Above the seafront at St Leonards-on-Sea stands an imposing Gothic building, complete with castle-like battlements, a tower topped with four pointed finials and clock faces on all sides.
Once a clock tower — the town’s official timepiece, no less— this impressive, Grade II-listed structure is now a family home. And, after 24 years, it is on the market for £2.5 million.
Known as The Clock House, the property’s current owners first came across it in the early nineties while on a weekend break in Eastbourne.
“It was a love story,” says Kim Denman, a fashion designer, who had seen the house for sale while driving — although back then she had thought it a church. She suggested to her husband Paul, a musician and bass guitarist for Sade, that they have a look.
“It was a dump,” says Paul. “There was not anything in this house apart from the outside of it.”
“Except for the magic that you felt when you walked in,” says Kim. “A friend came in and as she walked through the door she said: ‘Oh Kim, you lived here in a past life.’ When I pulled up, I did get tears in my eyes.”
Kim and Paul felt such a strong connection to the house that they put in an offer at 11am the next morning — only to find that it had sold two hours earlier. They “tried everything” to buy it, but to no avail. It sold to another buyer.
In 1993, the couple and their two children moved from their home in Islington to LA — but The Clock House was not forgotten. Kim took a photo with her, putting it on her bathroom mirror and looking at it while she brushed her teeth.
A few years later, Kim, Paul and their two children came back to the UK to see family, and decided to re-visit the house. “We parked outside the house and Kim started crying,” says Paul. “So I got a pen and a bit of paper and I wrote down: ‘We’re the people that tried to buy the house when you bought it. If you ever want to sell it, call us.’ A couple of years later, they did.”
Kim and Paul finally bought The Clock House in 1997 — but they had their work cut out.
Built in 1830 — one of the first buildings in the Victorian seaside resort of Burtons’ St Leonards— the property was designed by architect James Burton and his son Decimus, famous for Kew Gardens’ Glass House, Hyde Park’s entrance (and Wellington Arch), and the terraces around Regent’s Park, amongst other works. Its four clocks were built by Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy, clockmaker to King George III.
It was later enlarged and turned into an ecclesiastic Gothic revival-style villa, for use as a family home.
In 1976, Maria LeBrock, mother of the American actress and model, Kelly LeBrock, had spearheaded the building’s restoration. But 21 years later, the house was bare. There were polystyrene tiles on the ceiling. It looked like it had been lived in by several individual people. The carpet smelled. “It was just a wall — and the walls weren’t very good either,” says Paul.
The couple restored everything: rearranging the house; repairing the tower’s four clocks, and even having it spiritually healed. “It was a bit ghosty. We had to get a lady from Sevenoaks to send these children on. They’ve gone now,” says Kim.
Paul adds: “It was a labour of love…I’d like to say that it’s almost finished, nearly 30 years later.”
On the ground floor are three cellar rooms, along with one of the two entrances, kitchen, dining room and one bedroom. There are two further bedrooms on the floor above, whilst the second floor is occupied entirely by the master bedroom suite, with its own sitting room and boudoir-style ensuite. There is also an entrance here, and a lobby with a gilded nave-like ceiling.
Inspired by Jean Cocteau’s 1946 La Belle et la Bête, Kim and Paul describe their interiors as “Irish Catholic meets Hammer horror”.
There are ornate Gothic features in almost every room: tall, arched windows in the dining room; high ceilings with moulded cornices; a cast-iron feature fireplace and tiled hearth in the master ensuite.
The walls are lined with colourful Shand Kydd wallpapers — the green and gold bathroom being Kim’s favourite— as well as embossed Lincrusta panelling. The windows are adorned with rich draperies, while there is a taxidermy stag’s head in the dining room — one of the few remaining pieces of their collection.
Then there are the statues. A life-size Our Lady of Lourdes in the bathroom; two large pilaster sculptures flanking the tower entrance in the master bedroom; two in the hallway so heavy that it was too difficult to put them anywhere else. And this is not all of them. “We took a lot out,” says Paul. “We hired a lock-up and thinned it all out. It looked a bit crowded.”
“It’s a very unique property,” says Kim. “I still put the trash out and someone will say to me: ‘Do you live here? Is this a house?’ It’s unusual.”
Despite owning the house for 24 years, the novelty of calling it home has not worn off. “The view [down to the sea] from the bedroom window is amazing. I wake up every morning and go: ‘Oh my god’,” says Kim.
Now, however, Kim and Paul are selling The Clock House to renovate another property in Hastings. In their 60s, they joke that they’re wary of all those stairs — but their work on the house is also done. “I want a new adventure,” says Kim. Paul adds: “I think we’ve got one more in us.”
“Letting go of this one is difficult,” says Kim. “I’ll miss the magic most. I try not to go in the garden sometimes because I think: oh my god, I can’t sell it. I get cold feet.”
Whether the house becomes a boutique hotel or another family home, they have one hope for it. “I just want someone to love it as much as we do,” says Paul. “It’s a specialist buy…but if you took the leap and you lived here, my god would you love it.”
The Clock House is for sale with Knight Knoxley for £2.5million.