A look inside Old House in the New Forest
PUBLISHED: 15:24 20 December 2016 | UPDATED: 15:24 20 December 2016
Discreetly tucked away in the New Forest, Emma Caulton (eventually) finds Old House – and it is a bit unexpected...
Peter Collins and I are sitting in the early evening sun in the garden of Old House discussing big characters - more specifically big characters who were owners of Old House, home to Peter’s father for about 30 years and to Peter for eight of those. Old House seems to have attracted the larger than life personality.
There was Auberon Herbert, third son of the third Earl of Carnarvon, philosopher, writer, radical individualist and the originator of voluntaryism. He used to hold afternoon teas at Old House and is said to have slept in a high tower he had built onto the house.
Then there was Sir Dudley Forwood who was equerry to the Duke of Windsor after his abdication - accompanying the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to the South of France. Although not from the area, he set up home in the New Forest and became a bit of a local heavyweight as Master of the New Forest Buckhounds, Chairman of the New Forest and Hampshire County Show and Official Verderer of the New Forest, presiding over the ancient Verderers’ Court (which protects and administers the New Forest’s agricultural commoning practices). He was also an expert on pedigree dogs, a noted breeder of Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Vice-President of the Kennel Club and Chairman of Crufts.
And then there was Peter’s father, Robin Collins, a man of action with what sounds like daunting reserves of energy and drive: he sailed around the world, not once, but twice, flew a helicopter and rode to hounds.
Robin initially grew up in Kent, living for a while in Dickens’ Bleak House in Broadstairs. Bit by bit the family moved west to Surrey and then to the New Forest. He bought the Old House near Burley in 1988.
Peter explains, “Old House is mentioned on a map dating back to the 18th century, but as it has no definite article, we assume it is named after someone rather than a description of the age of the property.”
Old House is in fact new(ish). It was Sir Dudley who had the vision to create Old House as it is today. What he bought, in 1966, was the wreck of a house as Auberon Herbert’s austere Victorian manor house (with tower) had burned down.
At first glance Old House – sitting in splendid isolation completely surrounded by Forest and reached down a mile plus drive that meanders through woodland to the gated entrance – appears to be Georgian. This is a grand country house of symmetrical design and classical proportions with impressive domed portico at the front and a distinctive crest high on the rear edifice. Sir Dudley designed and built Old House in a style that was very much against the architectural mores of that time. It certainly doesn’t feel like a house built in the 1960s and has the look of the genuine article. You wonder whether any of its features, elegance and grandness were influenced by Sir Dudley’s tenure with the Duke.
That domed entrance opens onto a magnificent, double height panelled and galleried reception hall with a vast fireplace. The style is traditional country house. There are colourful rugs across oak boards, good quality antique pieces including a grandfather clock, traditional seascapes on the panelled walls which are painted eau de nil, grand piano and an ornate chandelier as centrepiece. It is the sort of room that you imagine to be particularly good at Christmas for drinks parties and family get-togethers with a massive decorated tree in the stairwell.
A double width doorway with arched fanlight leads to a large study decorated in rich reds, lined with book shelves and full-height sash windows overlooking a swimming pool in a suntrap courtyard.
The formal drawing room and dining room, also reached from the reception hall, run along the back of the house, facing south-west with views over the terrace and lawns. The dining room is spacious enough for a grand table, while the drawing room features another distinctive fireplace, this one with a carved Renaissance style relief. It is thought that the fireplaces were salvaged by Sir Dudley from Brockenhurst Park’s manor house which was demolished around this time.
These rooms and, indeed, most of the house are decorated in an opulent and comfortable style reminiscent of a country house hotel, with sash windows in the principal reception rooms and bedrooms dressed in swags and tails.
Peter continues: “Because my father was in hotels he had a feeling for what works. He owned Forestdale Hotels, which included Burley Manor, Forest Park and Lyndhurst Park hotels - a business he built up over the course of his lifetime.”
Quirky elements reveal Peter’s father’s spirited nature: “One of the fun things about this house is that all the occasional tables are gazunders – my father thought that was rather amusing!”
Another unexpected item is a binnacle, a stand containing navigational instruments, by the entrance in the hall. It was saved from the tall ship Sir Malcolm Miller, sister ship to the Sir Winston Churchill, by Robin Collins when he bought the ship to transform it into a charter vessel.
Secret doors in the hall’s panelling reveal cupboards - others lead to what would once have been considered staff quarters, but now comprise an informal sitting room, kitchen/breakfast room, games room and conservatory.
“This whole section was separate accommodation for staff. My father didn’t need it so he turned it into a games room and sitting room - the conservatory came later.”
The kitchen is what Peter describes as, “A classic country kitchen – it works for me - it’s not about fashion.”
I spy beside the doors into the garden a pair of binoculars. Peter again: “This house is all about nature for me. It’s not about lifestyle, it’s about life. You can’t fail to be enchanted by the house and its location. For someone who is sensitive to nature in both an aesthetic and scientific way it’s unbelievable. You are likely to see kingfishers and buzzards... My father used to feed the foxes.”
The grounds themselves are an Eden: over 11 acres of paddocks, woodland, water gardens and walled gardens - one is probably an old kitchen garden as there are espaliers growing against a high brick wall.
“It is a fantastic space. Sir Dudley was a bit of a plantsman and there are lots of interesting trees and shrubs, including magnolias, camellias, azaleas and a Judas tree. In spring over 25 varieties of daffodil are in flower.”
At the front there is a delightful lily pond with a circular driveway looping round, past what is probably an old 19th century carriage house. There’s also an archway through to a charming old stableyard with tack room, stores and stables – currently home to seven or eight ponies, including a couple of Shetlands. The driveway continues on to three cottages of varying size and prettiness (One with one bedroom, another with two bedrooms and the third with three bedrooms, each with their own garden). And all around is the Forest. Peter is eloquent about the sunsets across the heathland beyond the gate.
“Just ten minutes’ walk away is high ground with views across to the Isle of Wight. When you walk through the heather it is like walking through honey because of the scent. It is truly wonderful... “And it feels as though it is all ours, as so few people come this way.”