Winds of Change

Looking through the property pages of country life for the year 1945, the striking thing?apart from the obvious matter of price?is not how much has changed in the country house market in the 60 years since VE Day, but how little. Despite all the social and financial upheavals which have taken place in Britain over that period, it is still the high-achievers who compete for the best houses, although their job descriptions may have changed.

They still want the same things?space, privacy and a house with a history. And it is still the same estate agents who are selling them?Bidwells, Hamptons, Jackson-Stops & Staff and Knight Frank & Rutley, to name but a few.

There is a familiar ring about a small advertisement in country life on February 23, 1945: ?City (within daily reach). Has anyone roomy Old-fashioned House, suitable for growing family, for sale or to let? Minimum four bedrooms and good garden. In a village, and preferably near boys? prep school (day). Advertiser will have pleasant Small Modern House at Cobham for sale. ? Write Box 590.?

The same issue carries an advertisement from Hamptons & Sons for Mackerye End near Harpenden, Hertfordshire (?400ft up, amid perfect country?)?described as ?an historical Elizabethan house? with four reception rooms, eight bed and dressing rooms, four bathrooms, five attic bedrooms, stabling, a cottage and 11 3/4 acres of gardens and parkland.

The asking price is £15,000. On March 13, 2003, FPDSavills and Strutt & Parker advertised a pristine Mackerye End for sale with 113 acres of land?plus an outdoor heated swimming pool, a tennis court and a manège?at a guide price of £4.5 million.

In 1945, any house with less than 12 rooms was officially described as ?small?, and of the 80,000 to 85,000 properties requisitioned by the military authorities for occupation during the war, nearly half were ?small houses? and schools or colleges. It was, of course, the large country houses which suffered most from six years of military occupation: by the time they were de-requisitioned, many were beyond repair and thousands of important historic houses were demolished in the late 1940s and 1950s. But for others, the end of the war brought a new lease of life.

The Eastcourt Estate near Mal-mesbury, Wiltshire, was one of the lucky ones. In country life, March 30, 1945, Jackson Stops & Staff announced the sale, of the 484-acre estate with its ?fine and superbly modernised Georgian house (four reception, 12 bed and dressing rooms, seven bath, unique domestic offices)?. By August 1945, the estate had been sold to Lt-Col Stuart Pitman, grandson of Sir Isaac Pitman, the inventor of shorthand, for an undisclosed price, thought to be about £25,000.

On June 10, 2004, Butler Sherborn and Knight Frank advertised the Eastcourt Estate, with its Grade II*-listed Cotswold stone house ?requiring modernisation? for sale in country life for the first time in 60 years. Clive Hopkins of Knight Frank enthused: ?Eastcourt has been trapped in time and provides an exceptional chance to buy a wonderful country house with all its original character and features?. The estate was offered at a guide price of ?excess £4.75m? and was sold as a whole within a matter of weeks.

On June 29, 1945, the property editor of country life observed that ?so far the imminence of the General Election has made no perceptible difference to the

volume of real-estate business under the hammer or otherwise.? Less than a month later, on July 26, 1945, a Labour landslide turned the old order on its head.

One of the first casualties of the new regime was Winston Churchill, who had to find himself a new London home, and agonised about the cost before buying 27 and 28 Hyde Park Gate through Knight Frank & Rutley. One of the beneficiaries was Clement Attlee, who shortly afterwards sold his London house for £5,000.

This article was originally published in Country Life magazine, May 5, 2005. To subscribe click here.