London families planning ‘the big move’ to the country have a difficult choice to make between buying close to town to minimise the stress of the daily commute, or going those extra miles to find their dream country house at a reasonable price and then living with the problems of long-distance commuting. A trawl of some of the best country houses currently for sale in popular commuter locations highlights the relative merits of both arguments. It is important to make the right decision because, as we have seen all too often in the past, the price of getting things wrong may not just be disenchantment, but divorce.
With its excellent transport links and choice of schools, Surrey has long been the first stop of choice for City-based financiers and businessmen, and prices here have changed little since 2007, claims Nigel Mitchell of Knight Frank in Guildford (01483 565171). ‘Even now, all it takes is two buyers who both want a house, and a deal can be done,’ he says.
Last month, he launched elegant, Georgian Colley House at Reigate Heath, at the foot of the North Downs between Dorking and Reigate, at a guide price of £3.25 million. Impeccably placed close to mainline stations at Reigate and Redhill (Reigate to London Victoria, 40 mins or Redhill to London Bridge, 25 mins; annual season ticket £2,344), and three miles from the M25, Colley House stands in 3.4 acres of picturesque grounds within the Reigate Heath SSSI and conservation area.
Built in the late 1700s of local Reigate stone, the house, previously split into two, has been cleverly reintegrated by its present owners. It now has four reception rooms, a large open-plan kitchen/breakfast room, six bedrooms, four bathrooms, a one-bedroom east wing and a two-bedroom coach house. The heath is the seventh-highest point in Surrey, and terraced gardens to the north of the house follow the contours of the land to the swimming pool, where the north boundary wall creates a marvellous sun-trap.
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Built between 1912 and 1920 by the Kleinwort banking family, imposing, Grade II-listed Chownes Mead (pictured) stands on high ground, a mile or so from both Cuckfield and Haywards Heath, West Sussex (Haywards Heath to London Victoria, 43 mins; annual season ticket, £3,080), overlooking its 30 acres of gardens and parkland towards the South Downs. For sale as one or two lots through Savills (01444 446000), at a guide price of £3.5m for the whole, the 11,745sq ft house has remained almost unchanged since 1955, and it now needs updating.
Chownes Mead’s classic Edwardian interior includes four grand reception rooms, a spectacular oak staircase, a 1950s ‘English Rose’ kitchen, numerous domestic offices, six bed-rooms and four bathrooms on the first floor, and a further five bedrooms on the second floor. Ancillary buildings include a two-bedroom coach house and a three-bedroom cottage. The gardens, originally designed by Gertrude Jekyll, include a swimming pool, a tennis court and a croquet lawn.
Behind its classic Georgian façade, the rear of charming, Grade II*-listed Manor House at Upper Farringdon, three miles from Alton, Hampshire (Alton to London Waterloo, 67 mins; annual season ticket, £3,384), betrays its ancient origin as one of the first three-storey medieval hall houses built in England.
It was subsequently altered in the 16th, 17th, 18th and late 19th centuries. Further improved by its present owners, who are relocating to North Oxfordshire for business reasons, the 6,330sq ft house has three/four reception rooms, six bedrooms and four bathrooms, all set in 3.3 acres of gardens and grounds that include a swimming pool and tennis court. For sale through Savills (01962 841842) at a guide price of £3.25m, Manor House has the advantage-rare for a house in this popular part of Hampshire-of being entirely free from road noise, says selling agent Charlie Chute.
You won’t normally find a rush of early-morning commuters at unmanned Bayford station, three miles south of Hertford (Bayford to Moorgate, 44 mins; annual season ticket, £2,080), where Knight Frank are selling Grade II-listed The Manor House, by far the best house in the village, at a guide price of £3.75m. Once part of the Bayford estate bought by the entrepreneur Sir William Baker for £21,000 in 1757, The Manor House dates from the early 17th century with 19th-century additions.
It stands in 21 acres of woodland, paddocks and famous formal gardens-beautifully maintained by its owners during the 43 years they have lived there and open to the public in aid of the village church on Bayford Gardens Day each year. The 11,147sq ft house has four reception rooms,
a splendid staircase similar to that of Hatfield House, a kitchen/breakfast room, six bedrooms, four bathrooms, extensive attics and a one-bedroom flat. To the north of the house is a range of traditional outbuildings, including a fine Victorian stable block with its original stables, and obvious development potential.
Demand is ‘as insatiable as ever’ in Cambridge city centre, where a nice Victorian semi-detached house with a third of an acre of garden in a good part of town still costs around £1.85m, reveals Chris Carey of Bidwells (01223 841842). A similar pot of money will buy the classic Regency Foxton House with a coach house, stable block and four acres of gardens and grounds at Foxton, seven miles south of Cambridge and six miles from Royston (Royston to London Kings Cross, 37 mins, annual season ticket, £3,860).
Foxton House, listed Grade II, was built for landowner William Hurrell in 1825, and owned in the late 1800s by Canon William Selwyn, the founder of Selwyn College, Cambridge. Set well back from the high street at the end of a long, tree-lined drive, the 4,840sq ft house has four reception rooms, a study/morning room, a kitchen/breakfast room, a glazed verandah, five bedrooms and two bathrooms.
Another East Anglian gem with Cambridge connections is The Bishop’s House at Frating, Essex, seven miles from Colchester (Colchester to London Liverpool Street, 46 mins; annual season ticket, £4,140), on the market with Carter Jonas (01787 882881) at a guide price of £2.5m. The beautifully proportioned Regency former rectory was built in 1832 under the patronage of St John’s College, Cambridge, and, from 1932-50, was the home of the Rev Thomas Chapman, Bishop of Colchester.
For the past 20-odd years, the 6,900sq ft house has been an ideal family home for its present owners, who are now downsizing. It stands in more than nine acres of landscaped gardens and meadow, with outbuildings, a swimming pool and a tennis court. Accommodation includes four reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, seven/eight bedrooms and five bathrooms.