PRESS RELEASE: BVI registered company neglects historic Wiltshire mansion

9th July 2021

Repairs order essential to prompt absentee owners to sell.

Zeals House is the last grand country house in Wiltshire, surveying a panorama of gloriously unspoilt Dorset country, just two hours journey from London. The ancient grade I listed manor house is a prize example of a house that has grown over the centuries, and for 500 years belonged to the same family.

The house is stone built with gables and tall chimneys enriching the silhouette and boasts a series of handsome bay windows with stone mullions.  

It was a centre of Royalist support in the civil war, and King Charles II was given refuge here on his escape to the coast.

Since 1968, the house has been sold four times, and is now standing empty and deteriorating rapidly. Several ancillary buildings in the grounds survive and are grade II listed, including two gate lodges, an orangery, dovecote, stables, granary and icehouse. 

Marcus Binney, executive president of SAVE Britain’s Heritage, says: “This splendid property will readily find a restoring purchaser in the present market. It is not too large to be a family home and the numerous outbuildings are suitable for working from home and for holiday lets. It is a scandal that Zeals has been callously left to decay, and Wiltshire County Council will be failing in its duty if it does not serve a urgent repairs order on the owners.”

Julian Orbach, one of the authors of the forthcoming new Pevsner Guide to Wiltshire, says: “This is an opportunity for anyone looking for a historic country house with all the trimmings, in a lovely situation, not overlooked by neighbours with easy access to London”. 

The romance of the house is captured by a 1909 advertisement in the Field magazine:

To be let, furnished, a beautiful old Tudor residence together with 3,400 acres of excellent shooting. The Mansion, standing in a grandly timbered park on high ground...contains handsome outer and inner halls, a suite of fine reception rooms, splendid billiards room, about twenty bedrooms, bathroom and first-class domestic offices; stabling for ten, two large coach houses; squash racket court; gardener’s cottage; two lodges. Large kitchen garden, glasshouses and pleasure grounds, with large lake affording boating and fishing. 

During the Second World War, an airfield was created at nearby St Martins Farm, with Zeals House requisitioned as a base and mess for the RAF officers. After the war, Zeals became a school for boys until in 1956 the family, now the Troyte-Chafyn-Groves, ended the lease and moved back in.

In 1968, the house was purchased by Alex Garnet Phippen, ending the unbroken possession of the Chafyn family since 1452. The Phippen family restored the 17th century Orangery and the Dovecote. 

In 2010 the 100-acre property was sold to the present owners, SKE Holdings Ltd, a company registered in the British Virgin Islands for £2.9 million. It has been suggested that the mysterious owners may be connected to the owners of Kinmel Hall, known as the Versailles of North Wales, which was recently sold at auction for £900,000 after Conwy County Council moved to serve a repairs order. 

The house retains a number of historic interiors including extensive 18th century wood panelling and marble fireplaces. 

The earliest record of a house on the site dates from 1304, when it appears to have been surrounded by a defensive moat. The Chafyn family first appear at Zeals House in 1452, and the last member of the family only left in 1968.

Zeals evokes the description of Brideshead in Evelyn Waugh’s famous novel: “I loved buildings that grew silently with the centuries, catching and keeping the best of each generation, while time curbed the artist’s pride and the Philistine’s vulgarity, and repaired the clumsiness of the dull workmen”.

Zeals is the only place name in Wiltshire beginning with a 'Z', although this should really be an 'S' as the name comes from the Old English ‘sealh’, meaning a small willow.


Note to editors

1. For more information and images contact Ben Oakley, Conservation Officer at SAVE Britain's Heritage: 07388 181 181.

2. SAVE Britain’s Heritage has been campaigning for historic buildings since its formation in 1975 by a group of architectural historians, writers, journalists and planners. It is a strong, independent voice in conservation, free to respond rapidly to emergencies and to speak out loud for the historic built environment.