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One of the finest houses in Shropshire could be reborn as a private home for almost the first time in a century,

Hawkstone Hall, set in rolling north Shropshire countryside, has a colourful past as the home of the Hill family but for the last 85 years has been used as a seminary and more recently a retreat centre.

But now the Roman Catholic Redemptorists Congregation of priests is leaving and the Hawkstone Hall estate will find only its fourth new owner for more than 550 years.

The Redemptorists have been restructuring their nine communities for the past five years and have made the decision to sell Hawkstone Hall.

Father Maurice O'Mahony, one of 25 staff at Hawkstone, will be saying goodbye to his home of 12 and half years.

Just leaving is no easy feat – it means packing away more than 80 rooms – and a Romanesque chapel.

He says: "People have asked me if I will miss it. I say that it is a bit like a corner shop in that you live at your workplace but of course I will be very sad to go.

"It is a stunning house in a wonderful location. It is not like some of the huge Grade I listed properties in that it is not too big. It would make a manageable and wonderful family home.

"It is a very private place – we are a mile off the main road – and also very peaceful.

"Men and women of great integrity and goodness have come here from across the world. They have left their footprint on this house - a rare quality in any property

"Shropshire is a lovely county. We look out over the Welsh hills and every day the view is different because of the changing skies and seasons. You get the most amazing sunsets."

While the estate can be traced back to the Domesday Book, the current Hall was built in the early 1700s by which time the Hill family had been in occupation for 150 years.

During the Hill's ownership it became a leading national attraction thanks in the main to the creation of The Follies, a series of caves, ravines, tunnels and follies which still pulls in thousands of visitors a year, but is owned by the neighbouring hotel and golf course.

One visitor was Samuel Johnson in 1774. Johnson, described as "arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history", was certainly impressed and said of Hawkstone: "The walker congratulates his own arrival at the place, and is grieve to think that he must ever leave it."

Hawkstone was developed by several generations before the family – which had included Rowland who was Wellington's number two at Waterloo – went bankrupt and was forced to sell to Liberal politician George Whitely.

Whitely, who became Lord Marchamley, undertook considerable renovation works, but on his death it was purchased by Sir William Creswell Gray.

The current incumbents bought the hall in 1926 and added a Romanesque chapel designed by the renowned Birmingham architect Bernard Cox.

But now it is on the market and expected to attract international attention.

The main hall is built over three floors and features several outstanding reception rooms, including a magnificent ballroom and Venetian saloon.

The ballroom was added by architect Lewis Wyatt in the mid-19th Century and is currently used as a grand drawing room. The saloon contains many inset wall paintings and both rooms feature ornate open fireplaces.

The north wing contains two offices and a grand library as well as a gymnasium in the basement, while the south wing contains the Winter Garden room, an academy, and 14 bedrooms – some with en-suite rooms.

The Hall is set in seven acres of beautifully landscaped gardens, while the estate runs to 88 acres and includes a pair of semi-detached cottages.

Nigel Grugeon, of selling agents Reeves & Partners, believes restoring the Hall to a private residence would create a home of national renown.

"Hawkstone is simply stunning. It is a wonderful, very stylish building in a beautiful setting.

"During the ownership of the Hills, it became a private house with a national reputation and is known internationally because of its most recent use.

"Of course, after more than eight decades of occupation by the Congregation, there is conversion work to be done, but what a project.

"The current owners added an accommodation block in the 1960s and I am sure that any purchaser wishing to remove it would be pushing on an open door with conservationists.

"It is rare to deal with a property which has had so few owners down the centuries and it does bring us a sense of responsibility."

Hawkstone Hall is being marketing by Reeves & Partners (01926 427100) and Barbers (01948 667272) and has a guide price of £5 million.

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