It’s not often that a house of such scale as Cornbury Park is available for a long-term rent. Arabella Youens asks what sort of person might be in the market for it
The 17th-century Cotswold country house of Cornbury Park, near Charlbury in Oxfordshire, home to the Rotherwick family for some 50 years, is now available to rent—all 35,000-plus sq ft of it. Launched onto the market at the beginning of May by Savills jointly with Bidwells, the house, a Grade I-listed former royal hunting lodge, is considered by many to occupy one of the finest settings in the Cotswolds, being adjacent to the former royal forest of Wychwood, one of the most ancient of its type in Great Britain.
After our Architectural Editor, John Goodall, visited in September 2012, he wrote: ‘To stand at the front porch of Cornbury Park and look out over the landscape is to experience the illusion that Oxfordshire is a sparsely populated county—park, woodland and fields stretch away in every direction without a sign of habitation or development.’
In order to protect the house and estate for the next generation, Lord and Lady Rotherwick have decided to invite a tenant to take on a 10-year lease for Cornbury Park, the interiors of which were created by the interior decorator John Fowler during the 1960s; today, they are considered to be one of the most complete survivals of his later work. For a monthly rental of £30,000, the incumbent of Cornbury will have access to its splendid formal reception rooms, an atmospheric library, a modern family kitchen, an extensive range of bedrooms and attic rooms and a nursery cottage, which adjoins the service wing, as well as 13 acres of gardens and grounds, which include a splendid swimming pool.
The obvious type of tenant would be someone who relishes entertaining on a large scale—not only is the house an easy drive from London for weekend house parties, but the estate plays host to various festivals, from our own Field & Country Fair which takes place next month (June 10–12) to Wilderness, which, according to the organisers, is a ‘four-day multi-awarding-winning festival of live music, wild swimming, dining experiences and late-night revelry’ over the first weekend in August.
‘When Wilderness is on, it’s the best place to be in the world,’ enthuses Lady Rotherwick. ‘I fill the house with friends and cover the front lawn in bell tents for those with families. It’s a magical setting and you have the best of both worlds in that you can embrace the festival as much as you like and then retreat when necessary. I usually host one big lunch party over the weekend and then our friends come and go as they please. It’s a fun and joyous atmosphere.’
Although the house can certainly accommodate large numbers—the dining room seats 22 comfortably— it is, at heart, a family home, says Lady Rotherwick. ‘It’s a big house, but it’s never felt too big as we’ve always lived in the whole house rather than just one bit. Yes, it lends itself to entertaining, but when you’re not, it works well just for immediate family.’
Its close proximity to Oxford means it could work for someone who has children at The Dragon or one of the other schools in the city. ‘There aren’t many people who come forward saying they’d like to rent something in the country at this end of the market, we recognise that,’ explains Crispin Holborow of Savills Private Office. ‘What we’re trying to find is a client who can’t find his perfect house and who might be in the market to rent something instead. For someone who is only planning to be in the country for 5–10 years—for instance, while their children are at school—when you consider the transaction costs of buying these days, it might make sense to consider renting.’
Ruth Barr of Knight Frank agrees, adding that, with the Stamp Duty (SDLT) changes, it’s now cheaper to rent for 2–3 years than buy an equivalent property. She calculates that the SDLT owed on a £10 million house could be £1.113 million or £1.413 million if it’s a second home. ‘Divided by 36 months at £39,270 per month, the equivalent house could probably be rented at £20,000 to £25,000 a month.’ Renting has two advantages, adds Jonathan Bramwell of The Buying Solution (07825 609001). It allows you to live somewhere larger, grander or better situated than if you were buying ‘and, if you wanted to buy this calibre of house in north Oxfordshire, you may have to wait 20 years to secure it’.