- Credit: sub
Words: Laura Briggs
“The difficulty we have” says Robin, “is finding anywhere that is nicer than here.
“When we have gone away, we come back thinking ‘thank goodness we’re home!”
A labour of love has seen Robin and Jane completely restore the grade I listed Newton House, in Newton Surmaville near Yeovil, from a state of disrepair to a lavish and light home.
Despite its size – the house has 40 rooms - it still manages to feel cosy and warm. Originally the house was completed in 1612 but when the couple bought it in 2007 it was in a sorry state.
The couple have put all their efforts into transforming the house and grounds, which they share with their three daughters Laura, Georgina and Naomi.
With its completion this year, Robin and Jane are now opening their home to members of the public for a cause that’s extremely close to their hearts.
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In November last year the family was hit by a bombshell when they learned that Robin’s daughter Laura had developed breast cancer aged just 22.
The devastating news has led to the family rallying together to raise funds for cancer charities Breakthrough and Coppafeel.
“Our passion for this year is to raise funds and it takes over your life. There’s only so much that I can do for Laura, so as well as visiting her every day in hospital we decided to open the house and gardens to visitors to raise funds. We have got 59 bookings already, but we are only opening the house up for this year. It’s still our home at the end of the day.”
Newton House was originally built by Robert Harbin, a wealthy merchant, who demolished a Medieval house that stood on the site and build the current main house.
Now it is decorated to suit the period style, crammed with beautiful antiques and Robin’s collections.
There is a place for all of his and Jane’s objects. A music room is home to Jane’s two drum kits, and Robin’s array of guitars and other instruments.
The old pantry has been turned into a sumptuous bar which they call the racing room – racy pictures adorn its walls, and lamps wearing hats fit for Ascot light the room.
It took the couple four-and-a-half years to gain permission from English Heritage to paint the Great Hall in a muted colour which complements the house beautifully.
“This room was painted in black stain when we bought the house,” says Robin “and we weren’t best pleased about having to wait so long to get approval on the paint colour.”
Bird Cage wallpaper from Nina Campbell is pasted onto the areas above the painted panelling to give the room a luxurious feel.
The beautiful ceiling of the Justice Room was decorated by George Harbin, the great, great, great, great, great, great grandson of Robert. This room started life as the buttery and Jane and Robin have fully restored and repainted the ceiling, unblocked and relined the fireplace and fitted bespoke carpeting from Axminster carpets.
The couple’s bedroom features a beautiful four-poster bed, in keeping with all the period features, and maintains a modern and light feel.
Lighting is key to the feel of the house, which rather than feeling heavy and cold with dark wood and high ceilings, feels cosy and lived in. Robin has a real passion for lighting and his choices have made the whole house feel light, airy, and yet retain its decadent feel.
The renovation of the gardens involved seven major projects for the couple including the complete rebuilding of a 90 feet greenhouse, digging out new access from the kitchen to the walled kitchen garden, creation of a new terrace and dredging and replanting of the two remaining carp ponds.
The result is a tranquil garden with views stretching for miles, and sculptures adding interest to the lawns. The kitchen garden is abundant with fruits including gooseberries and redcurrants, vegetables and herbs.
Having spent around £1.3million on the renovation, Robin says that he really feels at home in Newton House.
“I’ve never stayed anywhere longer than five-and-a-half years in any one place,” he says. “This is the longest I have ever lived in one place but I have to say just now there really is no itchiness in my feet!”
Four gardeners, a handyman and a housekeeper help Jane and Robin to keep the house looking immaculate, and Robin says the project has the couple learn more about themselves and each other.
“I think it’s helped make us aware of the importance of each other, and at the end of the day the house is not the be all and end all of everything, and should never come between people.”
In addition to opening up the house and gardens to raise funds for the two cancer charities, Jane and Robin have also written a book on Newton House, with a foreword by Julian Fellowes. The book includes details of their mammoth project, as well as recipes from a handwritten recipe book dated 1787, which was found in a box of papers removed from the house prior to it being sold.
The aim is for the couple to help raise £100,000 to be split between Coppafeel and Breakthrough.
Their fundraising efforts started in May this year, when they first opened the house to the public.