“Welcome to Foyle’s Country!” declare the friendly locals. Their locale is Hastings’ answer to Bristol’s Clifton or Dublin’s Killiney. It’s a ravishingly unrepentant patchwork quilt of cottages and gardens and love knitted across the lower – and occasionally upper – gradients of the hills that bow down to England’s southeast coast. Interspersed with some rather grand Nash-sur-Mer terraces. “You have to photograph St Just!” they cry. “That’s Detective Chief Inspector Foyle’s house although the interiors were filmed elsewhere.” A faded sign on the flank wall next to the rather smart three storey plus multi bowed Regency St Just (who knew an interwar policeman’s salary was so generous?) reads: ‘T Noalles. Plumber, Painter and Glazier. Writing, Graining and Gilding. Estimates Given.’ Mr Foyle’s accent is certainly more plummy than plumber.
Back in the days when Mountainstown was in the hands of Johnny and Diana Pollock, over supper in the kitchen Diana had said, “It wasn’t easy auctioning many of the contents of the house. But you can always buy back furniture and paintings in the future. Once you sell land it’s – well it’s gone. We kept the pieces with the closest links to the house.” Lot 1122: ‘A pair of composition urns, the vase shaped bodies with gadrooned socles and spreading fluted bases, on square plinths, £5 to £10.’ Lot 237: ‘An equestrian portrait of Mr Dixon, Master of the Meath Hounds, on his chestnut hunter with eight couples of hounds at heel, by Thomas Bretland, £20,000 to £30,000.’
Together the couple sunk the funds raised from Christie’s 1988 auction into restoring the house.They also let out Mountainstown as a film location. “The film September was set here,” she had recalled. “The house was filled with stars – among them Jacqueline Bisset, Virginia McKenna, Edward Fox and Michael York.” A generation and great recession later, one quarter of a millennium of Pollock ownership is coming to an end. Mountainstown was passed down to Arthur Pollock, Johnny and Diana’s elder son, in 2004. Arthur moved in with his wife Atalanta and their three children. They continued the restoration work, installing a new kitchen to the former billiard room wing and painting the staircase hall fawn. But now Mountainstown is for sale through Savills for almost £3 million.
Atty explains, “It was a huge decision and not one that came easily. But we don’t want the children to struggle to keep it, y’know. We want it to be enjoyed to the full by a new family. Somebody who would use all this amazing pasture – and permanent pasture, 120 acres of it. Someone who has an interest in horses. Maybe someone who likes hunting. I mean there are copious stables, a lovely yard.” She knows the history well: “Samuel Gibbons who built the house, after he died an impression was taken of his face and it was embossed onto the ceiling in the hall.” As for the wild boar image which appears throughout the interior, Atty comments, “The story is and it may – it may well be true, that the King of France was being charged by a wild boar that they were hunting and Lieutenant Pollock killed it with an arrow. So he was given a crest – the family crest. And the house has so much personality cause you see all over the house this motif of a wild boar recurring.”
Atalanta Pollock reminisces, “We’ve had really memorable parties here. We filled the house with people and friends. We’ve had lots of people to stay the night which makes for much better parties as we all know. And it’s been a fun place to live in, yeah. It’s been a lot of work but it’s been a lot of fun as well.” Hopefully Mountainstown will remain a private house whoever buys it. Surely Ireland has reached country house hotel saturation? That said, one country house hotel has never looked better. After languishing on the property market for several years, Castlebellingham finally sold for £1.25 million, a quarter of its 2008 asking price. The Corscadden family have since spent over £3 million on a convincing restoration.