As gifts go, a Georgian mansion in the verdant English countryside ranks among the most lavish. The recipients: the family of Admiral Nelson, Britain’s greatest naval hero who repulsed a French invasion during the Napoleonic Wars.
Nelson’s descendants lived at the 35,871-square-foot house named Trafalgar Park—in honor of his final, fatal battle in 1805, just off Spain’s Cape Trafalgar—for almost 150 years. The house, in the county of Wiltshire, some 90 miles southwest of London, then passed through a series of shorter-lived ownerships.
It is now on the market for £12 million, or about $15.9 million. Its next owners will get a property with 11 bedrooms, five bathrooms, eight reception rooms, and a separate apartment. The north wing of the house, structurally sound but not currently in use, remains a blank canvas.
Trafalgar Park sits on 33 acres and has a stable yard, staff apartment, swimming pool and tennis court. There is also a private church, founded in 1147 and rebuilt in 1677, where members of the Nelson family are buried.
When Michael Wade first set foot in the house in 1994 it had been empty for five years; he politely describes its condition as “tired.” Nonetheless, Mr. Wade, 62, found the property hard to resist. “It is a very compelling experience to come to Trafalgar Park,” he said. “You can fall in love with it, get hooked, and there is no cure.”
The following year Mr. Wade, who is divorced and has an 18-year-old son, bought the house and started renovations—repairing its leaking roof and replacing kitchen and bathrooms, among other projects. “It was a very old-fashioned house and it needed life breathed back into it,” said Mr. Wade, a former broker and underwriter at Lloyd’s of London, and a treasurer of the Conservative Party between 2000 and 2010.
The first ever occupant at Trafalgar Park was Sir Peter Vanderput, a wealthy Dutch merchant who traded with Britain. He wanted a countryside retreat and had the house built in 1733. It was later sold to Henry Dawkins, the scion of a wealthy sugar-trading family. He left his mark by adding two wings in 1766, as well as a classical columned portico and some elaborate interior design.
For his new music room, for example, he hired the fashionable Italian painter Giovanni Battista Cipriani to paint a series of classical figures and scenes, including a life-sized portrait of William Shakespeare, and another of the goddess of love, Aphrodite. These remain intact and in good condition.
After the death of Mr. Dawkins, the British government bought the house, originally called Standlynch Park in honor of a nearby village, and gifted it to the family of Admiral Nelson. The admiral’s clergyman brother, the Rev. William Nelson, was the first of the family to live in the house.
Nelson’s ancestors remained at Trafalgar Park until after World War II, when high death taxes introduced by the British government forced them to sell.
In fact, Trafalgar Park is unusual not just because of its link to Nelson but because precious few private homes of this scale survived the 20th century intact.
“Far too many of these great country houses were demolished in this period,” said Crispin Holborow, a director of Savills and Trafalgar Park’s selling agent. “Death duties were one issue, and families also did not have the money to run their houses,” he added.
Some houses were demolished, while others were repurposed as hospitals, hotels, schools or apartments. But in the late 1940s, Trafalgar Park was sold for £58,000 to the Duke of Leeds, who gave it to his daughter Moira and her husband Oliver Lyttelton (later Lord Chandos, a Conservative member of parliament and the first chairman of London’s National Theatre).
It was then sold to (successively): a banker, a businessman, and Gunnar Bengsen, a Swedish hotelier and Nelson fan who had opened three Nelson-themed hotels in Stockholm. He bought Trafalgar House in 1990, but his plans to turn the property into another hotel faltered in the recession of the early 1990s and the house was left empty and deteriorating.
Mr. Wade’s renovation project was a considerable undertaking, complicated by the mansion’s “Grade I” heritage status, which means that the U.K. authorities closely oversaw the changes.
During his tenure, Mr. Wade has earned some income from the property, renting its pastureland for the grazing of cattle and sheep, and using it to host both weddings and classical-music concerts. Last year, said Mr. Wade, around 30 such events were staged, along with a number of private charity events.
Now, after just over 20 years, Mr. Wade has decided it is time to move on. “My son is just 18 and you don’t want to saddle someone with a place like this unless they are really passionate about it.”
Trafalgar Park will be a tough act to follow, and Mr. Wade’s next country home will be far more humble. “I want something which is small and perfectly formed, something I can leave for a few months without worrying,” he said. “It will be nothing like Trafalgar Place—although it will have to be Georgian.”
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