The great thing about the country-house market in Northumberland is the permanent shortage of supply, says James Abbott of Smiths Gore, who so far this year has seen little sign of prices falling, although they haven’t risen either. It’s not unheard of for a local buyer to wait 10 years or more for a particular house to come up for sale, and then move ,in with a swift cash offer.
The vendors of the few really good houses currently on the market will, no doubt, be hoping that the same will happen for them. Trophy country houses that are within commuting distance of Newcastle-upon-Tyne invariably command a premium, and Smiths Gore (01434 632404) are optimistic about the prospects for elegant, Grade II-listed Felton Park Hall at Felton, nine miles from Alnwick and 26 miles from Newcastle, which was launched in Country Life last month at a guide price of £2.5 million.
Built by the Widdrington family in 1732 as the centrepiece of their Felton Park estate, in 1799, the original hall passed to the Riddell family, who had it substantially remodelled and extended. Requisitioned by the army during the Second World War, the stone mansion fell into disrepair and was later largely demolished, leaving only the 9,000sq ft Georgian east wing, now impeccably restored and modernised by its present owners, who are relocating away from the North-East.
Felton Park Hall has a manageable five acres of well-wooded landscaped gardens and grounds overlooking parkland to the south; the northern boundary is a fine 18th-century garden wall, attached to which is a Grade II*-listed greenhouse built, according to Pevsner, ‘c1830 with a curved pent roof and fishscale glazing’, and thought to be one of only four such surviving in the country. The interior is stylish but authentic, with five formal reception rooms, six double bedrooms, five bathrooms and a beautiful Chalon kitchen with a Travertine stone floor. Beyond the commuter zone, historic Fowberry Tower at Chatton, near Wooler, 44 miles north of Newcastle, is an enchanting small residential estate on the banks of the River Till, with views towards the Northumberland Hills, for which Knight Frank (01578 722814) and Savills (01904 617800) invite ‘offers over £2.5m’.
At its heart is a classic Georgian manor house, listed Grade II*, originally built around a medieval pele tower, and remodelled by Sir Francis Blake, and later Matthew Culley, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Built of local Doddington pink sandstone under a slate roof, the north façade was finished in 1776 and is Strawberry Hill Gothic in style, whereas the southern front, completed in 1809, is uncompromisingly Georgian. For Pevsner, Fowberry Tower was ‘one of the finest surviving pieces of Georgian Gothic in the North: not a sham Castle but an English Gentleman’s home’. Which it still is, having changed relatively little since the current owner’s family bought it in 1978. In all, there are five reception rooms, including the magnificent Gothic drawing and dining rooms, 10 bedrooms, four bathrooms and extensive cellars; other buildings include a Victorian stable yard and a three-bedroom cottage.
Fowberry’s 33 acres of land includes 20 acres of parkland and paddocks, home to the owner’s herd of alpacas. The rest includes lawned gardens, an orchard and a partly walled garden with a sundial dated 1666. A large area of mixed woodland includes many wonderful specimen trees planted by the Culley family in Victorian times, and it’s now a well-protected haven for dozens of bird species, and more than two dozen red squirrels, which can often be seen playing in front of the house a rare and precious sight in the country these days. To complete the idyll, the sale includes valuable fishing rights on the Till, a tributary of the Tweed. Many of the best houses in Northumberland have links, past or present, with the county’s numerous grand landed estates.
The Grange at Whittingham, near Alnwick, was once the main part of the original dower house built in Victorian times for the surrounding Eslington Park estate. The historic house stands in typically sweeping Northumbrian countryside, halfway between the villages of Whittingham and Glanton, and close to the wide-open spaces of the Northumberland Country Park and the region’s dramatic heritage coastline. Recently refurbished by the present owners, the Grange has three main reception rooms, a conservatory, a master suite, five further bedrooms and a family bathroom, set in 1.87 acres of gardens and grounds overlooking the Vale of Whittingham. ‘At £695,000, it’s a real bargain,’ says selling agent Sharon Thatcher of Strutt & Parker in Morpeth (01670 516123).