The re-awakening of one of Britain’s great houses, St Giles House in Dorset ancestral seat of the Earls of Shaftesbury, has emerged as the winner of the 2015 Historic Houses Association (HHA) & Sotheby’s Restoration Award. St. Giles, which has remained in the family since the 14th-century, had been abandoned and derelict for over 50 years. It was transformed over the past four and a half years through a restoration project undertaken by the 12th Earl and Countess of Shaftsbury. Lord Shaftesbury inherited the house and 5,000 acre estate in 2005, aged only 25, following the tragic death of his father and, only a few months later, of his elder brother. With the help of grants from Natural England and the Country House Foundation, the grounds and grand interiors of St Giles House have now been returned to their former glory.
Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftsbury (1621-1683), a founder of the Whig party, built the nucleus of the house. The estate continued to be developed over successive generations. It was uninhabited for the latter part of the 20th century. Only a few years ago snow was blowing into the library and sections of the house were at risk of collapse.
Lord Shaftesbury said: “It is a huge honour to receive this award after four and a half years of hard work. It’s amazing now to look back at the project and think where we’ve come – it’s safe to say we’ve achieved far more than any of us imagined possible. Hopefully it will inspire others to do the same.”