Making sense of the utmost folly: Amanda Seidl visits the neo-classical temple that became a hunting lodge. Now it is a family home, and for sale as one house or two

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The Independent Online
There are not many opportunities to acquire a neo-classical temple within easy reach of the M1. And there cannot be many neo-classical temples this side of Dallas offering four bedrooms and all mod cons. But Cornerstone in Northampton is offering just such a property near the village of Horton.

Temple House started life as an 18th- century folly. It stands on a tree-lined ridge above a river valley that formed the grounds of Horton House, its four massive columns, decorated pediment and ornamental portico designed to complement the landscape.

Lord Halifax's grand plans for his country seat included the construction of a menagerie (one of the first in the country) and were largely motivated by a desire to upstage his neighbours, the Earls Northampton and Spencer at Castle Ashby and Althorp. But in a three- cornered fight to field a candidate for the parliamentary elections of 1768, the lordly trio finally made a decision on the toss of a coin, and Halifax lost much more than his pet politician. Ruined by the costly campaign, he was forced to forfeit his estate to the Government.

Halifax may have been an unlucky gambler, but he certainly had good taste. All the buildings on the estate represent the best examples of their genre, although unfortunately the elegant Horton House was demolished in 1935, when the estate was split up: its stones were used to build a solarium.

The temple folly might also have fallen victim to more practical times, had not the resourceful Victorian owners of Horton previously given it a purpose by transforming it into a hunting lodge and gamekeeper's house. It is easy to imagine the Victorian huntsmen galloping across the pastures in front of Temple House, or stamping up the steps to enjoy a lavish hunt breakfast in front of a roaring fire.

The present owners of Temple House fell in love with the property's echoes of the past and its magnificent setting. The building was designed to entertain and to impress, and that spirit of enjoyment has survived.

Mr and Mrs England are only the second owners of the house since the estate was broken up. When they acquired it in 1977, little had been altered since the folly became a house 100 years before. 'The drawing-room was being used as a potato store,' recalls Mr England. Careful restoration salvaged the original cornicing in the elegant 27ft room, which is graced by large sash windows on both sides, looking over the wooded garden.

The original dining-room, now being used as a living-room, has an unusual gilt frieze below the coving and a matching carved mantelpiece. The deep windows offer a view across the garden and valley to where Horton House once stood.

The original temple was turned into a grand reception hall when the folly was enlarged to become a hunting lodge. It was a wonderful room with a large open fire and carved mantelpiece to match the ornate ceiling rose. To integrate it with the rest of the house, the Englands removed the rear wall and created a spacious dining-room with superb panoramic views. The fireplace surround and mantelpiece were moved to the drawing-room.

In the centre of the house is a square kitchen, complete with the obligatory Aga. The quality of the detailing suggests that this room might once have had a grander purpose, but its size and location make it an ideal family kitchen.

On the other side of the back hall, the old laundry has been converted into a utility room. The former cloakroom off the main hall is now a comfortable study and office. A full-height vaulted cellar runs under the main house.

Over the past 17 years the Englands have spent a great deal of time creating a large, well-stocked garden out of the 2.5 acres in which the house is set. In front of the portico they have built a circular gravel drive with a central fountain. Stone steps lead down to a paddock, while mature trees give the property complete privacy.

Two years ago, the Englands decided that Temple House was too big for them now that their children had left home, and they converted the rear wing of the house into a separate cottage. This has three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs and the original drawing-room, plus a newly fitted kitchen downstairs. Following a recent illness, they have decided to sell both parts of the house, either as a single unit or separately.

The property is undoubtedly more attractive as a single house. 'It wouldn't be difficult to reopen the blocked-off passages between the two houses and take the fence down in the garden,' says Mr England.

The division of the property is most obvious on the first floor, where the original symmetry of the bedrooms in the main house has been altered through the addition of a bathroom and two en suite shower rooms.

The three bedrooms in the cottage have been created out of a former children's games room. 'When we first moved here, I took down the dividing walls of what were once servants' bedrooms to make the room,' says Mr England. 'Now I've put them back again.'

Temple House has enough style to make Alexis Carrington green with envy. The asking price (for both parts of the house) is pounds 420,000.

(Photograph omitted)