A historic home
PUBLISHED: 09:00 24 February 2014
North Cadbury Court is one of the most beautiful houses in the county. For the past 18 months owners Archie and Janet Montgomery have been renovating it. The result is a fabulous place to stay
Inheriting and restoring a huge house like North Cadbury Court, which has a history of 700 years behind it, is quite a project. But Archie and Janet Montgomery describe it as having been ‘fun to do up’, as if it has all been effortless, which of course it hasn’t been.
During the past 18 months, the couple have been transforming the property in North Cadbury village from decaying grandeur and the type of place where you needed to put an extra dog on your bed as a form of central heating, to a home that is comfortable, warm and luxurious. “It’s the first time I have known the house to be warm since I grew up there,” Archie chuckles.
The plan has been to open it up for others to use. “We want people to enjoy it as a family home as much as we do,” explains Archie. Corporate events, weddings, parties, holiday weekends for family celebrations and so on are now held there and as word spreads about the house, it is becoming an increasingly busy part of the couple’s lives.
The main ballroom, part of the Georgian front of the building, has been a main element of several events, including charity parties, featuring the likes of musician Bob Geldof; fashion shows; book launches; birthday dinners and more. It’s a house that works for entertainment – there’s even a disco room in the basement. Yet it also successfully operates as simply a place to enjoy chilling out in.
The Montgomery family are well-known in Somerset, and indeed across the UK, for their Cheddar cheese, a product founded by Archie’s grandmother “as a way of storing milk from their Friesian herd through the summer”. The Montgomerys were farmers at that stage and Archie maintains that tradition by describing himself as a ‘potato farmer’ first and foremost.
The cheese side of the 1500-acre estate is run by Archie’s younger brother Jamie, who has developed other new lines of cheese, one of which is named after King Arthur’s Camelot since their land includes Cadbury Castle: an ancient hilltop site regarded as one of the most likely places King Arthur housed his round table.
Archie and Jamie’s grandmother must have cut a formidable figure for she was also responsible for making the decision to buy Cadbury Court. According to Archie, she initially rented out Hazlegrove, in Sparkford, which was at that stage a private home and not the independent school it is today until she discovered Cadbury Court, which she loved because of its big south facing windows, such as those in the ballroom. She saw it as a light and happy house, unusual for a home with a medieval origin.
Her husband Sir Archibald Langman, a friend of Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was also an impressive person – he took the photographs of the Boer War that line a set of stairs in the house near the kitchen. He also donated a field hospital to the casualties of the Boer War.
Family elements are throughout the Court from humorous photographs in a downstairs loo, portraits in a drawing room, to many existing items in the house being revamped, renewed and restored such as radiators, curtains, bath tubs and beds: “I have been determined to keep the soul of the house I grew up in,” says Archie, explaining the couple’s methodology.
The restoration of the house has been ‘hugely helped’ by Janet’s background in architecture and conservation. She confesses she is ‘passionate about property’. She trained originally as a chartered surveyor in London and is now an associate at Brimble Lea, planning consultants in Gillingham, Dorset, a practice of chartered architects and surveyors.
The couple are also ardent about sustainability – the Bath & West Show’s environmental section was founded and is still run by the two of them. Prince Charles was a fan when he visited.
And they’ve installed solar panels on the church, which is right next door to the court. Plus much of the energy to the property is fed by ground-source heat pumps, wood-chip burners and other sustainable systems.
They put their ethos down to one reason why the house is so cosy and warm despite its size and why ‘we’ve tried to use everything that was there’ in the first place. Much of the work completed on the house is not visible to the eye.
All the shutters have been ‘renovated, which greatly helped with heat retention and we’ve put secondary glazing in which you wouldn’t notice.’ According to Janet, it ‘would have been much cheaper if we had bought everything new’, such as the bath tubs and fixtures. The bathrooms are now one of the major and most beautiful features of the house.
There are in total 21 bedrooms they’ve restored. Each is different and most are named after potato varieties says Archie smiling. He prefers keeping the look as ‘eclectic’ as possible. And believes that helps retain a distinctive family feel. He was horrified when someone suggested he use 20 lamps that were all the same to decorate the rooms.
Every bed, including the four-posters, has a mattress that has been hand made and all the sheets are 400-thread Egyptian cotton because the couple didn’t want to ‘spare any expense’ in making the house as comfortable as possible.
Somerset interior designer Pip Scaramanga has been their interiors guru. Wallpaper is a feature in most rooms and comes from Chelsea Harbour based Lewis & Wood – ‘we’ve nearly used most of their designs now,’ says Janet.
Archie has also been scouring the salerooms, mainly Lawrences, in Crewkerne, for various items to decorate the house, which include eccentric but beautiful pieces such as ancient typewriters.
Other projects being planned are a nine-hole golf course, where the first tee will be on the rooftop of the house, a spa, swimming pool, gym and a tennis court are also part of their scheme and there’s a lake where visitors can fish. Outbuildings are being renovated for use too.
The explanation for it all: ‘I had a happy time growing up in the house, and it’s got a history that is great with being overpowering.
It is good to be able to share it.’