An 18th-century house which sits at the heart of Hatfield Forest Nature Reserve has returned to its former glory following a five-month restoration project.

Shell House, which overlooks the lake at the Takeley National Trust site, is thought to be designed by famous gardener and landscape architect Lancelot 'Capability' Brown. 

The building was constructed by the Houblon family in around 1750, and was situated approximately two kilometres from the main house, Hallingbury Place, which was demolished in 1926.

Shell House was designed to be an extension of their grand home, where they could ride out and enjoy picnics and entertain by the lake.

Dunmow Broadcast: The Shell House ready to reopenThe Shell House ready to reopen (Image: Kimberly Goodall)

The interior was decorated by Jacob Houblon's 17-year-old daughter Laetitia. Some of the original shells in the building have been identified as coming from the West Indian, West African and Indo Pacific trade, in which the family was involved.

Exotic shells and a rare fossil outside, above the door, were also used in the decoration, but the majority of the decorations appear to be locally sourced - including estuarine shells, flint, glass and foundry slag.

The restoration was made possible thanks to a generous gift left in a will, and was carried out by Cliveden Conservation.

Repairs were made to the timber structure, laths and the lime render, which involved highly skilled and intricate work.

Knapped flint, blue glass slag and a variety of exotic and native shells have been fixed to the outer walls using traditional techniques and original materials where possible, and following the original patterns.

Hatfield Forest Property Operations Manager James Rowland said: “Since 1759, the Shell House has been at the heart of Hatfield Forest.

Following the restoration of the building's interior, a deep conservation clean is being carried out.

"Over the years, the unique exterior of this special building gradually deteriorated and this year, we had the pleasure of teaming up with Cliveden Conservation to carry out its vital restoration.  


"Reaching its completion in summer, it’s fitting that this newly restored, beautiful building looks out onto a scene of visitors enjoying their day in the summer sunshine in the Forest, which echos why the Shell House was first commissioned by the Houblon family in the 18th century.

"It’s brilliant to see this truly special building looking its best once more, ensuring it will continue to intrigue and delight for generations to come."   

Hatfield Forest is the most complete surviving example of a medieval royal hunting forest, and contains more than 1,000 acres of ancient coppices and wood pasture, demonstrating how the countryside was shaped in the years following the Norman Conquest. 

Sold by the Houblon family at auction in 1923, the site was originally bought by a Yorkshire timber merchant, but later purchased by Edward North Buxton, who presented it to the National Trust in 1924.

Next year marks the 100th anniversary of Hatfield Forest being cared for by the National Trust, with plans under way to mark this historic occasion. 

The restored Shell House is expected to play a part in the celebrations.