Through the keyhole: Bridwell Park
- Credit: Matt Austin
The upstairs-downstairs lifestyle is, for most, confined to watching a television series like Downton Abbey. But for Lord Ivar Mountbatten it has long been a living reality. This year his Grade I listed Uffculme estate opens as a commercial venue for the first time in its 240-year history. Naomi Tolleyis among the first visitors Photography by Matt Austin
Fist impressions count and here at Bridwell that is a very relaxed-cum-regal, homely affair. Lord Ivar, a direct descendent of Catherine the Great and one of the godfathers to Lady Louise Windsor, prefers to enter his property through the back door. In the back porch, muddy Dubarry boots are neatly lined up on a shelf.
“You can tell a lot about a property by its owner and I am a very relaxed, happy chap,” says Lord Ivar, leaning against his statement green Aga with his fox red Labrador, Rosie, curled up at his feet.
“I love green,” he quips, referring to the two-tone striped coverings on the kitchen walls. “In fact, I love bold colours,” he says, smiling. He seems to smile a lot.
This classic Georgian ten-en-suite bedroomed house, which Lord Ivar and his family have called “home” since 1997, is set in 100 acres of rolling parkland overlooking the Culm Valley, with its own tennis courts, old stables, on-site chapel, and a new 150-seat Orangery, which used to house the family’s swimming pool.
It is also home to Lord Ivar’s Touch of Hart company, which supplies award-winning charcuterie and venison to the elite, such as Selfridges in London, from his red and fallow deer herd.
Built in early Regency style between 1774 and 1779 by Richard Hall, the property remained in the Clarke family for the next 200 years, in that time creating an 18th century landscaped park overlooking an ornamental lake. The original chapel was demolished in 1774 and replaced with a Gothic-style chapel ‘museum’ for the sole purpose of housing Captain Cook’s collection of artefacts from around the world.
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“But the whole house was gutted by a massive fire, which left nothing but the four walls standing,” says Lord Ivar, strolling through the house. “It was devastated.”
This led to a vast and costly restoration programme in partnership with English Heritage with original fireplaces retained and restored, as well as plasterwork, oak floors and mahogany doors.
“When we bought it, it was effectively a builder’s finish,” says Lord Ivar. “There wasn’t any furniture in the house, everything was bare, but there wasn’t anything to do structurally either as it was all new.”
Faced with a blank canvas, he drew on his childhood home for inspiration. “I grew up at Moyns Park in Essex, which was like living at Downton Abbey, in a house essentially five times the size of this, with numerous staff and a lot of commercial activity. There weren’t any boundaries between personal and professional life so when my wife, Penny, fell pregnant with our first child we decided we wanted more personal space and sold Moyns to move to Devon.
“Sybil Colefax decorated Moyns, she was a very well known interior decorator and socialite and David Hicks was my godfather. I remember those rooms from my childhood very well and I know the colours worked, which is why I have chosen the same colour schemes and interiors here at Bridwell.”
Of these Moyns inspired interiors, the library is Lord Ivar’s favourite room, bold in greens, blues and reds: “I also recreated the bookshelf in here as an exact replica of the one at Moyns,” he says, still smiling. Gustav Klimt art lines the walls in here, alongside black and white family photographs and pictures and paintings of dogs.
Elsewhere, there is wallpaper akin to that at Buckingham Palace, again inspired by interiors at Moyns, as well as Zoffany pieces and Heritage bathroom fittings, installed after the fire.
“We have had wonderful happy times in this house, it is full of happy memories,” says Lord Ivar, recalling that two of his three daughters were born and all raised at the home. They are now 12, 16 and 18 years of age, with the two younger children studying at Blundells.
But a change in family circumstances meant, once again, the family home was set to be used for commercial activity - as a wedding venue - a decision which led Lord Ivar to seal over the family pool and turn the outside building into a prestigious Orangery.
“With a chapel also in the grounds and unrivalled on-site facilities, plus a capacity in the Orangery of 150 without the installation of a marquee, it will put Bridwell at the forefront of wedding venues in the South West. I don’t believe there is anywhere else like this in the region,” says Lord Ivar. He plans to move into the four-bedroomed lodge on the land while the family home is rented out to guests.
Living alongside a commercial operation isn’t a new thing for Lord Ivar and, planning ahead, he has moved many of the family heirlooms to a property in Scotland, which he shares with his brother.
“This has meant that much of the art Penny wouldn’t let me hang before now has come out,” he laughs, admiring a unique piece in the dining room which he “picked up at the jail in Bermuda”, as well as a bright picture of pegs, painted by a student of Salvador Dali which he bought in Venezuela, while he was living and working as a geologist in Caracas.
The oval hallway, drawing and dining rooms, the library, kitchen, conservatory, and ten bedrooms all boast a regal air but with the familiarity of a laid-back luxurious abode, with many trinkets brought from Moyns still adorning them.
Lord Ivar is right, this is a unique property and one which would be hard to rival in the region. As architectural historian, John Cornforth says of Bridwell: “It is one of Devon’s unsung surprises.” Until now, as it opens it doors with a view to being the best wedding venue in the region. n
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