectural features. One of which, the staircase hall is spoken of in awe and mentioned by Pevsner.
‘We were very attracted to the historic classic aspect of it,’ says Ute, a German-born Londoner.
Former lawyer Ute, and Fraser, a mathematician who has enjoyed an international career, bought the hall just two years ago. They were drawn to the area because of Fraser’s strong and prescient childhood memories of visiting his grandparents in the Peak District. (His grandfather was part of the team of engineers who built Ladybower Reservoir.)
It was also a perfect move for a couple so passionate about the great outdoor life. Ute, who had never visited the Peak District until three years ago, but enjoys cycling and walking, said: ‘I couldn’t believe how this place had been kept from me. It is so amazingly beautiful.’
The Partridge family had searched on-line through hundreds of properties in the locality before settling on Bradley Hall. It ticked all their boxes: it was listed (as had been two former properties belonging to Fraser), it was part of a village, the gardens were perfect, there was room for a well-stocked library, a state-of-the-art gym and pilates studio and it had a wine cellar!
With four additional integrated apartments, Yew Tree Nook, Lady Pond Retreat, Bradley Hall Mews and Garden View, as well as a fishing lodge, six acre paddock and lake, there was also an obvious on-going business potential.
‘The place looked so warm and welcoming and ready to go. We could just move in,’ said Ute, who is currently studying for a master’s degree in Human Rights Law at Nottingham University. ‘But you know how it is with old houses...’
The pair embarked on a scheme of major improvements and camped out inside their home, while it took on the aspect of a building site.
‘The builders were on site for months and months and it was a long time before we could recapture our home,’ said Ute.
Completed last year, the improvements included the installation of a wood pellet fired biomass heating system, which generates income through the receipt of the government’s Renewable Heat Incentive payments.‘It now costs us nothing to heat the house but it was a big initial investment and we had to dedicate a double garage to house the boiler system!’
The couple also put in solid oak floors to replace the pine flooring, but retained all the stone flooring, which is such a lovely and striking feature of this period home.
There were, of course, teething problems. These included rummaging underneath floors to find evidence that the original flooring had been oak and not pine.
‘We really have done our best to bring the house back to the spirit of what it was,’ said Ute. To this end specialist local craftspeople were brought in to restore the cornucopia of ornate 18th century mouldings which frame the high ceilings, broad door frames, and the array of stunning Georgian windows.
The ornate coving of the drawing room was restored to its original colour, with its feature gold plating detail. Ute also orchestrated the removal of a false wall in the drawing room to reveal what is now a music room with period wall panelling.
‘We both love this room and pretty much use it every evening. We have the wood burner on and we can close the shutters at night.
‘There were curtains in here when we moved in but I love the window frames and don’t want them to be obstructed.’
In fact the windows, unadorned save for their ornate frames, are the features of Bradley Hall that Ute loves best. There are sets of long triple rectangular windows, which flood the house with natural and gentle Derbyshire light; Diocletian windows (a semi circle divided by two mullions) which form a feature on the first floor, and even a circular, eye-like window, which peeps out from a gabled bay.
‘I like the house to speak for itself. We decided to keep it fairly neutral not to distract from its features.’
They took their cue for interior décor from Spencer House in Green Park, London, where they married four years ago, after a whirlwind romance, which swept Ute off her feet.
On moving into Bradley Hall the pair removed most of the colourful patterned wall paper they had inherited from previous owners and opted for a neutral palette of natural tones.
‘The house had its wood and its stone and we wanted to work with that, keep that alive, not distract from it.’
They primarily used gentle colours, which would respond to the mellow Derbyshire light and blend with the mature gardens; its flowers and lawns. Throughout the house there are greys, subtle greens and soft yellow hues.
In keeping with much of this architecturally impressive house, the drawing room, with its linked music room, is sparsely furnished, which lends a calm and contemporary aspect. A focus of this favourite room is the baby grand Yamaha piano, which the pair reportedly play ‘badly’.
‘My main instrument is oboe,’ says Ute, apologetically. The former lawyer will modestly own to an interest in early music, art, literature and science, but understates her achievements: four degrees, not including the current Master’s degree for which she is studying. She’s also a qualified nutritionalist and has completed a year’s training in pilates teaching.
Husband Fraser is also academically inclined, although cites his main passion as ‘running’. He has a degree in opera studies as well as his original maths degree from Nottingham University and is presently studying for a further degree in particle physics, also at Nottingham University. Ute and Fraser’s shared rich life of the mind seems to rule out the necessity for a richly decorated home. It’s uncluttered in extremis.
A splash of vibrant colour can be found in the stunning staircase hall. Here the magnificent oak staircase is dramatically clothed with a red carpet as if to denote its artistic significance and beauty. The rest of the room is pared back and minimalist in tribute to this elaborately carved architectural triumph.
But the heart of this historic home is the huge and luxurious breakfast kitchen, with its professional style Lacanche range cooker, granite worktops, bespoke painted units, and stunning brass and glass fitted wall lights from Jim Lawrence.
It’s here that Ute and Fraser like to spend time at weekends.
‘We both love cooking and we often buy our food from the local farm shop near Duffield. We like game and buy partridge, ironically!’ said Ute, making comic reference to her married surname.
‘I adore the kitchen and spend a lot of time in here. It’s the control centre of everything and it’s the only room where we kept the wallpaper.’
Since moving into Bradley Hall Ute and Fraser have embraced the Derbyshire life. Ute is a member of Duffield Tennis Club and the couple love to run, not only in their fully equipped gym, with its stunning garden views, but at nearby Carsington Water. In their leisure time, the couple like to explore new Peak District walks and take cycle trips along the popular Tissington and Manifold trails.
Ironically their passion for outdoor life is now spurring them to a new adventure in New Zealand. For Ute and Fraser are planning to emigrate to Auckland – an even larger canvas for the big outdoors.
‘The things that brought us to Derbyshire, our love of the outdoors, cycling and walking, are the same things that are driving us to New Zealand. It’s an immigration opportunity that is too good to be missed and we are still young enough to start a new life. I’m looking forward to going there, but at the same time it’s going to be hard letting go. We know every stone, every piece of wood in here and had made it perfect for ourselves.’
Bradley Hall, with its four integrated apartments (rental properties and holiday lets) and extensive outbuildings, garaging, fishing lodge, lake, gardens and paddock land, is on the market with Fisher German. See www.fishergerman.co.uk Tel: 01530 412821.
UTE and FRASER
Love shopping at:
Croots Farm shop, Duffield www.croots.co.uk ‘We like their game, pies and cheeses and it’s also great for Brunch.’
Hulme Fishmongers in Ashbourne, ‘It’s brilliant and so friendly.’
Go Outdoors, Hathersage, ‘It beats the best shops in Covent Garden for walking clothes.’
Scarthin’s Bookshop, Cromford, ‘We like to take friends there.’
ENJOY EATING AT: Callow Hall, near Dovedale, The Duncombe Arms gastro pub at Ellastone, and The George, Alstonefield
RECOMMEND: Builder Steve Burdon of Peak Building Services (Belper) Ltd
Garden services by Premier Gardens
Picture Framer, Paul Williams of Ashbourne
Ian Wilson Carpets, Duffield
Purple Energy Heating Systems www.purpleenergy.co.uk
BRADLEY back in time
Bradley, three miles east of Ashbourne, was one of numerous manors given by William the Conqueror to Henry de Ferrers but later became the seat of the Kniveton family. Sir Andrew Kniveton fought for the King in the Civil War; a Governor of Tutbury Castle, he was taken prisoner. During the Commonwealth he was again imprisoned, this time for debt, and forced to sell Bradley in 1655. It was bought by Francis Meynell and it belonged to the Meynell family until the late 19th century.
Dr Samuel Johnson is known to have visited the Hall at least twice while staying with his friend Dr Taylor at Ashbourne.
The builder of the Hall, Hugo Meynell, was called ‘the father of English fox hunting’ by the Duke of Beaufort. At the time Bradley was a far flung outpost of the Quorn Hunt (Hugo also had property at Quorndon in Leicestershire), and it was his son, also called Hugo, who founded the Meynell Hunt from Hoar Cross in 1816.
Bradley parish’s most notable feature is the Hole-in-the-Wall – the road passes through an archway formed by a pair of 18th century brick cottages (believed to have been a tollhouse) that are linked by a bedroom.
The village’s Church of All Saints dates to the late 14th century, incorporating some earlier work, and has neither nave nor tower.
With thanks to Roy Christian’s article on Bradley, Derbyshire Life, August 1995.