Country houses for sale

One of Oxfordshire’s great country houses comes to the market at £16 million

Penny Churchill takes a look at one of the biggest country house sales of 2022 as Woodleys, near the Oxfordshire village of Woodstock, comes on to the market.

One of Oxfordshire’s most impeccably situated, but least-known country houses has just been launched onto the market: the timeless, Grade II- listed Woodleys at Wootton, which sits at the heart of a historic, 230-acre, residential and farming estate on the edge of the Cotswold AONB, three miles from Woodstock, 10 miles from Chipping Norton and 12 miles from Oxford.

Will Matthews of Knight Frank’s Country Department quotes a guide price of £16 million for the imposing late-Georgian house, which stands in wooded gardens, grounds and parkland to the north of the Duke of Marlborough’s Blenheim estate, looking south across the gardens to Blenheim Palace in the distance.

Woodleys, Oxfordshire.

The centre of the house built by Southam is described as ‘a small ashlar-fronted gentleman’s residence of the late 18th century’, probably at first having lower rear wings to each side. In the early 19th century, soon after Thornhill bought the house, the wings were demolished or hidden, whereupon balancing wings with canted bays were added at each end of the main front. The east wing was given a symmetrical side elevation with a pedimented centre.

At the same time, the interior was altered, a new staircase with stone treads and a wrought-iron balustrade put in and several new fireplaces fitted. Minor additions were made at the rear in the mid 19th century. In 1887, the house was extended westwards, but, since then, has been little altered, apart from general maintenance, some reconfigur-ation of the interior, the fitting of bathrooms and, more recently, the installation of an efficient biomass-boiler heating system.

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Woodleys now offers more than 12,800sq ft of traditional country-house living space including an entrance hall, a large drawing room, a dining room that can seat 30 people, a study (complete with its original bookshelves and views of Blenheim Palace) and an open-plan kitchen/breakfast room.

Woodleys, Oxfordshire.

The back hall leads to the Victorian service wing, which now houses a games room, television room, utility room and stores. The bedrooms include a spacious principal-bedroom suite overlooking the garden, with nine further bedrooms and six bathrooms on the first floor, and a further three bedrooms and a bathroom on the second floor.

Woodleys stands in a serene parkland setting that has hardly changed in more than 200 years. To the east of the house is an impressive walled garden, orchard and tennis court; the western terrace is perfect for summer entertaining. Ancillary buildings include the three-bedroom, converted coach house and the pretty, two-bedroom Garden Cottage, which has a large garden and separate access. A further three-bedroom detached cottage, Grimsdyke Cottage, sits on the west side of the parkland. All three are currently let on assured shorthold tenancies.

Woodleys, Oxfordshire.

Various traditional stone outbuildings include a large unconverted stone barn with a courtyard. Further farm buildings, located away from the house and accessed by a separate driveway, are let on commercial leases. The arable land is let on a contract farming agreement due for renewal in September 2022; the pasture is let on an annual grazing licence.

Historically, the parish of Wootton was part of a royal hunting forest that was cleared and brought into cultivation during the Middle Ages, hence the name ‘Wootton Wood leaze’ (meaning ‘a piece of land converted from forest to arable use’), first mentioned in 1279, and later Woodleys, in 1716.

Following the enclosure of Wootton in 1770, Thomas Southam, who already owned land at Woodleys left to him by his grandfather, was awarded an estate there of some 86 acres. According to the Victoria County History: Oxford (1983): ‘He presumably built the mansion house and the large post-enclosure farmhouse now called Grimsdyke Farm; certainly both were there in 1809 in occupation of Southam’s son, William… In 1818, the mansion house was bought by Thomas Thornhill, whose son C.E. Thornhill sold it in 1881 to Edwin Ponsonby, whose family have since held it.’

Woodleys is for sale via Knight Frank at £16m.