Competition is fierce for country houses in this popular county with good connections and many excellent schools

The weather has nothing to do with Hampshire now England’s hottest county, as reflected in a year-on-year increase of 20% in the number of high-value country houses advertised in Country Life in the first six months of 2006. Announcing the sale (subject to contract) of the 3,830-acre Hursley estate near Winchester (Country Life, April 27, 2006), at a guide price of £22 million, a jubilant Crispin Holborow of Savills comments: ‘With the exception of Ash Park near Basingstoke (sold for £10m in 2005), no major estate had come on the market in Hampshire for two or three years, yet already this year, we have been involved in five major deals, at an average price of about £14m.’ Other recent high-profile land deals include the Forest Farm estate at Kings Somborne, sold for ‘way over’ the £6.5m guide price, and Buckholt Farm at West Tytherley, sold for around its £6.5m guide.

It’s not just the top end of the market that’s booming. As far as Russell Hill of Lane Fox in Odiham is concerned: ‘Hampshire has been the top county for many centuries, with the rich tradesmen of the 18th century making their money from hop-growing, brewing and wool, and building wonderful country houses within easy reach of London by horse and cart. For many leaving the capital, Hampshire with its ‘Ivy League’ educational establishments, thriving regional centres, rolling North Downs, world-renowned chalk streams, and proximity to the south coast and the UK’s best sailing waters is still the natural first step.’ With large swathes of Hampshire’s rolling countryside held by powerful farming estates, the supply of country property coming to the market invariably falls short of demand. Senior City bankers and their peers tend to congregate discreetly around the villages of the tranquil Candover Valley, where the Georgian Summerley House at Bentworth was sold for more than £5m within two weeks of appearing in Country Life.

Regular commuters tend to concentrate their search on either Basingstoke or Winchester, both of which offer not only excellent road and rail connections to London, but also some of the best schools in the country. The recent trend among London families moving to the country to send their children to day, rather than boarding schools, has created a surge in demand for family houses within 20 minutes’ drive of popular prep schools such as Farleigh and Cheam, or Winchester’s many excellent private or State-sector schools. Buyers from this category defined by one leading Hampshire agent as ‘the Chardonnay-and-house-price brigade’ ran out winners in the recent scramble for houses such as Derrydown House at St Mary Bourne, Headbourne Worthy Grange at Headbourne, and Newton Valence House at Newton Valence, near Alton.

For country-house agents in Hampshire, these have been heady days, which could be about to end, as buyers hoping to saunter out of London in the autumn are likely to face a shortage of houses every bit as dire as the recent drought, estate agents warn. Which means that competition for the few good houses currently on the market can only intensify, says a gleeful Philip Blanchard of Jackson-Stops & Staff (01962 844299), who recently launched the exquisite, Grade II*-listed, Colebrook House in Winchester at £2.5m the most expensive private house ever offered for sale in the cathedral city.

Set against the background of the cathedral itself, secluded Colebrook House stands on the site of a Roman villa in half an acre of wonderful walled gardens threaded by three medieval streams, and within easy walking distance of the city’s historic centre. The classic William-and-Mary façade belies the house’s Tudor origins, which are strongly evident in the splendid panelling, timbers and ceilings of the interior. One of Winchester’s most important historic houses, Colebrook has accommodation on three floors, including five/six reception rooms, seven bedrooms, five bathrooms, staff quarters and attics.

Like bees around a honeypot, the schools brigade can be expected to home in on Dummer Down Farm. Dummer’s location six miles south of Basingstoke and 12 miles north of Winchester is perfect for the county’s most prestigious schools. For sale through Savills (01962 841842) at a guide price of ‘excess £4m’ for the whole, or in up to four lots, Dummer Down Farm is a charming 220-acre country estate with a delightful, six-bedroom Georgian house that was, for many years, the home of the late Maj Ronald Ferguson. A guide of £3m is quoted for Lot 1, comprising Dummer Down House, with guest annexe, swimming pool and stable yard set in 24 acres of gardens, grounds and paddocks.

Road noise is a problem even in the best parts of Hampshire, so it is interesting to find a house where nature has intervened to reduce the problem. Following a landslide on Stoner Hill, near Petersfield, some six months ago, a minor road much used by canny commuters as an alternative to the A272, was closed to traffic and may never reopen, if some local residents have their way. Depending on your point of view, this could be a boon or an inconvenience for the new owner of the picturesque, recently restored Week Green Farm with 5.5 acres at Froxfield, 2.5 miles from Petersfield currently for sale through Knight Frank (01962 850333) at a guide price of £1.75m.

In contrast to the increasingly frantic pace of life in the north of the county, the bio-rhythms of the New Forest are more sedate. This is second-home country par excellence. The property market is less frantic here, too, so Perry Letcher of Lymington agents Paul Jackson (01590 674411) and joint agents Knight Frank were pleasantly surprised when, a few months ago, a buyer emerged for Wereburne Manor at Boldre, near Lymington, at a guide price of £3.5m.

Mr Letcher is hoping for a similarly happy ending in the case of Vineyards at Beaulieu, a Dutch-style house built around 1908, used by the Special Operations Executive during the Second World War and bought in 1956 by the Gore-Brown family, who planted the vineyards that now form part of the surrounding Beaulieu estate. A revised guide price of £2.5m is quoted for the six-bedroom house with three acres and views across the Beaulieu River and the Solent to the hills of the Isle of Wight.

This article first appeared in Country Life magazine on July 27, 2006.