The Old Vicarage, Oakhill
Steeped in history and surrounded by idyllic country views, this 7 bed family home in Somerset has everything a family needs - from large, light rooms, to a secret staircase to broadband and a five minute walk to the pub - just ask the owners....
The Old Vicarage at Oakhill, completed 1890
How long have you lived here and how did you feel when you first moved in?
We’ve lived here eleven years, since our children were 2 and 3 years old. We viewed so many properties during our house-search all those years ago but The Old Vicarage ticked all our boxes for the wonderful, spacious, practical and elegant family house we’d been looking for. We loved the historical background too. It was completed in 1890, apparently the result of simmering sibling rivalry between two local ministers -the Vicar of Oakhill & Ashwick Parish designed it and built it himself, on a majestic scale, primarily in order to outdo his brother’s more modest parsonage in the neighbouring parish. For us, moving in to The Old Vicarage with all the possibilities it presented as a long-term family home was simultaneously exciting and comforting, and we can’t think of a better house for our children to have spent their childhood.
Plenty of space for all the family, including the furry members
Describe some of your favourite memories about this house.
During out time here we've found that The Old Vicarage certainly lends itself to entertaining and large get-togethers - for a certain ‘significant birthday’, we hosted a legendary Summer BBQ & Karaoke Weekend for a group of university friends, mostly from London – a memorable Somerset getaway for them and an ideal venue to throw a relaxed house party for us. And of course, with enough bedrooms to accommodate grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins, we welcome many relations to stay every year over the festive period. This is when the formal dining room comes into its own - and the large kitchen with plenty of work-space, four-oven Aga and separate electric oven means hosting Christmas Lunch for a crowd is easy.
Having the Coach House tucked away at the bottom of the drive also offers superb additional accommodation for family or friends when they come to stay. Those needing their own space can enjoy the seclusion of a comfortable, self-contained cottage with en-suite bathroom, fully-fitted kitchen, dishwasher and washer-dryer and their own private patio garden.
The Coach House is a brilliant addition to accommodation - gives certain guests or family members privacy, you could Air B'n'B it for extra income
What did your family enjoy about living here?
Apart from the location and the beautiful rural surroundings, we loved the sheer practicality of the space and the comfort and usability of every part of the house. The generously-proportioned bedrooms, the spacious kitchen, the grand formal dining room, the double-aspect sitting room – every part of the house works and fits our lifestyle completely. When the children were young, we used the ground floor study as a playroom. As they grew older, this converted to a Music Room for piano and violin practice. There are enough bedrooms upstairs to have at least a couple of guest bedrooms plus an office or an additional “snug".
One of the upstairs bedrooms
We hear that the kitchen is something special too..
Yes! It provides a really welcoming, sociable hub for the family. Its renovation was completed in 2013- bespoke, hand-made and hand-painted by kitchen specialists Smallbone of Devizes. The aim was to open up the kitchen into the Orangery, incorporating not only the natural light but also the far-reaching views across the garden and the fields beyond. A bright, airy and very practical room, the kitchen is the modern hub of the house. The Orangery end is large enough for both a dining table and a couple of comfy sofas, making the kitchen a really family-friendly, social space. The Aga, plus warm or cold air conditioning and the under-floor heating make it cosy in winter while the built-in Miele coffee machine, wine-cooler, Qooker boiling water tap and Miele Combi-Oven microwave satisfy our need for culinary mod cons!
One other feature of the house we particularly love is the huge, fully-fitted utility room, with its original grey flagstone flooring and the iconic “Sheila-Maid” ceiling-mounted, pulley-drawn clothes airer. As well as being a great space for managing the laundry, this room is the perfect “boot-room” for kicking off wellies after a walk on the village Rec or keeping the dogs’ beds and bowls (and muddy feet!) in their own space, out of the kitchen.
The kitchen is a welcoming social hub for the family, complete with light filled Orangery, ideal for dining
Describe your other favourite rooms and why you love them
This house is a fine example of the Victorian architectural style. All the rooms have magnificent proportions – high ceilings with intricate cornicing framed by broad doorways, generous sash windows and deep skirting boards. The house is bursting with carefully-preserved period features, from the stunning mosaic-tiled hallway to the sweeping oak staircase and pretty period fireplaces throughout the house. On the ground floor we added a Victorian “Thomas Crapper” cloakroom, complete with square, polished mahogany loo seat, high-level cistern and matching porcelain sink.
Isn't the attic suite a winner?
It is..over the decade we’ve lived here as a family, we’ve made many improvements to the house, not least the stunning attic conversion - which offers a comfortable, peaceful retreat and cinema room when the family hubbub below becomes a bit too much!. Completed in 2009 by Attic Life Ltd, the conversion won the South West Regional Builder of the Year Award in the Medium Renovations category. What we love about it is the contrast of the traditional bedrooms on the first floor against a wonderfully contemporary suite of rooms at the top of the house. It covers the entire footprint of the house and is soundproofed - a large bedroom area, a lounge area, two dressing rooms, a vast light-filled bathroom and even a kitchenette with built-in fridge (handy for making a quick up of tea in the morning before heading back to bed). A quirky feature which we added was the “secret staircase” – if you pull back the innocent-looking bookcase, a secret stairway is revealed, leading to one of the spare bedrooms below.
The bedroom in the attic master suite - ideal for family guests or Air B'n'B as it has a private internal entrance via a bookcase (below) and a kitchenette
There's a secret staircase to the attic suite hidden behind this bookcase!
Tell us about your garden
It's the perfect balance between sweeping, mature flower beds and wide, open expanse of lawn. We were very lucky that our predecessor had the mature beds and borders professionally planted up by an experienced horticulturalist so there’s a huge variety of wonderful flowering plants and shrubs, thoughtfully planted; the whole garden bursts into bloom in early summer. In addition, we created a fenced vegetable garden with six raised beds, where we've enjoyed growing everything from spinach and potatoes to kohlrabi and asparagus. The garden is perfect for children to play and dogs to roam, and we love it when the cows or sheep which regularly graze in the adjacent field trot over to peer at us over the fence (cows are particularly fascinated by piano practice, we discovered!)
The vegetable garden at The Old Vicarage
What do you love about the location?
Situated in a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) The Old Vicarage is surrounded by quiet, pretty country lanes – great for dog-walking and cycling – and wonderful views across the Mendip Hills. The village is near the town of Radstock, Somerset but has many amenities of its own including a popular primary school, a busy doctor’s surgery, two churches and not least the celebrated Oakhill Inn with traditional local ales, an impressive collection of fine wines, roaring log fires and an award-winning fine-dining menu.
Soak up Somerset surrounding views from the balcony
The local community in Oakhill is hugely vibrant and energetic – there’s always something going on, from the weekly toddler group to the Oakhill & Ashwick local history society, the photography club, the Oakhill Choir, the Oakhill FC football team, the East Mendip gardening club, book groups, W.I. gatherings and tonnes of social get-togethers for all ages. The vicar’s annual “Sausage Sizzle” is legendary, along with the many charity fund-raising events which are regularly organised by local residents. In recent years the Oakhill Festival - shaking up the village Recreation Ground every summer during a weekend in July - has become a hugely popular live-music event, while The Harvest Festival & Produce Show in September has villagers eagerly vying for 1st Prize with their marrows, leeks and remarkable home-baking, all displayed in Oakhill Village Hall.
When you're not out and about taking part in village life, you can entertain yourself in your own Games Room
We keep up to date with everything going on in the village through the friendly Oakhill Village Life Facebook group, where more than 500 members swap news and views about living in the village. There is a close sense of community in the village – neighbours supporting each other, welcoming newcomers and offering help and assistance, it’s very uplifting to see such positive, close-knit community spirit. And I’m delighted to say that OpenReach has now brought the local broadband right up to superfast speed, so connecting to social media is never a problem! There are so many outdoor activities within easy reach, too. Both the Mendip Golf Club and Mendip Shooting Ground are just a couple of miles away, we’re very local to Cheddar Gorge and just 20 minutes from Chew Valley Lakes, for fishing and sailing. Being located on the Mendip Hills offers plenty of opportunity for walking, hiking, cycling and climbing.
While we love rural life, it’s exciting to be close to Bath and Bristol to take advantage of what both cities have to offer. Recently we were thrilled to pop in to see the visiting David Hockney painting “Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy” at the Holburne Museum in Bath, just 25 minutes’ away. Bath also offers wonderful Christmas shopping and some exemplary restaurants and bars.
The large family sitting room
Any other local tips?
The Oakhill Inn is just five minutes walk from the house and is the sister pub to the King William in Bath, about which The Times’ restaurant critic Giles Coren once wrote “…”So good it brings a tear to your eye…well worth making the train journey from London, even just for lunch.” In our opinion, the award-winning menu at the Oakhill Inn has just as much appeal as its Bath-based relation and it has become a very popular destination pub for discerning diners from across Somerset. In the nearby village of Holcombe, The Holcombe Inn is another fabulous country pub with an excellent menu and cosy atmosphere, while for curry fans it’s hard to beat the Mughal Empire, just five minutes away in Shepton Mallet. We’re regular customers there on a Friday night (or any night). If you need provisions to cook at home, there’s a huge Tesco Superstore in Shepton Mallet. Just over a mile from The Old Vicarage you’ll find Gurney Slade Stores and Post Office, a friendly, family-run village shop stocking most things you need for a quick top-up. Also convenient is a large Co-Op in the nearby village of Chilcompton. There are many excellent independent schools within easy reach of the house, including Downside Abbey just two miles away in the neighbouring village of Stratton-on-the Fosse. Wells Cathedral School is just 6 miles away and also within comfortable commuting distance are Millfield School, King’s Bruton, Bruton School for Girls, Sherborne, All Hallows Prep and Hazlegrove Prep. The choice of top independent schools in the area is extraordinary.
The Old Vicarage - perfect for family life
What will you miss about living here and why?
It's rare to find a house which works so well on so many levels - designed with a large amount of living space which comes together so effortlessly, located in such beautiful surroundings, in a village with so much to offer. The house has so many memories and has been our family home for most of our children’s lives, so I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to find a house which works for us as well as this one did, but our family life is evolving and it’s a challenge we’ll have to face!