Making their mark
PUBLISHED: 12:01 22 September 2015 | UPDATED: 12:01 22 September 2015
In just seven years, Nick and Helen Walsh have completely transformed Canterburys, a 67-acre country estate at Margaretting, into a modern family home and more, but retaining all the qualities that highlight its treasured past
Nick and Helen Walsh became only its third owners in the past 100 years when they bought Canterburys, a 67-acre country estate at Margaretting, back in February 2008.
The oldest part of the main house at Canterburys is the original 400-year-old farmhouse.
Helen explains: ‘That’s where the kitchen is now. There’s a Georgian section, a Victorian part (the drawing room and the master bedroom above are Victorian) and then there’s the modern part.’
It took Nick, the owner of a specialist company in the building line, ten months to do all the essential repairs and transform it into the home they wanted.
The vast L-shaped, open-plan kitchen/pantry/utility room/family room/ breakfast area they created mainly in the original farmhouse kitchen has double doors to open up the space to the rolling acres beyond.
Nick adds: ‘We also dismantled the first floor and put in wood and steel beams. The whole of the first floor is now non-squeak.’
Helen chips in: ‘We added the breakfast room at the back of the house and turned what had been the existing kitchen into a family room and orangerie with a lantern in the ceiling, so it gets lots of natural light.’
Along the way the couple also re-wired, re-plumbed, re-pointed the mortar between the bricks, installed state-of-the-art cabling for a sophisticated audio/video system, laid new wood floors and replaced the old gates at the end of the drive with new electrically-operated ones. And because Nick owns a ground works company and comes from a family with a business background allied to the construction industry, the initial phase of the building work took less than a year.
When the new owners moved into Canterburys, just before Christmas seven years ago, they had three young sons.
At that time the youngest, Richard, was coming up to 18 months. The other two, Michael and Sean, were two and three years older respectively.
Now they also have a daughter, five-year-old Josephine. She’s about the same age as her eldest brother was when the family took up residence at the house in Margetting.
The private estate, which is off the Roman Road a mile-and-a-half from Ingatestone, had previously been owned for about 50 years by a former High Sheriff of Essex, Colonel Richard Bennett Gosling. ‘He rented out the main house and lived in Canterbury Lodge, but he’d lived here in the past,’ Helen explians.
The name Canterburys is thought to stem from the pilgrims who used the estate as a stopping point on their way to Canterbury to worship at the shrine of Thomas Becket who was murdered in the cathedral.
Helen and Nick couldn’t have chosen a better house to raise a dynasty.
The three principal reception rooms are all huge: the drawing room in the Victorian wing is almost 25ft by 16ft, the sitting room with large bay window is pretty well 20ft square and the formal dining room is about 15ft square.
There’s also a shower room on the ground floor and two staircases up to the first floor where there’s Nick and Helen’s palatial master bedroom with dressing room and shower room, five further bedrooms, a family bathroom and yet another shower room.
The total floor area in the main house is 4,550sq ft. The cellar, which the present owners have tanked to make sure damp doesn’t get in to spoil its latest incarnation as a basement cinema room, makes a great place for the children to hang out with their friends and play games. Fortunately, there’s still plenty of space below stairs for a wine cellar and a very good one, too.
As well as the main house at Canterburys there’s a two-bedroom bungalow in the grounds which the Walshes have completely refurbished.
‘It was an ugly 1960s or 1970s building when we got here,’ says Nick. ‘We replaced the roof, took it back to its shell, smartened it up and gave it a modern spec.’
The cottage is self contained. As well as two double bedrooms it has a fully fitted kitchen, lounge/dining room and shower room. The living area in the annexe adds up to about 900sq ft. At one stage an elderly relative lived there, but now it’s mainly used by guests.
However, notwithstanding all the work that went into restoring the main house and the bungalow, that was only the first phase of the endeavour to fulfil the potential of this small country estate in an ancient village mentioned in the Domesday Book.
Four years ago Nick and Helen transformed a traditional Essex barn on their land into a leisure complex. The standout feature is the 50ft ballroom. With chandeliers hanging from the (recently sandblasted) beams of the vaulted ceiling and a steel reinforcd mezzanine floor at one end of the entertaining suite looking like a 21st century minstrel gallery, it’s an amazing facility. Away from the dance floor but still in the barn, there’s a games room and bar and also a fully-equipped gym.
‘As soon as we saw the barn we said we’ll turn it into an entertaining room,’ Nick remembers. ‘We’ve had some amazing parties in there,’ he recalls, laughing. ‘The space is exactly as it was originally. The structure was sound. We only had to replace one of the uprights. There was no trouble with any of the footings.’
As for the 67 acres, it’s chiefly arable land, hay mainly. ‘A contractor does it for us,’ Nick adds.
So with all this land, are Nick and Helen a modern day Tom and Barbara Good? ‘We’re about 75% self sufficient,’ guesses the builder. ‘A farmer used to have sheep here, but they’ve gone now, which is a pity.’
However, the Walshes will also be gone soon and, after what they’ve achieved, that must be a wrench, but it’s a case of needs must.
Their eldest son is about to move up to a secondary school in September. ‘It’s about 15 or 20 miles away,’ Nick says, which is the reason why the family will be looking for a house in that area to avoid a long commute for Sean every day.