Home of history
A gem of a property is up for sale on Richmond Green. Rosanna Greenstreet explores the intriguing past of one of the finest residences in the borough
Even by the standards of this borough, Old Friars on Richmond Green is steeped in history, the very name whispering clues as to its sacred past.
In fact, the story of this fabulous
Grade II* listed house stretches right back to King Henry VII. After a fire had partially destroyed the old Palace of Shene in December 1497, Henry not only rebuilt the palace, but also renamed it Richemont, after his estates in Yorkshire. He also gave a section of the grounds to a Franciscan order, who used it to found the Convent of the Observant Friars. It is on part of the site of this convent that Old Friars is said to stand.
Erected in 1687, the main part of the house dates from just prior to the William and Mary period, but the inscription ‘1775’, which is in the plasterwork above the second staircase, bears testimony to later additions in Georgian times. Beaver Lodge, which is included in the sale, was built circa 1740.
Despite the property’s religious connection, the house does not appear to have boasted any ecclesiastical residents. Far from it – Beaver Lodge was used by the famous London club, Bucks, as a gambling den and the house was once home to the Duke of Queensberry, an inveterate gambler. Later, in 1888, Old Friars became a clubhouse for the newly founded Richmond Liberal and Reform Club. During WWI it was a Red Cross hospital, before reverting to private ownership shortly afterwards. Since the 1950s, it has been occupied by the same family.
Now for sale at around £11.5m, Old Friars enjoys an enviable position on the southern side of The Green. The house is set in a secluded and long-established garden which boasts magnolia, fig and mulberry trees, a York stone terrace, a summer house and greenhouses.
A vast entrance hall leads to a grand staircase which, like much of the house, features wood panelling dating from the 17th Century. The elegant drawing room, flag-stoned dining room and study all have garden views. The library provides a link to Beaver Lodge, which would make an ideal ‘granny’ flat or staff quarters. Currently used as home offices, the Lodge comprises five rooms and a kitchenette on the first floor, above covered parking at ground level.
In the main house, on the first and second storeys, there are eight bedrooms with plenty of bathrooms and en-suite facilities. The master suite on the first floor commands superb views over the garden and includes a dressing room and ‘his and hers’ bathrooms.
And there is a wonderful bonus: a two-storey cinema building erected in the garden during the 1970s. As well as an editing suite, there is a screening room which has been acoustically insulated and a projection room which still has its original equipment. The latter is a fascinating reminder of a bygone era of film, although the contents are not included in the sale.
Throughout the property, period features have been carefully preserved, including cellars, open fireplaces and sash windows. There are even remnants of the original bell system, harking back to the time when servants would run up and down the back stairs to attend to their masters.
For more than 300 years now, Old Friars has stood on the fringes of The Green. Where once there was jousting, now there is cricket, and the sound of leather on willow is rather more likely to be carried on the wind than the Gregorian chants of any Observant Friar. But the old house itself endures. Who will be its caretaker next?
For further information call Savills Richmond on (020) 8614 9100.