A Georgian dream

PUBLISHED: 11:48 11 July 2014 | UPDATED: 11:48 11 July 2014

Owners, Russell and Gillian Prince

Owners, Russell and Gillian Prince


Russell Prince and his wife Gillian have seen some very special properties in their time, but they fulfilled a dream when they moved to their Georgian house in Roydon, as Pat Bramley explains

Russell Prince owns an award-winning property development company. Russell masterminds the building side of the business while his wife, Gillian, is the creative talent in charge of interior design.

Although their work includes new builds, they specialise in converting and restoring period properties, chiefly in London and the Home Counties.

When their children were small and the company was in its infancy, a barn conversion was the perfect home Russell and Gillian dreamed of. Russell remembers: ‘We wanted a barn. We found one and enjoyed living there, but then we felt we’d done that now, we’d done the barn experience and wanted to move on. I’d always wanted a Georgian house, so we went all out to get one.

‘Of course,’ he laughs, ‘in northwest Essex, you don’t get a lot of Georgian houses. We missed out on a couple — there was one we particularly liked in Sawbridgeworth — but then Mount Pleasant House in Roydon came up.

We went for it and were fortunate enough to get it.’

English architecture in the heyday of the Georgian era between 1730 and 1800 has a classic elegance and symmetry that has never lost its appeal for lovers of old buildings. Mount Pleasant House, with its stunning, white porticoed entrance, stands in five acres on the Essex/Herts borders and is something of a local landmark.

Since Russell and Gillian became the owners in 2001 it has been restored and updated regardless of cost. Wherever original features were beyond repair, they have been replaced with replicas made with traditional materials by craftsman using traditional methods. For all that, the interior isn’t a museum piece. Far from it. Without defiling its historic pedigree, it’s a home for the 21st century.

‘Georgian is the most copied style of architecture,’ Russell points out, ‘but you don’t want a pastiche. Although you are working with a period property, you can put in modern features. The classic >> lines and scale of the rooms are conducive to a natural fusion of styles. Traditional and contemporary can be used together with good effect in a Georgian house, but not so successfully in a Victorian property, for example.’

The list of previous owners of Mount Pleasant House reads like an extract from Who’s Who. The house was originally built in 1750 for Captain John Nanfan of the East India Company. By the mid-1800s it had become the home of the internationally-renowned physicist and astronomer Colonel James Poole Oates.

Later that century, in 1889, Sir Ralph Fowler was born there. He went on to become a fellow of the Royal Society. The Fowler Islands in the Antarctic were named after him to honour his research into the structure of ice. In the 1930s it was owned by the Minister of Labour in Ramsay Macdonald’s government, the Conservative MP and barrister Sir Henry Bucknall Betterton. In 1935 he was given a peerage and became Lord Rushcliffe.

By the 1950s, the house was known as Fedsdens. It ceased to be a country home for the gentry and became a boarding and day school called Fedsden Hall. Former pupils have written brief accounts of their happy times at school which can be found in the records of local history archivist, Francis Frith.

Past students speak warmly of the headmistress and remember the stables and tennis courts, as well as playing rounders in the field behind the house.

After the school departed, the building was divided up into a pair of semis, but the adjoining houses were bought by the Princes’ predecessor, a successful fruit and vegetable wholesaler. He turned back the clock and amalgamated the two into one and commissioned the renowned Chelsea Flower Show gold medalist Roger Platts to landscape the five-acre garden.

Having restored the property to its former glory and created a showpiece garden in the grounds, the fruit and veg distributor finished the job by reinstating the original name of Mount Pleasant House. He went on to enjoy his beautiful home for many years and lived there until he died, but by then, unsurprisingly, it needed a spot of work.

‘We replaced the roof with Welsh slate, although generally the house was structurally sound,’ Russell says, ‘it was just that the décor looked tired. We used it as a blank canvas to make the home we wanted.’

The Princes commissioned the kitchen company Plain English to build a new L-shaped kitchen/dining room — 38ft long — which flows into the sitting room. They repaired sash windows and when new glass was needed they found a craftsman to blow glass in the way it was made in Georgian times to fit the thin glazing bars. Bathrooms were refitted and dressing rooms created to elevate the master suite and guest suite up to five-star hotel standard.

Gillian selected Osbourne & Little wallpapers and Harlequin fabrics for the soft furnishings and together the couple chose contemporary and traditional furniture from Andrew Martin of Chelsea. They bought a grand piano for the drawing room, Gillian found wallpaper to cover a wall in their son’s bedroom with a shiny red Cadillac and a new temperature controlled wine cellar was also installed to ensure the wines are perfect for the palate. Nothing, but nothing, was too much trouble.

The grounds include a hard tennis court, a pretty summer house and a detached cottage with sitting room, conservatory, kitchen and a bedroom suite with dressing room and posh bathroom. It’s a Georgian dream.

Now it’s for sale

Mount Pleasant House is for sale through Mullucks Wells for £2.6m. For more details click on the related link.

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