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The confusion that still surrounds the status of Monmouthshire in many people’s minds is hardly dispelled by the fact that present-day Monmouthshire was once a small part of Gwent, which was previously called Monmouthshire, part of which was originally called Gwent. In reality, Monmouthshire has always been Welsh, and it was only in late Victorian times when English industrialists settled in Monmouthshire that the county became increasingly anglicised.
The new gentry built themselves fine country houses in spectacular countryside around the towns of Abergavenny, Monmouth, Chepstow and Usk a wonderfully scenic area that became the ‘new’ Monmouthshire in 1996, following yet another local-government reorganisation. Now, a fresh wave of English settlers is crossing the Severn Bridge in search of a dream country home at prices substantially lower than those being asked, and paid, in Somerset or Gloucestershire.
‘Many of today’s country-house buyers are doctors working in hospitals in Bristol, Chepstow or Abergavenny, who are also the mainstay of the renowned Haberdashers’ schools in Monmouth, and St Johns-on-the-Hill preparatory school in Chepstow,’ reveals Anthony Clay of Knight Frank in Hereford (01432 273087), who was born and bred in Monmouthshire, and now lives near Abergavenny. He quotes a guide price of £2.25 million for one of the county’s most elegant historic houses, The Argoed, listed Grade II*, which stands overlooking the lower Wye Valley near the pretty stone village of Penallt, five miles from Monmouth, 12 miles from Chepstow, and a mere 28 miles from Bristol city centre.
The original Jacobean core of the house was built in the late 16th and early 17th centuries by the Probert family; a fire-back above the front door commemorates the visit of Charles I during the Civil War. The Argoed was in a pretty rundown state when, in 1865, it was bought by Richard Potter, who that year resigned as chairman of the Great Western Railway, and set about restoring and enlarging the house, which was to be his summer home.
His daughter, Beatrice Webb, was a social reformer and founder member of the Fabian Society, and her many friends included George Bernard Shaw, who used to cycle ‘dangerously’ along the lanes around Penallt, and is said to have written Mrs Warren’s Profession and The Man of Destiny while staying at The Argoed.
Following Potter’s death, the house was sold in 1897, since when it has had a variety of owners, including, in the 1980s, Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin. The present owners are now downsizing, having completely refurbished the house and grounds since buying it in 1989. Set at the end of a long drive, and built of dressed stone under a slate roof, the 9,642sq ft house has five reception rooms, master and guest suites, seven further bedrooms, two further bathrooms and three attic rooms, plus a garage and stabling. Its 10.9 acres of grounds, mainly laid out by the Potter family, include formal gardens, a paddock, a splendid arboretum and a folly.
Potter was a great local benefactor, and in 1888, he built a new vicarage at Penallt at a cost of £1,200; it is now on the market with Knight Frank at a guide price of £850,000. The classic late-Victorian Old Vicarage, listed Grade II, was designed by F. W. Waller, the diocesan architect for Gloucester Diocese, and built in R. Norman Shaw’s Old English style, of dressed stone under a tiled roof with red-brick chimneys.
The three-storey house, which has three reception rooms, a studio, six bedrooms, a bathroom and a shower room, and stands in just under an acre of gardens, has remained largely unaltered apart from the addition of a kitchen extension in the 1990s. It is in excellent order, with handsome reception rooms dominated by breathtaking views of the lower Wye Valley to the south and east.
In Victorian times, a large slice of old Monmouthshire was owned by the Dukes of Beaufort before the present family seat was established across the border in Gloucestershire. But, unsurprisingly, the hillsides of new Monmouthshire are still scattered with very English looking houses built to accommodate the Beauforts’ many former retainers.
Cwmcarvan Court near Monmouth, for sale through Knight Frank at a guide price of £1.3m, is one of the most appealing. Built in 1820 by James Richards, steward to the Duke of Beaufort, Cwmcarvan Court, listed Grade II, is a charming, 5,684sq.ft Regency house built mainly of stone under gently curving slate hipped roofs.
Set in 31.7 acres of gardens, paddock and pasture (with a lodge and another 140 acres available by separate negotiation), it has three reception rooms, a conservatory, six bedrooms, two bathrooms and two shower rooms. Outbuildings include a stone stable block and various barns. The present owners have changed the house little during their 50-year tenure, and it remains, say the agents, ‘totally unspoilt, although in need of a 40-year service’.
The chance to buy a traditional country property with a good slice of land at a reasonable price is a major draw for newcomers to Monmouthshire. The owner of pretty Tregaer Mill near Dingestow, south of Monmouth, was looking for just such a property when she bought the mill, which dates from 1550, with six acres of gardens and paddocks some 10 years ago. Now, she’s looking to downsize, and Tregaer Mill is on the market with Savills (02920 368930) at a guide price of £795,000.
The beautifully refurbished 5,289sq ft house has four reception rooms, five double bedrooms and four bathrooms, and a wine cellar. Outbuildings include a double garage, car port and tractor shed, plus a stable block and tack-room.