You can wait a lifetime for a perfect country house for sale in Oxfordshire, and it's very rare to see two houses for sale in Little Tew at the same time
Penny Churchill tours not one but two country houses for sale in Little Tew, and a wonderful Arts & Crafts house near Oxford
This week highlights the sale, for the first time in many years, of three memorable, but quite different Oxfordshire houses, which encapsulate the spirit of a more leisurely, more thoughtful age in the run-up to the First World War.
By far the grandest is High Wall in the leafy Oxford suburb of Headington, a landmark country house built in about 1910 by the Arts-and-Crafts architect Walter Cave and originally set in extensive, Grade II-listed gardens attributed to Harold Peto in Country Life articles by Lawrence Weaver (November 10 and 17, 1917)
In the early 1970s, however, a large chunk of High Wall’s magnificent formal gardens, including Peto’s rose gardens, was lost to development when the High Wall estate was split up and sold by Alfred Savill, Curtis & Henson in four parts, two of which were offered as building sites ‘with Outline Planning Permission for 33 Superior Detached Houses on 12 acres’. The fourth lot was the former estate coach house, Jean Cottage, a charming four-bedroom house tucked away in a corner of the grounds, which was also sold off separately.
The main house was bought in 1971 by the eminent Oxford academic Dr Brian Beynon Lloyd, Emeritus Professor of Magdalen College, Oxford and the first Director of Oxford Polytechnic. Impeccably maintained and largely unaltered, it is now being sold by the family, with the remaining 2.79 acres of its original Italianate gardens, and launches in this week’s Country Life, through Savills in Oxford (01865 339700) at a guide price of £6.75 million.
Described by Pevsner as ‘a very handsome big house in C17 style’, secluded High Wall stands high on Headington Hill and is approached from Pullens Lane, a wooded private road, classified as a green lane—the epitome of rus in urbe, with the centre of Oxford a mere 1.5 miles away. The house was built on sloping farmland for the scholarly Katharine Feilden, the only daughter of a wealthy, Lancashire-based army family, whose London home off Hanover Square was a few doors from the office of her friend Cave.
Miss Feilden lived at High Wall from its construction until the Second World War, moving to Jean Cottage during the First World War, so that wounded officers could be cared for in the main house, and again during the Second World War, when the house was transformed into a 50-bed auxiliary hospital. Between the wars, she employed four gardeners to look after her precious gardens, which were opened to the public under the NGS for the benefit of The Queen’s Institute of District Nursing. After the Second World War, Miss Feilden’s widowed sister-in-law, Dorothy, took over High Hall, but she continued to live at Jean Cottage until her death in September, 1954, aged 90. Her obituary in the Oxford Times described her as a ‘great hospital benefactress’, in recognition both of her wartime work and her role in the development of Oxford’s Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre.
The present owners have gone to great pains to preserve High Wall’s essential Arts-and-Crafts character and the architect’s holistic approach to the building, its interior and grounds, which sees a blurring of the boundaries between internal and external spaces. Positioned close to the north-eastern boundary to make the most of the landscape, the house is screened by boundaries to the east and south and the gardens flow away from the main house in a series of terraces and lawns to reveal views of Oxford beyond.
Changing levels throughout the house echo the sloping contours of the land, with shallow steps leading from the higher main court to a smaller paved court below. The focal point of the eastern elevation is a soaring 12-light mullioned window that lights the hall and the staircase leading to the panelled sitting room, which has double doors leading to the upper terrace and splendid views over the gardens. The dining room is more ornate with much carved detail.
An interconnecting hallway links the north wing with the reception rooms in the south wing, the southwest corner of which is occupied by a large oak-panelled drawing room and the first floor by seven bedrooms and the grand master suite.
High Wall’s generous 10,566sq ft of living space includes four main reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, eight/nine bedrooms, three bathrooms and an archive room, plus a first-floor library with a deep window seat—an ideal vantage point from which to contemplate the upper terrace and the gardens, the owners suggest.
‘You can wait years for a decent house to come up for sale in Little Tew—arguably the most sought-after village in west Oxfordshire, especially since the opening of super-cool Soho Farmhouse in neighbouring Great Tew last year,’ says Damian Gray of Knight Frank in Oxford, which are handling the sale of not just one, but two landmark houses in the village, both in need of fairly serious modernisation.
Manor House, Little Tew, five miles from Chipping Norton and 16 miles from Oxford, was the home of the remarkable Nancy Sandars, from her birth there in June 1914, until her death in November last year at the ripe old age of 101. She led an extraordinary life, travelling widely throughout Europe in the 1930s, serving during the Second World War as a motorcycle dispatch rider and then with the Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park.
After the war, she trained as an archaeologist and wrote a number of authoritative works, from a translation of The Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest epic poem in literature, to a history of the ancient ‘sea peoples’ of Anatolia. Built of Cotswold stone under a stone-tile roof, Manor House, listed Grade II, dates from the 17th century. It was extended in the 18th and 19th centuries and again in the 1920s by Sandars’s father, who also refurbished it at that time.
Since then, little has changed at Manor House, which presents a totally blank canvas for the next incumbent, with 5,794sq ft of living space to play with, including five reception rooms, domestic offices, nine bedrooms, two bathrooms and attics. Knight Frank (01865 790077) quote a guide price of £2.7m for the main house, its two-bedroom coach house and about 18 acres of gardens, woodland and paddocks, with a row of three semi-detached cottages available by separate negotiation at £900,000.
The firm quotes a guide price of £2.75m for Grade II-listed The Grange, Little Tew, which stands in its own peaceful time warp on the edge of the village. It was the home until recently of the late Fred Temlett and his wife, Valerie, who bought the house in a state of disrepair in 1956, and ran their own private theatre there until 2012, when, aged 91, Mr Temlett decided it was time to bring down the final curtain.
Built in 1858 as a vicarage in the Victorian Gothic style and extended in 1869 and 1880, the house stands in 5.3 acres of gardens, grounds and woodland and offers some 9,128sq ft of timeless living space, including four main reception rooms, a study and music room, the former 70-seat theatre, eight bedrooms, three bathrooms and a second-floor staff flat.