In the early 18th century English merchant Thomas ‘Diamond’ Pitt went on a property buying spree after selling a 140-carat white diamond, later known as the Regent diamond, which he acquired in India and whose story is surrounded by scandal.
The story goes that the slave who originally found the stone at an Indian mine was murdered and robbed for the jewel by a sea captain. Widely considered to be the world’s finest diamond, the sailor sold it onto an Indian jewel dealer who then sold it to Pitt who was the governor of Madras at the time.
Pitt sent the jewel to England to be cut, hiding it in the heel of his son’s shoe. He sold it to French regent Philippe II, Duke of Orléans for $177,000 in 1717 (earning it its moniker) and used the proceeds of the sale to buy a number of properties across the south and southwest of England. West Woodyates Manor in Dorset was among them.
West Woodyates Manor, now on sale for $24.3 million for the first time since 1929, sits in 970 acres of land and includes a 12-bedroom grade II* listed manor house, a four-bedroom cottage and 10 cottages. It lies on the Dorset-Wiltshire border about 2 miles from Sixpenny Handley village and 11 miles from the town of Salisbury within the Cranborne Chase area of outstanding natural beauty.
According to selling agent Clive Hopkins of Knight Frank, West Woodyates Manor is in a prime part of Dorset and offers a completely private setting. “The combination of its location and size makes it a unique opportunity,” he says. “It is rare to find a country estate with almost 1,000 acres of ring-fenced land in Dorset or indeed in the rest of England.”
The property features rolling countryside and farmland, which is used for growing arable and conservation crops and has biodiversity-enhancing features created by its owner, the Honourable Timothy Palmer who has a keen interest in conservation. They include beetle banks, which provide cover for ground-nesting birds and a home for natural enemies of insect pests, according to its sales details. The estate, which has wild grey partridges and an abundance of deer, also offers wild game shoots.
Approached by a mile-long drive, and surrounded by formal gardens, a walled garden, outbuildings, and cottages, West Woodyates manor house features a 1600s core and an 18th-century Queen Anne façade. Inside it has 12 bedrooms, wood paneling, a vaulted drawing room with a full-height stone mullion bay window, a family kitchen, a sitting room, a library, and a dining hall.
Though the house dates back to around 1600, the countryside around it is much older. The surrounding land has evidence of Neolithic settlements, but earlier Mesolithic flint implements have been discovered on the farm. The estate was the site of a Roman farm (the property’s well house is reputed to be of Roman origin) and mounds and depressions in its the lower park suggest the remains of an abandoned medieval village.
The Pitts, an aristocratic English family that later produced two prime ministers, owned the house for three generations through most of the 18th century and the Queen Anne front to the manor mouse and the ha-has and bastions around the park probably date from that period, according to its sales details. The brochure states that the estate has most of its original boundaries and says that “clearly, West Woodyates has survived for generations as an independent landholding in its own right.”