PUBLISHED: 09:00 30 April 2014
The owners of a 19th century property in Langport hope to solve a few unanswered questions about this historic house on the hill
Hurds Hill was home to the Victorian journalist and businessman Walter Bagehot and, more recently, the property was run as a nursing home.
But little is really known about the history of this elegant house, which stands on the edge of Langport, so current owners David Holmes and Clifford Lee are on a quest to discover more.
Members of the local history society have been commissioned to write the history of the house, which was built in the 1820s for the Bagehot banking family.
“No one knows who the architect was for instance,” explains David, who has heard rumours that the house may once have been decorated throughout by William Morris himself.
“We would love to find information, photos and titbits about the house so that we can produce a booklet. We are hoping that people who know anything about it will make themselves known.”
When they bought the property two years ago, David and Clifford were unaware about the connection between Hurds Hill and the influential Walter Bagehot who was editor of The Economist and was consulted and admired by leading figures of the age.
When they discovered the link, they invited members of the Langport & District History Society to hold a talk on Bagehot at the house. The Walter Bagehot archives are now stored here and the house is home to portraits of Walter’s family including his mother.
The historians have recently discovered a house called Hurds Hill in Australia built by someone who emigrated from Langport. Interestingly, thanks to an old picture, it is clear that the Australian property looks like the Somerset version before changes were made to its exterior.
Locals have been fascinated to see the inside of the house on the hill, especially since its transformation from a care home.
“One woman who lived and worked here in the 1940s has told us what the family were like who lived here at the time,” says David.
“We know that charity garden events were held here and when we had an open day, a man told me he last came here 75 years ago.”
The renovation work on the 40 rooms in Hurds Hill has taken two years and on my arrival the decorator was still busy on the finishing touches.
Clifford, formerly a professor at the Royal College of Music, has designed the rooms. Each has its own bathroom and each room has its own theme such as The French Room with its Parisian maps and prints; the 20th Century Room accessorised by an original Festival of Britain frieze and 1950s G plan furniture; the glamorous Art Deco Room complete with 1940s dressing table; the Chinese Room hung with beautiful vintage wallpaper and the traditional Regency Room.
The house is a history enthusiast’s dream, but with the fascinating memorabilia placed or hung so tastefully there is no sense of clutter, just elegance and style.
Here and there are collections of prints and pictures such as theatre posters, framed Disney jigsaws, music sheets, or images of kings and queens.
There are three libraries at Hurds Hill, the many books collected – and read – by Clifford over the years.
Leading me into one David says: “This one has only biographies and it is categorized from A to Z, starting with Peter Parker’s book on Ackerley and ending with Fred Zinnemann’s autobiography and everything in between!”
Clifford is a classical pianist and David also played while he was a student, hence the collection of pianos found at Hurds Hill.
David says: “Everybody who has worked on the renovation has been local, with the exception of the muralist Eric Sharp who did the painted finishes on the woodwork, walls and fireplaces.”
As well as the 14 individually designed bedrooms, the property offers conference facilities.
Embarking on the refurb was not as daunting as it might have been as they are used to renovating large properties explains David, who is a management consultant.
After selling their Clapham Common catering business called Tea Time some years ago, David and Clifford went in search of a small hotel in the West Country.
In fact they never found one but bought and renovated a house in Crediton before selling this and buying a ‘wonderfully intact’ Jacobean manor house near Forde Abbey.
“We stayed there for 17 years and Clifford saw an advert for Hurds Hill in a newspaper.
Hurds Hill is now run as a business school and a facility to be hired by organisations ranging from charities to international business people.
David and Clifford have now launched their Sunday afternoon Champagne teas.
“But we only want to do it in a limited way, for one group at a time and only on a Sunday,” explains David.
Clifford adds: “The important thing is we enjoy having people in the house and like to see it being used.”