Country houses for sale

Country houses find new buyers

When Graham Waterton of Strutt & Parker in Salisbury analysed the profile of the purchasers of 20 houses sold recently by his office for between £750,000 and £1.5 million, he was amazed to find that, of the 20 buyers involved, only three came from London and none of these was City based. ‘For the past several years, probably 80% of our country house buyers have been City based bonus-earners.

Now, we’re seeing a much more varied group of buyers: some but far fewer moving out from London; others trading up or trading down, either locally or from farther afield; some in their fifties or early sixties, who are either retiring early or returning from overseas,’ Mr Waterton reveals. As a result, thanks to a steady trickle of new houses coming to the market around Salisbury, the past three months have been ‘as busy as in any other year’.

In today’s country house market, where a guide price of £1.5m is ‘the new £2m’, buyers are again competing for houses in the £1m to £1.5m price bracket. Strutt & Parker, for instance, recently closed a deal on a good family house near Hindon, 15 miles from Salisbury, at around the £1.25m guide price. Four buyers one local, one from Herefordshire, one from Yorkshire and one from the USA started the bidding at £1m, with the American buyer winning the day.

A non-City London businessman with a young family is the frontrunner in the race to buy the delightful Grade II-listed The Dial House at Chilmark, 12 miles from Salisbury, for which Strutt & Parker (01722 328741) quote a guide price of £1.5m. Built in the early 18th century, remodelled in the early 1900s, and considerably improved by its present owners in recent years, The Dial House is arguably the best of many fine Chilmark stone houses to be found in this popular Nadder Valley village.

The 4,350sq ft house sits in 2.35 acres of terraced gardens, with an orchard, kitchen garden and woodland, and has four reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, 6/7 bedrooms, three bathrooms and a heated outdoor pool. With a population of only 8,000 and a famous public school, the sophisticated Wiltshire town of Marlborough is a popular destination with families moving west out of London. ‘It even has the same smart high-street shops as Wimbledon SW19,’ says Rory O’Neill of Carter Jonas (01672 514916), who has been rushed off his feet in recent weeks, trying to ensure that transactions agreed are carried through to completion.

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He is handling the sale, at £1.3m, of elegant 18th-century West Kennett House in the hamlet of West Kennett, four miles from Marlborough and within the World Heritage Site bounded by the Avebury Stone Circle, Silbury Hill and the Sanctuary. Described as ‘a Georgian town house in the country’, West Kennett House, listed Grade II, was built by the owners of the West Kennett Brewery in 1780. It stands in 2.7 acres of landscaped gardens and grounds, and has some 4,000sq ft of living space on three floors, including four reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, five bedrooms and three bathrooms, plus a 1,707sq ft, two-bedroom converted coach house. Interested parties at this early stage include parents of children at Marlborough and St Mary’s Calne, one of whom flew in from Switzerland.

Across the county border in Somerset, proximity to schools also plays a major role. But the owners of the exquisite Old Rectory at Cricket Malherbie, near Ilminster, Somerset, have found the daily school run to Sherborne a grind too far, so have put the enchanting former rectory, which dates from the 16th century, on the market through Jackson-Stops & Staff (01935 810141) at a guide price of £1.1m.

The idyllic stone built house, listed Grade II, sits in 1¼ acres of tranquil gardens overlooking farmland in a landscape of undulating hills and valleys. It has three reception rooms, six bedrooms, seven bathrooms and outbuildings. First in the queue for The Old Rectory have been parents of children at nearby schools who are currently living in rented accommodation, and several Londoners, including a number of early retirees, reports selling agent Charlie Bladon.

Ironically, the owners of quirky Cricket Court (pictured above) on the edge of Cricket Malherbie are selling the historic Grade II*-listed folly they bought nine years ago, in order to move closer to London, where their children are now at school. Savills (01722 426820) quote a guide price of £2.25m for the stone house built by Stephen Pitt in 1811 on the site of a Tudor manor badly damaged by fire in 1735.

Pitt was allergic to symmetry, and, according to Huon Mallalieu (Property Market, November 16, 1989), ‘snooks are cocked at all the conventions of architecture’, with doorways placed off-centre and bannister rails that ‘writhe and twist, successfully failing to match the odd covings and lantern domes above them’. Not surprisingly, Pitt was greatly concerned about fire, and the intriguing iron-railed balcony that runs around the entire house was primarily intended for use as a fire escape.

Later owners of Cricket Court included Count Nikolai Tolstoy, who wrote Stalin’s Secret War there. Little changed externally, but, well modernised in terms of home comfort and layout, the 8,425sq ft house has an impressive domed reception hall, six reception rooms, including a domed circular library, eight bedrooms, four bathrooms and a basement flat. It stands in 5.6 acres of wooded gardens and grounds, which include a former bear pit and the remains of a Plantagenet castle.

* Country Houses for sale