Country houses for sale

Country houses with history

As anyone involved with Thoroughbred horses knows, when it comes to the crunch, class will always tell; the same can be said of thoroughbred houses. The Berkshire village of Maidens Green, on the southern edge of Windsor Great Park, and four miles north of Ascot, has more than its fair share of both, so the sale of elegant Newington House in Winkfield Lane, Maidens Green, following a three-year, multi-million-pound refit, is bound to cause a stir among aspiring residents of ‘Polo-Millionaires Row’. Savills (020–7499 8644) quote a guide price of £5.75 million for the classic Georgian house, listed Grade II, which can boast a pedigree no less impressive than that of the sleek polo ponies that graze its manicured paddocks.

Originally part of a vast landholding owned by Abingdon Abbey, Newington House and neighbouring Abbey Farm passed into private ownership as one estate following the abbey’s dissolution in 1539. Now Maiden’s Green’s premier manor house, Newington House, built in about 1850, is thought to be a scaled-down model of Winkfield’s grandest Georgian mansion, the vast Foliejon Park, and is still known locally as ‘Little Foliejon’. In its early-20th-century heyday, the Newington House estate was owned by Col (later Sir) Henry Abel Smith, a distinguished soldier, diplomat and horseman. Following his marriage in 1931, the estate evidently became surplus to requirements, and on June 15, 1935, joint auctioneers Messrs Nicholas and Knight Frank & Rutley placed an advertisement in Country Life offering Newington House and Abbey Farm for sale as a whole, with ‘either 24 acres or 82.5 acres of grass’. Newington House, described as a ‘comfortable Queen Anne house’, was sold a year later by Knight Frank, with just 18 acres of land, to Lady Dorothy Head. Thereafter, successive owners saw little reason to alter a much-loved family house until the 1980s, when the last owner undertook a necessary ‘major overhaul’ of the entire building.

The present owner, a successful City man with twin passions for fast horses and fine houses, who bought Newington House in early 2004, has invested serious thought and resources in refurbishing the exquisitely proportioned Georgian interior to 21st-century standards. Accommodation on three floors includes three fine reception rooms, a study, a conservatory, a kitchen/breakfast room, a luxurious master suite, six further bedrooms, two bathrooms and a two/three-bedroom guest wing. But perhaps his greatest contribution to the manor’s future has been the inspirational landscaping and planting of the its near-16 acres of gardens and grounds. Over the past 12 months, a meeting of minds with Derek Culley of Chelsea gold-medal-winning Oaktree Nursery in nearby Warfield has transformed a ‘very basic’ garden into a harmonious mix of formal, informal and woodland areas, including the creation of a glorious leafy avenue of pollarded lime trees.

The 16th-century origins of delightful Cobblestone House at Hascombe, Surrey now on the market through Browns (01483 267070) at a guide price of £2.5m may be humbler than those of Newington House, but it’s still a class act in more ways than one. Originally a barn on the Nore estate, the building was converted first to stabling, and then, in the early 1900s, to guest accommodation for the main house by the estate’s owners, the pioneering Godwin-Austen family. At about the same time, Gertrude Jekyll, a family friend who lived nearby, was almost certainly brought in to create the splendid formal terraced gardens and ornamental pond, using the foundations of the old barns and sheds demolished by the Godwin-Austens.

In 1962, Hollywood came to Hascombe, when screen idol Dirk Bogarde bought the Nore estate as a country retreat, where he would entertain his friends when ‘resting’ between acting jobs. In 1965, the actress Ingrid Bergman stayed in Cobblestone House for six weeks when performing at the newly opened Yvonne Arnaud theatre in Guildford. In his autobiography Snakes and Ladders, Bogarde recalls that ‘while she was playing A Month in the Country at Guildford, [Bergman] was constantly amused by my evening walk down to the vegetable gardens to pick the mint for supper. As she set off for her theatre, so I set off for my mint bed. It became for both of us a symbol of unemployment’.

Bogarde eventually moved on to West Sussex and then to France, and in the early 1970s, the Nore estate was sold and subsequently sub-divided. The current owners of Cobblestone House bought the Grade II-listed house and its adjacent period barn and embarked on a long-term programme of intensive restoration, including that of the 2.2 acres of splendid Jekyll gardens with their spectacular views over the adjoining Hascombe Hills. Cobblestone House offers spacious family accommodation, including three reception rooms, a kitchen/dining room, two bedroom suites, plus three additional bedrooms and a family bathroom. Meanwhile, today’s visitors have the choice of a self-contained flat or a guest suite in the converted Grade II-listed barn.