English Country Manor–To Let


Last week when I was writing about where the Duke & Duchess of Sussex were renting or buying or building or leasing in the Cotswolds (NOT “Cotswold” as a reader nicely informed me!) – I saw a link to a vacation spot in the area of Chipping Norton, near the Great Tew – that 4,000 acre estate where the Soho Farmhouse is located and where David Beckham, et al, live and MAYBE, just MAYBE the Duke & Duchess are building or buying or renting a country house.

The vacation spot that caught my eye is called the Bruern Stable Cottages and it is on an estate that was founded in medieval times.

The Bruern Stable Cottages are a collection of 12 charming country cottages that are decorated so nicely,  you will probably want to move in and never leave!   I was struck by how cozy and inviting the décor was and how it immediately appealed to me.  I started saving photo after photo. 

Who designed these houses?? 

It was, to me,  just further proof that English Country Manor décor is so pleasing and highly desirable and really, who wants modern furniture anyway?

Remember the darling cottage in Nancy Meyers’ hit movie, “The Holiday?”  Who didn’t want to trade houses and live in the English countryside for a few days or a week or a month? 

Well, now you can.

The cottages on the property reminded me so much of the cottage in The Holiday, that I decided to stop and take a look at their web site.

The property is officially called The Bruern Stable Cottages and it has quite a history.

Bruern Stable Cottages started life as the stable block of a large estate, once an abbey, harking back to the Middle Ages.  The earliest building on the estate, the Cistercian Abbey, dates to 1147.   

This large stable block was built in the late 19th century.

The Bruern Abbey estate showing the Abbey and across the lane, the stable block. 

And this shows the estate, which today has been broken up into the two separate parcels.  The large red circle shows the estate today, only 5 acres make up the Bruern Abbey.   The smaller orange circle shows the main Abbey house with its own three sided, wing.  

Across the lane in blue ink is the Bruern Stable Cottages which incorporates the former stable building for the Abbey.   The yellow circle shows the original stable block which holds the majority of the rental cottages. 

The Abbey

Sir Anthony Cope & his brother John

The Bruern Abbey was begun in the 12th century but after several centuries, was eventually closed down.  In 1720, a house was built on the foundation of the abbey for Sir John Cope.   If you are a fan of the Diana Gabaldon series of “Outlander” books, you will know that Sir John Cope was defeated at Prestonpans by the Bonny Prince Charlie in the battle for Scotland.  Cope is famous for almost, just almost, losing Scotland forever.  The architect who built Bruern Abbey also worked on Blenheim Castle.

In the late 1700s, a devastating fire burned the abbey to the ground leaving only the original façade.  A 100 years later, Bruern Abbey was rebuilt and Princess Victoria, Queen Victoria’s granddaughter (above) was a guest.  In 1882, the new owner also built the stable block across the lawn, which today makes up the Bruern Stable Cottages.

In 1947, the Abbey was bought by the blue-blooded, Hon. Michael Astor, the third son of Waldorf, 2nd Viscount Astor and his wife Nancy.  Michael lived there through three wives and remained until his death in 1980.

Judy Astor, the third wife of Michael Astor, stands in front of the Grade II Listed Bruern Abbey.   She lived at the big house and when Michael passed away, Judy moved to a smaller house on the estate, an arrangement conceived by Michael before his death.

Judy remembers that when she first arrived at Bruern Abbey as the young bride whose predecessor was a worldly beauty, Judy said she felt just  like the new bride in “Rebecca.”

A rare photo of Michael Astor at Bruern Abbey with his first wife and daughter.

Bruern Abbey taken some years past – the main house with its three, one story wings, which form a square courtyard.

Looking from the Bruern Abbey out to the three wings and square courtyard.  These wings have a very interesting history.  They were added on as Victorian wings when the house was rebuilt in the 1800s – each wing was several stories tall.


Before & After:   In 1972,  Michael Astor had the top Victorian floors removed from the wings – shown at the right.  Today, there are now romantic attic windows and shingle roofs in place of the more austere, square roofline from before.  The interior designer?  John Fowler!!

Here’s an early view of the old Victorian wings – shown during a hunt. 

Michael Astor was born at Cliveden, shown above, and thus, did not consider Bruern Abbey very grand in comparison. Cliveden is now a luxury hotel where Meghan Markle spent her pre-wedding night.

Michael Astor at the very left with his parents and siblings at Cliveden.  His mother was the famed Nancy Astor from Virginia who went on to become an influential member and first woman to take her seat in Parliament.

Although his new house was not as grand as Cliveden, Astor managed to enjoy living there in luxury with a staff of 11 in the house, along with another 13 in the fields.  Michael added on to the estate with a carpenter’s shop, gardens and a garage,  along with an estate cricket team and club in the Abbey’s courtyard.  One of his stepdaughters, Annabel Astor, is the founder of the wonderful English decorative (and my all-time favorite!) catalogue OKA

The fabulous John Fowler, the head gardener, and Judy Astor

When Judy moved into the former dowager house, or the ice house as Fowler suspected, she took a long hard look at the stable block and an idea grew.  Why not turn the block into a vacation spot?

An owner before Michael Astor had put in the stables for his horses, but the horses were long gone before Michael passed away and the stables lay bare.  It was these stables and the attached buildings that became the basis for the Bruern Stable Cottages.


Here is an aerial plan of the estate.  The large stable block in the U Shape is the bulk of the cottages.  Other cottages for rent are spread throughout the estate.   The original Bruern Abbey is unmarked, but it is drawn in across the lane. 


The entrance off the lane to the Stable Cottages.

And the tree covered lane leads up to the stable block cottages.

Judy Astor started her business in 1992.  An early view shown above just as the gardens are growing in .

And how the stable block looks today.

A distorted, birds eye view of the U Shaped stables courtyard.  It must be difficult to get a photo of the entire courtyard cottages – as this is the only one I could find!!


As for the décor of the cottages,  the owner and decorator, Judy, says that 80s chintzes and frills were avoided as was 90s minimalism.  The objectives were color,  warmth and comfort - obtained by using rich textures, beautiful fabrics, antiques, and soft cushions & throws. 

Each cottage is completely different, each is uniquely decorated.  Fabrics are from Nina Campbell, Osborne & Little, Mulberry, and Colefax & Fowler, amongst others. 

Most cottages are painted in Farrow & Ball, while Colefax & Fowler and Nina Campbell provided the wallpapers. 

Much of the furniture is antique or vintage.  Special care was taken for softly lit lighting, which comes mostly from lamps.

All cottages except one have romantic fireplaces that are ready to be lit when guests arrive.


Judy Astor has had her own houses decorated by some of the English classics such as John Fowler, Melissa Wyndham and Robert Kime.  Her sister is interior designer Jocasta Innes, who also painted one of the cottages (above.)

Her other sister, Miranda Innes was the long-time Gardening Editor of Country Living Magazine which accounts for the wonderful landscape design that surrounds the cottages.

There are secret and private gardens all over the property.  Each cottage has its own outdoor area that is a private area.

The center of the cottages, Sandown, is located in the old carriage house.  Above it is the former hayloft, now called Cheltenham Cottage.  The former stables are at the left and right of the old carriage house.

I love this!!!  I found this old post card, showing the stable block as it was during its earliest days. You can see the old carriage doors.  And you can see the door in the hayloft,  today the Cheltenham Cottage.  At the front left and right are the apartments where the groom and cowman stayed. 

Notice the fireplaces were not in place and neither are the attic dormers. 

This view shows the back of the stable block with Sandown Cottage in the middle.  To the left and right of Sandown are two cottages carved out of the original stables.  You can see the dormer windows that were added on this side too – during the renovation by Judy.   Behind the stable block is this large yard used by guests to relax or play field games.

Sandown Cottage looks like a cozy English country house – just so nice!!

More of Sandown – the former carriage house.  These French doors overlook the back garden.

The bedroom.

And another view of the back of the center section of the cottages.  The Bruern Stable Cottages are kid friendly with special cottages to entertain them during the day.

Aintree Cottage is to the left of the center cottage …

and Newmarket, is to the right of the center cottage.

Newmarket is so pretty!!  Love this photograph!!

The dining room and kitchen.

Another view of the living area.

One of the bedrooms.

And another.

Another view of Sandown, the former carriage house in the center of the cottages.

Here is the back view of the center cottage, Sandown. Above is Cheltenham cottage in the old hayloft.

Darling bedroom in Cheltenham – the former hayloft.

To the left of the stables is the center cottage on the left wing – Saratoga.   Across the courtyard is the matching cottage, the Wychwood.

The Saratoga, seen above on the far left is two stories.  It’s a favorite honeymoon cottage as it is just one bedroom.  In the old days, this is where the cow was kept.

The Saratoga is a unique cottage with only one bedroom - which makes it perfect for newlyweds or those celebrating their anniversary.

The steps are romantic - but steep.  No elders, please!

Image may contain: kitchen and indoor

The kitchen was recently renovated with beautiful blue & white tiles.  Love the farm sink!

The sister cottage to Saratoga, Wychwood, is directly across the courtyard from Saratoga. 

The two cottages at the ends of the courtyard are mirror images of each other.  Here, on the left side is Epsom – a recently restored cottage:

Built for the stable groom - yellow and blue and seagrass!!

The dining area in Epsom – navy blues and white.

Love the beds under the eaves with blue and white stripes and red flowers!

Such cute fabrics in Epsom.

And cute wallpaper in this single bedroom.

Newly restored bathroom in Epsom is so pretty.

Each cottage has its own private outdoor space.   Here, a pergola is used to shade the terrace.

Across the courtyard is Epsom's mirror image cottage, Goodwood, at the end of the wing.

Goodwood.   These two mirror cottages once housed the stable boys and the cowman!

Goodwood has this charming yellow bedroom upstairs in the eaves.

Outside Goodwood and its neighbors is the wisteria walk with arches and arches of trained wisteria AND apple trees.

And seen here in full bloom.  Gorgeous!!   The Long Walk is 12' x 120' long.

Besides the 8 cottages in the old stable block, there are more cottages in two former outbuildings and in two houses.

One of those cottages is Shipton, once an old stone barn where the tractors were kept along with the electrical substation. 

Another is Cope, the tiny cottage, in the oldest of all the buildings.  It was once a mill for the monks – a tree was found growing out of it when it was renovated in 1999.   Later, the original mill wheel was found during the restoration – dating from medieval times.  

Cope is one of my favorite cottages.

Cope is really a home!  I love the library.

That ceiling. 

The bedroom in Cope is my favorite – it also has the high ceilings and beautiful wallpaper.

Another view of my fav bedroom!

There are two houses to let – the smaller one is Bookers…

The side terrace at Bookers.

The second and largest house is Weir House, which is one of the prettiest too.  It was photos of this house that piqued my interest in the estate!!!

The back of Weir House with its pergola and large patio with BBQ grill.

Those beams!  Those antique doors.  Love this so much.  This is a forever house.   If only…. 

Beautiful antique table.  Stone mantel.

So many houses today have faux beams.  But when you see these beams, it makes them look so fake.

Nothing beats reality as these beam prove. 

The view towards the kitchen.

Notice the two large tapestries flanking the antique doors.

OK – I think this is definitely the cottage I would choose to stay in!!!

Night view of the drawing room.

Limestone floors in the fabulous kitchen.

If you stay here you can cook or you can order up dinner from the chef and have it served in your cottage.  


The upstairs landing with its unique window.

The photo that caught my eye.  Love the tall four poster beds in twin sizes.  Very striking.

Another bedroom in Weir House.

And yet another.

Red toile and check, English classic.

Blue and white toile.  Love the two barn windows.

This is a great house to rent for family vacations.  But too big for travelers from the states.

There are several areas for children of all ages, from young ones to teenagers.

This spot is geared more for the teens.

Judy delayed putting in a swimming pool at Bruern Stable Cottages until the gardener passed away.  Doing so would require his beloved greenhouse to be demolished so she waited for the pool so as not to upset the long time gardener.

Besides the indoor pool, for the adults there is a spa and an exercise cottage and more.

While at the Bruern Stable Cottages, you can’t help but let your mind wonder across the country lane to the “big house” – the Bruern Abbey.

The Bruern Abbey is in red.  When it was last sold, the estate was 5 1/2 acres, mostly likely just a fraction of what it originally was.  It was built in the early 1700s by John Cope, on the foundations of the original abbey from medieval times.  The house, but not the façade, burned in the 1780s and it wasn’t until a 100 years later that it was rebuilt, with the 3 Victorian wings.

An old postcard shows Bruern Abbey rebuilt with the tall wings that created a square courtyard.   It looks so different today without the top floors of the wings.  How do you just slice off a floor or two? 

In 1882, an owner built the stable court across the lane which today make up the Bruern Stable Cottages (in blue and orange on the map.)

When Michael Astor bought the Abbey, he hired John Fowler, along with an architect who removed the top floors of the wings as seen in the photo above.  By adding dormer windows, the wings look more in style with the main house. 

When Michael passed away, Judy moved into the “Red Brick House” – the dowager house on the estate, or the ice house – according to Fowler.    While looking out over the lane at the stables, the idea for the Bruern Stable Cottages was born.

The old Abbey is reached through the gates on the gravel lane.  To the left is actually the back wing of the Abbey’s courtyard.

The back of the square courtyard that makes up the Abbey.

After Michael Astor passed away, Judy sold the Abbey and it passed through a few owners.  At one point it was even the prestigious Bruern Abbey Boarding School!

Most recently, it was sold to Michael Bishop, Baron Glendonbrook, and his partner who embarked on a large renovation of the abbey – inside and out.  They installed a beautiful cantilevered stone staircase, an underground parking garage beneath the former swimming pool, and 25 km of data cabling. 

New gates were designed and installed at the entrance to the abbey.

It took a crew of over 70 people to renovate the abbey.  Bishop made a video of the endeavor and he and his partner Martin Ritchie showed it at a party hosted at the abbey.  Bishop is a well known businessman, former owner of BMI, British Midline Airlines.

A very early postcard of the façade.  At the right you can see an orangery that is no longer on the estate.  And at the left, you can see part of the cottage Goodwood from the stable block that today makes up the Bruern Stable Cottages.

Past the gates, the drive continues along a line of trees.

BEFORE:  A wintery view of the line of trees.  Bishop installed a parking driveway at this side of the house – but here, before, there is just grass.

LATER:   Bishop added the driveway here that allows guests to enter the house at this side door.  Before, this was just a lawn.

Now at parties and events, people can park either here – or have the valet take their car to the underground garage.

AFTER:  Here is the new door and stone portico that was added to the side of the house.

AFTER:  A view from the front wall to the new car park.  I have to say,   the wings look so much better now that the top floor was removed by John Fowler.  I love the dormer windows!

AFTER:   The view of the opposite side of the house showing the lawn.  This side didn’t get much of a change.

A winter view of the front façade.

The front façade has not changed much since Michael and Judy Astor’s time.  The major change was in the landscaping.

AFTER:  A view of the front façade with the new landscaping.  So pretty!

BEFORE:   The square courtyard seen before the renovation.

AFTER:  Amazing!!!   Bishop turned a bland, empty courtyard into a visual feast with a reflecting pond and dancing water fountains.  All new plantings.

Notice the bronze statue at the top of the house.  Is it a sheep?  This area of the Cotswolds is known for its wool.

A night view of the newly landscaped courtyard.  Love!

Notice how the bronze sheep has its own spotlight.

AFTER:   Birds eye view of the new grand staircase.  Stone, cantilevered.

On the ground floor, white marble floor, stone steps, black iron railings.

Looking down, the staircase looks beautiful from this angle. 

Through the opening is the dining room.

BEFORE:  The grand hall was painted a red.

BEFORE:  The drawing room is off the main hall.  Beautiful molding.

A photo from the 1990s – a close up of the mantel.

AFTER:  The drawing room is now covered in caramel silk damask.   Through the door you can see the main hall is now minty green. 

In this view you can see that the fireplace was changed – both rooms have the same mantle now.

While, the mantel that was in the drawing room, was moved here.

BEFORE:  The kitchen and family room are on the ground floor.

AFTER:   The kitchen was redone with new cabinetry in duck egg blue.  The same footprint was kept but the doorway to the dining room was centered. 

The company that created the closet showed this photo online.

But this photo is the killer!!  That marble!!!

Everyone is using faux marble with faux veining these days.  I’ve seen the quartz and the veining makes it look so…well…faux.

I know marble isn’t easy to keep and it needs to be sealed every year, but nothing can top its beauty.

Which brings me to this lady:

Annabel Astor at her country manor, Ginge (named after a Ginger??) 

Astor sits in front of several portraits of herself.

A few years ago Vanity Fair did a long interview with Annabel HERE.

Annabel is closely connected to this story in a few ways.  Her mother was Michael Astor’s second wife!! 

Her husband, William, is the nephew of Michael Astor. 

So technically – Annabel married her stepfather’s nephew OR her step-first cousin.  Oh, and Annabel’s daughter is married to David Cameron, the former Prime Minister of England.

But what Annabel is most known for is not the Abbey.

Years ago while furnishing their new beach house in Florida  - Annabel was looking for painted furniture and was coming up empty handed.  She and two friends started the company OKA, then a catalogue company based out of England.  Today, they also have stores and OKA is very successful.  For years, OKA has been a favorite go to for me and I’ve ordered a few things that have been sent from England with zero problems.

Their catalogues used to be photographed in the three partners’ houses, but lately, not anymore.  Still I love seeing their unusual items and OKA is the perfect eye candy.

In honor of the U.S. declaring our independence from England all those years ago,

here’s a few of my favorite OKA items.  Large pieces of furniture like sofas, etc. can’t be shipped, but everything else can.   To order, hit on the word HERE: