You get the best of both worlds in Essex – a rural lifestyle with an easy commute to London

Traditionally, the best country houses in Essex are bought by Essex buyers, who tend to migrate across the county as they become more successful. With traders and dealers staying well under the radar as they concentrate on paying off their debts, the premium market in Essex is currently dominated by City professionals-bankers, lawyers and accountants-who prefer to stay close to the action. For these buyers, good houses with extensive grounds in east Essex are likely to be preferred to larger country piles in the more rural western half of the county.

Current stars of the east include the intriguing early- Georgian Hutton Hall at Hutton, two miles from commuter- hub Shenfield and 22 minutes by train from London Liverpool Street, which launches on the market in today’s Country Life at a guide price of £5 million through Beresfords (01245 397475) and Strutt & Parker (020-7629 7282).

The present hall, listed Grade II, dates from the 1720s, and is the third house known to have existed on the site, which dates back to Roman times. According to local historian Mary Kenyon, the original dwelling was a moated Saxon homestead at the heart of a substantial estate valued at £6 in Domesday, the rents from which were used by William the Conqueror to help build Battle Abbey in Sussex. During the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, Jack Straw, the leader of the Essex peasants, burned down the manor before advancing with his followers on London. Hutton Hall was rebuilt in Tudor times, and, following the dissolution of Battle Abbey in 1538, Henry VIII gave the estate to the infamous Richard Rich, Chancellor of the Exchequer, as reward for his betrayal of Sir Thomas More. Thereafter, Hutton Hall had a succession of occupiers until 1720, when it was owned by Robert Surman, deputy cashier of the ill-fated South Sea Company, which collapsed that same year. The interior of the house was seriously damaged by fire again around this time.

Three years later, the Hutton Hall estate was sold at auction for £15,200. The house was rebuilt in Georgian style around the impressive Tudor entrance hall, and later improved by Daniel Booth, Governor of the Bank of England, who created the spectacular panelled Blue Room in the fashionable Gothick style adopted by Lord Dacre at nearby Belhouse Hall. In the late 1800s, Hutton Hall was owned by the Pilkington family, which sold off the land now occupied by the chic Hutton Mount estate at Shenfield for £20,000, followed in 1938 by the hall itself, which was bought as an orphanage by London County Council.

After the war, the house stood desolate and empty for several years, before being bought in 1961 by Hampshire lawyer Frederick Orpen Sanders, father of the present vendor, who carried out a major refurbishment.

The substantial, 10,404sq ft main house has four reception rooms, a conservatory, a kitchen/breakfast room, five bedrooms and three bathrooms, with separate first- and second-floor apartments-all now in need of general updating. Also included in the sale is the adjoining 2,638sq ft Beadels-a fourbedroom Victorian house built by William Beadel, MP for Chelmsford, in the mid-1800s- the two-bedroom gate lodge, a listed stable block, various outbuildings and a heated outdoor swimming pool. A well-kept Essex secret, screened from its neighbours in the exclusive conservation area of Hutton Village by eight acres of part-moated gardens lined by trees, Hutton Hall awaits the next twist in its long and fascinating history.

Arguably one of the best houses currently for sale within the M25, idyllic Georgian Cranham Hall at Upminster, Essex, stands in 8.4 acres of formal and parkland gardens, a mile from Upminster station on the Fenchurch Street line. The 8,387sq ft house, listed Grade II, stands on the site of an earlier mansion owned by local hero Gen James Oglethorpe who founded the 13th and last American colony, now the state of Georgia, and is buried with his wife in All Saints’ parish church. After his death, Oglethorpe’s home was demolished and replaced in the late 1780s by the present three storey house, built on high ground to take advantage of glorious views over its garden, lake and the neighbouring countryside.

Savills (01245 293233) quote a guide price of £3.95 million for Cranham Hall, which last appeared in these pages in July 2004, when it was valued at £2.6m. Impeccably maintained by its present owners, the house has four main reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, a playroom, five bedrooms, five bath/shower rooms, a games room, and an indoor swimming-pool complex. Outbuildings include a 5,000sq ft timber-framed barn beside a helipad, a two-bedroom flat and a Scandinavian-style log cabin overlooking the lake.

‘The toughest sector of the Essex market at the moment involves houses in the £1.5m to £3m price bracket; above and below that level, things are not too bad,’ says Jeremy Smallman of Jackson-Stops & Staff in Chelmsford (01245 467468). He hopes to tempt some stifled City buyer to go that extra mile by offering the best of both worlds-a genuine country house set in peaceful countryside, yet a few minutes drive from Kelvedon station and a 52-minute train ride to London Liverpool Street. The property in question is the handsome Victorian Marygolds, near Coggeshall, which stands in 1.4 acres of well-stocked gardens and grounds, surrounded by the rolling countryside of the 1,000-acre Marks Hall estate. Mr Smallman quotes a guide price of £1.5m for the house that for 15 years or more has been the cherished family home of its present owners, whose children have now ‘grown and flown’.

The 4,500sq ft farmhouse, which has an older wing to the rear, is handily placed both for Felsted preparatory and public schools and the grammar schools at Chelmsford and Colchester. It has three main reception rooms, 5/6 bedrooms, three bathrooms, a swimming pool and a barn providing garaging and storage, with a games room and office space above.

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