History Repeated in Epping
PUBLISHED: 10:54 13 January 2016 | UPDATED: 10:54 13 January 2016
Mark Anderson caught a glimpse of Ripley Grange as a 17-year-old and never dreamed that he would one day call this recreated Elizabethan mansion home, but he did. Pat Bramley shares the story
Wake up in the morning as an overnight guest for the first time at Ripley Grange and for a split second, while you come to, you might think you’re still dreaming. In fact, venture out onto the landing and it would not be unusual to encounter a fellow visitor in doublet and hose coming out of his bedchamber.
Ripley Grange is a one-off. Inside and out it’s a replica of an Elizabethan mansion. Far from being a fantasy mock-up for a fairytale reenactment of Tudor times, this is a house built in 1928 for a millionaire driven by the determination to replicate the architectural style of the great houses that graced the landscape in the age of Merrie England.
Charles Frederick Clark has been described as a man of genius – he was the industrialist who invented carbon paper. In 1918 he set up a factory in Leyton to manufacture typewriter ribbons and also the paper slotted between a pile of sheets to produce copies of everything written on the top one.
He was a perfectionist, no doubt about that.
It took him more than two years to find the ideal site for the mansion he called Ripley Grange – Ripley being the town in Yorkshire where he was born.
The house stands in almost 18 acres at the end of a long drive in an elevated position on the edge of Epping Forest, a mile from Theydon Bois.
The grounds are bordered by a deer sanctuary on one side, 6,000 acres of the forest on another and undulating countryside to the south east. On a fine day you can see Canary Wharf – that’s progress for you.
Clark commissioned Wallis, Gilbert & Partners, the same company which built his factory, to build him the house. It took 15 months to complete and the ancient beams that form the half-timbered exterior were salvaged from a French galleon.
Each room, says the present owner, replicates one with historic provenance in one of the great houses of England. The library, for example, is a reproduction of Cardinal Wolsey’s study at Hampton Court Palace. The glory of Blenheim Palace, home to the Dukes of Marlborough, was another important influence on the finished design.
The fabric of the interior is almost entirely original – the stone fireplaces, the oak paneling and linenfold, the decorative ceiling mouldings, the leaded light windows with shields picked out in stained glass and chosen by Clark because of their special significance to events and places in his early life. None of this has been lost.
In one of the bedrooms, the shields that form the frieze are those of royals who have been Prince of Wales.
The industrialist was a religious man. He belonged to the Plymouth Brethren and held services in the Great Hall, which doubled as a chapel in his time. The organ has long gone, but the organ loft is still there. It’s the nerve centre for all the concealed high tech wizardry, such as wiring for the state-of-the-art music system and the Lutron mood lighting with six settings.
Clark landscaped the grounds in a befitting style and continued to introduce new features to his residence in the Essex countryside until 1940.
Mark Anderson became only the third owner when he bought Ripley Grange from a Greek shipping tycoon in 2000. Anderson is in the construction business and the group he founded in 1987 has a 300-strong workforce.
Now in his early 50s, Mark grew up in Wanstead, left school at 14, joined a landscape gardening firm and four years later got a job with a small building firm in Bethnal Green. ‘It had ten employees when I started on below the bottom rung,’ says Mark. ‘By the time I left to start my own company, there were 200.’
Like Mr Clark, the Andersons had been searching for the right house for two years. When he went to see the grange after an agent called him up, he realised he’d been there before when he was 17.
‘A friend of my mine asked me to go with him to look at a second-hand Ford Capris. It was being sold by someone who lived in the gardener’s cottage. He wanted £285 for it. As we walked up the drive, I saw the house for the first time because you can’t see it from the road. I never dreamt I’d live there one day.’
The second time he saw the house, he says it took him ‘four seconds’ to decide to buy it. ‘It was tidy but old. With old houses, what I try to do is preserve what’s there, but take it into the 21st century without losing what it was that attracted me in the first place.’
Mark’s five children were less enamoured on first acquaintance. ‘They thought it was haunted,’ says Mark. But they changed their minds when they saw how it brushed up. ‘We bought it in April and moved in in October. I had 80 builders working on it. They finished on a Thursday night and we moved in on Friday morning.’
Effectively, what Mark did was to keep the integrity of the building but remodel the layout in the areas of the house that previously weren’t visited by the family. Before the arrival of the Andersons, there was an Upstairs, Downstairs feel about it. The kitchen quarters consisted of four or five little rooms — ‘the Greeks didn’t cook for themselves, they were waited on’ – and there were 14 or 15 bedrooms counting the servants’ quarters. 21st century families have different priorities, so now there’s an open-plan showpiece Smallbone kitchen, the number of bedrooms has been reduced to nine and the tally of bathrooms has been increased to five (three en suite).
The restoration of the main house was only the first phase of the latest chapter at Ripley Grange. Two years after they settled in, Mark built on the luxury leisure complex.
It has its own entrance, like a members-only health club, and facilities to match including Hollywood pool, jacuzzi, gym, steam room, changing rooms, a treatment room for massages, a bar and even its own kitchen.
The grounds include about two acres of formal gardens plus woodland, a paddock, tennis court and glass houses.
‘I grow all my own annuals,’ says the one-time professional landscape gardener. The water supply for the automatic irrigation is collected in an artesian 400 ft-deep well adapted for the purpose. And, of course, there’s the gardener’s cottage which gave Mark his first glimpse of his future home.
The furnishings would make a separate story on their own. Some were bought from the previous owner, some from the Duke of Westminster when he sold one of his residences and some from antique shops in the King’s Road and Pimlico – nothing but the best for this pad.
But now the kids have grown up and gone, so Ripley Grange is on the market for only the third time since it was built. w