The prospect of Crossrail is beginning to bring Berkshire's property market to life
A desperate shortage of classic country houses for sale within easy reach of London produced a ‘phenomenal’ response to the launch, in Country Life’s January 27 number, of historic, Grade II-listed John Gays House at Holyport, near Maidenhead, Berkshire, reports a delighted Nicola Craddock of selling agents Strutt & Parker (020–7318 5187).
The guide price of £5.95 million quoted for the intriguing Grade II-listed manor house, set in more than 20 acres of exquisitely maintained gardens, paddocks and woodland, was evidently no deterrent to an enthusiastic band of serious potential purchasers—some local, some moving out of London, others based overseas.
According to local records, the manor, historically known as Gays, is one of the most important surviving properties in Holyport—which itself dates from Roman times—and was owned by one John Gay in 1456. However, according to its English Heritage listing, the oldest, central part of the present house dates from the early 17th century and was built mostly of brick with a part timber frame behind a brick gable. This original rectangular building was extended and improved over time by a succession of dedicated owners— to the north-east in the 18th century, to the south-west in the 19th century and again to the south-west in the 20th century, when the heated indoor swimming pool was added.
Described as a ‘Bijou Old World Residence’ when it was sold at auction with 70 acres in 1931, one of the property’s greatest assets is the 20 and three-quarter acres it has managed to retain— a rare and precious amenity for a country house near a popular village such as Holyport, which is three miles from the commuter hub of Maidenhead and less than 30 miles from central London.
Protected by its land and some magnificent specimen trees, the house stands in an idyllic and wonderfully private setting on the edge of the village. Beautifully refurbished and decorated by its Swiss owners, who have carried on the good work of their predecessors during their 20-year tenure, John Gays House offers some 12,500sq ft of accommodation on three floors, including a galleried reception hall, four elegant reception rooms, a grand staircase hall, a kitchen/ breakfast room, a conservatory, a vast first-floor master suite, five further bedrooms and four bathrooms, plus a further bedroom on the second floor.
Secondary buildings include a two-bedroom lodge and a two-bedroom staff or guest cottage. Although much of the heavy structural work on the property (including the construction of the lake and the indoor pool) was carried out by the previous owners, the vendors can claim the design and layout of the formal gardens as very much their own.
The same meticulous attention to detail is evident in the layout and maintenance of the model equestrian facilities, which include a neat stable block, an outdoor manège and paddocks —the whole surrounded by a sand and rubber-chip exercise track that’s just over half a mile long.
The Royal County of Berkshire is renowned for its historic connections with royal sport, from polo in Windsor Great Park to racing at Ascot. Even little old Holyport can boast a royal connection, for it was here, at Cadogan Riding Stables, now sadly a housing development, that The Queen and Princess Margaret were taught to ride as children by its owner, Horace Dayer-Smith.
John Gays House can also boast an equestrian royal link, albeit a fleeting one. It appears that, shortly after their arrival in Holyport, the present vendors were politely asked if they would mind stabling horses owned by The Duke of York for a few weeks. They were happy to oblige, of course, although their equine guests apparently stayed a little longer than expected.
‘The best in class will always sell’, as leading estate agents are wont to remind us, and everything points to a successful outcome in the case of John Gay’s House, but the town of Maidenhead itself is also experiencing a surge of buyer interest further down the food chain, as the long-awaited arrival of Crossrail in the town, scheduled for the end of 2019, begins to turn the notion of a fast journey across the capital to the City or Canary Wharf without changing trains, from pipe dream into reality.
‘January was very busy, with a lot of new applicants looking to buy in and around Maidenhead at up to £1.5m, without actually committing to a purchase until the first few days of February, when we had a sudden rush of sales agreed,’ says David Redman of Hamptons International’s local office, who points out that Crossrail stations at towns along the line, such as Taplow and Burnham, will also benefit from the new service —a fact that is already being taken on board by London parents planning for the long term in terms of their children’s schooling.
Mr Redman expects the growing strength at the lower end of the market to boost sales in the upper price brackets in 2016, to the benefit of houses such as picturesque, Grade II-listed Baileys, at West End, Waltham St Lawrence, a thriving village seven miles south-west of Maidenhead, and two miles from Twyford, which will eventually have its own direct Crossrail connection to Heathrow and Canary Wharf.
Hamptons (01628 622131) quote a guide price of £2.75m for this unusual country property, set in almost two-and-a-half acres of delightful gardens and grounds overlooking open farmland, which offers a carefully restored, 2,126sq ft, three-bedroom main house, together with a guest house of similar dimensions—but more contemporary in style—with a vaulted sitting room and dining room, three bedrooms and three bath/shower rooms.
There is also a staff annexe. The well-arranged grounds have been cleverly laid out with active country living in mind and include a hard tennis court, a heated outdoor pool, a large fenced wildlife pond and a spacious dining terrace—a wonderful spot from which to enjoy the evening sun.
A Berkshire village landmark to restore
For sale through Savills (020–7016 3713) at a guide price of £2m, Georgian, Grade II-listed Queen Anne’s Mead—built in the 18th century and extended in the late 18th and 20th centuries—is a familiar landmark in the ancient village of Swallowfield, eight miles south of Reading, which was once a royal domain and part of the Great Forest of Windsor.
Now in need of restoration following the death of its long-term owner, Queen Anne’s Mead is a substantial family house surrounded by 1.3 acres of formal gardens, with a further 2.8 acres of paddock, stables and orchard located on the other side of the quiet country lane.
A period gem, it has 4,986sq ft of accommodation on three floors, including four reception rooms, 10 bedrooms and five bathrooms and comes with a separate coach house, two loose boxes, a tennis court and a heated swimming pool.