A fascinating ruined estate in Cattistock has been the subject of numerous YouTube ‘explorer’ videos.
Thousands of people have viewed footage of Cattistock Lodge – a once grand estate which had numerous buildings and fine gardens, set on the edge of the village.
Now boarded up, it still attracts huge interest from viewers from around the world, gripped by the romance and tragedy of a once stunning property falling down, with ivy growing through it and a rusting Jag in what remains of the garage.
Many people have tried to get to the bottom of why Cattistock Lodge was allowed to rot.
The house was lived in until at least 2011, when it was already in a state of advanced rot. Some say the most recent inhabitant, Margetta ‘Peggy’ Soulsby lived there till she died in 2016, however it is thought she spent her last five years living with a friend in Kent. Certainly the house was not safe for anyone, let alone a woman in her 90s.
Since her death, explorers have been in and out and one has even gone through paperwork left there, and called people in a bid to find out about its history.
It’s curious Cattistock Lodge has been left for so long, and that’s one facet of the story which interests people.
However there have been attempts to do something with the site.
Planning permission was applied for as recently as 2021, for the ‘conversion of dilapidated residential dwelling and outbuildings into 7no. dwellings, with the erection of 3no. mews style dwellings.’ However planning officer Tim Marsh turned it down, on several grounds.
A previous application to build on the site, made in 2019, was withdrawn.
There’s no doubt the site would make a lovely setting for new homes, nestled in the Conservation Area. It was once home to first class cricketer and archer Henry Hamilton Palairet, who lived there with his wife and five children until 1923.
The latest inhabitants, the Soulsbys, arrived in 1959 – the house had been up for sale as four flats in 1957.
What fascinates most people is the sheer amount of hoarded items left behind from the Soulsbys’ tenure – paperwork from as long ago as the 1930s, newspapers from the 60s, piles of paperwork from Peggy’s father Percy’s travel company the Westminster Touring Association, which he founded in 1947.
Percy and his wife Margette lived there from 1959. They had three children – Peggy, Douglas and Sheila.
Percy is said to have been knocked for six by the death of Douglas in 1972, aged 43, and his health deteriorated quickly. Margette’s death in 1976 was a further blow and he died in 1980, aged 76.
Peggy stayed on the estate, which once boasted seven gardeners and a gardener’s cottage.
In 1985 there was a planning application to convert the house, staff cottage and outbuildings to six houses and one bungalow and modify vehicular and pedestrian access, but that was refused and somehow it seems, Peggy gave up trying.
A hoarder, she is thought to have refused all help offered to her to tidy up and keep the estate from ruin. The buildings gradually became more and more unstable until walls started to fall down, roofs tumbled to the ground and floors fell in.
From the videos online you can see foolhardy souls exploring the numerous rooms, in which vintage and antique furniture and fittings can be seen amid piles of hoarded items.
You cannot imagine how anyone could have lived there.
The house is frozen in time at Christmas, with lights wound round a balustrade. Remnants of a large greenhouse are still attached to the side of the house and a log burner, which would once have heated it to grow all sorts, still sits rusting away.
It seems such a shame something has not been made of the site – indeed, it may have been if the applicant had engaged with planners sooner in the process then permission could have been forthcoming. It is not a listed building, which widens the scope for development.
However case officer Tim Marsh had to reluctantly concede that investigations of the site’s ecology had not been carried out.
He said: “In the absence of the requisite ecology surveys it is not possible to establish whether the proposals would result in unacceptable harm to biodiversity including European Protected Species.”
A tree plan was also incomplete, he said, and there was no provision for affordable housing, or financial contribution in lieu of affordable homes.
He said if the applicant had used their pre-application advice service and their plans did not fit the development plan.
He added: “The applicant was offered the opportunity to submit amended plans to overcome concerns identified by the case officer but chose not to do so.”
The council’s conservation officer backed the plans, saying redevelopment of the site would benefit the Conservation Area, however plans should respect the original design.
They said: “Great weight should be given to the conservation of designated and
undesignated heritage assets, as is the case here, in any planning balance. As such, subject to the external reconstruction and detailing of the conversions being conditioned to ensure the works respect this undesignated heritage asset, full officer support is forthcoming.”
Cattistock Parish Council wanted the ancient trees preserved and said: “The garden was originally planned as an arboretum and laid out in the manner of Gertrude Jekyll as was the fashion then. I would like particular care to be taken of the
ancient holm oak which forms a portal to the village from the east.”
Frome Valley Parish Council had no objection to the redevelopment of the main house but objected to the conversion of the outbuildings on grounds of density and potential for overlooking.
The council is evidently keen to support some redevelopment at the site, however no new applications have been forthcoming since the latest plan was rejected last year.
It remains to be seen if Cattistock Lodge, now hidden from the road by boards, will ever emerge again or if it will be allowed to continue to dissolve into the earth.