For almost half a century an international concert pianist has held court – and eagerly anticipated recitals – in glorious countryside in the heart of the Weald.
But after a “good innings”, Richard Burnett and his wife Katrina have put Finchcocks on the market with a guide price in excess of £3 million.
In a separate auction, the couple are selling many of the world-class pianos which have adorned a museum they opened in part of this early Georgian masterpiece in 1976.
As well as being a haven for the Burnetts and their astonishing collection of instruments, Finchcocks has seen numerous theatrical performances, including by the inimitable Prunella Scales.
Katrina, 78, just before the museum closed its piano lid for the last time, said: “It’s getting harder to keep the place up, it’s a big job. We no longer have a workshop of full-time staff to keep the instruments tuned. If we can’t keep the instruments up properly, we thought it better to have a smaller collection somewhere else.”
The biggest loss, then, will be the house. “It is beautiful and on a beautiful site,” said Katrina, who hopes to stay local. “We are very sad about that, but we are realistic.”
After buying the house 45 years ago, the couple embarked on an extensive but sympathetic restoration which was overseen by architects Judith Bottomley and Laurence Peskett.
The Burnetts took on a historic house. Records for Finchcocks – or Finchcox as it was occasionally known – date from the mid 13th century when a family of the same name lived nearby, although the exact location of the original house is unknown. During the 15th century the property was owned by the Horden family, a member of whom became something called the “Clerk of the Green Cloth” (all very Blackadder) to three monarchs and whose crest is depicted in the pediment above the front door of the present house.
In 1568 Finchcocks passed through marriage to the stinking rich Bathurst family and the house as it stands today was built by Edward Bathurst, a London Barrister and Master of the Middle Temple in 1725.
During the 20th century the house and its listed grounds have changed ownership a few times. It was requisitioned by the army during the war and then became a private home to the expensively named David and Antonia St Clair Erskine, who commissioned the painting of “Neptune” by Loudon Sainthill in the south wing. From 1960 to 1970 it was a school to The Legat Ballet, so its transition to musical museum was entirely fitting.
Considered to be one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in the Weald, Finchcocks is designated as a building of Special Architectural Interest and Historic Note, being Grade I Listed. The house, which lies about a mile from the road, is approached over a long private lane flanked by rolling farmland enjoying expansive views over “the park” (that is a large garden to you, squire), to the east towards Goudhurst and over the beautiful formal gardens to the south and west, the grounds amounting to about 13 acres.
Fixtures and fittings can sometimes summon images of iffy avocado bathroom suites and pink fluffy curtains resembling Mrs Slocome’s underwear; rest assured, not here.
For in addition to the sale of the house there will be an auction in two parts on 11th May, the first focusing on the collection of 70 historic keyboard instruments – the sale, at Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions, aims to raise funds for the Finchcocks Charity.
The collection was formed over 50 years by Richard Burnett and features some of the best playing instruments in the world – fortepianos, chamber organs, clavichords and harpsichords from the 17th to late 19th century. Highlights from the auction will include a chamber organ by John Byfield, 1766; a single manual harpsichord by J.J. Antunes, 1785; a virginal by Onoforio Guarracino, 1668; and a grand piano by Conrad Graf, c. 1820.
The second auction focuses on the contents of Finchcocks, to include musical prints, paintings by Thomas Rowlandson, Lancelot Volders, Albert Delerive and Dorothy Webster Hawksley, 17th century and later furniture, books and music-related ephemera.
If the music is finally fading at Finchcocks, surely what it needs is a new family to burst in and give this lovely old house a new song to sing.
Contact: Savills Cranbrook, www.savills.co.uk