Country houses for sale

Country house bargains

According to Savills Research, reduced City bonus expectations have already changed the profile of buyers of prime London residential property, with the biggest impact being felt in the key £2 million to £4m price bracket. The £1m to £2m price band has also been hit; less so, the market for properties at under £1m, where City buyers are less active, and those at £4m-plus, where overseas money continues to dominate.

Inevitably, whatever happens in London has a knock-on effect in the country. For the past several years, the autumn country-property market has been boosted by a rush of City buyers keen to spend the year’s bonus on a rural retreat; this year, even those whose bonuses are assured are inclined to ‘wait and see’. But it leaves the way clear for buyers from other sectors of industry, who latterly have struggled to compete with the big-bonus earners, to snap up a number of exceptional country houses which, surprisingly, are still there for the taking.

When the exquisite, Grade II*-listed Iver Grove at Iver, Buckinghamshire, was launched on the market in May with a guide price of £6.5m, former Country Life editor Marcus Binney described it as ‘a Georgian gem’, with a splendid temple front applied to a compact early Georgian villa, the effect of which was ‘love at first sight for almost everyone’. Love failed to conquer on that occasion, but fresh suitors are expected now that Jackson-Stops & Staff (020?7664 6646) and (087 1789 1789) have scaled down their expectations to ‘offers in excess of £5m’.

Certainly, the house built for Lady Mohun in 1722?44, and variously attributed to Vanbrugh, Hawksmoor and James, has never looked better. Requisitioned during the Second World War, Iver Grove later fell into disrepair, and was about to be demolished, when the Ministry of Works was persuaded to buy and restore it. By the early 1960s, when John Cornforth wrote of it in Country Life (August 17, 1963), Iver Grove was an elegant country house once more.

The playwright Sir Tom Stoppard bought Iver Grove in the 1970s, and created a small theatre in part of the coach house; Lady Stoppard designed its beautiful water gardens. The present owners, who took it over 10 years ago, have carefully updated the 5,496sq ft main house (it has four reception rooms, five bedrooms, four bathrooms and a staff flat) and its converted, 5,440sq ft coach house. Sheltered from prying eyes behind a belt of woodland, the house stands in 17 acres of landscaped gardens and grounds?the quintessential small country estate, yet only 17 miles from Hyde Park Corner.

The classic, Grade II-listed, William-and-Mary Old Rectory at Broughton, near Banbury, Oxfordshire, is another treasure which has so far slipped through the buyers’ net. Built of honey-coloured Hornton stone in 1694, and remodelled in Georgian times with an early-19th-century addition by S. P. Cockerell, the Old Rectory was offered for sale in the summer at £3.5m, just as the market was starting to cool. William Duckworth-Chad of Savills (020?7499 8644) expects a revised guide price of £2.95m to work the oracle this time. And why not, for the immaculate, seven-bedroom Old Rectory has everything a family could wish for, including a guest cottage, traditional outbuildings and stables, and 3.5 acres of walled gardens and grounds all within easy reach of London and some excellent local schools.

‘Pure Jane Austen, Mansfield Park revisited’ was the instant reaction of Country Life’s editor-at-large, Clive Aslet, when he visited the Old Rectory at Quinton, Northamptonshire although Jane Austen never did. The property launched in late July at a guide price of £1.5m, a figure revised by Jackson-Stops & Staff (01604 632991) to ‘offers in the region of £1.45m’, which means that anyone buying now effectively gets the stamp duty thrown in. The Old Rectory, listed Grade II, dates from the 17th century, but was rebuilt by Edward Bailey, rector from 1775 to 1813. The beautifully renovated, three-storey house stands in three acres of pristine landscaped gardens, with three main reception rooms, a snooker room, master and guest suites, four further bedrooms and two more bathrooms.