Whole-village estates are considered to be once-in-a-generation opportunities, but who might be in the market for such an investment? Arabella Youens investigates

The village of West Heslerton, near Malton in North Yorkshire —including its 21-bedroom estate house, 43 houses and cottages and 2,116 acres—is being officially launched in COUNTRY LIFE next week with a guide price of £20 million. Beyond the heady world of pockets of prime central London, that’s a considerable sum, but, after a release about the sale was published in the press early last week, Cundalls, the selling agents, were ‘overwhelmed’ with responses.

‘After two days on the market, the interest expressed so far has been unbelievable,’ says a genuinely surprised Tom Watson, who’s handling the sale. ‘We’ve got a number of viewings booked already and we’re almost struggling to keep up with the number of enquiries coming in. It’s been quite something.’

The West Heslerton estate, which lies 15 miles east of Scarborough and about a 35-minute drive west of York, has been in the same family for more than 150 years. Eve Dawnay, the most recent incumbent and the eldest of Lt Col Cuthbert Dawnay’s three daughters, died, aged 84, in 2010, and, due the lack of a single heir, the family put the estate on the market.

‘I know the estate better than any other agent as I was brought up on a neighbouring farm and attended the village primary school,’ explains Tom, ‘and Cundalls has managed the estate for an awfully long time. I’m understandably biased, but I do genuinely believe that this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity and that’s why the interest already expressed has been so strong.’

The estate has been largely untouched for the past 50 years; the main house hasn’t been lived in for 30 of those as Miss Dawnay moved out and lived in a modest property on the estate. So far, no hard figures exist to establish how much it would cost to restore the hall—which isn’t listed—into a home fit for a modern family, but it’s estimated at upwards of £1 million.

‘There’s no denying that the estate is going to be very attractive to developers and investors as, in many
respects, time has stood still in West Heslerton. However, I know that, in an ideal world, Miss Dawnay’s family would really like to see the estate carry on in a similar vein,’ says Tom.

A property like this coming to the market in such a condition is rare, but Mike Pennington of Savills estate management (01872 243253) notes that a few whole villages have trickled on to the market in the past 12 years or so.

‘With mixed estates, like West Heslerton, you start attracting institutions and private buyers: the former will look to increase rental returns and capital values, but, at the same time, they’re likely to breathe new life into an estate through investment. With private buyers, the motivations will be different, from tax advantages or charitable objectives to an aspiration to be lord of the manor.’

Because people don’t exactly register on agents’ books as being in the market for a village, Mark McAndrew of Strutt & Parker’s estate and farm agency (020–7318 5171) expects that it’ll be a case of a buyer coming out of the woodwork for West Heslerton. ‘You’ve got to pray that it’s someone who wants to keep it intact.’

Strutt & Parker were responsible for selling the Bantham estate in Devon to Nicholas Johnston, owner of the Great Tew estate in Oxfordshire, who’s doing precisely that. ‘In some cases, it’s a story of large landed families adding to their portfolio, such as the case of the Crown Estate selling Bryanston to Viscount Rothermere last year. And if no one turns up, then there’s a chance such an estate will be broken up—as has happened to most villages over time—but this is a rather rare beast these days, so let’s hope someone falls in love with it.’

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