Through the keyhole of Sophie Ryder’s unique Cotswold stone home
- Credit: William Goddard
When internationally-renowned sculptor Sophie Ryder bought her derelict 20-acre cattle farm near Cirencester nearly 30 years ago, she set about the huge task of designing and building a unique Cotswold stone home
Hard to believe, when you see the enormous success Sophie Ryder has achieved, that she and her young family spent their early years together in a caravan in the middle of a field.
Sophie is an internationally renowned sculptor, based in the Cotswolds, whose work is exhibited all over the world, with representation in London’s Hignell Gallery, the USA and Canada. She specialises in huge bronzes and wire sculptures, some of which need a crane to lift into place, but works across all mediums including prints and charcoal drawing. Cheltenham’s Promenade features her giant Hare and Minotaur on a bench.
But when she first bought a derelict 20-acre cattle farm, almost 30 years ago near Cirencester, she and her family lived in a mobile home on site for a couple of years. “My girls were practically born here,” she says. Her eldest daughter Maud (now 28), who now lives in Cheltenham with her two little boys, was a baby when Sophie first moved onto the property. As for her younger daughter, Nell - “I was working on a sculpture in the cow-shed when I suddenly realised it was time to go to hospital,” Sophie recalls of her birth. Nell, (now 26) is also an up and coming painter/sculptor who is following in her mother’s footsteps.
“There was no garden, no trees, just barren land,” says Sophie of her home. The old farmyard she describes as a “flooded mess”, the farmhouse was long gone and only a derelict threshing barn and a cowshed were still standing. ”We bought it for the beautiful location,” she says. “We couldn’t afford the whole amount so I gave a sculpture in lieu of the last £15,000.
“The villagers called us the mad hippy couple up on the hill, said I was making plastic sheep and we were building a chapel! Or so they thought from the narrow stained glass windows they could see.”
The ‘chapel’ was actually a small stone house which Sophie’s husband built, literally digging and cutting the Cotswold stone by hand from their land. “There was no electricity in the property so we did everything by candlelight, while entertainment came via a windup radio,” she says. “My children learnt to read very young as they had no access to television until they were 12.”
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Here the family lived whilst converting the barn, which was Grade II Listed and dated from the early 1800s. Eight years later they were able to move in.
With Cotswold stone walls some three feet thick and 12-inch stone flooring, the style of the house is Arts & Crafts, designed by Sophie. Everything in the house has been built using local materials and local craftsmen.
“Most of the beams are new, but had been weathering for 20 years in a neighbour’s garden,” she says. “All the oak and elm woodwork was fitted by master joiner, Adrian Mustoe of Windrush, who almost lived there for at least two years. He made everything from the oak floorboards to the four poster beds.”
Adrian adds, “I was asked to visit them one dark autumn night and hadn’t been there before. I came across some of Sophie’s huge sculptures in the grounds and they gave me a bit of a shock! I wasn’t sure what I was letting myself in for!”
“Just about everything you can see, from the leaded lights to the hand-blown glass light shades, from the mosaic floors to the steel door hinges and fittings, have been made either by us or by local craftsmen,” Sophie says. She actually worked in a forge for two months to make all the iron household fittings.
“We even made moulds from some original Cotswold stone roof tiles and then cast our own, adding pigments to get the colour right. We were some of the first people to make really good copies. We then poured yoghurt over them to make them turn mossy. And when the council came to approve the building, they simply could not believe they were not real stone.”
Sophie had a borehole dug, and a pump brings the water up from 270 feet below.
“The water is so delicious I always take it with me whenever I go to London, or even on just a short trip to Cheltenham.”
She also had 4,000 trees, including an apple orchard (with some plum trees) planted, and created a woodland walk around the property.
“We used to have our own pigs, chickens, sheep and grew our own vegetables, then would exchange the meat for milk from the farm across the fields. We were completely self-sufficient. However I am now vegan, so the animals have gone,” she adds.
Sophie now lives with her Danish fiancé and their much-loved four dogs in the converted barn. “My housekeeper and gardener live in the small house which has been extended to include a second studio, office and gallery, so the L-shaped building has now become a cross-shape. If the locals could see us from the sky, they really would think we had built a chapel!” she laughs. “I froze in my old studio (in the cowshed) for 28 years and it’s only recently that I have had it properly insulated.”
The once abandoned cattle farm is now substantially reformed. The grounds feature several of Sophie’s monumental sculptures and is now, quite appropriately, named Ryder Park.
She finishes, “There are no other houses for miles around, and as we’re in the heart of the countryside you can’t see a thing at night. It’s all pitch black and silent.
“I’ve used the best materials money can buy and the property has been built to last. Absolute love and attention was poured into every detail, making it warm and welcoming and, to quote my fiancé’s favourite Danish saying, it’s Hygge.”
Sophie hopes to install some of her monumental sculptures in and around Cirencester this summer, will have a solo exhibition later this year at Hignell Gallery in Mayfair, London, and will have a solo show in Canada with Galerie Bellefeuille.
Adrian Mustoe of S Mustoe & Sons Ltd; 01451 822063 or 07733220195
Creative Picture Framing, Cirencester (frames all of Sophie’s artwork); 01285 644411
David Hall stonemason; 07966 293264 or 01285 720765
New Brewery Arts Centre, Cirencester (hand blown glass light shades); 01285 657181