Despite lashings of insecurity, both political and economic, the prime country-house market still managed to have a year to remember, says Penny Churchill.
Like a well-trained gundog emerging from water, the country-house market shook itself down in late summer and early autumn before getting back to business and ending the year in a flurry of high-profile sales. Overseas buyers, returning expats and buyers looking to work either full- or part-time from the countryside all played a role in maintaining the market for landmark properties in 2022.
The cathedral city of Guildford and its surrounding towns and villages within the Surrey Hills AONB have long been an early port of call for London buyers in search of a country retreat. After a month of hectic trading that saw every house sold in Guildford fetch more than the asking price, Tim Harriss of Knight Frank launched idyllic, Grade II-listed The Old Rectory at Hascombe, eight miles from Guildford, onto the market on March 29, with a guide price of £8.5 million.
The Old Rectory near Guildford.
The elegant Georgian house, set in 20 acres of gardens, paddocks and woodland in the heart of the AONB, was sold by mid May to an English family looking to trade up in this highly sought-after area.
One of the highlights of Mr Harriss’s year was the July launch, at a guide price of £5.25m, of Grade I-listed Munstead Wood at Busbridge, near Godalming, a classic, ‘Surrey-style’ Arts-and-Crafts house built by a young Edwin Lutyens for garden designer Gertrude Jekyll in 1896–97.
It was the first of more than 100 collaborations between the pair that have graced the pages of Country Life since the magazine’s founder, Edward Hudson, visited Munstead Wood in 1899. The sale of this landmark Lutyens house evoked a ‘phenomenal’ response among lovers of the Arts-and-Crafts style from around the world and a deal is said to be on the cards within a matter of days.
It’s been a long and winding road since the dark days of lockdown in January 2021, when Netflix screened The Dig. The film, starring Ralph Fiennes, is a haunting dramatisation of the excavation, in 1939, of an Anglo-Saxon treasure ship buried in the grounds of the Sutton Hoo estate in Suffolk. However, for many viewers, the real star of the show was the magnificently moody Norney Grange at Shackleford, near Godalming, which doubled for Sutton Hoo House in the film.
By the time the film appeared, the vintage Arts-and-Crafts house built by Charles Voysey in 1897 was on the market for the first time in 70 years, at a guide price of £8m, through Savills country department. As in the case of Munstead Wood, Norney Grange attracted worldwide interest and was eventually sold to buyers from New Zealand in April this year.
For Phillippa Dalby-Welsh of Savills, the South Downs National Park was one of the country’s busiest hotspots in 2022. She cites the example of Georgian, Grade II-listed Kent House at East Harting, West Sussex, four miles south of Petersfield, Hampshire, with trains to London.
This charming, red-brick, five-bedroom family house set in 12 acres of gardens and grounds in the heart of the national park was a rare gem that she ‘could have sold six times over’. On the market for the first time since 1937, Kent House was launched in mid May with a guide price of £4.95m; a deal was done and dusted by August.
Over in the garden of England, proximity to the City, good schools and fast train services always make Kent a key contender for buyers looking for fine country houses in scenic locations and, according to Will Peppitt of Savills, ‘with quality stock in short supply in 2022, when a great house came to the market there was real competition’.
That house was the restored Grade I-listed Milgate House at Bearsted, near Maidstone, which boasts 700 years of history and glorious ornate interiors. It re-launched in the spring after a brief spell on the market the previous November, with a £4.5m guide price through Savills and Strutt & Parker. Contracts were exchanged in September. ‘Although not the dearest house by far, this was my favourite sale of the year. Not only was it the most beautiful house sold in the South-East in my opinion, it also had fabulous interiors that accounted for its Grade I listing. A lucky American couple are the new custodians,’ adds Mr Peppitt.
In the heavyweight division, Hampshire led the open-market field with the launch in February — at a guide price of £17.5m through Knight Frank — of historic, Grade II*-listed Wherwell Priory near Stockbridge, a grand country house set in 110 acres of wonderful gardens and parkland on its own private island, bounded by the River Test and its carriers.
Last sold in 1990, the estate comprised an 11-bedroom main house with a staff flat, granny annexe and guest house (24,000sq ft of living space in all), plus outbuildings, offices, garaging and extensive equestrian facilities. But the magnet that brought eager buyers flying in from abroad was the fisherman’s ‘holy grail’ — more than 2,500 yards of fishing on the River Test, reveals selling agent Rupert Sweeting, whose Christmas came early when a sale was signed off on December 12.
Lindsay Cuthill of Savills riposted with the sale of the expertly remodelled Baughurst House, a free-flowing, Grade II-listed country house set in 117 acres of pasture, parkland and woodland on the edge of the North Wessex Downs AONB, three miles from Kingsclere and 8½ miles from the commuter hub of Basingstoke. Launched on the market at a guide price of £15m in October 2021, it saw a deal done in September this year.
Meanwhile, his colleague, Ed Sugden, whose sphere of operations covers Hampshire, Oxfordshire and West Berkshire, is ‘walking on air’ after a successful campaign in 2022.
Notable sales include that of Georgian, Grade II*-listed Kilmeston Manor near Alresford, Hampshire, which launched in June with a £12m guide and saw contracts exchanged in September; the beautifully renovated, Grade II*-listed Wick Hall, near Radley, Oxfordshire, launched in May 2021 at £10m, with contracts exchanged in February this year; historic, Grade I-listed Wytham Abbey on the banks of the Thames, three miles north of Oxford, which launched at £15m in September 2021, with contracts also exchanged in February; and, jointly with Knight Frank, that of idyllic Eynsham Mill at Eynsham, near Witney, Oxfordshire, which sits in 92 acres of magical gardens, lakes, woods and parkland and saw contracts exchanged in November at a guide price of £6.5m.
Eynsham Mill, Oxfordshire.
With classic country houses in the Cotswolds generally in short supply, the smart London money continued to target the exclusive ‘golden corridor’ between Daylesford, near Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire, and Soho Farmhouse at Great Tew, near Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire.
Bruce Tolmie-Thomson of Knight Frank highlighted the growing popularity of new-build country houses with the sale, in April, at £6.5m, of pristine Oddington Lodge at Lower Oddington in the lovely Evenlode Valley, one mile from the Daylesford farm shop, and 14 miles from Soho Farmhouse.
The imposing Cotswold-stone house, set in more than six acres of landscaped gardens and grounds, was renovated throughout by Symm of Oxford on behalf of the vendors, who bought it as a weekend retreat in 2016 and have now moved to a larger house in the area.
The fertile Vale of Taunton Deane, bounded by Somerset’s three hill ranges, the Brendons in the west, the Quantocks in the east and the Blackdowns in the south, is an area of rich soil and plentiful water that provided a princely income for powerful manorial landowners, among them the bishops of Winchester. Quieter and less expensive than the Cotswolds, the area is a happy hunting ground for London buyers heading west in search of the good life.
Here, in 2022, Brian Bishop of Jackson-Stops in Taunton sold two charming manorial houses within easy reach of Taunton and its many excellent schools. The first was Grade II-listed Charlton Manor at Creech St Michael, five miles east of Taunton, a fine, seven-bedroom Georgian manor house set in four acres of landscaped gardens, which launched in late June at a guide price of £2.75m and sold within weeks to a successful local businessman with a young family.
The second was Grade II-listed Manor Farm at Thornfalcon, five miles east of Taunton, a quirky, 18th-century farmhouse with 30 acres on the edge of the Somerset Levels. Launched in May at a guide price of ‘excess £3m’, it was bought by a young couple coming out of London.
Manor Farm, Thornfalcon.
Further west, joint agents Knight Frank and Savills set the scene for a sunny year in Devon with the sale of the spectacular White Cliff, an impeccably renovated Arts-and-Crafts house built in 1897 by the architect and artist David Carr on a wooded clifftop site overlooking Beer village with unbroken views across Lyme Bay.
Originally known as Cliffe House, it was bought by Leopold Greville, 5th Earl of Warwick, who died there in 1924. Launched in Country Life on Valentine’s Day, 2022, it was sold in late March for close to its £4.95m guide price.
Thereafter, with little new stock emerging to whet buyers’ appetites, some of the frenzy went out of the market in Devon, says Ed Clarkson of buying agents Property Vision, who nevertheless has a waiting list of restless clients who dream of moving there.
Meanwhile, Oliver Custance Baker of Strutt & Parker in Exeter, having had his shelves emptied of stock in 2021, was happy to see elegant, Grade II*-listed Plymtree Manor find a buyer in 2022 at a guide price of ‘excess £2.5m’. The imposing William-and-Mary house set in 8½ acres near Cullompton, was launched in September last year.
Another sale that cheered the cockles was that of the intriguingly named Two if By Sea, a striking contemporary waterfront house at Mevagissey on Cornwall’s Roseland Heritage Coast AONB, which stands on a two-acre site with its own foreshore, panoramic sea views and planning consent for a further four-bedroom house. Advertised in Country Life on February 9, 2022 with an asking price of ‘offers in excess of £2.95m’, it later sold to a buyer who had seen it in the magazine.
Two If By Sea.
Finally, and with exquisite timing, Strutt & Parker closed their 2022 campaign in the West Country with a last-gasp sale in Devon on the run-up to Christmas: the property in question was Grade II-listed Hamlyn House near Crediton in mid Devon.
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