Piers Court Sold at Auction

According to the auctioneers and several press reports, Piers Court sold yesterday for £3,160,000. Whether and how the new owners will take possession has not yet been fully explained. According to yesterday’s  Evening Standard the eight-bedroom house has sold online today for £660,000 over its reserve price of £2.5 million. The auction was contested by four people, who collectively placed 49 bids for the property.”

Here are excerpts from the report in the Guardian relating to the reactions of the current occupants:

…Bechara Madi [one of the current occupants] said this week: “It’s our home, for the short term and for the long term. We will be putting our Christmas tree and decorations up in the next few days. We are going nowhere.

“We have spent a lot of our own money on the upkeep of the house, it’s our home and we have no plans to move,” he told MailOnline, adding that they had put a share of their money into the company that bought the house. “We are not tenants, we have a major share in the house and have put in hundreds of thousands of pounds of our own money.”

Helen Lawton [Mr Madi’s partner and the other occupant] claims to be friends with Waugh’s family, and told the Evelyn Waugh Society that she was planning a party to bring together many of his relatives at the house. Duncan McLaren, of the Evelyn Waugh Society, writing of a chance meeting with Lawton in 2019 while walking along a public footpath through the grounds of the house, said: “In recent weeks she has been very excited to learn about the Evelyn Waugh associations of her new home.”

Duncan McLaren kindly sent me a link to the Guardian article and noted in his email message: “If you recall, I spoke to Helen Lawton shortly after she’d ‘bought’ Piers Court.” A link to Duncan’s description on his website of that 2019 meeting with Ms Lawton is provided above.  I am not myself personally aware of any other contacts she may have had with members of the Evelyn Waugh Society.

The Daily Mail article written by Tom Bedford, which was posted in the MailOnline and cited in the Guardian, concluded with this:

…Ms Lawton, who describes herself as ‘eccentric’, even bought herself a Georgian horse-drawn carriage to go with the house of her dreams. The couple say they had a £10,000 survey carried out on the property when they first moved in and had started restoration work when the Covid pandemic struck.

Ms Lawton said Waugh’s son Septimus, the writer’s seventh child, who lived in the house when he was young and died of cancer last year, was backing their plans. She said: ‘I had lovely conversations with Septimus about his time at Piers Court. He could remember the staircases and the chandeliers. ‘I had hoped that whatever time I had left I would be doing my utmost to restore the house and the grounds.’

But in August Ms Lawton and her partner were served with an eviction notice when the bank they borrowed £2.1 million from called in the loan. A firm of receivers was brought in after their business partner Jason Blain was sued over an alleged unpaid hotel bill of £740,000. […]

The shareholders said they had proof of funds to redeem the mortgage but they were ignored and the property was put on the market even though Ms Lawton and her partner refused viewings to prospective buyers. […]

London auctioneers Allsop declined to name the new owner who had been warned: ‘The property is occupied under a Common Law Tenancy at a rate of £250 per annum.’ The buyer paid £660,000 over the guide price but, according to Ms Lawton and Mr Bechara, they still have a bargain. They believe the mansion is worth in excess of £4 million.

The couple, who own a multi-million pound flat in London, have accused the bank and receivers of acting ‘aggressively and in an underhand way’. Financier Mr Madi, 60, said: ‘Until contracts are exchanged there is no formal sale – we need to speak to Jason (Blain) about this to assess our position. We will have internal talks to see what our next move will be.’

Finally, the Evening Standard and The Times have published correct information about two common errors in previous press reports. As noted in the ES:

Waugh was gifted the country estate by his wife Laura Herbert’s grandmother in 1937. He, Herbert and their children lived there for 19 years — except during the second world war, when the mansion was let to a convent school.

He wrote many of his novels in the house’s library, including HelenaThe Loved OneMen at Arms and Officers and Gentleman.

Brideshead Revisited, Waugh’s most famous novel, was written in a hotel in Devon in 1944, during the house’s convent school years.

And The Times printed this letter:

HOTEL BRIDESHEAD
Sir, You report (Dec 14) that Evelyn Waugh wrote Brideshead Revisited at Piers Court in Gloucestershire. In fact he wrote it at Easton Court hotel in Chagford, Devon, while on leave from military training after a parachute fall; although he was living at Piers Court at the time he regularly used hotels to write, to avoid the distractions of home. The Devonshire tranquillity, “uniquely agreeable for both work and rest”, allowed him to recover from his injury while writing his fine novel.
Alexandre Guilloteau
London W9

The letter, apparently inadvertently, suggests that Waugh was “living” at Piers Court “at the time” he wrote Brideshead in Devon. For avoidance of doubt, he and his family did not in fact reoccupy the house until 10 September 1945, according to the chronology in published volumes of the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh. Prior to that, during 1944 when he wrote Brideshead he was living in Army or other temporary accommodations such as the hotel in Devon, when not with his family who were at Pixton Park, the Herbert family residence.

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