Home of the Month – Living on a grand scale in Enfield
PUBLISHED: 16:43 17 April 2014 | UPDATED: 16:43 17 April 2014
With links to two queens of England and five famous art dealing brothers, the stunningly grand Little Park in Enfield is an extraordinary home
Little Park, Gentleman’s Row – who wouldn’t be curious to see who lived there if they heard that address? It certainly sounds impressive. And it is. Part of the interior of the six-bedroom Enfield house came out of a palace owned by Elizabeth I, and a later queen of England was fond of the home.
Although Little Park is described by architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner as Edwardian, there are parts of the building that date from the 1500s. Usually, when houses are said to date from an earlier era it’s because they’ve been extended later. At Little Park it’s the other way round. No one is quite sure of the exact year the main part of the house was built, yet despite its Tudor trappings – it is a more recent structure.
The Tudor Room (shown above and left) and Tudor Lobby on the ground floor were originally part of Enfield Palace until, threatened with demolition in the 1920s, the interiors were dismantled and brought here. By that time, the palace, which stood on the site before Pearsons department store, had long since ceased to be owned by the royals, but its interior still spoke of grandeur.
After the royal exit, the palace become a grammar school, where all five Leggatt brothers, who eventually owned Little Park, were educated. Then it was used as a post office, and finally, just before it was demolished, it had become a constitutional club. Notwithstanding all the changes, it remained in essence, the same building that had belonged to the Crown in Tudor times and was given to Princess Elizabeth – later Elizabeth I – in 1550 by her brother King Edward IV.
When news spread that the palace was to be knocked down, conservationists leapt into action and rescued the best parts of the interior, which were then installed at Little Park.
Little Park’s present owners, Adrian and Anne Birchall, were not fully aware of the historical importance of the property when they viewed it on a house hunting trip in December 2002.
‘We’d been living in quite a modern house in Muswell Hill for 20 years,’ explains Adrian, an advertising and media executive, now retired. ‘We were looking for somewhere further out with more character but we hadn’t thought about Enfield and then we were persuaded to go and look at Little Park. I know it’s a cliché, but we fell in love with it as soon as we walked in.’
The house is unique, a remarkable mixture of ancient and modern.
The stone fireplace in the awesome Tudor Room has the royal arms supported by a lion and dragon with a crowned portcullis carved on each of the side panels. The initials ER are thought to relate to Edward IV.
In the Tudor Lobby is a 16th century panelled door and a stained-glass window depicting the King Philip of Spain, husband of Mary, Queen Elizabeth I’s sister.
In the wood panelled dining room is a fireplace in the Adam style with 112 hand-painted Delft tiles, each one showing a different biblical scene.
The billiard room has a vaulted and beamed ceiling, a stone carved period fireplace, antique radiators, cast iron grill, ornate dado rail and a bay window with a raised dais.
In the garden is one of the last traces of another royal residence – a weathervane from the Palace of Theobalds. Theobalds stood on the northern boundary of Enfield until it was demolished in the 17th century. The palace was regarded by Tudor architecture experts as equal in merit to Longleat and Burghley.
‘It’s lovely to live in a house that’s part of our history, it’s a privilege,’ Adrian says. ‘We are just custodians – to look after it and pass it on to the next owners. That’s also a cliché but it’s true. Yet it’s still a home that’s lovely to live in, in the 21st century.’
It’s certainly that. Even before the Birchalls moved in, Little Park already had many of the amenities that would be high on the wish list of modern families – heated swimming pool, tennis court, farmhouse-sized Shaker-style kitchen and wonderful rooms for entertaining.
Adrian says the Tudor Room comes into its own on special occasions, like Christmas. ‘Above the door is an overmantle. Part of it has a wonderful Latin inscription which means benevolence is the king. A local historian told us he believes it relates to when Princess Elizabeth was given the palace – to express her thanks to her brother Edward.
‘The room is very atmospheric. I come in and sit quietly to try to learn French,’ he laughs.
Queen Mary, grandmother of the present queen, was a frequent visitor to Little Park. On one occasion she brought her daughter Princess Mary. The date of the royal visit, February 27, 1920, is inscribed over the fireplace in the drawing room.
Adrian thinks Queen Mary was fond of the house because of her interest in antiques. ‘She was famous for cataloging the royal possessions. She probably came here when it was owned by the Leggatt brothers.’
The Leggatt family bought the house in 1864 and owned it for almost a century. The five brothers were highly regarded in the art world. One married and moved away, but the others lived their whole lives at Little Park.
The last surviving brother, who lived until 1952, kept a scrapbook which includes details of alterations to the house in the early part of the last century. ‘The brick exterior of the house is a complete covering of the original building, which still stands,’ he wrote. ‘A piece of stone work found at the back of some skirting in one of the rooms bears the Tudor Arms, which proves the date of the old building.’
The Birchalls, for their part, created a study-library with bookshelves handmade in cherrywood by craftsmen from a company in Yorkshire.
They also updated the bathrooms. The couple reel them off, but there are so many it’s hard to keep count. There are three bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms, two wet rooms, a total of four showers – one shower room is on the ground floor next to the gym. It’s safe to say you will never have to wait to have a wash and brush up after a fitness session at Little Park.
Now a new custodian will have the privilege of taking up residence and caring for this small but precious part of the nation’s heritage. With both children now grown up, the Birchalls have decided it’s time for what they call ‘a new adventure’.
Little Park is on the market through Statons in Hadley Wood with a guide price of £3m.