A little-known part of the country that was home to dukes of old has a revival on the horizon–and it’s long overdue, says Eleanor Doughty.
So quaintly named that one would be forgiven for imagining it’s something out of Thomas Hardy, the Dukeries is Nottinghamshire’s best-kept secret. An area tucked into a cosy corner in the north-west of the county (about 20 miles north of Nottingham, towards Worksop), the Dukeries includes part of the ancient Forest of Sherwood and is named after the four contiguous ducal estates it was once home to: Clumber House and the Dukes of Newcastle; Thoresby Hall and the Dukes of Kingston; Welbeck Abbey and t‘he Dukes of Portland; and Worksop Manor and the Dukes of Norfolk.
These four estates share not just geography, but lineage, too. When Bess of Hardwick married Sir William Cavendish in 1547, she planted an enormous Midlands family tree. Between their six surviving children, the family went on to occupy all of the Dukeries’ estates in one form or another.
Now, only one of the four dukedoms still exists, that of Norfolk, and only one house remains in private ownership: Welbeck. This 15,000-acre estate is now run by William Parente, nephew of Lady Anne Cavendish-Bentinck, the elder daughter of the 7th Duke, and incorporates a host of commercial activities, including a cookery school and farm shop.
Despite its curious social history and prime commuter location, the Dukeries remains a relatively unknown area, says James Stock of Fine & Country Bawtry (01302 591000). ‘We can reach anywhere pretty quickly here,’ he says, ‘because we’re bang in the middle of the country’—the middle of the Midlands, to be precise.
For families moving from London, there are two distinct advantages, according to Chris Charlton of Savills Nottingham (0115–934 8000). The first is accessibility: ‘From the Dukeries, you can get down to Newark for trains both north and south,’ he explains (90 minutes to London King’s Cross and Leeds and an hour’s dash up to York). ‘The A1 and M1 are in touching distance,’ adds Jeremy Baguley of Brown & Co (01777 709122). For weekend trips, Bakewell, for example, in the heart of the Peak District, is only 33 miles from Worksop.
The second advantage of the Dukeries is its astonishingly reasonable house prices. ‘If you look north of £1 million,’ says Mr Charlton, ‘there’s virtually nothing available. It’s a very competitively priced market.’ Prices do vary, postcode to postcode. In Bawtry, for example, a small market town with a thriving restaurant scene, a four-bedroom house would set you back about half a million. ‘But if you go up the road to the local pit village, you could buy the same for £70,000—it’s ridiculous,’ says Mr Stock.
‘There are very good areas and areas that people perceive to be bad, simply on the basis that they haven’t been well invested in previously.’ Mr Charlton explains: ‘Some of this could be down to mining and the impact on the infrastructure that took place over the years.’
The housing stock is also varied— there are old-style villages with vicarages and rectories and larger country houses such as Ranby Hall. This Grade II-listed property, which is on the market for £1.65 million with Brown & Co (01777 709122), needs refurbishment, but comes with formal state rooms and 12,000sq ft.
In Misterton, four miles from Gainsborough, a Grade II*-listed, five-bedroom converted pumping station with a 39ft living room and five acres of land is on the market for £850,000. Nearby, in Retford, within easy reach of the train station, a five-bedroom turreted house off the London Road is for sale at £950,000.
The Dukeries has a bright future. The high-speed rail lines of HS2 and HS3, contentious though they are, will bring more investors to the area, says Mr Charlton—that is, if they haven’t already arrived—‘and we’ll be seeing more strategic purchase opportunities’. What are you waiting for?