Since mid-Victorian times, the wooded valleys, hills and heathland of the Surrey Hills AONB have been a magnet for well-off Londoners seeking a balance between town and country living, so it’s no surprise to find that, what Natural England calls this ‘beleaguered green expanse which, together with the Green Belt, holds back London’s advancing commuter sprawl’, is the most expensive AONB in England in property terms. Research from Savills, based on Land Registry figures, shows an average value of £492,331 for a house located within the Surrey Hills AONB-15% more than the £417,694 average house price quoted for Surrey as a whole.
In 1889, the garden designer Gertrude Jekyll, an early exponent of the Arts-and-Crafts Movement, was introduced to the young architect Edwin Lutyens by Harry Mangles of Littleworth, a pioneer rhododendron grower for whom Lutyens had designed a gardener’s cottage.
She asked Lutyens to design a house for her in her garden at Munstead, near Godalming, and, in 1894, Lutyens designed Munstead Wood Hut as somewhere she could live while her main house, Munstead Wood, one of his acknowledged early masterpieces, was being built. It was the start of a famous collaboration that lasted until Jekyll’s death in 1932. Lutyens was still testing his early ideas when, in 1897, he built Wood End for Lady Georgina Stewart at Wormley, between Godalming and Chiddingfold, in the heart of the Surrey Hills AONB; its charming cottage garden was laid out by Jekyll. Currently for sale through Surrey-based de Mallet Morgan (01483 608171) at a guide price of £1.275 million, Wood End, listed Grade II, is described by Pevsner as an ‘attractive house, excellently composed, on a corner, the oversailing upper storey of white plaster on a base of Bargate Stone with brick dressings, being anchored by a giant chimney stack into which a miniature porch fits snugly’.
The house, owned since 1978 by the musical and literary legend Margaret Gibb, retains many signature Lutyens features, including a staircase-always a key element of his work-described by the late Roderick Gradidge as ‘one of the most elegant in South West Surrey’, a barrel-vaulted ceiling in the drawing room and, in the impressive reception hall, a large fireplace typical of the early Arts-and-Crafts Movement. There is a similar fireplace in the drawing room and, throughout the house, some notable examples of Lutyens’s exquisite joinery.
Before 1897, Wood End had been a cottage owned by the architect and artist William Paton Burton, one of many associated with the Arts-and- Crafts Movement who moved there with the advent of the railway. Built in the year that Country Life was founded, Wood End has three reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, six bedrooms, two bathrooms, a coach house, stable and outbuildings and is a rare example of an unaltered Lutyens- Jekyll original, although a little gentle updating wouldn’t go amiss.
What happens in Surrey in the next 8-10 weeks will probably define the country-house market in the county for the rest of the year-particularly for houses valued at £3m or more, where accurate pricing is now more critical than ever, says Nigel Mitchell of Knight Frank in Guildford (01483 565171). ‘This is not a time for opportunistic testing of the water at inflated prices: anything over-valued goes nowhere these days,’ he warns.
But, following the successful launch onto the market last year-at a guide price of £15m-of Pickhurst at Chiddingfold, a Grade II*-listed, late- Victorian mansion built in 1885-89 and more or less rebuilt, following a fire, by the architect Ian Adam-Smith (Property Market, May 22, 2013), Mr Mitchell is confident that a £6.75m price tag won’t deter buyers from joining battle over Rough Hill House at Munstead Park, near Godalming. Especially as Mr Adam-Smith is the architect responsible for remodeling an earlier, more modest house in the grandest of manners to create a splendid family home in a wonderfully private setting, with spectacular views over rolling pasture to the Surrey Hills beyond.
Few houses in Surrey are completely free of road noise so it was the location of Rough Hill House, in its tranquil, secluded position at the top of Munstead Park, that persuaded the present owner to buy it in 1992, Mr Mitchell reveals. An ambitious redevelopment programme, completed in 2013, included the installation of an impressive entrance hall with a domed ceiling and a grand limestone staircase, an oval library and two impressive fireplaces, all designed under licence from the Sir John Soane Museum. Rough Hill House stands in 5. acres of formal lawned and terraced gardens and boasts four main reception rooms, an orangery, a kitchen/ breakfast room, various domestic offices, seven bedroom suites and a one-bedroom summer house.
In the current price-sensitive market, getting the launch price right on a house that not only hasn’t been on the market for 20 years, but has also been substantially improved in the interim, is rarely an exact science. In the case of elegant Munstead Manor at Munstead, joint agents Knight Frank (01483 565171) and Grantley (01483 893939) are counting on a significant reduction in price -from last year’s £5.25m to £4.5m today-to swing a deal this time round.
Originally built in 1910, Munstead Manor has everything else going for it. It has been beautifully renovated and maintained by the owners, who are now scaling down and returning to London. Set in more than nine acres of parkland grounds and paddocks with glorious south-westerly views of the surrounding hills, the 8,800sq ft main house has four reception rooms, a country-style kitchen/ breakfast room, a splendid conservatory, a swimming-pool complex, three bedroom suites, three further bedrooms and a bathroom, with a billiard room and cinema on the second floor. It comes with a cottage, a studio, a barn, stabling, and an allweather AstroTurf tennis court.
At the eastern end of the Surrey Hills AONB, The Old Rectory at Ranmore Common, two miles from Dorking, is a Victorian gem that has not been seen on the market for more than half a century (£2.75m through Savills, 020-7409 8238). Built by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1859, the same year as Ranmore’s landmark, Grade II*-listed, St Barnabas’ church, designed by Scott in the style of ‘a High Victorian scaled-down cathedral’, the rectory was intended to serve the tenants of the Cubitt family’s surrounding Denbies estate. In 1950, the former rectory, listed Grade II, was sold by the Church, since when only two families have lived there, the present incumbent since 1960. Unusually large for a country rectory, with 4,500sq ft of accommodation on four floors (including a basement).
The Old Rectory stands in 6.8 acres of gardens and woodland with direct access to Ranmore Common and has four reception rooms, a kitchen/ breakfast room, a wine cellar, seven double bedrooms and two bath/ shower rooms-the latter suggesting the need for a judicious amount of upgrading.
Outbuildings include a garage and the original coach house and stables, which have undoubted potential for redevelopment, subject to the usual listed building and planning consents.
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