Home of the month: Broom Manor, Cottered
PUBLISHED: 11:01 22 May 2017
Dating from the late 15th century, Broom Manor in Cottered was in need of love and expert attention when it was discovered by a London couple looking for a rural life. Today, the restored former farm is testament to their passion
‘I found Broom Manor by chance,’ says Zoe Wyatt discussing the house she has shared with her family for more than 20 years.
The 20-room property in the East Herts village of Cottered dates from around the end of the 15th century and is one of the Buildings of England recorded for posterity by revered architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner.
Zoe and her husband Adrian are both commercial surveyors by profession. In 1992 he was one of the founders of Quintain Estates and Development, a London-focused company which during his time as chief executive acquired large tracts of land for regeneration schemes in the then run-down areas surrounding Wembley Stadium and the Millennium Dome.
When the couple first got together they lived and worked in London but as time went by they decided they’d like to live in the country. ‘Not gentrified country,’ Zoe emphasises, ‘we wanted proper, rural country but it had to be only an hour’s commute door-to-door from our office in Mayfair, not an hour on the train.’
A year and a half went by and nothing of interest turned up until Zoe went on a week’s teaching secondment to Bishop’s Stortford to be shadowed by a trainee who had specialised in country houses for his degree.
‘Hugh said he was starving, so we were walking down the high street to get a cream tea.
‘We stopped to look in an estate agent’s window and there was Broom Manor.
‘“This is the one,” he said “you’ve got to buy it.” It was looking pretty grotty but I knew he was right. I went home and said to Adrian: “Hugh’s spotted a house he says we’ve got to buy.” This was Monday. By Saturday it was ours.’
It was being lived in a by a ‘lovely family’ who didn’t want to part with it but they were on a job secondment and had to move, Zoe explains.
‘They’d bought it in 1988 from the widow of General Sir Frederick Pile, general officer in charge of Anti-Aircraft Command during World War II. They’d lived there for many years, since the 1950s. He’d died in 1976 at the age of 94. She’d lived there alone after his death. The couple we were buying it from loved the house so much they asked us if they could have one more Christmas there, we said “of course you can”. So although we bought it in 1995 we didn’t move in until February 1996.’
Being a surveyor, Zoe’s first call was to the listed buildings department at East Herts District Council. She discovered the house is described as Broom Farm in early documents. That seems to be borne out by the cottages incorporated into the house in the 1700s. The owners built a new frontage to cover up the join.
By the time the Wyatts arrived, the 18th century facade was in need of complete restoration as was much of the fabric of the manor, from the oldest rooms – the family and reception rooms on the west side – through to the more recent 20th century additions at the opposite end.
‘I thought we’d only be here two years, we’d do some remedial work on it, then move on but the house grew on us very quickly.’
Broom Manor had ceased to be a to do-up-and-sell-on. The new owners, by then with two young children, had put soul back into it.
‘There’s no point patching up an old house,’ says Zoe with her surveyor’s hat on. ‘A root and branch refurbishment incorporating design changes must be done sensitively in keeping with the age of the property. That’s why it’s so important to get in touch with the local heritage officers from the outset. You achieve far more that way than waiting until they raise objections.’
The couple took each room back to basics, one at a time.
‘I lived for years with parts of the house covered with tarpaulins, sheeting and scaffolding,’ Zoe recalls. ‘Robin Uff, the conservation officer for East Herts at the time was wonderful, we got on really well, he was immensely supportive.’
The restored manor now has five bedrooms, four bathrooms (two en suite), four reception rooms, a showpiece kitchen and an indoor swimming pool complex. The one-and-a-half acre grounds include a tennis court, an ancient granary they’ve restored as a party room, a listed dovecot, a four bay garage and a row of cart lodges. There’s also the parterre in front of the house created by Zoe to stop the view being blocked by cars. It’s planted with 330 lavender bushes she bought from the Yorkshire Lavender company near her sister’s home in York. It was a fragrant journey back to Herts: ‘I packed the plants in the back of my car and drove home with them’.
Since day one, Zoe has built up a network of craftsmen and suppliers of the highest order to help achieve her perfectionist standards. And this includes having minimal impact on the environment, something both she and Adrian have always been keen to achieve on building projects, whether for clients or themselves.
‘When you find one good craftsman, generally that leads you to others,’ Zoe says. ‘I found our architect Peter Newson when I went to see a friend in Much Hadham and noticed the extension on the house next door. It was beautifully designed. I knocked on the neighbours’ door and asked who their architect was. As a result Peter did all our architectural work here.
‘When we built our first floor extension above the kitchen on the right hand side of the house between 1999 and 2000 and rebuilt the 18th century wall, it was through him I found a firm in Norfolk who were making 10,000 bricks for the restoration of Hampton Court. I needed 2,500 Tudor-style handmade bricks exactly the same as the ones for Hampton Court, so they made 2,500 more and let me have part of the Hampton Court consignment to meet my timescale.’
When they were restoring the oldest part of the house, they exposed the cruck frame – in what is now a luxury bathroom – with 15th century origins. And huge bags of horsehair were delivered to repair the plaster on ancient walls.
‘We were lucky again in finding a brilliant builder. Charles Lee is a local guy, he lives only 10 minutes away. His company Building on Reputation does all my listed building work.
‘I have the same excellent relationship with the cabinetmaker who built the kitchen here and fitted out the second floor library. Icon Designs in Stafford is a family firm, they can make whatever you want. They also made furniture for our house in Florence. They drove all the way down to Italy to deliver and fit it.
‘Most of our furniture here has been custom made. Farrar and Caffari in Lancashire are brilliant upholsterers, they make everything themselves. Through them I found Troynorth, a company which just makes tassels and trimmings. When you find people like this, everything falls into place.’
With every family home, times change however. The Wyatts’ son and daughter are no longer young children. Henry, who was born the year after they moved to Broom Manor, is 20. His sister Francesca is 17 and due to go to university this year.
For Zoe, it signals not so much the end of an era but the start of a new adventure.
‘I’ve always believed in leaving before the end of a good party,’ she laughs.
It’s in this spirit that she is preparing for a new project – to use her talents to seek out another old building with potential and turn it into a new home.
She admits Broom Manor didn’t quite meet up to one expectation however: ‘The journey into Mayfair takes an hour and five,’ she smiles.
Broom Manor is for sale through Savills in Bishop’s Stortford, which is inviting offers over £2m.