Working at the cartwash

It may look like a puddle in a country lane, but this is probably the forerunner of today's drive-through carwash. Penny Jackson finds a farmhouse home with a revolutionary history
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The Independent Online

The large pool in the grassy lane alongside Greenawell House's garden wall might appear to be the result of a flash flood. But far from being a natural hazard, it was carefully chosen and designed a hundred years ago as probably the first cartwash ever seen in Devon.

The large pool in the grassy lane alongside Greenawell House's garden wall might appear to be the result of a flash flood. But far from being a natural hazard, it was carefully chosen and designed a hundred years ago as probably the first cartwash ever seen in Devon.

Although this one-off forerunner of the drive-through carwash was to have a limited future, it proved to be one of many farming innovations introduced by its radical owner of the time and restored by the present incumbent of Greenawell, near Chagford, on Dartmoor.

David Panton and his wife Claire Smith, an artist, bought the property almost 20 years ago since when they have taken it back to its bare walls and started again.

During that time they have pieced together its history and the part it played in a far bigger agricultural masterplan as a draught horse and horse machinery centre. "This was the bit that provided the transport and machinery for the estate and if they needed a harrowing team it would come from here," explains Panton. "At the end of the day the horses would come back to Greenawell to be fed and watered and this was when the cartwash came into its own. The horse and cart would be led through the ford arrangement, which was raised at the side. Someone could stand on that bit of roadway and scrub the cart."

The construction of the cartwash was not immediately apparent. "It took a lot of digging and exploring before we found it. There were some cobble tracks intact, but not many. Because it is fed by natural springs it nearly always has water, which can be controlled by the use of sluices," he continues.

The house itself was originally a traditional Devon longhouse that at one time would have been divided between a family and their livestock. It has gradually been extended over the years although the lines of the old building are still visible. "You see that the walls are thicker, that the timber is different and the roof was once thatched. But although it was not in too dreadful a state when we bought it we wanted to make it an easy and comfortable home. We put in cavity walls, dug out the floor and put down stone flags. The original granite walls are sound and the old outbuildings look like new," says David Panton.

His purpose in moving to Devon was so that his wife could run residential art courses and the outbuildings were lent themselves perfectly for use as studios and guest accommodation.

The main house has four bedrooms, a drawing room with a woodburning stove and a library or second sitting room with full height bookshelves. The 24ft kitchen has an Aga cooker.

Even though the house with two holiday cottages - one is a converted granary - and 19.5 acres of land is now for sale, the couple are keeping 80 acres and the stable yard.

David Panton may have fallen into farming but his property was once part of a unique estate. It was bought in Victorian times by Lord Hambledon, the ennobled WH Smith, who set about applying his revolutionary business methods in the bookselling world to agriculture. The estate, comprising a manor house( now a hotel) and 16 tenanted farms became the subject of a massive modernisation programme in which top agronomists and architects created a giant "state of the art" farm where the smaller farms became specialist departments.

"It was pretty revolutionary," says Panton. "But by the time it got going the land was depopulated by the outbreak of the First World War and it never recovered."

Another model farm, built around 1872 at Smallwood, in Cheshire, and now converted into one exceptionally large country house of almost 10,000 sq feet, is also for sale. The owners, who completed the renovations six years ago have kept many of the original features such as oak timbers, windows and entrances.

The property, Millstead House, has been designed on a grand scale in a "C" shape, with rooms orchestrated around the movement of the sun and with views over the surrounding countryside. All the main reception rooms lead into the gardens, which have been thoughtfully laid out to provide interest from most points.

It also has a billiard room, gym and a guest suite, as well as coach house, summer house and a timber-frame barn. There are paddocks to two sides of the house and a wildlife pool stocked with coarse fish.

Greenawell House is for sale at a guide price of £900,000 through Jackson-Stops & Staff :01392 21422. Millstead House is on the market for £1.95 million with the same agents (01625 540340) and also Strutt & Parker: 01244 220500

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