Tyttenhanger House is a slice of St Albans history - and can be yours for £12m
- Credit: Archant
Henry VIII’S safe house is up for sale, along with its colourfully resilient history.
It’s rather rare, when casually surfing Rightmove or Zoopla, to stumble across a property on your doorstep worth £12 million.
Although St Albans, Harpenden and plenty of the villages and hamlets that surround them aren’t short of their high-spec, high-end, high-priced real estate, anything considered as ‘someone’s house’ with an asking price in excess of £5 million is going to make you stop and stare.
Brandishing this sizeable price tag is one of St Albans’ architectural slices of regal history. Tyttenhanger House sits in the grounds of Tyttenhanger Park, an expanse of land to the east of St Albans. Tyttenhanger itself is closer to the city centre, and you would need to cross both Willows Lakes and the River Colne to get to the Park, giving Tyttenhanger House that added twist of intrigue and exclusivity.
Three weeks ago, the mansion was put up for sale by its long-standing owners Jack and Esme Bonnington of Harpenden. Jack is Hertfordshire’s very own veteran architect, exceptionally regarded within building and design circles, with a back-catalogue of works that span from Hawaii to Beirut. This man has designed everything from universities to golf courses to zoos. His interest in Tyttenhanger was never for residential purposes. He purchased it around 40 years ago when he moved his business base out of London’s Fitzroy Square and onto the green belt. Jack’s work took him across the world (and still does) and the preference was to be based somewhere with rural charm.
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But now the time has come to sell; and whomever buys the property from the Bonningtons will also be obtaining an index of records, accounts, articles and writings, all charting and consequently contributing to the house’s history.
Built in the 17th century, the name has evolved from Tydenhangre – ‘Tyden’ meaning ‘hides of land’ and ‘angre’ signifying a forest. A book written by former resident Lady Jane Van Koughnet in 1895 titled ‘The History of Tyttenhanger’ explains that this original pronunciation of the property’s name comes from its location amidst the hills of Hertfordshire.
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The estate boasts ties to William the Conqueror. He gave the land to a family by the name of Albiny, who in turn donated it to the Abbots of St Albans in around 1119. In 1335, the manor was passed to Abbot Michael Mentmore, who was blamed eventually for the building falling into great disrepair. His irritation at the positioning of the house - on the popular route to and from London where travellers would typically stop for rest or to pay their respects - lead to his decision to partially demolish the residence, using the materials to restore another local manor house.
Tyttenhanger’s next owner was related to the Plantaganets, who restored and cared for the manor once more. Both the Plantaganets and subsequently the Tudors started associating themselves with the estate. So liked was this rural retreat that in 1528 Henry VIII visited the house to avoid the plague. It was the time he spent in convalescence at Tyttenhanger that calmed the King down after one of his more panic-stricken periods in power (he was a known nosemaphobic).
Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the manor was subject once more to a decline in the attention and care it needed. It belonged for some time to Sir Thomas Pope and eventually was passed, through marriage, to the Blount family. Eventually it was inherited by Sir Henry Blount (also the High Sherriff of Hertfordshire at the time), who was a known traveller and decided to put the property through yet another demolition. Inspired by the trends in 18th century Italian architecture, he converted it into the version that stands today, completing it in 1695, adding elements such as the belfry and attic rooms.
The property remained firmly within the Blount baronetsin until 1757 when the third Baronet died and passed it to his niece Catherine Freeman, whose daughter married Charles Yorke, son of the first Earl of Hardwicke. Lady Hardwicke was personally responsible for various improvements to the house, taking her love for it on as a project of sorts. She planted various species of flowers and hedgerows around the grounds, converted a kitchen and laundry ‘office’ and designed the front terrace of the property into the shape of an Irish cross. As the manor was passed through the family (who held ownership for some 500 years), it became more of a holiday home, as they gradually settled back to their roots in Ireland. Once again, Tyttenhanger House began to fall into dilapidation by the time it was purchased by the Bonningtons for a mere £75,000 in 1973.
The brickwork had been tampered with over time, and the coach houses to the side of the property had holes in the walls for entering carriages, leaving the first floor dangerous. Jack, whilst simultaneously developing the build of his Harpenden home, oversaw the restoration of the mansion, making sure to retain the intricate 18th century detailing that had been implemented by the Blounts hundreds of years previously - the small private chapel, the Jacobean panelling and the Triptych over one of the fireplaces consisting of the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles Creed.
An auction took place at the time, making headlines for raising £140,000. Items sold included a Louis XV writing desk for £10,500, around 40 oil paintings and the third Earl of Hardwicke’s personal Oriental porcelain collection.
Now, the property continues to boast the improvements that Jack made to it when he took over the manor. It has been modernised with a heating system and water supply. The latter lead to the installation of the sweeping fish pond that leads up to the front of the house. Jack had asked his employees if they would prefer that or a swimming pool be installed; they understandably opted for decoration rather than a mode of exercise.
Tyttenhanger House’s land spreads for 40 acres and boasts around 20 bedrooms. Although currently a business, the occupying office leases will expire in 2017 and there is particular scope to reinstate the house’s original use as a residential property once more.
Outside is a Victorian vegetable garden and inside features a wine cellar, gun room, ball room and a carved oak staircase said to be one of the finest in the world.
Unsurprisingly, the property has featured in publications such as Country Life when it published a piece about Hertfordshire’s ‘well-wrought houses, well placed beside meandering streams’. ‘Well-wrought’ certainly seems to sum this property up befittingly.