Eye in the Sky: Burley on the Hill
The story behind Rutland’s impressive Palladian mansion…
Ask anyone to identify the area’s most recognisable landmarks and the usual suspects of Rutland Water, Normanton Church, Oakham Castle and Burghley House are likely to be at the top of the list.
But what about Burley on the Hill’s Palladian mansion? It’s visible from across Oakham and stands rather proudly on the county’s skyline even though it’s now a private dwelling, rather than a country park and no longer hosts the Rutland Show.
The current house was built on the site of an earlier dwelling around 1690, mimicking the style of Sir Christopher Wren. Its earlier owner, Sir John (later Lord) Harrington sold Burley to George Villiers for £28,000, first Duke of Buckingham, in 1620.
Unfortunately, Buckingham was assassinated in 1628 whereupon the property passed to his son. In 1644 the place was burned to the ground by Roundheads.
Burley may have been somewhat unlucky for the Buckinghams, but when Secretary of State to William III, Daniel Finch, second Earl of Nottingham took on the property in 1689, its new owner managed to overcome the house’s unlucky history.
Nottingham served largely as his own architect but enlisted Humphry Repton to restyle the grounds and create a landscape park befitting a country house. Works were estimated to cost about £15,000 but actually came in at double that sum – Repton’s landscaping accounted for over £2,500 of those costs.
The house itself carries a Grade II* listing, as do some structures in the grounds such as the east lodge’s stone archway and iron gates created by Josiah Lord in 1700, and the two symmetrical sets of stone steps and retaining wall with stone recesses on the south front.
A gothic folly on the estate created in 1807 burned down in 1965, and also at this time the kitchen garden also had a very exotic-sounding melon ground. In 1881, Burley necessitated 21 staff to work in the place.
Today, the mansion might be a country club and golf course if fate hasn’t dealt a crushing blow to the property’s next would-be owner, Turkish Cypriot entrepreneur Asil Nadir. Nadir was a keen businessman within the clothing and fashion industry. He swooped through the 1980s as the talented head of a portfolio company which swelled to take in many different sectors from electronics to packaging. He was the 34th richest man in Great Britain and the company had over 24,000 shareholders but in a terrible case example of the old adage ‘the bigger they are, the harder they fall,’ Polly Peck collapsed in 1990 and when Nadir returned to the UK in the early 2000s, he was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment.
Having purchased Burley on the Hill around 1990 with the intention of building a golf course and club house, Nadir abandoned his plans and sold Burley on the Hill to Kit Martin.
Architecture was in Kit Martin’s blood. His father Sir Leslie Martin was Professor of Architecture at Cambridge, and Kit joined the family firm but found himself struggling to be architect and property developer at the same time. He left the family firm in 1976 and paid £38,000 for Northamptonshire’s Grade I listed Dingley Hall.
Partnering with Country Life Editor Marcus Binney, Kit Martin co-wrote The County House: To Be or Not To Be, which, when published in 1982, became an instructive bible for well-heeled yuppies seeking to purchase big run down country houses.
Kit found a niche in serious restoration projects and purchased Burley on the Hill from Nadir for £3m – a snip, as Nadir had paid over £7m. Kit partnered on the project with Joss Hanbury, the original owner of the house, joint master of the Quorn, who also contributed 700 acres of farmland to the estate.
Builders moved in and began to transform the mansion – with its 250 rooms – into six individual homes, with a total of 20 dwellings on the estate. They would sell around 1992 for between £140,000 and £600,000 (for a property within the main house) and even before obtaining planning permission, Kit had already re-employed the estate’s gardener and introduced 30 deer into the park.
Today the parish of Burley on the Hill is spread over about 3,000 acres, with the four storey mansion’s residents enjoying rights over about 67 acres of parkland, as well as communal rooms which can be borrowed for occasional use, including the Tapestry Room, Garden Salon and Ball Room so that owners can throw family parties in a seriously swish setting.
Today, Burley one of the most recognisable sights on the horizon of Rutland, and certainly one of the most desirable places to live. For anyone whose sights are set on waking up each morning in a mansion, it’s one of the county’s most impressive buildings!