Pretty Hertfordshire home: Totteridge farmhouse
PUBLISHED: 11:21 18 March 2019
Charming yet spacious, with country living near the city, this Totteridge farmhouse is a family home par excellence
Recognise this house? You will if you live in Totteridge or often go walking in that neck of the woods.
Laurel Farmhouse is part of local history. It is one of the first two farmhouses built in Totteridge near Elstree, and dates from about 1650. The front directly overlooks the pond named after the farm.
Peter and Mandy Nelkin often used to stop to watch the ducks and moorhens on the pond when they took their dogs for a walk, long before they bought the farmhouse 29 years ago.
At that time the couple were living in a big property on the busy main road through Totteridge. That’s why when they were out with their spaniels and children at weekends they headed for the village green where both sides of the road are a nature reserve.
An 1840s map of Totteridge shows 14 ponds in the village. Laurel Farm Pond is the only one remaining. Responsibility for looking after it comes within the remit of the local preservation society. The street scene surrounding the pond has hardly changed in 150 years.
Having admired the house for years, Mandy says when the chance came up to buy it, the agent’s particulars put them off.
‘To us it sounded a bit like a rabbit warren inside. I think it had been for sale for a little while when we finally decided to book a viewing. As soon as we went inside we absolutely fell in love with it. It wasn’t like a rabbit warren at all.
‘Unusually for a house of this age the rooms are large with high ceilings. You could fit four double beds into each of the double bedrooms.’
The house today has three principal reception rooms, a farmhouse-sized kitchen that flows into a morning room, and six bedrooms and two bathrooms over the two upper floors. There’s also a utility room plus a wine cellar with loads of extra space to store all the kinds of things you only need occasionally. There are also masses of cupboards upstairs and down – that’s the beauty of an old house, angles and alcoves make for great storage. In the hall, there are two alcoves fitted just with coat hooks. You don’t have to hang your coat in the downstairs cloakroom or over the banister at the bottom of the stairs.
The cloakroom has recently been refitted by the owners. They’re fans of Fired Earth – the handmade tile specialist. Their tiles cover the solid floors throughout the kitchen, morning room, utility room, cloakroom and laundry room.
The semi-rural setting was a major attraction for the Nelkins.
‘Where else would you get a position like this?’ Peter asks. ‘The location is perfect. It’s like being in the country but you’re only half an hour from central London by tube. You can walk to Woodside Park station. It’s a bit further to Totteridge and Whetstone station but not far. Or there’s Oakleigh Park mainline station into King’s Cross. There’s also a good bus service. The 251 stops at the end of the road.’
Mandy says with three young children when they moved here, the area ‘probably has one of the best selections of state and private schools you’ll find anywhere’.
Peter’s two boys went to Highgate School and their daughter went to North London Collegiate School.
Peter is a chartered accountant and before he retired he was a property developer in the commercial sector. He still has interests in the construction industry. Given his background it goes to show how well the original interior layout of the farmhouse has worked for the family – in 30 years they haven’t made any changes to the structure.
‘Other than putting in the new kitchen, refitting the top bathroom, and most recently the downstairs cloakroom, and making a few improvements and redecorating, we haven’t needed to knock down any walls to open up rooms to make more space,’ Mandy explains. ‘There’s plenty of space as it is.’
When the couple moved in they took out the old kitchen and had a new one built by the company that replaced the kitchen in their previous house. They did a very good job. The kitchen has large windows that overlook the drive.
‘The bird feeders in the hedgerow attract a huge variety of birds. Peter feeds them so much and so often, the word has evidently gone round,’ laughs the former PA to a city lawyer before she gave up work (the salaried type) to be a full-time mum.
The Grade II listed Laurel Farmhouse was described as a dairy farm in the 1841 census. At least two notable local families have owned it since then, the Morleys and the Rodwells. The Morleys farmed the land from 1897 to 1933 according to records in an online archive. They grew grass in the fields to turn into silage for the animals.
When the Nelkins arrived, the two bedrooms and bathroom on the second floor were relatively new compared with the rest of the house. About 50 years ago the top floor was rebuilt after being gutted by a fire which had started in the roof. What Mandy remembers from the first viewing is not so much the huge size of the bathroom on the top floor but the avocado suite. It was one of the first things the new owners changed. ‘There were two basins but they didn’t match. They were different shades of avocado.’
Now a white bathroom, it is in Victorian style in keeping with the period architecture in the rest of the house. The new loo has a high cistern. There are decorative navy blue tiles and a Jacob Delafon roll top bath with claw feet. Only the shower cubicle has space age credentials.
Each of the main reception rooms is double aspect. The size of the sash windows throughout the house ensures there’s lots of natural daylight.
The vast inglenook fireplace in the drawing room still has hooks where earlier owners hung their cooking pots. It also has an antique French grate. Thereby hangs a tale:
‘The previous owner tried to sell it to us but she wanted an exorbitant price,’ Mandy remembers. ‘She said it would take four or five people to move it, it’s so heavy. It would cost a fortune to take it with her. We didn’t make her an offer. She wanted too much for it. In the end, she left it behind.’
There’s another lovely old fireplace in the dining room – a room large enough to take a piano as well as a table that seats eight. Not many dining rooms can do that, and this one has room to spare.
The third reception is one of the rooms they use most due to the French doors on to the garden. And what a garden it is. Both Peter and Mandy love the space and enjoy working in it.
‘We have a vegetable garden, two greenhouses and two polytunnels. Brassicas and beans did very well last year,’ Peter says.
The most outstanding feature of the garden are the four California giant redwoods – sequoias.
‘We’ve been told they were grown from seeds brought over and sold at the Great Exhibition.’ The half-acre grounds also includes a stable block and several ornamental ponds.
Under the Nelkins’ stewardship the property’s farming tradition has continued in this part of Totteridge, albeit not on the same scale as before and not on a commercial basis.
‘At one stage we had 37 pets,’ Mandy reports. ‘Ducks, geese, chickens, cats, dogs. I counted them one morning.’
Needs change, however, which is why their much-loved family home is for sale through Statons for £3.695m. As Mandy explains: ‘There are just the two of us living here now rattling round a six bedroom house. It needs another young family to move in and enjoy it. When we’ve found a house that suits this stage of our lives, we’ll buy another dog. That will be something to look forward to. It’ll be an adventure.’