Country houses for sale

Buying English manor houses

Few people looking for the perfect ‘Jane Austen’ English manor house would expect to find it in rural north Norfolk where, of the relatively few country houses that come on the market each year, some are too big, some are too small, and few are ‘just right’. A rare exception is the exquisitely restored 18th-century Manor House at Bintree, near Guist, 10 miles south of Holt and 13 miles from the north Norfolk coast, which is being launched on the market by Savills (01603 229229) with a guide price of £1.55 million.

In the 17th century, Bintree Manor was part of vast land-holdings in Norfolk acquired by Sir Edward Coke, Lord Chief Justice to James I. He lived in an Elizabethan house on the site of the Palladian Holkham Hall built for Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester, between 1734 and 1764. Holkham eventually passed to Thomas William Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester of the 2nd creation, a noted agricultural reformer who quadrupled the estate’s income, thanks to a judicious strategy of improvement and investment. In 1794, his son focused on the Manor House at Bintree, adding the Georgian entrance range and new outbuildings at a cost of £1,482; the south west wing was added in the 1830s. The 1,000-acre Bintree estate remained in Coke family hands until 1968, when it was sold off by Anthony Coke, the 6th Earl.

In 1993, the by-then redundant manor house, with its stables, out-buildings and 12 acres of gardens and paddocks, was bought by its present owner, Paul Doyle, who was looking for ‘a project’ as an antidote to working in the City. He was to spend the next 10 years overseeing its renovation, having recruited a team of experts that reads like a Country Life Who’s Who. The walled garden, with its crenellated Gothic ice-house, was designed by the late Antony King-Deacon, who worked for Sir Harold Nicolson at Sissinghurst; the Gothic library in the old 17th-century part of the house is by John Simpson, architect of the new Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace; and the extended programme of building, alterations and redecoration was executed to perfection by a team of specialist local craftsmen and designers. Now ingeniously restored to its original configuration, the Grade II-listed Manor House has four charming reception rooms, a central kitchen/breakfast room overlooking the walled rear courtyard, five bedrooms, two bathrooms and a wine cellar.

The adjoining 1830s wing has two reception rooms, two bedrooms and a bathroom, with further accommodation available in a separate two-bedroom guest cottage. Extensive equestrian facilities include stabling for 15 horses, a sand manège and several well-fenced paddocks; other recent improvements include a heated outdoor pool and a well-planned kitchen garden, the latter the domain of Mr Doyle’s parents. Restoration has almost become a way of life for Kieron and Alison Dunk, owners of the pretty, Grade II-listed, small Queen Anne manor house that overlooks the village green at Hilton, near Cambridge. It was once owned by the celebrated landscape architect ‘Capability’ Brown, who took the manor, together with that of nearby Fenstanton, as payment for work carried out for the Spencer family at Althorp.

Having bought The Manor House in 2002, the Dunks set about reversing the effects of an inappropriate, 1970s-style, ‘country-cottage make-over’ and the structural damage caused when a wheel flew off a passing tractor and ploughed a lone furrow through the front of the house. Starting from the top of the house and working through to the bottom, oversized UPVC windows were ripped out and replaced by Georgian sashes, period fireplaces were reinstated, and nasty modern surfaces and joinery replaced by 18th-century brick and English oak. It took two years to complete the renovation of the main house, which now boasts a classic reception hall with a fine carved staircase, three reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, a conservatory, six bedrooms and three bath/shower rooms. In the meantime, the couple managed to buy the next-door property, comprising a cottage, outbuildings and a splendid 17th-century Flemish brick barn, all part of the original manor.

Now, their mission accomplished, The Manor House is for sale minus the cottage, but including the barn and outbuildings through Carter Jonas (01223 368771) at a guide price of £1.35m.Back in 2003, when Jonathan Beardsworth and his wife, Jo, decided to buy the sound, but neglected, 17th-century Coombe Farm at Naphill, near High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, they thought that ‘relatively minor cosmetic repairs’ were all that was needed to upgrade the Grade II-listed brick-and-flint farmhouse to 21st-century standards. Two years down the line, they weren’t so sure, as they uncovered a multitude of horrors hidden beneath the surface of a tacky 1970s refurbishment. Walls covered in the wrong sort of render, beams painted in layers of black paint, and an annexe (the former dairy) with a disused swimming pool that took ‘enough concrete to build Terminal 5 at Heathrow to fill in’, were just some of the problems they encountered as, room by room, they blitzed everything back to the bare walls, and started again.

‘Needless to say, the budget went off the Richter scale, and we began to think we’d bitten off more than we could chew,’ Mr Beardsworth recalls. But their persistence eventually paid off, and the dust-clouds have long since settled to reveal a beautifully restored, classic small Chiltern country house with four reception rooms, a wonderful kitchen/breakfast room, master and guest suites, three double bedrooms and a family bathroom, with the annexe now a separate self-contained apartment. Coombe Farm stands in 1.4 acres of gardens and grounds with glorious views across the Hughenden Valley,

and is for sale through Savills (01494 731950) at a guide price of £1.65m.