In the first major estate sale of the year, the historic, 2,003-acre Linkenholt estate near Andover, Hampshire, is officially launched on the market in today’s COUNTRY LIFE, at a guide price of £23 million–£25 million through Jackson-Stops & Staff (020–7664 6646).

The ring-fenced farming and sporting estate, in ancient landscape between Andover and Newbury in the North Wessex Downs AONB, comprises a manor house, 1,542 acres of arable and grassland, 425 acres of woodland and the entire village of Linkenholt. Bought in 1964 by the late Herbert Blagrave, the estate is being sold as a whole on behalf of the Herbert and Peter Blagrave Charitable Trust, set up by Mr Blagrave in 1978 for the benefit of the Injured Jockeys Fund and several children’s charities.

The history of the Manor of Linkenholt traces back beyond Domesday, and with the exception of the odd parcel of outlying land bought or sold since then, little has changed within its boundaries in more than 1,000 years. From the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042–66) until after the Dissolution in the mid-1500s, the Manor of Linkenholt was granted by successive monarchs to the abbot and convent of St Peter, Gloucester.

Thereafter, it changed hands several times, before being bought by Emanuel Badd for £2,000 in 1629. In 1680, Robert Styles, a wealthy merchant from Amsterdam, bought it for £12,000; it was to remain in the hands of his family until the early 1800s. Linkenholt was sold three times in the Victorian era, before being bought in the 1920s by Roland Dudley, an engineer and agricultural innovator, said to have been the first man in England to use a combine-harvester. A keen sportsman, he worked tirelessly to improve the estate shoot, which still counts among the finest high-bird pheasant and partridge shoots in the south of England.

In 1964, Dudley sold the estate at auction for £540,000; shortly afterwards, it passed into the hands of Herbert Blagrave, a gentleman and sportsman of the old school, who played cricket for Gloucestershire, trained 350 winners in a 50-year career as a racehorse trainer, and was a director of Southampton football club. He never lived at Linkenholt, but focused on the estate’s sporting and farming development, with special emphasis on the conservation of its historic landscape and the preservation of its unique ‘sense of remoteness and tranquillity’. A landscape that still retains evidence of the typical small regular field systems of the 17th and 18th centuries, and later 19th-century parliamentary enclosures, although some larger fields were created in the last century.

With its manor house, 12th-century church, cricket-ground, smithy, village shop and diverse mix of 21 cottages and houses, Linkenholt village, at the heart of the estate, could not be more quintessentially English. The houses, which have all been conscientiously maintained or improved by the charitable trust, are let on a variety of shorthold or agricultural tenancies, and currently yield an income of more than £200,000 a year. The exception is the Edwardian manor house, which sits within its own grounds at the western end of the village and is being offered with vacant possession from October this year.

The 1964 auction details describe the Manor as a ‘most comfortable and well appointed, medium-sized manor house, occupying an almost unrivalled position, some 650ft above sea-level, with the main rooms facing south-east or south-west, giving views across the Bourne Valley broken by magnificent woods’. Forty-five years on, little has changed. The elegant three-storey house, which is unlisted, has 8,687sq ft of accommodation, including four main reception rooms, master and guest suites, six more bedrooms and two more bathrooms. To the north of the house is a modern timber-framed stable yard with a manège and paddocks nearby.

Other notable village houses include the thatched and colour-washed Rockmoor, the five-bedroom former estate-manager’s house, which has been let until December 2013. The Grade II-listed, brick-and-flint Old School House (let until December 2010) was built in 1871 and converted to a three-bedroom house three years ago.

The 2,673sq ft, Arts-and-Crafts-style Old Rectory, listed Grade II (let until May 2013) was built in about 1870 and has three reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room and five bedrooms. The Clock Tower (let until December 2013) is a skilful recent conversion of the former coach house and stables into a delightful, 3,012sq ft, four-bedroom house with a pretty garden and ample parking. Finally, the early-19th-century Jesse Dewey  Cottage is one of several enchanting thatched cottages: built of flint with brick bands, the 1,388sq ft house has two reception rooms, four bedrooms and a bathroom, and is let until December 31, 2010.

Meanwhile, central to life in the village is the cricket pavilion, which doubles up as the village hall and shoot headquarters. Historically, the owners of the Linkenholt estate have been patrons and president of the cricket club, a tradition maintained by the charitable trustees for the past 30 years.  Another slice of Linkenholt’s £344,000 annual income comes from the £97,936 rental paid by Dockray Farming for the tenancy (until 2012) of the estate’s 1,500-plus acres of undulating arable and grassland, which rise from about 400ft above sea-level to the south of the village to about 875ft at its highest point in the north.

A further £40,000 a year comes from the shooting rights to the famous Linkenholt shoot, currently leased to a private syndicate until February 2013.

But there’s much more to Linkenholt than the mere generation of investment income. This magical place isn’t just a haven of peace and tranquillity for the estate’s residents or the children, able-bodied or disabled, who are encouraged to visit each year. ‘With its undulating, unspoilt countryside, varied landscape and panoramic views of three counties, Linkenholt is an artist’s paradise,’ enthuses local resident Mercedes Leonard, an accomplished painter and keen supporter of the Andover Arts Society. However, sentiment is unlikely to play much of a part in an eventual sale.

So who will be the next owner of Linkenholt, and what will that mean for the future of this unique estate? ‘It’s too early to say, but given that Linkenholt doesn’t have a truly grand house and that the land, shooting and properties are currently let, the next purchaser is more likely to be a long-term investor than a lifestyle buyer,’ suggests Edward Sugden of buying agents Property Vision. And farm expert David Cross of Savills in Salisbury comments:

‘For a serious farmland investor, the chance to own an estate with 2,000 acres of ring fenced, south-facing land in a glorious part of Hampshire probably outweighs the absence of a trophy house, or a state-of-the-art kitchen. But whatever the outcome, the sale of Linkenholt will certainly provide this year’s first real test of the market for large country estates.’