Home of the month - a slice of Tudor life
PUBLISHED: 12:42 18 February 2014 | UPDATED: 12:43 18 February 2014
It was love at first sight for racing driver David Pinkney when he saw his future Harpenden home. He tells Pat Bramley how he restored a fairytale mansion
Golfer Ken Brown was responsible for his friend David Pinkney buying Flowton Priory in the mid-1990s. The Tudor timbered building with its gables and nine chimneys looks like a mansion in a fairy story.
It was originally built in Suffolk in 1525 in the village it was named after but 400 years later in 1928 the then owner, a member of the Flower brewing dynasty, moved it brick by brick to what is arguably the best position in Harpenden.
Flowton Priory is on West Common, less than half a mile from the town centre. The house is at the head of its own tree lined drive, bordered by a lightly wooded copse leading to the entrance gate.
The house is impressive. By anyone’s standards it’s impressive.
As you’d expect there have been a good many memorable moments during the long career of a racing driver, including competing in the British Touring Car Championship until 2010, but David has never forgotten seeing Flowton Priory for the first time in the early ’80s.
PGA and Ryder Cup star Ken had said to him: ‘Dave, there’s a house I want you to see.’
‘Ken drove me up to the gates. He was right. He knows the sort of places I like. I looked through and saw this amazing house. I didn’t think there was a chance of me owning it at that time or in the future. “One day,” I said, “one day…”.’
The memory of Flowton Priory never faded. ‘In 1994 I was about to move to Monaco to live but before I went I said to Ken “if that house comes on the market, let me know”. I rang all the agents and told them to contact me if it came up for sale.
‘I didn’t expect to hear any more but four or five months later I had a call from one of the agents. He said “Flowton Priory is coming on the market. It’s for sale by sealed bid auction.”
‘I put in an offer for more than double the asking price and won by a mere £4,000.’
From that day forward, the house has been a central part of his life.
It has taken 15 years to create what you see today. The agents at Savills, where the Grade II listed former priory is now on the market with a guide price of £10m, say ‘it is possibly one of the finest houses in Hertfordshire’.
They describe it as ‘an architectural property masterpiece having a timeless quality which cleverly disguises its 21st century sophistication’.
Originally, when David bought the house, it had seven bedrooms. Now there are five bedrooms and three bathrooms – two of the bathrooms are as big as bedrooms and have antique French baths.
The 36ft drawing room has a 16th century carved stone fireplace, linen fold oak panelling and cabinets.
The dining room with light oak marquetry floor has enough space for a table to seat at least 12.
The magnificent kitchen is 20ft square with a vaulted ceiling from which is suspended a chandelier that is four-and-a-half feet wide.
The central island is topped with white marble, the units are handcrafted in oak and the breakfast area is by a bay window where you can look out on the garden and enjoy the morning sun
There’s also a prep kitchen, apart from the main one. The second kitchen is conveniently close to a side door opening on to a terrace, so consequently it’s no chore for the cook to serve alfresco meals when the best of the day turns out to be the evening and it would be a pity to go indoors for dinner and miss it.
Some of the stained glass in the house is known to have come from Canterbury Cathedral, Wells Cathedral, York Minster and St Paul’s. One of the windows bears the coat of arms of Cardinal Wolsey.
Most of the leaded light windows and latches are original and the house has solid oak doors downstairs that are 500 years old.
‘Each one is a different size,’ David points out. ‘I had some restored at a wood yard nearby but it took me two-and-a-half years to find the right handles. I was in Austria in the Alps and saw these unusual door handles that were perfect for the priory. The owner introduced me to the blacksmith in the town who had made them. I asked him to make some for me and seven months later I received a package containing eight pairs of handles.’
The pillars supporting the entrance gates came out of a manor house of similar period as the priory in Bath. They are carved out of sandstone. ‘They are probably around 400 years old.’
David’s passion extends to the garden, and he turns to Latin when he talks about the thousands of trees and shrubs he’s bought for the three-and-a-half acre grounds. There’s a pond stocked with koi carp, an avenue of Prunus Fruiticosa Glabosa trees leading to an Italian inspired fountain. The Buxus hedging alone cost £100,000. Lining the gravel drive are 40-plus Legustrum standard trees fantastically pruned to look like lollipops.
In a sheltered spot on one side of the house is a spa bath incorporating a waterproof TV and DVD player but the best view of the priory, and where David likes to sit on summer days, is from the imposing summerhouse.
‘Most summerhouses look out onto the garden,’ says the owner, ‘but I wanted mine to look back at the house because it is so beautiful.’
For David, this will all soon be a memory. Nothing lasts forever, no matter how loved, because life moves on – even for racing drivers, which is why the Grade II listed Flowton Priory is on Savills’ books at its Harpenden office at the guide price of £10m.
David concludes, ‘It’s a one-off opportunity for the next owner to live in possibly one of the finest houses