Through the keyhole of a 1720s hunting lodge in the Cotswolds
PUBLISHED: 10:34 21 August 2018 | UPDATED: 10:34 21 August 2018
Water voles and trench warfare were just two of the problems faced by the family renovating a 1720s hunting lodge
Way back in the Middle Ages King John had five hunting lodges in the huge and ancient royal Wychwood Forest. “And we’ve been told our home may stand on the site of one of them,” says Linda, a sculptor well-known in Oxfordshire.
“It dates from around 1720 and funnily enough was also a hunting lodge. The original core comprised the kitchen, game larder (now our hall), dining and Drawing rooms with a jumble of little bedrooms above. But it’s had rooms added on over the centuries – and we’ve certainly changed things ourselves. Surprisingly the house isn’t listed.”
Linda, her husband Iain and their four children came to see Wychwood Lodge in 1992 at the invitation of the owner, who was selling. “We had a weekend cottage in the village and knew the house,” she says. “I thought it was in a charming time-warp. Central heating extended to only a few rooms downstairs, the kitchen was small and rather bare, the seven bedrooms shared a single bathroom and the front door was where our back door now is. What was important to me though was that the owner too had four children and had brought them up there.”
The first things the couple did were to move the front door to the other side of the house and put in a drive and gateposts to create more convenient access. The front door is now where there was once a sliding window from which villagers collected bread baked in the communal bread oven.
Then they replaced a dangerous ladder-like staircase to the attic with a safer one and reorganised the rabbit-warren of rooms up there to create bedrooms for their two boys and the nanny. They also had to rewire, replumb and replace some of the slates on the roof.
Over the next few years the Baillies created a children’s bathroom from a first floor corridor, removed a bath which was (rather oddly) in the boot room and refitted the kitchen which consisted of little more than a large cupboard, a table and a small Aga. But the biggest change was in 1995 when they had a large green oak extension built on at the rear of the house.
“It’s our family room,” says Linda. “We eat in there now, not the kitchen, and it’s where we sit, watch tv, listen to music and so on. I made sure the ceiling was high and the windows were large to let in as much light as possible. We had underfloor heating installed too as well as a fireplace.”
Architect Roderick James of Carpenter Oak designed and his team had the extension put up in just one day. The Baillies then had a terrace laid outside – “it’s where the previous owners used to reverse their cars after arriving at the front door,” says Linda.
That all went smoothly. Their next project did not.
For in 2006 they had planning permission to add a large extension at one side which included an en suite guest bedroom, child’s room, study, utility room, shower, boot room and two garages. Peter Yiangou Architects of Cirencester designed it. “And the man operating the digger also excavated a hole for a swimming pool for us which in due course we were able to complete,” says Linda
“Unfortunately it was the wettest year ever,” she continues. “The ground resembled trench warfare in WW1. We had a digger to reduce an adjoining huge bank of earth but the torrential rain kept making it cave in, revealing a number of springs beneath which didn’t help. Trees were falling, land was sliding, springs bubbling up and even the digger fell over. It was so bad villagers were actually coming along to see the latest instalment. All sorts of experts were called in and eventually we had to put in a retaining wall and a number of French drains.”
However at the height of this chaos Linda opened the door one day to find two conservationists there – “worried about our water voles! They felt their habitat in the Swin Brook (which runs through our garden) might become threatened – luckily they left, feeling reassured.”
Even the Duchess of Devonshire asked after the water voles. “She was Deborah, youngest of the Mitford girls who had grown up in nearby Asthall and she had once spent a summer at Wychwood Lodge when her sisters were coming out. I went along to the Duchess’s book-signing in the village and told her where I lived. She too then asked how the water voles were faring.”
One extra benefit to Wychwood Lodge was the barn and converted piggery which Linda was able to make into her studio.
For although her early career was in publishing (she has written four books – the Safe and Sound series - for children) her chief love is in sculpting. And once her own children were at school she resumed learning clay modelling under a local sculptor Juliet Dyer. After a great many further life classes with different tutors she learned to cast her own pieces in bronze resin, whilst also experimenting in fibrocem, plaster and cement fondu and now has work cast in bronze.
Linda was elected a Member of the Oxford Art Society in 2001 and became a founder member of the Oxford Sculptors’ Group in 2002. For fifteen years, she was a member of the Bicester Sculpture Group. She has exhibited widely and in fact she has just had four pieces accepted by the Royal Opera Arcade Gallery – “my first London exhibition,” she says.
“This house has been a phenomenal place in which to raise children,” she finishes. “it has streams, trees, barns, wild areas, playrooms and party areas. We have even hosted our two daughters’ weddings in the garden. But after 26 years we have sadly decided it’s time to downsize.”
For sale through Savills at the time of writing - www.savills.co.uk.
Linda Baillie: www.baillie-sculpture.com
Carpenter Oak: www.carpenteroak.com
Roderick James: www.roderickjamesarchitects.com
Peter Yiangou Architects: 01285 888150 / www.yiangou.com