2021 brought us all many ups and downs — but in the property market it was pretty much just ups, as Penny Churchill explains in her look back at the biggest country house sales of the past year.
There’s no question that it’s been a year like no other in the UK country house market. An exuberant Lindsay Cuthill of Savills sums it up neatly, when he declares, ‘in terms of overall sales, 2021 has beaten 2007 into a cocked hat’. That’s not merely estate agents’ hype — Mr Cuthill backs up his statement with some solid facts and figures.
Based on Land Registry records for the first 48 weeks of 2021, compared with the same period of 2019, Savills Research identifies the top 10 local authorities in England that have seen sales of at least 40 properties valued at more than £2 million. Given that there are 333 local authorities in England and that London and other metropolitan areas are not included in the survey, the results make fascinating reading.
With 79 properties sold in 2021 compared with 21 in 2019, Wychavon, West Midlands, led the way with sales of 79 properties valued at more than £2m, compared with 21 in 2019; South Oxfordshire had 74 sales (24 in 2019); Teighbridge, mid Devon, had 71 (20); St Albans, Hertfordshire, had 64 (15); Epping Forest, Essex, had 61 (19); York had 60 (20); Wiltshire had 52 (16); Wealden, Kent, saw 49 sales (11); followed by the Cotswold district with 47 sales (12), and the New Forest, with 46 sales (10).
In spite of travel restrictions, working from home, Brexit and the economic fallout from the global pandemic, London buyers led the charge in the race for country space. A chronic shortage of good houses for sale in the early part of the year, compounded by a cold April and a wet May that prevented photographers from going about their business, meant that it was early summer before the country market finally got up to speed.
Meanwhile, estate agents concentrated on clearing the decks of historic houses with large acreages of land, which always take time to sell. Knight Frank and Savills celebrated the New Year with the sale in January at a £15m guide price of the 30,000 sq ft Barrington Hall in Essex — a beautifully refurbished ‘golden oldie’ that had been on the market since June 2019.
The imposing, red-brick Barrington Hall — listed Grade II* — stands in 41 acres of gardens, paddocks and parkland on the Essex/Hertfordshire border. It was designed as a Georgian pile in 1734, rebuilt as a Jacobean manor in 1863 and had been completely refurbished by Silvertown Properties — which acquired it in 2014 — before finding its new owners.
The winter gloom lifted for Knight Frank with the sale in February of one of Surrey’s most illustrious country houses, historic Grade I-listed Crowhurst Place, near Lingfield, which launched in June 2020 with a guide price of £6m.
In 1338, the Manor of Crowhurst was acquired by John Gainsford, seven generations of whose family were to live at Crowhurst for almost 400 years. They built the original house between 1423 and 1450.
In 1910, the American heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt separated from her husband, the 9th Duke of Marlborough, and embarked on a search for a house away from Blenheim Palace. Having found Crowhurst Place, she began an inspirational renovation programme described by Pevsner as a ‘fairytale restoration’. Her dream was perpetuated by the recent vendors who bought the 153-acre Crowhurst estate in 1980 and, over the years, developed and enhanced its spectacular gardens.
With most wealthy London buyers looking to the south and west in their search for the perfect country house, or a substantial second home where they might eventually retire, the Home County of Kent sometimes tends to slip beneath the radar. But not in 2021, which turned out to be a stellar year for Will Peppitt of Savills, who delivered a fine run of sales in the area throughout the year, including that of handsome Barcombe House at Barcombe Mills on the banks of the River Ouse, near Lewes, East Sussex.
Launched on the market in February at a guide price of £4.5m, the graceful, Grade II-listed Georgian house, set in lovely park-like grounds, caught the imagination of a number of buyers, resulting in competitive bidding that took the price well over the guide, with a sale agreed in late April.
Still in the east, where a shortage of new stock was a problem throughout the year, Paddy Pritchard-Gordon of Knight Frank in Bishop’s Stortford had a sure-fire winner in the shape of Grade II-listed The Old Rectory at Little Bardfield, in a pretty, unspoilt corner of east Essex, which launched in April and sold in September at a guide price of £3.5m. The charming late-18th/early-19th-century house, built of red brick under a hipped tiled roof, stands in more than eight acres of delightful gardens and grounds on the edge of the village.
Over in the Cotswolds, a shortage of new stock was frustrating for country house agents, although there, too, old rectories rode to the rescue. Rupert Sweeting of Knight Frank found a ready buyer for The Old Rectory at Fifield, Oxfordshire, a substantial late-Georgian village house in the heart of the Cotswolds, six miles from Daylesford, 10 miles from Chipping Norton and 17 miles from Soho Farmhouse. Launched on the market in June 2021, it sold in July at a guide price of £4m.
Further west in Gloucestershire, Savills clinched the sale of enchanting, Grade II-listed The Old Rectory at Shipton Oliffe, near Andoversford, 7½ miles from Cheltenham, following a lengthy sales process and some 100 viewings.
Launched on the market in June 2020, a deal was done in March 2021 at a guide price of £3.5m. The impressive six-bedroom former rectory built of Cotswold stone under a stone-tiled roof by local architect Thomas Fulljames stands in three acres of wooded gardens and grounds overlooking rolling countryside.
This year more than ever, Somerset’s golden triangle, bounded by Frome, Bruton and Castle Cary, has been a happy hunting ground for families coming out of west London in search of a quieter country life and houses priced between £2.5m and £4m, says Andrew Cronan of Strutt & Parker.
One of the highlights of his year was the sale of Triscombe House at Bishops Lydeard, near Taunton, which launched on the market in September 2020 and sold in July 2021, at a guide price of ‘excess £3.5m’. In this case, the house, set in 20 acres of land in the foothills of the Quantocks and rebuilt after a devastating fire by the previous owner, saw incomers beaten to the line by a local family.
Belvedere, Lympstone, Devon
Launched March 2020; sold June 2021; guide price £5m; Knight Frank and Savills
One of the finest waterfront houses on the picturesque Exe estuary, Grade II-listed Belvedere dates from the 17th century, with 18th- and 19th-century additions. Protected on all sides by gardens and woodland, the former Dower House to neighbouring Nutwell Court boasts far-reaching views over the Exe to the surrounding countryside.
Ham Manor, Ham, Wiltshire
Launched September 2021; sold November 2021, guide price £5.5m; Knight Frank
Grade II*-listed Ham Manor stands in 40 acres of gardens, woodland and pasture overlooking rolling downland to the south of Ham village, four miles from Hungerford and 11 miles from Marlborough. The strikingly symmetrical, six-bedroom house dates from the 17th century, with early 18th- and 19th-century additions, and comes with an annexe, cottage, stabling and outbuildings.
Hemmick Court, Hale, Hampshire
Launched February 2021, exchanged April 2021; guide price £5.995m; Savills and Sotheby’s International Realty
Arguably one of the finest country houses built in the New Forest in the past 25 years, Hemmick Court stands in 43 acres of gardens, paddocks and woodland in its own private valley between the villages of Hale and Woodgreen in the north-west corner of the National Park. It was bought sight unseen during lockdown by an international buyer.
St Julians Park, Rushden, Hertfordshire
Launched August 2020, completed May 2021; guide price £5.75m; Strutt & Parker
Dreamy, Grade II*-listed St Julians Park is a beautifully-proportioned Georgian house at the heart of a ring-fenced 183-acre estate in sleepy north Hertfordshire. Selling agent Mark Rimell comments: ‘St Julians Park was a real gem, only 42 miles from the capital with no public rights of way. It was bought by a local family after strong competition from London and overseas.’
Parliament Piece, Ramsbury, Wiltshire
Launched August 2021; sold September 2021; guide price £6m; Savills
Exquisitely renovated and restored in recent years, Grade II*-listed Parliament Piece stands in three acres of lovely formal gardens on the edge of Ramsbury village. The house, which dates from about 1620, was extended in about 1650, with further additions in the early 19th century. It takes its name from a visit by Cromwell, when he is said to have held Parliament in the grounds.
Riverdene, Cookham, Berkshire
Launched June 2021, sold September 2021, guide price £4.45m; Hamptons and Knight Frank
One of Cookham’s landmark houses, elegant Riverdene stands on the south bank of the Thames next to the village’s 12th-century church, a setting immortalised in the paintings of Sir Stanley Spencer, who lived and worked there all his life. A previous owner was Sir Algernon Guinness, who set the land-speed record at Brooklands in 1922.
Truthan Manor, Truthan, Cornwall
Launched June 2020; guide price £2.95m; Knight Frank
Truthan, five miles from Truro, was an important monastic settlement in medieval times and later the seat of the powerful Borlase, Williams and Collins families. Grade II-listed Truthan Manor, which dates from 1687, stands in 18 acres of gardens and grounds within a magical parkland setting close to both the north and south coasts of Cornwall.
Catch up on the best country houses for sale this week that have come to the market via Country Life.