Despite a 35%–40% drop in the number of buyers looking to spend a million or more on a house in Wiltshire, Dorset or Hampshire, Wessex-based country-house agents remain confident that of all the regions of England, theirs will continue to shrug off the worst effects of the ongoing credit crunch. So once the vendors of historic, Grade II*-listed, Fontmell Parva House at Child Okeford, eight miles from Shaftesbury, Dorset, had made their decision to sell, Strutt & Parker (01722 328741) saw no reason to hang fire, and duly launched it in last week’s Country Life at a guide price of £4.5 million.
As George Burnand of Strutts explains: ‘Dorset isn’t daily commuting territory and so is less dependent on what’s happening in the City. Most country-house buyers tend to trade up and down within the county; many are older buyers, who have already made their money, and so don’t have mortgages.’ Fontmell Parva House sits well in the centre of its 25 acres of impeccably maintained gardens, paddocks, park and romantic woodland, and has a state-of-the-art equestrian training centre previously leased by Olympian William Fox-Pitt.
The central core dates from 1665, and was built by Edward St Loe of Knighton, whose son, a rear-admiral, shipped mahogany wall panels from Honduras for the front hall. The house eventually passed to the St Loe Malets, who added the south wing; then, in 1864, it was bought by the Bower family, who added the north wing, its gable and two further gables to the central and south wing. For Pevsner, the mix of styles made for a house that is ‘unmistakeably classical, if interpreted with provincial gusto’.
Today, Fontmell Parva has 11,825sq ft of accommodation including four main reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, an orangery, 10 bedrooms, four bath/shower rooms, a gun room, a gym and a one-bedroom flat. Although admitting that ‘today’s market is far tougher than many property agents will have ever experienced’, Andrew Rome of Knight Frank in Winchester insists that ‘buyers are still active in Hampshire, despite the best efforts of the media to talk the market to a standstill’. As Mr Rome points out, affluent achievers account for a higher proportion of the county’s population than anywhere else in Britain and, once settled there, they tend to stay: this year, 53% of Hampshire houses sold by Knight Frank have been to buyers already living in the county.
One of the more intriguing village houses currently on Knight Frank’s books is the delightful Grade II-listed Dairy House in rural North Houghton, a mile from Stockbridge and 10 miles from Winchester. This was the hidden Test Valley retreat of talented film director Anthony Minghella, who died earlier this year, having sold the house to the current owner a few months previously.
Romantically, in a year when a higher-than-usual number of country houses have been sold for reasons of divorce, the Dairy House is being sold because the owner is getting married. Mr Minghella had the charming former farmhouse, which dates from about 1680, beautifully renovated and modernised under the direction of restoration architects: it has a pretty drawing room with a large open fireplace and views across the garden and water meadows, a kitchen/breakfast room, four bedrooms and three bathrooms.
At the end of the well-stocked garden stands Mr Minghella’s former studio, the 1,150sq ft Bell House, a remarkable vaulted building with a working bell and clock tower, a large open-plan living area, and a mezzanine bedroom area. Knight Frank (01962 850333) quote a guide price of £1.4m.