As buyers everywhere take advantage of the current turmoil in the marketplace to renegotiate sale prices downwards, vendors have been slow to adjust their expectations in line with the reality of life in a buyer’s market. This is especially true at the very top end of the country-house market, where a shortage of supply means that high asking prices are not only being achieved, but exceeded in many cases. The launch onto the market of three very special houses is likely to further emphasise the widening gap between the best and the rest, in a market where no one quite knows what will happen next.
Having sold more houses in the first four months of 2008 than in the same period last year, Andrew Rome of Knight Frank’s Winchester office (01962 850333) makes no apology for the ‘excess £5 million’ guide price quoted for the impeccably refurbished North Canonry in Salisbury’s Cathedral Close the highest ever asked for a house in this historic enclave. However, it’s not the highest achieved that honour goes to Grade I-listed Myles Place, sold by Savills for a reputed £6m-plus in December 2007, against a launch price of £4.25m.
North Canonry, listed Grade II, was dubbed by Pevsner ‘the most picturesque house in the Close… and very much George Gilbert Scott’, the eminent Victorian architect who remodelled the house for Canon Swayne in the late 1800s. The original pre-Reformation building had been substantially altered already in the 16th century, and again in 1739, when John Bampton was allowed to demolish most of the south and west ranges; further destruction was authorised for Canon Gilbert, the Bishop’s brother, in 1751, before the three reception rooms were elegantly remodelled by Canon Hume in the early 1800s.
In the past three years, the present owners have completely refurbished this intriguing house, which has four splendid reception rooms, a study, a library, a kitchen/breakfast room and four bedroom suites, plus a spare bedroom and bathroom. The North Canonry’s ambience of timeless tranquillity is completed by its wonderful 18th-century walled garden running down to the River Avon described by Gertrude Jekyll in her book Wood and Garden (1899), as ‘one of the most beautiful gardens I have ever seen’.
Things are quiet in the Quantocks one of the main reasons why country-house buyers are increasingly drawn to this unspoilt part of England, says Will Morrison of Knight Frank (01392 423111), quoting a guide price of £5m for one of the area’s most idyllic country properties, Triscombe House at Triscombe, 10 miles west of Taunton. Triscombe House sits in 25 acres of gardens and parkland in the lee of Triscombe Hill, in the heart of the Quantock foothills. The entire property, from the substantial nine-bedroom Edwardian country house, built by Sir Ernest Newton in 1904, to the landscaped gardens, stabling and out-buildings, has been renovated ‘to perfection’ by the current owners, to the extent that a new family has only to turn up, unpack their suitcases and let the children and dogs loose.
The peace dividend offered by The Great Venn at Bishops Frome, near Avenbury, an ‘undiscovered gem’ in the heart of rural Herefordshire, one of England’s greenest and least crowded counties, could be even greater. Currently for sale through Savills’ Chelten-ham office (01242 548000) at a guide price of ‘excess £2.75m’, this charmingly restored 17th-century farmhouse sits in 180 acres of rolling pasture and woodland, with not a neighbour in sight. The 11,700sq ft main house, listed Grade II, dates from the 1600s, and is timber-framed under a clay-tile roof with an adjoining former hop house and a timber-framed outhouse sensitively incorporated to provide four reception rooms, a large kitchen/breakfast room, a garden room, various family rooms, six bedrooms and four bathrooms. There’s also a two-bedroom guest cottage.
The house overlooks a south-facing ornamental rose garden with a shaded summer dining area, from where steps lead down to partly walled lawns,a stream and a lake, framed by woodland. To the north of the house is a walled terrace, a hard tennis court, an orchard and a nuttery. To the east is a courtyard of buildings with planning and listed building consent for an outdoor swimming pool. It also has stabling and a large weather-boarded barn, listed Grade II, and a further range of buildings, one of which is used for relaxed shoot lunches with neighbouring landowners who share the running of Great Venn’s enjoyable family shoot.