St George’s Hill and the Wentworth Estate continue to thrive, but attract a new demographic.
In 1911, Surrey master builder Walter Tarrant bought 964 acres of scrubland near the commuter town of Weybridge, north Surrey, from the Egerton family and set out to create England’s first gated residential estate, St George’s Hill. His aim was to build ‘large country retreats for the wealthy gentlemen of London’—stockbrokers, captains of industry, bankers and lawyers, all or most of them English, with perhaps a smattering of foreign royals and aristocrats.
Tarrant’s blueprint was to create large individual houses on plots of at least an acre carefully laid out around a golf course, a concept that went down well with City grandees, before construction was halted by the outbreak of war. In 1922, Tarrant acquired the development rights for the 1,750-acre Wentworth Estate at nearby Virginia Water and had a golf course designed around the 19th-century, neo-Gothic Wentworths, once owned by the Duke of Wellington’s brother-in-law and later by the exiled Spanish count Ramón Cabrera, whose widow added much of the surrounding land.
Throughout the 1920s, Tarrant continued to develop Wentworth to the formula perfected at St George’s Hill, creating his distinctive ‘Tarrant huses’ with their tall chimneys, dormer windows, gables and leaded lights, most being tile-hung or half-timbered and built using handmade bricks and tiles. Some of the grander ones had stonework around the front door and stone fireplaces; others had marble floors in the hall. The really grand ones merited a stone plaque with the initials WGT. Many have now been demolished to make way for gleaming modern mansions three times their size.
Development ground to a halt in the aftermath of the stockmarket crash of 1929 and, in 1931, Tarrant was forced to declare bankruptcy when the banks foreclosed on a large loan. By the late 1930s, Tarrant Builders—with Tarrant’s son Percy a director—was back in business at St George’s Hill and Wentworth, before the declaration of war in 1939 brought construction to a halt once more. Postwar development was swift to resume in leafy north Surrey and, by the 1960s, most of the land allocated for building on both estates had been used up—with strictly enforced green-belt planning restrictions preventing the release of further construction sites.
By the 1980s, a unique combination of privacy, exclusivity and a peerless location within easy reach of London’s major airports, saw millionaire pop stars, international sportsmen, oil-rich sheikhs and high-flyers from all over the world banging at the gates of St George’s Hill and Wentworth. Gradually, Tarrant’s blueprint of a cosy English country club for stressed-out city gents was abandoned in favour of an organic environment designed to meet the aspirations of the world’s richest and most reclusive business leaders.
And, with plots on the estates changing hands for up to £2 million an acre and Draconian building res- trictions requiring the excavation of massive basements to provide underground garaging, swimming pools, leisure complexes and cinema rooms, it’s easy to see how guide prices of £10 million to £20 million are easily arrived at—but also achieved, it seems, even in the wake of recession.
In recent years, this exclusive marketplace has been increasingly dominated by foreign buyers, notably Russian oligarchs whose star was thought to have waned, although Ed Shaw of Knight Frank maintains that a sharp increase in the number of UK visa applications filed by prospective Russian residents suggests that they haven’t yet quit the scene entirely. This may well be the case, given that the impressive Shandon in St George’s Hill was sold to a Russian buyer in July; the guide price was £15m.
Now, following the sale in September of the prestigious Wentworth golf club to Beijing-based Reignwood Investments for a reputed £135m, Chinese home-buyers are emerging as the smart new kids on the block in north Surrey, says luxury house-builder Octagon, one of a few developers that have dared to make this sector of the market their own.
‘We continue to attract a wide cross-section of international buyers, with favourite locations including both St George’s Hill and the Wentworth Estate. We have always had fruitful relationships with purchasers from the Middle East, West Africa and Eastern Europe, particularly Russia, but, more recently, we have noticed increasing interest from families from mainland China, who are looking to buy their first English property,’ says CEO Colin Tutt. He’s still celebrating the off-plan sale to a West African businessman of a 15,000sq ft mansion in St George’s Hill for about £16m— claimed to be a record for the Weybridge Estate.
Currently for sale through Savills (01932 838000) and Curchods (01932 843322) at a guide price of £9.5m, is Saddle Stones (above) in elegant Old Avenue, St George’s Hill—a stylish, three-storey super-mansion created by Octagon’s in-house designer, Tony Taylor, with bespoke furnishings, artwork and upholstery from trendy Russian interior designer NR Group.
Built of mellow brick with stone dressings, the house stands in more than an acre of pristine landscaped gardens and is designed to impress even the most blasé of visitors, from the grand white-marble entrance hall, with its curved marble-and-glass staircase, to the eye-catching Murano crystal chandelier cascading down from the second floor.
Planned with serious entertaining in mind, glass double doors lead into a vast drawing room overlooking the garden and ornamental swimming pool, with a separate formal dining room a secure setting for the most delicate of business negotiations.
Moving upstairs in leisurely fashion via the staircase or swiftly via the eight-passenger high-speed lift, guests arrive on the oval, glass, galleried landing, where they have a choice of five large double-bedroom suites or, in the case of the owner, the master-bedroom complex, which takes up two-thirds of the rear of the house.
Over at Wentworth, Octagon’s latest pièce de résistance is the all-singing, all-dancing Crossacres in North Drive, set in a meticulously landscaped 2.3-acre plot, the centrepiece of which is an ornamental swimming pool with retractable fountains. Classically designed in red brick with Bath-stone dressings and a front portico enhanced by full-height sash windows, the house offers six reception rooms, seven bedrooms and seven bathrooms, with a master suite boasting two walk-in mirrored dressing rooms and a romantic ‘book-matched’ marble bathroom.
The lower ground floor houses the second heated swimming pool, along with a six-person Jacuzzi, a sauna and steam room, two changing rooms and a fully equipped gym. Not to mention the cinema with surround sound, the state-of-the-art catering kitchen, two staff suites and a garage for eight performance cars. Knight Frank (01344 840020) quote a guide price of £17.5m. Given so much creative input, wouldn’t it be a shame if this house were only to be lived in for a few weeks of the year?