Island Hall itself is a dream of Christopher Vane Percy, one of the country’s leading interior designers, past President of the British Institute of Interior Design & International Interior Design Association. An impresario of visual treats and surprises he has taken the elegant bones of the house and with affection and legendary skill created beauty, theatre and fun for his family and visitors. The house is full of delectable fabrics, charming pieces and subtle paint effects, many authentic to past eras, all setting off informed renovation work and impeccable detail. The secret is the master designer’s appealing touch, often playful, and that is why it is a charming space to hire. Island Hall is warm and welcoming offering personal and high superior service..
“"On behalf of my family I would like to extend a very warm welcome to Island Hall. I was the seventh generation of my family to live in this delightful early Georgian classical house, my eldest daughter Grace is now the eighth - with her children the ninth! Island Hall was first acquired by my great-great-grandfather Jacob Julian Baumgartner - a naturalised British citizen of Swiss birth.
Island Hall remained a family home for a century and a half until the Second World War, when it was requisitioned and used by the WAAF and then by the RAF's Pathfinder Squadron.
In common with many historic houses, things looked bleak after the war. It had suffered from its wartime use - with Nissen huts covering the garden. The local authority took over responsibility for the building, converting it under the Emergency Housing Act into 15 tiny flats, even using the huts themselves for accommodation.
I saw the house myself for the first time in 1957, from the river, as a schoolboy on a boating party, and dreamed of owning and restoring it one day. At that time I knew nothing of the history of the house and its connections to my family.
Twenty years later, during the 1977 Firemen's Strike, a fire broke out on the ground floor. This was brought under control, then broke out again during the night gutting the south wing, but luckily the main body of the house was left untouched, so there was no damage to any of the early Georgian panelling or to the fine oak staircase. At this point it was thought the house might even be demolished and I saw the house myself for the second time in 1979, in this dire state of near dereliction, but was pleased to find that it had just been acquired by Simon Herrtage, who carried out a major restoration of the structure back to its original 18th century design.
Then, in 1983, I brought my wife Linda to see Island Hall on a hot summer’s afternoon, it was only on our way back to London that I disclosed that I had actually bought it! Our move to the house, re-stablished the family connection and responsibility, as home for our three children who have grown up here and grown to love it too.
We continued the process of restoration and redecoration, including the restoration of the Mews House and the gardens. We made an exact replica of a lost 18th century Chinese bridge to reconnect the gardens to the island, from which the house takes its name. We also cleared the island, encouraged wildflower growth and, having lost an elm avenue many years ago, in 2009 we replanted a dozen Princeton Elms, thus creating the first new elm avenue in the county.
I We tried to decorate the interiors with a sense of history, but also a sense of style (we were flattered when Simon Jenkins included our house in England's Thousand Best Houses and referred to the interiors as "a delight" and Country Life magazine featured a visit to our house in the documentary made during their centenary year).
We have portraits and furniture relating to my family and items relating to my late wife Linda's family, the Grosvenors. Her father was 5th Baron Ebury and she was the sister of the present Earl of Wilton. Linda was a formidable chatelaine of Island Hall for over 35 years and without her support, hard work and dedication to the house, our work would never have been achieved. Our eldest daughter Grace hopes to continue this on-going project with the support of her scenographer husband Takis and her young family.
Although Island Hall lies in the heart of old Godmanchester near the parish church, its position on the river and the views over the water meadows give it very much the atmosphere of a classic English country house, which is one of the reasons we love it, and we know visitors respond to it too.
The interiors are attractively English baroque in character. As for the outside, some architectural experts see it as an essentially early Palladian house, others see it as having a touch of the Thomas Archer Baroque; most of our visitors find it satisfyingly domestic, comfortable and fun.
The house has now passed to my eldest daughter Grace, who lives at the house with her husband and young family. She shares my love and passion for Island Hall and has taken up the challenge of preserving it for the future generations who now inhabit it.”
Christopher Vane Percy