Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Vista, oh bless it, has just decided that blogger is a malicious add on. I know several things I would describe as malicious add ons, but blogger isn't one of them. So, fingers crossed that Vista doesn't do the dirty on me again, and here is my second attempt at a second post on Apethorpe - more specifically, on the caretaker, George Kelley, and also in passing, because I was so intrigued when I read the Inquiry into the Compulsory Purchase Order, Simon Karimzadeh.
George Kelly worked at Apethorpe from 1970 as a groundsman, when it was still St John's School. When Wanis Mohammed Burweila initially bought the house, Mr Kelley was kept on as a caretaker. Together with his colleague Peter Coxhead, he spent the next 20 years trying to stem the tide of decay. Knowing only too well just how wracking it can be to try and mend a small listed house when there are two of you and you have at least some cash, Mr Kelley's task, with no input from the owner, no money for repairs and a house the size of a small village, was monumental. For the last 10 years, he wasn't even paid, he and his wife surviving on her salary alone, but Apethorpe had cast such a strong spell on him (and indeed her) he carried on regardless. Having had a couple of houses with roof problems that meant trips out might have to be interrupted by a frantic dash if it started raining to make sure the buckets weren't overflowing, I can only goggle at the sheer awfulness of the task of trying to keep control of the buckets and polythene on a house that size. Eventually, Mr Kelley let the local Council know just how bad things had got.
There are measures councils can take if owners of listed buildings neglect them, but the owner did not respond to any notices. If this happens, local councils or English Heritage can carry out essential maintenance, and then pursue the owner for the costs, and some repair was carried out. Despite this, nothing further was done by the owner. English Heritage served a Repairs Notice for over £6m of essential maintenance, and then took the unusual step of serving a Compulsory Purchase Order to save the house, after it was sold on (just about) to two developers in succession, neither of whom produced a scheme for the house with which English Heritage was happy: such schemes often rely on what is called "enabling development" - if ever a phrase could be said to cover a multitude of sins, that one could.
I assume that from 2004, when English Heritage bought the house, Mr Kelley has been paid. He's certainly still living and working there. When we visited in August this year, it was Mr Kelley's birthday, and so there was a cricket match going on on the lawn in front of the house. This is one of his perks - he's allowed to host the village team on his birthday. This does of course make it even more the ideal house for me and OH - there's the stables for me, and enough space for a cricket pitch for him.
Mr Kelley has his own ideas about gardening: the BBC programme on English Heritage which featured Apethorpe dwelt lovingly on his topiary. I got the distinct impression English Heritage didn't entirely share his taste. Below you can see, if you peer closely, a monster yew bunny, and if you peer even closer, you can see his fishing rod. There's also a squirrel and several other things. Even as a fully paid up member of the taste police, I like them.
Mr Kelley was given a richly deserved MBE in 2008. Nick Hill, English Heritage project director for Apethorpe, described Mr Kelley as "a true defendant of our heritage." How true.
Scroll down this page to see an interview with Mr Kelley - I can't find a way of embedding it.
The dreadful irony of many stately houses is that they came about by precisely the sort of eye to the main chance that can mean their destruction. Of course, this is why National Trust and English Heritage exist: to be the white and disinterested knights.
The inquiry into the DCMS compulsory purchase order is an interesting picture of the clash between using the private purse to try and preserve, and yet maintain historical integrity. It's a mixture of ineptitude and noble intentions on the part of the DCMS and English Heritage, and motives which were plain hard to decipher on those of its prospective purchaser.
Apethorpe was sold on by its Libyan owner to ACEL, who then tried to sell the house to Simon Karimzadeh. The inquiry made it very clear that Mr Karimzadeh was only willing to complete his purchase if he was given planning permission to convert the stables and granary into 5 hourses, convert the Gardener's Cottage and build eleven new houses in a courtyard.
The thing I find difficult to understand is why, if you had the money to refurbish a house like Apethorpe (and the report talks of Mr Karimzadeh's ample funds) you would want the stables, which are very near the house, inhabited, or a small housing estate in the grounds. If Apethorpe were mine, frankly I'd want those stables inhabited by horses, and I can't see the point of giving up a fairly central part of country life, and something so intrinsic to the house and its development, even if you didn't particularly like horses yourself.
I read an article in The Times in which Mr Karimzadeh laments the refusal of the DCMS to let him refurbish the house, though he does not mention in his lyrical accounts of wedding parties, fireworks and ensuite bathrooms that he refused to buy unless he was given planning permission for those extra houses. In Mr Karimzadeh's evidence to the enquiry he said that "It would not make economic sense, however much he loves the Hall, to walk into a deficit of perhaps as much as £13 million.." i.e. the cost of refurbishing stables he wouldn't use, and demolishing the row of 1950s houses.
I suppose in a nutshell that is why Mr Karimzadeh is worth millions and quoted in the Sunday Times, and why I am not and am never likely to be: if I had the money I'd pour it into the house no matter what.
By a further dreadful irony, the inspector, as one of the grounds for allowing the compulsory purchase, said that even if Mr Karimzadeh was not to buy the house, there were other similar purchasers out there who would. "The evidence suggests, however, that there may be others who would put different values on what they want from where they live and what they would be prepared to pay for it."
Of course, if they are out there, they have not bought the house: as far as I know, it is still on the market.
Update on Apethorpe: 2012
Our visit to Apethorpe: 2009