LOCATION: Donnington, Ledbury, Herefordshire (U.K.)
PRICE: £6,000,000 (list price)
SIZE: 13,445 square feet, 12 bedrooms, 4 full and 2 half bathrooms (plus additional guest and staff quarters)
YOUR MAMAS NOTES: The newest celebrity real estate scuttlebutt out of the pastoral countryside in the U.K. is that stunningly beautiful English "actress" and spokesmodel Elizabeth Hurley and her blond, beefy and beau-hunky retired Australian cricket player fiancée Shane Warne have scooped up Donnington Hall, an historic, 187-ish-acre country estate 50-some miles southwest of Birmingham near the scenic and literary-minded town of Ledbury. We can't pinpoint their exact purchase price but our research reveals the stately and august estate was last listed on the open market earlier this year (2012) with a £6,000,000 guide price; That's a listing price in British real estate speak. A few quick clickety-clacks on Your Mama's currency conversion contraption shows the last asking price translates, at today's rates, to a $9,684,900.
Miz Hurley, according to her resume on the Internet Movie Data Base, has been shaking her svelte yet magnificently curvaceous Showbiz money maker on both t.v. and the big screen since the late 1980s. She didn't really get her big break—if it can be called that—until 1994 when she showed up the premiere of the sappy, silly and screamingly successful romantic comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral with her then-boyfriend Hugh Grant wearing a slinky black Versace dress dangerously held together by a series of very strategically placed, over-sized gold safety pins. It wasn't long after that foxy Miz Hurley was hired as a spokesmodel by cosmetics colossus Estée Lauder—a long-standing and no-doubt lucrative professional relationship that continues today—and was cast as the gun-toting sex kitten Vanessa Kensington in the Austin Powers movies. Since her silver screen salad days in the mid- to late-1990s she's appeared in a number of other movies too terrible to mention and currently—and kind of randomly—designs a line of high-end swim- and beachwear.
Your Mama knows next to nothing about cricket except that it's a beloved and hotly contested athletic activity in places other than the United States. Our brief online research did reveal that the sometimes-controversial and ill-behaved Mister Warne—he's (allegedly) had a lurid thing in the (recent) past for sexting women who are not his wife or girlfriend—is widely regarded as on of the best bowlers to have ever strapped on the pads and swung the cricket bat. Post retirement he's played some more professional cricket, worked as a cricket commentator, played some professional poker and focused on his eponymous philanthropic foundation.
Until recently both Miz Hurley and Mister Warne were married—she to Indian textile heir and software entrepreneur Arun Nayar—but were both quickly divorced when a minor scandal erupted in tabloids after the the two of them were photographed in late 2010 at a London hotel engaged in what appeared to be a little extra-marital canoodling. Oh, what a tangled web some people weave. For the record, both claim their marriages were kaput months before they hooked up and started macking on each other in public places.
Their rather scandalous romantic entanglement aside, the comely and recently engaged couple have—so the gossip goes—spent some seriously big bucks to acquire the very serious and high-maintenance Donnington Hall where they'll bunk down in baronial splendor with their newly blended family that includes three children from Mister Warne's previous marriage and Miz Hurley's one boy-child sired—in case anyone cares—by progressively politicked real estate heir, business tycoon and movie producer Steve Bing who denied paternity until a DNA test proved otherwise. How very Jerry Springer! Anyhoodles, poodles, we digress...
Donnington Hall dates back to the late 17th century, according to marketing materials with pinched from the interweb, but the existing residence, an imposing if slightly squat-looking Grade II-listed Georgian-style pile with 13,455 square feet, was designed in 1909 by quad-monikered architect Gilbert Francis Molyneux Ogilvy for its then-owner, the gloriously-named Admiral Sir Arthur Dalrymple Fanshawe who commanded the Royal Navy Fleet from 1910 to 1913.
By our assessment of the floor plan, the massive, lilac wisteria-draped main house, accessed by an exceptionally long driveway that winds through the sprawling estate's parklands before it arrives at a parking lot-sized gravel forecourt, has 12 bedrooms and 4 full and 2 half bathrooms divided into four large principal bedrooms and five smaller secondary bedrooms on the second floor that share three hall bathrooms, a separate second floor guest suite with sitting room, bedroom and bathroom, and two additional bedrooms and a single shared bathroom on the third floor.
Guests have access to a compartmentalized half bathroom and cloak room discreetly situated just outside the library and live-out staff have access to a tiny water closet nestled into a quiet corner of the service area.
Staff quarters are notably generous with a one bedrooms housekeeper's suite with separate kitchen and private loo near the kitchen on the main floor and a two room nanny suite with separate sitting room and private loo tucked up under the eaves on the third floor.
The capacious public rooms, according to the floor plan included with online marketing materials for the estate, include an immense, 35-foot long reception hall with beautifully worn polished oak floors, a wood-burning fireplace, heavy-duty plaster moldings, paneled walls lined with sturdy carved pilasters and inset window seats. There's also a 750-plus square foot formal drawing room with oak parquet floors, a fireplace with ornate, carved marble mantelpiece, a formal dining room that easily seats 16 and is located a sufficiently long distance from the kitchen that ensures the waitstaff will mentally curse formal diners even as they smile and set down a perfectly cooked plate of roasted rabbit. A gorgeous, groin-vaulted hall leads back from the reception room and main stair hall to a nearly 30-foot long library with fireplace and original built-in Georgian-style display cases.
A more intimately-scaled sitting room off the kitchen has glass doors that connect to the east-side gardens would make a cozy family room or sun-lit morning room. The adjacent, 400-plus square foot farmhouse-style kitchen, according to marketing materials, is expensively equipped with an Aga-brand range and a pair of built-in ovens and complimented by a nearby larder/pantry and walk-in freezer room.
The service areas of the house are completed by a mud-room entrance with back staircase and, just off the reception all a couple of connected vestibules off of which open a small office and—this being hunting country—a walk-in gun cupboard.
There are a two staircases that ascend to the upper levels. The main, double-wide stair case climbs to an extra-wide landing that's more than 40 feet long and a back staircase that connect the ground level service areas to a back landing and a warren of corridors off of which open three small bedrooms, a two-room guest suite with private bathroom and the somewhat petite laundry room.
There are also two separate staircases that climb from the second to the third floor, both of which are located off the second floor back landing and zig-zagging corridor. One staircase switches back and provides access to the aforementioned nanny suite. The other makes a sharp right turn as is joins to a long, narrow passageway that passes a pair of attic storage rooms before it descends a few steps and makes a hard left turn into an even longer hallway off of which open a nursery/playroom/potential bedroom with fireplace, two good-sized bedrooms, also with fireplaces and, at the far end, a substantial, bifurcated bathroom.
The numerous outbuildings include an L-shaped, Edwardian-era equestrian barn, a number of garden maintenance storage buildings and potting sheds, a 16th-century coach house and tithe barn with automobile storage capability, a pair of historical staff cottages and four tenant-occupied cottages. At least one report in the British media says the new owners—that would be Miz Hurley and Mister Warne—have no plans to toss the current tenants.
In addition to thick coppices, expansive pasture lands that explode with wild daffodils in the spring and pristine park lands dotted with mature specimen trees, Donnington Hall's 187-ish acre grounds include broad flagstone terraces, various gardens (formal, sunken, walled, vegetable and etc.) and greenhouses connected by gravel foot paths, a variety of fruit trees, vast lawns that tumble down to a one-acre, carp-stocked spring-fed lake, a full-sized tennis court and—as all great country houses in Britain probably should—a croquet lawn. There is not, as far as we can tell from a perusal of the marketing materials available online, a swimming pool, spa or cricket pitch, the latter of which Your Mama fully expects will be installed tout de suite.
In addition to their fab new country estate Mister Warne owns a major house in the exclusive Melbourne suburb of Brighton—that's Australia, puppies—that he may or may not have quietly on the market for $15-20,000,000 and Miz Hurley maintains a townhouse-type residence on a cherry tree-lined street in southwest London as well a 72-acre Cotswald farm in the hamlet of Ampney Knowle new Barnsley.
listing photos and floor plan: Hayes