House of the month: The Old Vicarage in Great Gaddesden.
PUBLISHED: 16:22 08 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:35 20 February 2013
When Mike and Jo Connell first clapped eyes on The Vicarage in Great Gaddesden they thought it would be too big for them. But they, and their 10 pinball machines, soon grew into it.
ACE businesswoman Jo Connell, pro-chancellor and chairman of governors of the University of Hertfordshire, immediate past president of the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists, national vice-president of the recently merged charities Help the Aged and Age Concern, chairman of the Hospice of St Francis in Berkhamsted, mother of two children in their 30s and grandmother of two young grandsons, just cant stand pinball machines. Which is a shame. Her husband Mike owns ten.
He keeps nine in the basement games room of the family home, The Old Vicarage at Great Gaddesden. The tenth in his collection is a fun part of the furnishings in the converted coach house, now guest annexe, on one side of the forecourt at the entrance to the vicarage.
Jo has no interest in them, Mike comments sadly. Im far too competitive, she laughs, handing him a mug of coffee, I always want to win.
The Connells bought The Old Vicarage 11 years ago. They originally moved to Berkhamsted to cut the travelling time to their respective offices in the IT industry and also to be near good schools for their son Chris and daughter Alison.
By 1998 when they no longer needed to be close to the town centre for schools, they looked for something further afield. Mike takes up the story: We found a house we wanted to view but when we rang the agent on Maundy Thursday he told us it had just gone under offer and he was about to market the house which belonged to the buyer.
Initially he was adamant that we couldnt see it until the brochure was printed but he eventually agreed to show us over it after hed measured up on Easter Monday.
As soon as we came in, I was very impressed by the Victorian tiles in the hall and staircase rising up to the two floors above
As they drew into the drive of The Old Vicarage at three oclock on Bank Holiday Monday afternoon their first thought was that it was too big. But once inside they changed their minds.
As soon as we came in and looked around, I was very impressed by the original Victorian tiles in the hall and the staircase rising up to the two floors above and Jo and Alison loved the views (over the Gade valley) and the garden and by the time we left wed fallen in love with it. We made an offer the next day.
The vicarage was built in 1872 for a younger son of the Halsey family. The young vicar was moving out of Gaddesden Place, family seat of one of Hertfordshires oldest and most highly respected dynasties, to marry Harriet, daughter of the Tyrwhitt Drakes at Shardeloes, a similarly grand Palladian mansion in Amersham. The Halseys sold one of their fields to finance the building of the nine-bedroom vicarage on Pipers Hill for the newlyweds.
The house remained in the Halsey clan even after it ceased to be a church house in 1970. The Old Vicarage was empty for a while following the building of a new vicarage in the village but then it became home to Marion Prior, or Kitty as she was better known, who was born a Halsey but by then was a widow. She lived at The Old Vicarage for some years with two of her sisters, Agatha and Evelyn, and their families.
Following the death of all three sisters, the house was put up for sale and within three days was bought by Bill Heeps, at that time chairman of Thomson Regional Newspapers. It was the Heeps who converted the coach house. They turned it into an enviable two-bedroom self-contained home for their daughter when she got married.
The Connells son, Chris, immediately spotted the potential for the coach house when his parents took him to view their future home. He could see it would make a great pad for him and his friends and it did, says the dad who wasnt woken up if the kids kept the music going until 3am.
He points out, All the rooms in the main house have high ceilings and theyre big but theyre still comfortable and homely. We didnt make any structural alterations, other than converting one of the nine bedrooms into a new bathroom for the master suite.
The old bathroom attached to the main bedroom is now a dressing room with her busy life, my wife needs lots of clothes, Mike winces (she laughs). The glamorous new bathroom is a five-star job.
As well as redecorating and refitting the bathrooms at last count there were nine loos the new owners also revamped the kitchen with a designer model. We think the original kitchen was three feet lower. If you pull up the floorboards, theres a butler sink in that corner, Mike says, pointing to sash windows leading out onto a raised wooden platform like a lookout post, giving a birds eye view over the Gade Valley.
The grandest rooms are the drawing room where the handsome marble fireplace was brought over for the newly weds from Gaddesden Place the only house visible from the vicarage windows and the dining room where the windows still have their original shutters and as many as 14 have sat round the dining room table without a squeeze.
Its a wonderful family home, Jo agrees. Its at its best when we have lots of people. There are cubbyholes for kids to play hide-and-seek, lots of nooks and crannies. Our grandchildren and nephews and nieces love the two staircases. Its a marvellous house for family Christmases and parties.
With Jo heavily involved as the managing director of a computer services company, Mike took a break from his own job with a London firm when most of the building work was done after they moved in and, as he says with a grin, I never went back.
One of us needed to be a project manager and it was easier for me.
Hes now Jos unofficial diary secretary as well as a school governor, church treasurer, producer of the parish newsletter and a bellringer. Jo chips in, We hold a barbecue here for the bellringers each summer. Weve redesigned part of the garden and enlarged the terrace. The layout is wonderful for barbecues because theyre not too close to the house and we can all relax and have a party.
Friends and family also enjoy the tennis court, even though the hosts dont often play, and they also have lots of fun in the cellar where, along with a wine store, theres Mikes games room and those shiny pinball machines.
Id wanted a pinball machine since I was a teenager and I played on one on the pier in Bournemouth, he remembers. I didnt think Id ever have one until we took the children to Disneyland in Florida and I discovered theyre still being made.
After we came home I traced a manufacturer who sold me my first one although he warned me he wouldnt service it if it went wrong because he usually only sells to the trade, not private customers. I said, I can mend computers if they go wrong. Im sure I can fix a pinball machine.
But the time has come when he will have to part with eight of his treasures because he and Jo have decided the vicarage really is too big for the two of them to rattle around in. Consequently, theyve bought a new house close by thats smaller but Jo concedes its big enough to accommodate two of Mikes prized arcade games.
The Old Vicarage at Pipers Hill is for sale through Aitchisons in Berkhamsted for 2.35million.