We haven’t heard much about ‘green shoots of recovery’ lately and country-house agents in Kent, London’s back garden, are still finding the going tough, ‘especially in the market for houses valued at about £2 million, where buyers are most concerned about the combined impact of the 7% rate of Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) and some form of “mansion tax” after the next election. At the upper end of the market, buyers seem to be more positive, but, properties must be seen to be sensibly priced,’ says Philip James of Strutt & Parker in Sevenoaks.
Linda Wesson of Hamptons International, who has seen an encouraging response to several recent launches in Kent and Sussex at around the £3.5m mark, concurs: ‘For potential purchasers in the market above £2.5m, the real purchase price of a property is the sum of the advertised guide price, plus 7% SDLT, plus whatever they think needs to be spent on the property, plus their own costs, legal fees and so on. If that sum exceeds what the prospective buyer thinks the property is worth, they won’t even bother to view it.’
The new mood of realism is reflected in the prices asked for several outstanding country houses launched in Kent in recent weeks-most of which haven’t been seen on the market for several decades. Strutt & Parker (01732 459900) quote a guide price of £2.85m for the imposing, Georgian Brooms Down, set in 5.7 acres of formal gardens and grounds on the southern edge of Wateringbury, five miles southwest of Maidstone.
For almost 30 years, Brooms Down has been the cherished family home of Graham Parrett (scion of a distinguished family of local newspaper proprietors, whose great-grandfather, Walter Parrett, founded the East Kent Gazette in Sittingbourne in 1855), and his wife, Doreen. Brooms Down isn’t listed but its ownership history is meticulously recorded in the original floorplans displayed in the house by its present owners. Mrs Parrett relates how ‘a tiny Georgian house, built in 1820′ was extended in every direction in 1871, 1884, 1891 and 1911 by members of the Fremlin brewing family, who also farmed the surrounding land. In the 1950s and 1960s, Brooms Down was owned by the Harmsworth King family and partly occupied by an elderly lady until, in 1985, Mr and Mrs Parrett bought the five-bedroom main part of the building.
In 2000, they added the rest of the house and moved out for two years while Brooms Down was painstakingly restored and refurbished. Impressive iron gates lead up a sweeping driveway to the entrance of this delightfully secluded country house, which stands in the middle of beautifully maintained, wooded gardens and grounds; many of its rare trees are featured in Owen Johnson’s Champion Trees of Britain and Ireland.
Inside the house, spacious, light-filled rooms boast myriad splendid original features-among them fine fireplaces, ornate cornicing, plasterwork, carving and panelling plus a grand oak staircase-and include three main reception rooms, a study, a conservatory, a large kitchen/breakfast room, eight bedrooms and four bathrooms.
A guide price of £4.495m is quoted by Hamptons (020-7493 8222) and William Wesson (01689 850111) for opulent Rushmore Hill House in the prosperous village of Knockholt, north of Sevenoaks. Currently the family home of digital-media tycoon Michael Murphy, it’s thought to have evolved from an early-19th-century coaching inn, which replaced a 17th-century hostelry that was known as The Porcupine Inn.
No expense has been spared in transforming Rushmore Hill House into a luxurious, 6,700sq ft, family country home, set in 5.8 acres of landscaped gardens and grounds arranged, park-style, as a patchwork of sweeping lawns, majestic trees, floodlit terraces and a series of interlinked pools with a waterfall and rill. Liberal use of natural materials such as oak and marble, combined with period-style fireplaces and handcrafted joinery, create an ambience of sophisticated elegance throughout the house.
Rushmore Hill House has five reception rooms, a library, a state-of- the-art kitchen/breakfast room, a wine room, a vast master suite, four double bedrooms, four bathrooms and an indoor leisure complex and swimming pool. Included in the sale are a two-bedroom gate cottage, a converted former shooting lodge, which is currently used as a gymnasium, and a disused squash court with ‘potential for redevelopment’.
Another impressive country house within easy commuting distance of the City is Stormont Court at Godden Green, two-and-a-half miles east of Sevenoaks. Originally called Godden Green or The Red House, the house was built in the Gothic style for Thomas Usborne in 1879 and sold a year later to London stockbroker Francis Forbes. Forbes’s daughter Janet married the Arts-and-Crafts architect C. R. Ashbee and, after her father’s death, the couple moved to Godden Green in 1922.
Ashbee considered the house, with its enormous slate roof, twisted mock-Tudor chimneys and stone porches supported by pillars, to be ‘a monstrosity’ and completely remodelled it-demolishing the roof, chimney and various arches and redesigning the windows and much of the interior, before he eventually ran out of funds. After the Second World War, Janet Ashbee sold the property to John Cleland, whose family had lived at Stormont Castle, near Belfast, but reputedly left during the Troubles, when Fenians dug six graves for the family in the front lawn. The Clelands renamed their new Kent residence Stormont Court and lived there from 1947 until 1970, when it was bought by the late Mr and Mrs Godfrey Chandler, the parents of the current vendors, who retain fond memories of their quirky childhood home.
For sale through Chesterton Humberts (01732 741212) at a guide price of £5m, Stormont Court has 8,400sq ft of accommodation on three floors, including three main reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, seven bedrooms and four bath/shower rooms; two estate cottages provide further staff or guest accommodation.
The house stands in 20 acres of well-planned formal gardens, grounds and paddocks, close to the picturesque hamlet of Godden Green.
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