Langley Priory – a secluded South Derbyshire treasure

PUBLISHED: 14:32 26 October 2011 | UPDATED: 20:11 20 February 2013

Tim and Teri-Lee Wagstaff at the entrance to Langley Priory

Tim and Teri-Lee Wagstaff at the entrance to Langley Priory

Inheriting a beautiful and historic house comes with its fair share of responsibilities... Sarah Newton talks to Tim and Teri-Lee Wagstaff of Langley Priory in South Derbyshire

The first time Teri-Lee Wagstaff set eyes on Langley Priory she was enchanted. Travelling along the mile-long sweeping driveway on a cold winters evening, the house rose magically through the darkness, twinkling like a beacon.

I will never forget that first glimpse of Langley, she said. Tim was bringing me to meet his parents for the very first time. His father had lit the house and so it was entirely illuminated in a golden, sodium glow and it literally took my breath away.

When we went inside I was even more amazed. The house was warm and homelike not at all cold and austere as houses like this might be and I instantly felt at home. Its a wonderfully romantic house, and truly beautiful. Looking back, it was love at first sight, and whenever Im approaching it from the driveway I still feel the same way, even today.

Its true that the approach to Langley Priory, near Diseworth south-east of Melbourne, is an experience in itself. The winding road takes you through stunning parkland as squirrels dart across the road, pheasants peck at the roadside and cows stand and watch from the acres of land.

As the road is so long, there is plenty of time for anticipation to build in the hope of finding a hidden treasure at the end. And, as Teri-Lee discovered that night, Langley Priory does not disappoint.

Sitting in a secluded hollow, this beautiful Grade II* listed country house is steeped in history and goes back, in parts, nearly 1,000 years. Built on the remains of a 12th century Benedictine nunnery, Langley Priory has been a private family home for 450 years.

Part Elizabethan and part William and Mary, it features two stone-built wings, north and south, which were constructed in 1570 following the dissolution of the Monastries by King Henry VIII. The central part of the house is built of brick and dressed stone, dating back to 1690 when William and Mary were on the throne.

Tim explains: Originally, a Benedictine nunnery stood on this site, founded in 1154 by William Pantulf, whose ancestor came to England with William the Conqueror. But after the Dissolution of the Monastries in 1536, it fell into disrepair and was eventually turned into a family home when Thomas Gray built the north and south wings in 1570 during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

The stone to build the wings was brought here from the old Norman castle at Castle Donington and permission for this had to be obtained from Queen Elizabeth I.

Yet while the manor house is awash with beauty and history with artefacts such as tapestries from the 16th centuries and stained glass from the 13th and 17th centuries its also clear this is very much a family home.

The Wagstaff family bought the magnificent property when Tim was just six years old and today he and Teri-Lee live there with their own children, six-year-old Henry and Edward (four).

Tim said: I had the perfect childhood here with lots of messing about in boats, motorcycle escapades, going harvesting with the farmers. It was a wonderful place to grow up, with so much space both inside and out.

I was able to enjoy such a sense of freedom, running around with my two sisters was absolute bliss, and I want our two boys to be able to enjoy that same kind of childhood.

My family has always kept the house pretty private and oddly enough a lot of local people dont even know we are here. But although its a huge privilege to live here, and we want it to remain a family home, we need to diversify to keep the place going and to pass it on to future generations.

A house like this needs two things: to be enjoyed and shared and secondly, to be looked after.

So now Tim and Teri-Lee are letting one take care of the other by opening their home for intimate and exclusive weddings. Inspired by their own wedding reception in 2002, when the suppliers remarked on their superb location, the couple open their home to small wedding parties of no more than 40 guests.

They do this on a limited number of occasions throughout the year, in order to retain an exclusive feel and because the house remains their family home.

The pair organise the weddings themselves, including preparing the rooms, greeting the guests, and even arranging the flowers.

Teri-Lee explained: Its just us and the caterers. When people telephone to make an enquiry its me that they speak to and when they arrive to look round, I give them the tour. I think our couples like this personal touch.

Couples can have their civil ceremony in the romantic white drawing room upstairs, which has stunning views over the lakes and parkland. Afterwards they and their guests can enjoy drinks on the terrace, followed by an intimate dinner party.

We dont offer packages, everything we do is totally bespoke and we usually say yes to most requests. We are offering couples complete use of our home for the day and Langley gives them privacy, magical surroundings, glorious views and total exclusivity.

Langley Priorys setting, amid formal gardens which were created in the 1780s, is breathtaking and wonderfully romantic. The grounds include three ornamental lakes, tumbling cascades of water, acres of manicured lawns, scented rose gardens, innumerable ancient trees and the photographers dream a spectacular fountain in front of the house.

Tim and Teri-Lee have recently redecorated several of the rooms used by wedding parties, including the light and airy white drawing room and the elegant dining room, as well as installing a new heating system which makes the whole house feel cosy and warm.

They have also converted the former billiard room into a bar, which has been decorated in a very contemporary style, but is still in keeping with the rest of the house. The leaded windows here still have the names and dates of workmen etched into the glass, a kind of 19th century graffiti.

Tim confesses it is now his favourite room, especially the state-of-the-art sound system of which he is particularly proud and his favourite addition a bell to call time!

Despite the enormous cost of upkeeping and preserving such an historic gem, the couple is determined to preserve it as a family home for their sons and future generations. And far from resenting the need to diversify, the family is embracing the concept wholeheartedly.

We truly welcome having people around us and its great to see Langley thriving ultimately its how houses like this were intended to be, full of life and laughter, Tim enthused.

We love the idea of making the place more welcoming, more open and more economically viable. We want to make Langley Priory a vibrant, dynamic place for more people to enjoy. And we really want this important historic house to be an asset for the district.

Therere no two ways about it, houses like this are a money pit, and you can never take your foot off the pedal, its a major financial commitment.

Take a tour of the house and Tim often shows local historical groups around and its easy to see just how much of a commitment Langley must be.

There are the rare Flemish silk and wool tapestries that were woven in 1680 and have covered the walls at Langley Priory since 1720. Their restoration bill alone comes to 200,000.

In the Oak Room are exquisite ancient stained glass windows, with ecclesiastical glass from the original Benedictine nunnery, dating from the 1280s. There are other examples from around 1617 which were found hidden in the grounds around 200 years ago and carefully pieced back together. Possibly the glass was removed from Langley Priory during the Civil War and hidden away for safe-keeping.

Tim also has the original deed of sale of Langley Priory, bearing King Henry VIIIs waxed seal.

The whole house is awash with history, which is another reason why Teri-Lee feels so at home. Born to an English mother and American father, Teri-Lee read English Literature at Princeton University before moving to London to embark on a career in investment banking. For five years Teri-Lee followed her heart and did a course in art history which led to a job at Christies auction house.

It was an extraordinary place to work, surrounded by highly-talented people and beautiful works of art I felt very privileged.

It was during her time living and working in London that Teri-Lee met Tim, who was forging a career in property and finance. They moved to Langley following their wedding, swapping their city life for one in the heart of the countryside.

Yet although Teri-Lee feels at home in the English Midlands, her American roots are an important part of her life.

My parents live in Southern California and we visit every Easter holiday. The boys love it sunshine, beaches, Disneyland and Im very excited that some of that Americana will be part of their upbringing.

But I love it here at Langley so very much. Our life is here, we work together, we have two gorgeous and healthy children who are very happy here. We start the day drinking milk and tea in bed together, watching the wildlife hopping past the window. Its a living dream and we count our blessings every day.

The young family is certainly breathing new life into Langley Priory and in fact their regeneration plans for the estate are still in their infancy. They have already converted farm buildings into offices at a development called The Walnut Yard, which they are keen to expand, with allotments, a caf, a farm shop and even wi-fi offices in the woods.

The couple is currently talking to planners about the potential for building some accommodation on site, which would provide rooms for wedding guests and visitors to the newly opened luxury day spa, also situated within the grounds. Called the Owl House Day Spa, it is housed in a converted barn and stable block and gets its name from the locals a colony of owls who perch on the buildings roof at night.

The spa itself is helping to bring more people onto the estate and discover for themselves what Langley has to offer. The spa is a fantastic addition to the estate and it is lovely to see new people seeking us out, said Tim. Were in a very secluded rural idyll and surrounded by 520 acres of our own farmland, so while it is beautiful, we dont want to live here in splendid isolation.

To see our couples getting married here always reminds me of our own wedding day and what a special occasion it was, said Teri-Lee. Thats why it is, for us, a privilege to play such an important part in the happiest day of their lives.

Langley is a wonderful place and we want to develop its potential. That way we can encourage more people to share it with us and our family.

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