Farms and estates did not lose their appeal in 2023, with some local buyers and even a happy ending to a long-running Cornish dispute. Penny Churchill takes a look.
Direct support for English farmers may be on the way out, but there’s still a huge appetite for land and estates among investors, lifestyle buyers, farmers and conservationists, as sales achieved in 2023 clearly indicate.
For Alex Lawson, head of rural agency at Savills, the standout estate sale of the year was that of the illustrious Adlington Hall, which lies within Cheshire’s golden triangle, five miles east of Wilmslow and seven miles north of Macclesfield. Family seat of the Legh family since 1315, the 1,921-acre estate came to the market in September 2022 for the first time in more than 700 years, at a guide price of £30m through Savills and Mark Wiggin Estate Agency, and was sold as a whole to a long-term investor in autumn 2023.
At its heart stands Grade I-listed Adlington Hall, a handsome, 20,000sq ft quadrangular building, which stands on the site of a Saxon hunting lodge and was rebuilt in two phases in the Tudor and Stuart period, restored after the Civil War and extended in the mid 18th century by Charles Legh, who also built the matching Grade II*-listed stable courtyard and extensively remodelled the park and gardens.
The north section of the historic mansion houses the magnificent Tudor Great Hall and its famous organ, forever associated with Legh’s friend, composer Frideric Handel. The surrounding estate comprises six let farms and 22 houses and cottages, plus various ancillary buildings and parcels of land.
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Will Matthews, head of farms and estates at Knight Frank, oversaw the successful sale of two contrasting Oxfordshire estates — Golder Manor Farm at Pyrton near Watlington, and Woodleys near Woodstock — both launched in the latter half of 2022 at guide prices of £25m and £16m respectively.
Once part of the Earl of Macclesfield’s Shirburn Castle estate, the Golder Manor Farm sale was essentially a farmland and property deal involving 613-acre Golder Manor Farm, with its Grade II-listed farmhouse, traditional farm buildings and six semi-detached cottages on high ground in the heart of south Oxfordshire, on the western edge of the Chilterns and within easy reach of Oxford and London. Included in the sale was a pretty Grade II-listed former vicarage set in almost six acres of gardens and grounds with views over wildflower meadows and parkland towards Shirburn Castle, and a portfolio of income-producing properties that included nine cottages and the Spire & Spoke pub. The estate was eventually acquired as an investment by a local family, who will continue to farm the land.
One of Oxfordshire’s least well known, but most impeccably situated country houses, timeless Grade II-listed Woodleys at Wootton, three miles from Woodstock and 10 miles from Chipping Norton, sits in wooded gardens, grounds and parkland at the centre of its 230-acre residential and farming estate, with spectacular southerly views over the Duke of Marlborough’s estate to Blenheim Palace gleaming in the distance.
Historically, the parish of Wootton was part of a royal hunting forest that was cleared and cultivated in medieval times. Following the enclosure of Wootton in 1770, Thomas Southam, who already owned land at Woodleys inherited from his grandfather, was awarded an estate there of 86 acres. According to the Victoria County History: Oxford (1983), it was presumably he who built the house that was bought in 1818 by Thomas Thornhill.
His son sold it in 1881 to Edwin Ponsonby, whose descendants owned it thereafter and were the recent vendors. Woodleys’s ‘extraordinary location’ attracted interest from around the world and the estate was sold as a whole to an international buyer with completion in January 2023, Mr Matthews reveals.
Wiltshire’s prosperous Chalke Valley, voted ‘The Best Place to Live in the South-West’ in a 2022 Times survey, was described as ‘picturesque countryside at its spring-scented best, with Saxon churches, thatched cottages, rolling downs and a series of villages strung out along the 13-mile chalk escarpment between Salisbury and Shaftesbury’. This is the backdrop to the idyllic 600-acre West Chase residential and sporting estate, which came to the market through Savills in June 2022 with a guide price of ‘excess £18m’ and sold as a whole in 2023.
West Chase was acquired by the vendors in the early 1990s and transformed from a traditional working farm into a wonderfully private, ring-fenced country estate with 387 acres of arable farmland, 142 acres of pasture, 48 acres of woodland and views ‘to die for’ over neighbouring Dorset to the Purbecks and the Isle of Wight. It also boasts a handsome, five-bedroom main house remodelled by William Bertram, a walled garden and tennis court, courtyard of converted farm buildings, secondary farmhouse, estate cottages and extensive equestrian facilities, with direct access to the bridleways of Cranborne Chase.
Farming and sport have existed in perfect harmony at The Mill House and its 227-acre farm at Bulkington, five miles from Devizes, Wiltshire, which came to the market in autumn 2022 with a guide price of £5.75m through Savills in Salisbury. Hunting, shooting and fishing had been a way of life for the farm’s then owner, who loved to catch trout in the mill stream, and, in 1998, converted the charming mill house at the heart of the farm from a red-brick farmhouse into the elegant five-bedroom country house it is today.
Although originally offered for sale as a whole, the best outcome was achieved when, contrary to expectations, the land was bought separately from the house by farming buyers, with The Mill House and its gardens and grounds going to a non-farming purchaser.
According to a report in Farmers Weekly, farmer interest in trading natural capital is in the ascendancy. With substantial grants available from Defra to help farmers prepare Nature projects that will attract private-sector investment, the Environmental Farmers Group (EFG), founded in May 2022, has seen its membership grow swiftly to 268 farmers covering 146,800 hectares (362,000 acres) in Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset, Northamptonshire and north Lincolnshire, with sister cooperatives being formed in Yorkshire and elsewhere. Together, they represent 469 landowners and tenants, all of whom have an interest in delivering for the environment and potentially trading natural capital.
Tom Goodley of Strutt & Parker’s Norwich office reports the sale of the 671-acre Manor Farm at Shropham, near Attleborough, in the Breckland district of south Norfolk, which came to the market in March 2023 with a guide price of £9.5m and was sold as a whole in November to an environmental fund that will continue to farm it with the environment and sustainability in mind. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the novelist Mary Mann, dubbed ‘Norfolk’s Thomas Hardy’, lived at Manor Farm and Shropham was the setting for a collection of short stories known as Tales of Dulditch, in which she describes the harsh reality of farm life during the agricultural depression of the late 19th century.
According to Mr Goodley, Manor Farm was already run on environmentally friendly lines and was entered into a five-year Countryside Stewardship Scheme, which commenced in January 2019, generating more than £90,000 a year and covering capital improvement costs of £88,000. A strong property portfolio includes the Grade II-listed manor house and five other houses, with planning consent for the conversion of redundant barns to residential use.
According to Matt Sudlow, head of farms and estates at Strutt & Parker, the severe lack of farmland for sale in recent years shows signs of abating; he expects to see an increase in supply in 2024. He handled the sale of 327-acre Deanery Farm at Bampton, five miles south-west of Witney, Oxfordshire, which was launched on the market in July 2023 and quickly found a lifestyle buyer who reputedly paid ‘well in excess’ of the £5.15m asking price. For sale due to the retirement of its long-term tenant, Deanery Farm offered a traditional four-bedroom farmhouse with gardens and adjoining land; a pair of semi-detached cottages; a substantial range of traditional and modern farm buildings with scope for alternative uses; and gently undulating farmland with good roadside access.
Country estates for sale in Derbyshire are as rare as hen’s teeth and there was considerable interest when, in December 2020, Barton Hall and its surrounding 168-acre estate at Church Broughton, 11 miles from Ashbourne, was launched onto the market at a guide price of £5.5m through Knight Frank. However, as often happens with historic houses and estates that have been altered over time, there was much legal wrangling over perceived, but generally unquantified ‘risks’, which led some potential purchasers to withdraw from the fray; nevertheless, a deal was successfully completed in February 2023, selling agent Peter Edwards reveals.
The estate centres on Grade II*-listed Barton Hall, which was originally built in the 15th century as a moated, semi-fortified manor house, although significant alterations carried out in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries mean that it now appears as a largely Classical, grand Georgian country house. In 1925, the hall was sold to Basil Mallender, who laid out the Grade II-listed gardens, which he adorned with ironwork sourced from elsewhere in Derbyshire. Ancillary buildings include a courtyard of four cottages, a three-bedroom bungalow with equestrian facilities, a private chapel, outbuildings and garaging.
Down in the South-West, Widworthy Barton House, near Honiton, Devon — a restored Elizabethan country house, the oldest parts of which date from the 13th century — was offered for sale by Strutt & Parker in April 2021 with some 43 acres of gardens and parkland and views over the east Devon countryside, but failed to find a purchaser.
However, following the owner’s inspired decision to include the surrounding 400-odd acres of good arable farmland and pasture, the estate was relaunched on the market in September 2022 and found a buyer with Devon roots who had sold his business and was looking to return to his native county, selling agent Will Whittaker reveals.
Across the county border in north Cornwall, a bitter dispute — dubbed the ‘Battle of Trevalga’ — involving the vendors of the picturesque coastal estate of Trevalga, between Tintagel and Boscastle, and its longstanding tenants, who feared they would be evicted from their homes when it came to the market with a guide price of £16m through Savills in autumn 2022, has ended peacefully with the sale of the estate in October 2023 to Castle Lane Securities, part of the financing and real estate William Pears Group.
Residents of the estate, which comprises six let farms and a further 17 houses and cottages — all now in need of repair — have been reassured by the new owners that everyone involved will be able to remain in their homes.
From spectacular stately homes to a delightful thatched cottage, these homes that came up for sale this year were the