Country houses for sale

Changing Times in the Property Market

In the good old days of rural estate agency, the sales calendar was split into two well-defined seasons covering the five months of the year when country houses and gardens traditionally look their best?April, May and June, and September and October. But in the new instant marketplace dominated by City-based and international buyers, the English country- house scene has become a year-round affair, as a pragmatic Crispin Holborrow, head of Savills? country department, explains.

?Last year, the market got off to a flying start thanks to big City bonuses from 2005 and demand from overseas buyers?but it all went quiet when the stockmarket faltered in May?June, before recovering again at the back end of the year. With even bigger bonuses due for 2006, the buyers are out in force again this year, and we have been urging vendors to get in early to take advantage of the sustained demand, in case history repeats itself later on.

The clarion call has evidently been heeded, as Savills have come out with all guns blazing in this week?s issue of Country Life, with a total of 47 properties advertised at prices ranging from £799,950 for pretty Colne Cottage near Windsor, to £14.5 million for Barton Lodge, a 100-acre polo spread at Wink-field, Berkshire?a near 20% reduction on the original £18m sales price quoted in September last year.

The jewel in the crown is undoubtedly the magnificent Grade I-listed Walton Canonry at the quiet, southern end of Salisbury?s Cathedral Close.

A sublime example of classic Georgian architecture, the original house was built in about 1720 on the site of an earlier medieval structure by Canon Francis Eyre for Canon Isaac Walton, the son of the famous fisherman. The north and south wings were added later. At one time, the Canonry was the home of Constable?s friend, Archbishop Fisher, which enabled the artist to paint views of the cathedral from the meadows to the west, and from the gardens of the Bishop?s Palace. The Canonry has been in private hands since the death of Archdeacon Lear in 1914, and is still sometimes referred to as the Whistler House, after Rex Whistler who lived there in the 1930s.

During their 10-year tenure, the current owners have painstakingly restored the 7,500sq ft main house, which has three fine reception rooms, a library, an organ room, six bedrooms and two bathrooms. The independent south wing has also been restored, but the north wing, thought to have originally been the dairy, is largely unaltered. Unusually for a house in the Close, the Canonry has 1 acre of garden running down to the River Avon, as well as single-bank fishing?sure to delight even the most ?incompleat? of anglers. Savills (01722 426820) quote a guide price of £3.5m.

In total contrast, trendy 11,000sq ft Fernbrook Hall at Wickham Bishops, Essex, set in 20 acres of wooded grounds and parkland, has every toy the City boy could ever wish for, including a grand galleried minstrels? hall, four reception rooms, eight bedroom suites, a snooker room, an orangery, a cinema, swimming pool and leisure complex and a helicopter pad. The freehold is on offer through Savills (01245 293233) at £4m.

Other country-house agents have not been hanging about either, and this week sees the launch of idyllic Padwicks Farm with 39 acres at Bepton, near Midhurst, West Sussex, through Jackson- Stops & Staff (01730 812357) at a guide price of £2m. A traditional, timber-framed 17th-century Sussex farmhouse with later additions, the cosy, five-bedroom main house has been impeccably renovated by the present owners, who bought the farm three years ago. With good access to the A3, the motorways, Gatwick, Heathrow and Southampton airports and London-Waterloo via nearby Haslemere, tranquil Padwicks Farm is the perfect antidote for any frazzled commuter in danger of imminent burnout.