In good times or bad, the Cotswolds is the bellwether of the country-house market the last area in England to slide into a recession, and the first to climb out of it. And it seems to be happening all over again. After one of the worst trading years in living memory in 2008, the tills are ringing again in the Cotswolds, especially for houses in the £500,000 to £2-million price bracket.
The outlook remains ‘problematic’ for properties in the £2m–£5m price range, and, so far this year, nothing has sold for more than £5m, as Edward Sugden of buying agents Property Vision points out. But that hasn’t stopped a handful of gutsy vendors from putting their fine Cotswold houses on the market, on the basis that confidence building lower down the food chain must eventually percolate through to the top.
The emergence of a two-tier marketplace is confirmed by James Mackenzie of Savills, whose six Cotswold offices notched up 50 deals in April at prices ranging from £600,000 to £2m. Most purchases were what he called ‘needs-must’ buyers families moving to the area for schools or jobs, many having already ‘done their time’ in rented accommodation. Still rooted to the ground, however, are the ‘aspirational’ buyers, who tend to dominate the market for houses in the £2m–£4m-plus price bracket. At the moment, only an exceptional property will tempt this group into the open, but Mr Mackenzie believes he has one in the shape of dramatic Cherington Hill, near Moreton-in-Marsh, lyrically described as ‘a romantic kingdom in the north Cotswolds’.
After five years of ‘abnormal’ supply levels, people need to readjust to a shrinking top end of the Cotswold marketplace, which is not necessarily a bad thing for vendors, as it keeps the spotlight on the few really good houses that are available, says Henry Holland-Hibbert of Strutt and Parker.
His firm’s Moreton-in-Marsh office (01608 650502), which sold eight houses for between £500,000 and £2m in April, moves to centre stage with the launch, at a guide price of £3.95m, of the enchanting, Grade II*-listed Tidmington House, on the banks of the Stour at Tidmington, on the northern edge of the Cotswolds. Set in 33 acres of parkland and mainly lawned gardens, which sweep down to the river, Tidmington House was originally Elizabethan, then extended and refronted in the Georgian period; beside it stands a large Victorian coach house, recently converted to a two- to three-bedroom cottage, with extensive stabling, garaging and stores.
The gracious 8,500sq ft main house has accommodation on three floors, including five reception rooms, an orangery, a study, a kitchen/living room, nine bedrooms and five bathrooms. Robert Pritchard, of Smiths Gore’s new Stow-on-the-Wold office, has also seen a ‘quantum leap’ in the number of new buyers coming into the £1m–£2m market since the start of the year. He points to the rapid sale at 10% more than the £1.4m guide price of Christen Mares at Willersey, near Broadway, a 1920s house with 14 acres and fine views. Following its launch in Country Life in early April, it sold within days to a retired businessman from Cheshire.
Smiths Gore (01451 832832) are also testing the bumpier waters at the upper end of the market with the launch of historic Melksham Court at Stinchombe, Gloucestershire, former home of the late Sir Keith Joseph, at a guide price of £3.5m. Built in about 1600, on the site of an earlier manor house dating from 1360, Melksham Court, listed Grade II, sits in 40 acres of sheltered gardens, grounds and paddocks, high on the Cotswold escarpment.
The captivating main house has three reception rooms, a billiard room, a kitchen/breakfast room, six bedrooms and four bathrooms. An intriguing range of outbuildings includes a half-timbered summer house, an early Victorian former mill house, an 18th-century tithe barn, a staff cottage, a coach house and an artist’s studio. Amenities include a swimming pool, a hard tennis court and substantial equestrian facilities with modern stabling for 14 horses.
For Atty Beor-Roberts of Knight Frank in Cirencester (01285 659771), 2008 was a nightmare year, and he’s much relieved to see the middle market moving again, despite an overall drop in values of 25%. Having sold eight houses in April, with prices ranging from £440,000 to £2.5m, he is raising the bar with the launch of several cracking Cotswold properties in the £4m–£5m price bracket.
The first is imposing Kemble House at Kemble, Gloucestershire, a statuesque, Grade II-listed former manor house build in the late 1600s, and altered and extended in the mid 19th century for sale at a guide price of £4m. The substantial stone house stands in eight acres on the edge of this popular commuter village, and has reception and staircase halls, three main reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, a playroom, a cinema, eight bedrooms and five bathrooms, plus a three-bedroom staff flat and a two-bedroom cottage. Exquisite grounds include walled gardens with a swimming pool and tennis court, stabling and two paddocks.
Gloucestershire is horse country par excellence, and the sale of Dowman’s and Upper Coberley Farms at Coberly near Cheltenham through Knight Frank and Moore Allen & Innocent (01285 648100) at a guide price of £5.1m for the whole signals the end of an era in the annals of the Cotswold Hunt. For years the home of former master Tim Unwin, who is now retiring from farming, the 517-acre mixed sporting and arable farm sits in a classic Cotswold landscape of rolling hills and deep valleys.
At its heart is a traditional Cotswold stone farmstead, comprising Dowman’s Farmhouse , a charming six-bedroom farmhouse, a pair of cottages, a stable barn, and a range of modern and traditional farm buildings.