After a ‘rather dull’ second half of 2012, when a number of factors-notably the new 7% rate of Stamp Duty on houses valued at more than £2 million -took their toll on the Surrey country-house market, Michael Parry-Jones of local agents Grantley reports ‘a very positive start’ to 2013, with buyers from south-west London again registering their intention to head for deepest Surrey. ‘In fact, we saw more London buyers in January this year than we did in the whole of the last six months of 2012,’ he reveals. Buyers and sellers now seem to agree that the British economy is unlikely to change much in the near future, and that the next boom, if it ever comes, is still a long way off. As a result, many have decided to get on with their lives, and climb that next important rung on the housing ladder. ‘This more realistic attitude is reflected in the unprecedented number of exciting new properties that we plan to launch on the market in the early spring, at prices ranging from £1 million to £9 million’, says Mr Parry-Jones.

The ancient town of Godalming, four miles south of Guildford and 30 miles south-west of London, owes its historic prosperity to its location as a staging post halfway between Portsmouth and the capital and a willingness to move with the times. The arrival of the railway in 1849 brought the first well-heeled commuters to this wooded corner of the Surrey Hills and, in 1881, Godalming again made the headlines when it became the first town in the world to install a public electricity supply. For Country Life, however, Godalming will always be synonymous with the Jekyll family, which bought a house and land at nearby Munstead in the late 1870s, and the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, with whom their lives were to be inextricably linked.

It would be hard to imagine a house more in the Lutyens style than Munstead Manor at Munstead, nor a more Jekyllesque setting than its 11 acres of magnificently wooded gardens. Yet as far as its owner, David Hearn, is aware, the charming small manor house, which was built in 1910 and has been his cherished family home for almost two decades, wasn’t designed by the architect. Nor were the delightful gardens the work of Gertrude Jekyll, who is buried in the churchyard nearby: they were laid out for Mr Hearn by RHS experts from Wisley, and include some wonderful and unusual specimen trees.

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However, I would be very surprised if this first of the ‘once in a lifetime’ houses to come to the market in this part of Surrey this year-at a guide price of £5.25m through Grantley (01483 893939)-doesn’t cause quite a stir among Londoners with growing families and itchy feet, for whom paying £1 million for an extra bedroom in the capital no longer makes sense. For Mr Hearn and his wife, on the other hand, now seems like a sensible time to downsize and move back to London, where they already have a base in Eaton Square.

But there are also regrets. ‘We bought this house when our two grown-up children were very small, and this has been a wonderful family home for almost 20 years. We will particularly miss the magical setting. Who would believe that, on a clear day, you can stand on the terrace and look around you for 30 miles without seeing another house?’ muses Mr Hearn. Certainly, Munstead Manor has all the components an elegant but practical country house should have, including a splendid drawing room, a substantial dining room, a study, a large kitchen/ breakfast room, a family room, a garden room, three bedroom suites and three further bedrooms.

And there’s everything even the most demanding teenager could ask for, including a second-floor billiards room, a separate cottage and games room, an indoor pool with garden views, an AstroTurf tennis court, stabling and paddocks. With its traditional cricket green, village store and pub, Dunsfold is one of those quintessential Surrey villages that newcomers to the county dream of living in-others include Dunsfold’s larger neighbour Cranleigh, as well as Shere, Shamley Green and Wonersh. But finding that ‘20-year house’ at the right price around here is always a problem.

Grantley quote a guide price of £2.6m for one market newcomer that appears to fit the bill: Grade II-listed The Old Farmhouse at Stovolds Hill, near Dunsfold, is a large Georgian family house-something of a rarity in Surrey-built in about 1700, with 19th- and 20th-century extensions. Set in eight acres of captivating formal gardens, grounds and paddocks, with views over open countryside, the house has more than 7,000sq ft of spacious living accommodation on three floors, including four reception rooms, a superb kitchen/breakfast room, seven main bedrooms, a large second-floor office and a one-bedroom kitchen annexe. Amenities include a substantial cellar, a swimming pool, a tennis court and various outbuildings, including a 2,000sq ft barn with potential for ‘a variety of uses’. The Old Farmhouse, previously known as Stovolds, has been improved by its owners throughout their 18-year tenure, and they are now looking to downsize.

Until recently, the property’s only negative aspect was its proximity to Dunsfold Park, a former airfield made famous by the TV series Top Gear and the subject of a lengthy series of applications for residential development, the most recent of which has been rejected, allowing locals to breathe again. Another cherished family home in a prestigious Surrey Hills location is Downfield at Cranleigh Road, Wonersh, 41⁄2 miles outside Guildford, which will shortly be launched on the market through Knight Frank‘s Guildford office (01483 565171) at a guide price of £1.9m, just short of the crucial £2m threshold. Built in the Surrey vernacular in 1932, the house has been lovingly maintained and improved by its current long-term owners.

It stands in just under an acre of beautifully landscaped gardens, flanked by fields to the north and east, and has three main reception rooms, a kitchen/ breakfast room, four bedrooms, four bathrooms and a detached two-storey annexe. At the rear of the house is a large pool and pool house, and a former stable barn with potential for conversion to residential use.

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