England’s cathedral cities are enjoying a renaissance as families rediscover the twin benefits of living in historic surroundings of great beauty, at the same time as tapping into a centuries-old tradition of scholastic and musical excellence. Not only do most cathedral cities offer a choice of fine Georgian and Victorian family houses at prices gene-rally below their rural equivalents, but also, right on the doorstep, some of the highest-achieving schools in the country. Salisbury’s glorious Anglican cathedral has the tallest church spire in the UK, the largest cloister in England, and one of four surviving original copies of the Magna Carta. Building began when the bishopric was moved to Salisbury in 1220, and was completed in about 1258. The architect James Wyatt made a number of significant changes about 1790, which included the demolition of the bell tower; today, Salisbury is one of only three English cathedrals to lack a ring of bells, the others being Norwich and Ely.
Some of England’s finest and least-altered Georgian town houses are hidden away in Salisbury’s Cathedral Close. Earlier this year, Savills found a buyer, at well above the £3.5 million guide price, for the Grade I-listed Walton Canonry, built in 1720, and from where, in 1825, Constable painted his famous view of the cathedral a view which has changed little since then. Now Savills (01722 426820) are asking £4.25m for the even grander, Grade I-listed Myles Place next door, described by Pevsner as ‘the finest house in the Cathedral Close’, which has ‘even better’ views of the cathedral’s spectacular west front.
The imposing, 8,768sq ft, four-storey mansion was built on land granted by the Dean and Chapter to town clerk William Swanton in 1718. It stands in 1.45 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens running down to the River Avon, where a slipway provides access for ‘keen rowers’. The classic Georgian main house, splendidly restored by the present owners, has four light-filled reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, a sumptuous master suite, seven more bedrooms, and five more bath/shower rooms, with a games room, two studies, a secondary kitchen and cellars on the lower ground floor. Outbuildings include a traditional two-storey coach house and cottage, a garage, a granary and a greenhouse.
Exeter Cathedral was founded in 1050, when the seat of the Bishops of Crediton and St Germans moved there. After the Conquest, the building was replaced by a new Norman cathedral, rebuilt between 1258 and 1400 in the early-English Gothic style used at Salisbury. Exeter Cathedral was badly damaged in 1655, when its cloisters were destroyed, and again in 1942, but it still boasts the longest uninterrupted vaulted ceiling in England.
Georgian family houses in Exeter’s resurgent city centre regularly sell for more than £1m, but Strutt & Parker (01392 215631) are offering a charming alternative in the shape of bijou Church Path Cottage, in the lee of St David’s Church, on St David’s Hill, a quiet conservation area. Built in about 1898 and extended in 1998, Church Path Cottage has three reception rooms, three bedrooms, three bath/shower rooms, a garden study and a beautifully secluded walled garden, and is for sale at £550,000.
Worcester Cathedral was founded in 680, although the present building dates from the 13th and 14th centuries. Follow-ing the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Benedictine monks were driven out and replaced by secular canons, but the cathedral itself was spared by Henry VIII, probably because his elder brother, Arthur, was buried there. In the 1860s, major restoration work was carried out by Sir George Gilbert Scott and A. E. Perkins, both of whom are buried in the cathedral.
Knight Frank (01905 723438) have a clutch of stylish Georgian houses for sale close to Worcester Cathedral and the city’s many excellent schools. The closest, at five minutes’ walk from the cathedral, is Ranworth at 5, St Mary’s Terrace, built in 1790 and listed Grade II, whose owners have lovingly preserved its original Georgian features, including the centrepiece a three-storey spiral staircase, described by English Heritage as ‘unique’. A guide price of £650,000 is quoted for Ranworth, which has accommodation on three floors including three main reception rooms, seven bedrooms, three bath/shower rooms, plus a gym, wine store and games room on the lower ground floor. The upper floors have views across the city to the Malvern Hills.
The same breathtaking views are shared by elegant Rose Lawn House on London Road, in the heart of Wor-cester’s central conservation area. Knight Frank quote a guide price of £850,000 for this 6383sq ft Georgian classic, listed Grade II, which was built between 1809 and 1810, and refurbished by the current owners in the past 10 years. The house has four reception rooms, a breakfast room, eight bedrooms, three bath/shower rooms, extensive vaulted cellars and outbuildings, and stands in two-thirds of an acre of wooded private gardens.
Small but perfectly formed, Chester Cathedral, listed Grade I, was a Benedictine abbey from 1092 until the Dissolution, when Henry VIII himself intervened to save it from molestation. The 19th century saw a programme of restoration executed successively by Thomas Harrison, Richard Charles Hussey, George Gilbert Scott and Arthur Blomfield.
Elsewhere, the vibrant city of Chester has seen its share of turmoil over the centuries. Cromwell Lodge in Foregate Street was built in the mid 18th century as part of the reconstruction of The Bars residential area destroyed in the English Civil War. The former home of the mayor of Chester, the Grade II-listed building was recently restored with help from English Heritage, and is now a smart four-bedroom town house with three precious city-centre parking spaces. Strutt & Parker (01244 354880) quote a guide price of £545,000 for the long leasehold of Cromwell Lodge.