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House in Chippenham, Cambridgeshire built on 900 years of history

The School House, Chippenham
The School House, Chippenham

A grade II* listed home which was converted in the 1970s from a former school dating back to the Queen Anne period, The School House in Chippenham High Street offers views of St Margaret’s Church and the surrounding parkland.

Kitchen at The School House in Chippenham
Kitchen at The School House in Chippenham

Believed to date back to the late 1600s, it was rebuilt in 1708 as the village school by Lord Orford.

The five-bedroom property, with its symmetrical façade and attractive, established garden, is on the market with Jackson-Stops & Staff at a guide price of £995,000.

Owners Sean and Moira Newell have carried out extensive and sympathetic renovations and extensions since they acquired it in 1998, including reroofing the main section of the building.

“I bought it off the estate of a retired naval admiral, Admiral Ross. I think he was a descendant of the original [James Clark] Ross who went to Antarctica,” said Sean, who lives at the property with his wife and three daughters.

The School House, Chippenham
The School House, Chippenham

Commenting on work undertaken at The School House, he said: “We needed permission from about 12 different societies – the Georgian, the Victorian etc – and we converted it into a family home in 2001.

“It took something like a year to get all the various permissions lined up, and then it took about eight months of work. We basically gutted it and started again.

“In the main building we removed the kitchen, removed some of the false ceilings that had been put in and restored it to full height.

“Then at the rear there was a very small bungalow add-on, and we destroyed that completely and built a two-storey bedroom area which reflected the same essence of light and space that we have in the main house.

The cellars at The School House in Chippenham
The cellars at The School House in Chippenham

“You’ve got these 13ft ceilings and enormous arched windows, so it’s very, very light all the time.”

Particular features of this fine, well-proportioned house are the welcoming reception hall, generously-sized reception rooms and wood-burning stove to the sitting room, spacious playroom/dining room and wonderful 23ft kitchen/breakfast room with Aga and underfloor heating.

The mezzanine floor above the sitting room leads to the large attic space, which provides further potential.

The property has five bedrooms, three bath/shower rooms (two en suite), two cloakrooms, a useful utility and boot room and extensive cellar with wall inscriptions from the children of the former school.

The School House, Chippenham
The School House, Chippenham

The property’s history before 1708 is a little vague.

Sean said: “It’s believed to have been built on the site of the Knights Hospitallers Preceptory [a monastery of the military order of the Knights Hospitallers, also known as the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, which was established during the Crusades] and there are some stones in the cellar which are estimated to be about 900 years old.

“Over the years people have built things on top of it and it’s a bit of a mish-mash of history. That’s why it took us so long to get permission because every single society has a say in the matter, as the building has lived through all their eras!”

Despite all the work, a wealth of features have been retained, including round-headed and sash windows, high ceilings, decorative cornicing and picture rails.

The garden at The School House, Chippenham
The garden at The School House, Chippenham

“The floorboards in the hallway and dining room are the original floorboards, and the cellar’s stunning,” said Sean. “There are seven chambers in the cellar and there’s a story that there’s a secret tunnel running to the church.

“The story goes that when Catholic priests were being hunted down, they would hide in a priest hole in the church and there was a secret tunnel where they would escape and come up in my cellars.”

Although the Newells have got the house exactly as they want it, times change.

“The reason we’re selling is we’ve got teenagers now,” said Sean. “They’re going out in the evenings and getting trains, and it just doesn’t work for us in a small village anymore.”


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