There’s nothing like a royal wedding to lift the spirits in times of austerity. And no sooner will the ink have dried on William and Catherine’s marriage lines, than country-house agents will be vying with each other to produce a suitably princely residence for the year’s most celebrated newlyweds. Finding ‘the next Highgrove’ will be this year’s Holy Grail, but what, I wondered, would be a dream home for these very modern royals? ‘Privacy will be a prime concern, so they will want to find a house of status, away from prying eyes and long lenses, where they can relax, enjoy the countryside and entertain friends and the occasional foreign dignitary. The dream location would probably be an area of rolling countryside beyond the commuter belt in Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, West Hampshire or Dorset,’ suggests Ed Sugden of buying agents Property Vision.
Few houses currently on the market can claim to satisfy all these criteria, so an element of compromise will be required. One that appears to tick most of the boxes is Grade II*-listed The Ham on the southern edge of Wantage, Oxfordshire, which launched in last week’s Country Life at a guide price of ‘excess £6 million’ through Knight Frank (020-7629 8171) and Strutt & Parker (020- 7629 7282). Home of the late Sir Simon Hornby from 1992 until his death last July, the elegant, red-brick house was built in about 1740 and extended in Victorian times. It stands in 47½ acres of lovely gardens and grounds in an AONB at the foot of the Lambourn Downs, and has six reception rooms including an impressive reception hall, a large sitting room, an ornately decorated dining room with a barrel-vaulted ceiling, a magnificent drawing room, a library and a study.
The bedroom accommodation includes a regal master suite overlooking both front and rear gardens and four more bedroom suites, with a further bedroom and bathroom on the second floor. A range of outbuildings to the west of the house includes a three-bedroom guest cottage and a staff flat; other buildings include stabling, stores and a marvellous barn, ideal for all night parties. Sir Simon’s lifelong passion for gardening is reflected in the lovely gardens he created and nurtured at The Ham during his 18-year tenure. Of particular note is the wonderful walled kitchen and rose garden, with its pleached hornbeam walkway and secluded outdoor pool. Flowing through the grounds is the sparkling Letcombe Brook, which runs through a series of ponds to a small lake surrounded by woodland. ‘The house isn’t overly big, but it has a wonderfully welcoming atmosphere, and there are plenty of outbuildings to convert,’ says Sir Simon’s godson, Edward Hall of Strutt & Parker, who adds: ‘Sir Simon wasn’t just a great gardener, but a great royalist, too, and I’m sure he would have loved the idea of William and Catherine living here.’ On the other hand, should the royal couple find Wantage a bit too close for comfort (although, handily, it does have a Waitrose), the property could very well suit the bride’s parents, who are also said to be looking to move.
From Highgrove to Gatcombe to Nether Lypiatt, Gloucestershire is renowned for being a royal paradise. In fact, the county boasts three Paradises, one of which, Paradise Valley near Painswick, ‘Queen of the Cotswolds’, is the idyllic setting for Castle Godwyn, described in Country Life (September 27, 2007) as ‘one of the finest examples of a smaller country house in the Cotswolds’. Originally the much humbler, 17th-century Paradise Farm, Castle Godwyn was gentrified in the early 18th century in the ornate West Country Baroque style-reputedly by local stonemason John Bryan-for wealthy Painswick clothier William Townsend. In the early 19th century, the house was bought by American-born silk merchant William Lake, who supported the Crown in the War of Independence and subsequently emigrated to England. He made a number of alterations, as did one of his many successors, Maj-Gen Sir Francis Howard, who, 100 years later, added the entrance porch on the east side to accommodate guests arriving by car.
Currently for sale though Jackson-Stops & Staff in Cirencester (01285 653334) at a guide price of £3.5m, Castle Godwyn, listed Grade II*, has been lovingly restored by furniture expert John Milne and his wife, Caroline, an art historian and cordon bleu cook, who bought the house on impulse in 1973. It has ample living and staff accommodation, including entrance and inner halls, four reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, a fine master suite, seven further bedrooms, two bathrooms, a two-bedroom flat and a three bedroom cottage. It stands in 11 acres of mature woodland and paddocks, which may be less land than William would like, although selling agent Jamie Dalrymple Hamilton reckons that it may be possible to buy adjoining land at some point in the future. And as William’s ancestor George III said: ‘Gloucestershire is a fine county, but Painswick is one of the pleasantest places in the world.’ If privacy and security are the main priority for the house-hunters, then the luxuriously appointed Hammer Hill House at Romsley, near Bridgnorth, south Shropshire, could fit the bill. Designed by flamboyant Welsh architect Sir Bertram Clough Williams- Ellis, creator of the Italianate resort village of Portmeirion, Hammer Hill House was built in 1923 for Mrs Kendrick, a cousin of former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Set in 28 acres of magnificent gardens and grounds behind a tall boundary wall with lodge cottages to either side of the grand, electronically operated, wrought iron gates, Hammer Hill House has spectacular panoramic views over the Severn Valley, the Clee and the Welsh hills.
Refurbished at great expense by the present owners, the 15,000sq ft mansion has five grand reception rooms, including a splendid drawing room with a sprung and lit dancefloor, a panelled walnut dining room and an impressive hall. The bedrooms are no less opulent, especially the master suite, and there are five more bedroom suites, three with en suite dressing rooms. A heated indoor pool has been installed near the hand-painted, bespoke kitchen, and state-of-the-art technology controls the surround-sound, alarm and lighting systems. ‘It may all be a bit too ‘ritzy’ for William and Catherine, but the house has incredible views and is extremely private,’ says Tony Morris-Eyton of Savills (01952 239517), who launches Hammer Hill House in today’s Country Life-jointly with Worcestershire agent Andrew Grant (01905 734735)-at a guide price of ‘excess £5.5m’.
Making the Cornish connection
In 1546, Henry VIII’s historian Polydore Vergil wrote that ‘the whole of Britain is divided into four parts, whereof the one is inhabited by Englishmen, the other of Scots, the third of Welshmen, and the fourth of Cornish people’. The young prince has already shown his allegiance to Wales, and the purchase of a proper Cornish estate, such as historic Hamatethy, near St Breward, could forge precious new links with the people of Cornwall.
The 542-acre Hamatethy sporting and farming estate was held after 1066 by Cornwall’s biggest landowner, Count Robert of Mortain, half-brother of William I, and has been owned by vendors John and Sally Alford since 1979. At its heart is a traditional Cornish manor house, built in about 1800 of the same local granite used in 1890 for London’s Tower Bridge. The house has extensive but manageable accommodation on three floors, including four reception rooms, nine bedrooms, four bathrooms and two staff cottages.
Outbuildings include a traditional stable courtyard, stone barns, a granary and modern livestock buildings. Amenities include fishing on the River Camel, an informal shoot and commoner’s rights over St Breward Common. Should William wish to improve his surfing skills, Rock and Padstow are a mere 10 miles or so away.
‘We sold Highgrove to Prince Charles in the early 1980s, and would love to see William and Catherine installed at Hamatethy, especially as William must have flown over it many times on his way in and out of nearby RAF Culdrose,’ says selling agent David Hebditch of Chesterton Humberts (01823 331234), who quotes a guide price of £4m for this magically unspoilt Cornish estate.
Scottish house fit for a King
Across the border in Banffshire, Strutt & Parker (01330 826800) want ‘offers over £4m’ for the scenic, 740-acre Mayen estate at Rothiemay, 10 miles from Huntly and 42 miles from Aberdeen. Originally part of the barony of Rothiemay bestowed by David II on William de Abernethy in the 14th century, the estate later passed to the Gordons, before coming back to the Abernethys. The powerful Duff family built the present house in 1788, adding the coach house, stables and estate offices some two years later.
‘The Mayen estate has everything a future king could wish for, including a grand Georgian mansion with five bedroom suites, various two- or three-bedroom cottages for staff and visitors, 740 acres of totally private, secure and secluded land and beautiful gardens for his future children to run around in. There are woodlands with potential for a low-ground family shoot and fishing galore along the private double bank of the River Deveron. And should his royal duties not fill all William’s working hours, there is the estate’s arable and stock-rearing farm to occupy him,’ say selling agents Strutt and Parker.