Country houses for sale

A simply glorious 773-acre rural estate — yet just 40 miles from central London

Penny Churchill revisits Hexton Manor in Hertfordshire, a fantastic estate with excellent country-sporting capabilities.

Louise Harrison of Savills quotes a guide price of £15 million for the historic, 773-acre Hexton Manor estate near the picturesque village of Hexton, five miles from Hitchin and 40 miles from central London. The estate sits on a peninsula of north Hertfordshire that juts northwards into the Bedfordshire plain, whereas its southern half forms the wooded north tip of the Chiltern Hills AONB.

For sale as a whole or in two lots, Lot 1 comprises the Grade II-listed manor house, six houses and cottages, plus a traditional stable courtyard converted to four commercial units—the whole set in 186 acres of formal and wild gardens, landscaped parkland and fishing lakes, on offer at £10m.

Lot 2, priced at £5m, comprises 586 acres in all and provides a dramatic contrast between the productive farmland in the north of the estate and the steep wooded valleys to the south of the house that are home to the Hexton high-bird pheasant and partridge shoot, arguably the finest in the northern Home Counties.

Owned by the Abbey of St Albans until its surrender at the Dissolution in December 1539, the Hexton estate was acquired in 1593 by Peter Taverner, whose descendants lived there until 1772. Thereafter, it changed hands several times in quick succession. In 1809, it was described as ‘a well-appointed country estate with park and gardens’ by its then owner, William Young, who left it to his daughter Caroline and her husband, Joseph Lautour, who was High Sheriff of Hertfordshire.

The Lautours made numerous improvements and, in about 1820, had the manor, originally built of brick, stuccoed in the late-Georgian style. Following her husband’s death in 1845, Caroline continued to embellish the park until 1869, when she died, leaving the estate to her son, Capt William Lautour Young. During his tenure, the estate was let to tenants and was almost derelict by 1901, when it was bought by a rich textile merchant, George Hodgson.

In the course of an ambitious 18-year restoration programme, he renovated the manor, removed the single-storey wings, rebuilt the village, revived and developed the gardens and grounds, built follies and bridges, and erected the gate lodges at either entrance of the long, tree-lined drive. An estate plan dated 1837 shows the park and pleasure grounds as being much the same as they are today.

In 1919, Hodgson sold to the wool merchant and politician, Sir James Hill, since when the Hexton Manor estate has changed hands only twice in 100 years, most recently in 2018, when it was acquired by the current owners from the Ashley Cooper family. During their relatively short tenure, the owners have developed the estate into a thriving family enterprise with a healthy income stream from farming, let residential and commercial property, the in-hand management of Hexton’s long-established shoot and the use of the house and grounds for filming and photo shoots.

The focal point of the estate is grand, Grade II-listed Hexton Manor, still a ‘work in progress’ to some extent. It offers 14,589sq ft of accommodation on three floors, including a striking Italianate reception hall, three recently renovated main reception rooms, two sitting rooms, a large kitchen/breakfast room and a conservatory on the ground floor; a master suite, two guest suites and five further bedrooms on the first floor; with two integral flats on the top floor and vast cellars on the lower-ground floor.

Hexton Manor is currently on the market via Savills for £15 million, which can be split between the £10m lot 1 and the £5m lot 2 — see more pictures, or enquire with the agent for further details. 

Hexton: What you need to know

Location: In the Barton Hills National Nature Reserve, six miles west of Hitchin and about 20 miles from Milton Keynes.

Atmosphere: Within the village is a primary school, church, local cricket club and pub.

Things to do: Plenty within the estate grounds, including simulated shooting and driven partridge and pheasant shoots. Explore the Barton Hills National Nature Reserve. The nearby market town of Hitchin offers day-to-day amenities whilst Milton Keynes offers an extensive range of leisure facilities, shopping, restaurants and an indoor ski slope.

Schools: Hexton JMI School is the closest to the estate, as is Hexton Junior Mixed and Infant School.

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