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500 YEARS OF HISTORY; HISTORIC HOMES Only nine years ago, Hoards Park was in dire need of improvement. Now it is an impressive country house - just a walk from town.

Byline: Marsya Lennox reports

Hermits and witches once laid low in Bridgnorth's famous caves which line one descent into the old Shropshire town.

From this legendary vantage point, one has a best view over to Hoards Park, a landmark house that has stood here for at least 500 years.

The cave dwellers of past times could have told the exact age of the historic property, known to predate its obvious Elizabethan roots, but they've been gone a long time and now the only clues are in the cellars and the odd medieval remnant turned up during the recent, massive restoration of this fascinating property.

Hoards Park is now firmly in the 21st century and has proved its worth as a functional, family home over the last eight years or so.

Its current owners are only the second "modern" family to have enjoyed the run of the whole house since the huge project to restore and improve from the turn of the new millennium.

It was a different story in 1999 when the former owners arrived, ready for some serious work.

They had to unravel a puzzle of chimneys and extract years of birds nest debris. Some rooms had not seen a fire lit since the Second World War and there had been no serious improvement since around 1873, successive occupants managing to live in just a tiny portion of the huge property which totals some 8,500 sq ft.

The improvers did some camping themselves, living on the second floor while they worked, bit by bit, on the large listed house.

They never found the tunnels that were reputed to link the ancient caves to the house, but they discovered that the cellars were older than 16th century, realised that there had been a jettied upper portion to the house at some stage and that the cellar levels used to extend well beyond today's house footprint.

Older foundations were found in the walled garden, as was the site of an old staircase and four mystery flues with no further clue to what they once served.

It all adds up to real fascination for the lover of old houses - minus the worry of hard improvement work - and today's house offers some well concealed comforts, notably underfloor heating powered by a series of boilers in the cellars and ample plumbing provision, including four bathrooms to serve the seven bedrooms.

The original 16th century building saw improvement in the 17th and 19th centuries.

Early occupants saw to bricking over some of the older timber framed portions, but much of the past remains in a series of important features: stone mullioned windows, Elizabethan chimney stacks, stone chimneypieces, old beams and panelling.

The long status of the property is also apparent in its striking approach, set well back into its own 17 acres of parkland and lakes, up a private quarter-of-a-mile-long driveway.

Yet this is Shropshire at its most convenient, under a mile from Bridgnorth town centre - literally within walking distance - and with associated benefits, notably mains gas. There is a big reception hall with late 19th century floor tiles by Maws and a period staircase of the same era plus access to the cellars, three big ones with an area of stone vaulting.

The drawing room has one angle on the magnificent views through two stone windows. Here there is also a gothic-style fireplace in stone. There is another stone chimneypiece in the sitting room, also some part panelling to the walls, exposed beams and shuttered windows.

There is another fireplace in the study and a large inglenook in the dining room off which is an alcove and butler's pantry. This room is thought to have been a kitchen at some stage, the arched recesses once used for cooking.

What is now a laundry is thought to have once been part of a detached kitchen, a traditional feature in big medieval houses. Here too is an exposed inglenook and cold settles.

Today's kitchen, however, imposes the present on the past with some cleek granite finishes, a central island and professional range cooker as well as a traditional china sink.

The bedroom space goes on and one over the upper floors, period luxuries including some surviving fireplaces and modern luxuries the oversized showers with multi jets.

One extremely useful legacy of the 21st century restoration is the self-contained second floor apartment, mostly open plan with sitting, dining and kitchen areas as well as two bedrooms, one with a fireplace.

This was the refuge for the former owners who created the 97ft-long run of space under the restored roof, a comfortable home for the whole family as they worked on the house.

Now, it would do perfectly for unsociable teenagers - even an active granny or live-in staff.

Within the 17 acres of surrounding land, the old fish ponds have been properly upgraded and set up as a series of cascading pools, now stocked with fish including perch and carp.

There are long views over surrounding estate land, paddocks, formal garden areas and a large walled former orchard as well as garaging and further storage buildings.

Bridgnorth offers good schooling as well as nice shops - just a walk away. Shrewsbury is 18 miles, Wolverhampton 14 miles and the M54 10 miles. Guide price pounds 1.65 million. Details from Berriman Eaton in Bridgnorth, 01746 766499.

CAPTION(S):

Hoards Park is set well back into its own 17 acres of parkland and lakes, up a private quarter-of-a-mile-long driveway; Magnificent views over surrounding estate land; The dining room is well equipped for entertaining; The kitchen is well fitted with modern appliances; The big reception hall with late 19th century floor tiles by Maws; The sitting room has a stone fireplace, part-panelled walls, exposed beams and shuttered windows; The drawing room offers superb views over the surrounding countryside
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 22, 2008
Words:968
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