Country Life, with the expert assistance of Savills, presents the top 10 market towns in England.

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You’ve seen them, with their windy streets, picture-perfect houses and farmer’s markets, with fish on show and bread to buy. It’s the market town, of course. They come in all shapes and sizes, from bigger ones, such as Altrincham, near Manchester, to those almost in miniature, such as Southam in Gloucestershire.

Now, with the help of Savills, exclusively for Country Life, has calculated the top 10 market towns in England, according to the following criteria:

  • number of outstanding primary schools within the town boundary
  • distance to the nearest railway station
  • nearest AONB/national park
  • number of listed buildings within the town proportionate to its population

The results bring us a market town in every part of the country, from East Sussex to Cumbria. Here’s the list:

1. Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire

Population: 13797
Period cottages in Windsor End, Old Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire

Period cottages in Windsor End, Old Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire

Beaconsfield is divided into the Old Town and the New Town. It’s the Old Town which houses the market, and it’s full of period buildings, charming pubs and restaurants, while the New Town has most of the larger shops – including Waitrose and Marks & Spencer. ‘With easy access to the M40 and the Chiltern Line to London Marylebone only taking 23 minutes, Beaconsfield is popular with a number of property buyers including both commuters and families,’ says Chris Moorhouse of the local Savills office.

It’s not just the town itself that’s worth considering, however: ‘The villages surrounding Beaconsfield continue to see demand,’ adds Chris, ‘particularly villages like Penn, Hedgerley and Jordans due to the beautiful countryside and proximity to Beaconsfield.’

  • Average sale price Apr 15-Apr 18: £1,014,517
  • Listed buildings per 100 people: 1.10
  • Outstanding primary schools: 1
  • Nearest station: Beaconsfield station is in town boundary
  • Nearest AONB or National Park: On the boundary of Chilterns AONB

Find properties for sale in Beaconsfield


2. Southam, Gloucestershire

Population: 958

Not to be confused with the other Southam – also a pretty market town, across in Warwickshire – the tiny Gloucestershire village of Southam countryside has wonderful history dating back to the end of the first millennium. There is even a castle, built by a close ally of Henry VII following the end of the Wars of the Roses –  Southam House, as it is called, is now the Ellenborough Park Hotel.

  • Average sale price Apr 15-Apr 18: £586,870
  • Listed buildings per 100 people: 1.36
  • Outstanding primary schools: 0
  • Nearest station: 0.89 miles to Cheltenham Racecourse station
  • Nearest AONB or National Park: Partly within Cotswolds AONB

Find properties for sale in Southam


3. Ditchling, East Sussex

Population: 1476
Sunrise over Ditchling Beacon, South Downs National Park

Sunrise over Ditchling Beacon, South Downs National Park

Is it a town? Is it a village? Places such as Ditchling – with a population of 2,000 but a tiny centre – certainly blur the lines. But what we can say for certain is that this charming little spot is a terrific place to live. Ditchling sits at the base of the South Downs between Brighton and Haywards Heath, a few hundred feet below the famous Ditchling Beacon – one of the most famously picturesque spots along the South Downs Way. ‘Ditchling has an abundance of character and charm,’ says Rohan Vines of Savills in Haywards Heath. ‘It’s home to Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft and a fine selection of local pubs. Close by you will also find Mid Sussex Golf Club and Ridgeview Wine Estate, the official supplier of fizz at 10 Downing Street.

‘This is a charming area surrounded by beautiful countryside, yet still offering convenient commuting times to London, Brighton and Gatwick. Housing stock consists of a mixture of pretty cottages to larger family homes and the types of buyers tend to be locals, families, Londoners as well as downsizers.’

  • Average sale price Apr 15-Apr 18: £699,664
  • Listed buildings per 100 people: 3.32
  • Outstanding primary schools: 0
  • Nearest station: 1.2 miles to Hassocks station
  • Nearest AONB or National Park: Falls entirely within South Downs National Park

Find properties for sale in Ditchling


4. Sevenoaks, Kent

Population: 29506
Knole House, Sevenoaks, Kent. Home to Lord Sackville and looked after by The National Trust.

Knole House, Sevenoaks, Kent. Home to Lord Sackville and looked after by The National Trust.

David Johnston of Savills Sevenoaks says that the town’s popularity boils down to three major pluses: ‘Firstly the fast commute into the city; secondly the fantastic schools; and finally, within five minutes you can be surrounded by beautiful open countryside.’

It’s not only London that’s close – Gatwick Airport and Ashford International are also within easy reach in what’s a lovely part of Kent. ‘With numerous National Trust-run properties, historical homes, castles and gardens, there is so much to offer families and visitors,’ he adds. ‘Knole Park also offers over a 1000 acres to roam and enjoy all sorts of country pursuits, or just catch a glimpse of wild deer, picnic in the outdoor seating area or join a guided walk in Kent’s last medieval deer park.’

  • Average sale price Apr 15-Apr 18: £635,048
  • Listed buildings per 100 people: 1.05
  • Outstanding primary schools: 4
  • Nearest station: Sevenoaks station is in town boundary
  • Nearest AONB or National Park: On the boundary of Kent Downs AONB

Find properties for sale in Sevenoaks


5. Altrincham, Cheshire

Population: 52419
The Market Hall (1879), Market Street, Altrincham

The Market Hall (1879), Market Street, Altrincham

By far the largest of the towns on this list, Altrincham is also the most urban – the town is well and truly a suburb of Manchester. That said, there’s a lot to like in a market town recently voted the best place to live in North West England – not least the market itself, housed in a glorious Victorian building which dates to 1879. The nearby schools are renowned – Loreto, Ambrose and both Altrincham boys’ and girls’ schools are all superb.

  • Average sale price Apr 15-Apr 18: £361,611
  • Listed buildings per 100 people: 0.15
  • Outstanding primary schools: 7
  • Nearest station: Altrincham, Navigation Rd & Hale stations all in town boundary
  • Nearest AONB or National Park: 9.9 miles to Peak District National Park

Find properties for sale in Altrincham


6. Wetherby, West Yorkshire

Population: 11242
The River Wharfe at Wetherby

The River Wharfe at Wetherby

Situated between Leeds, York and Harrogate on the River Wharf and just off the A1(M), ‘There is a weekly market in its pretty town centre, an excellent range of shops, and a monthly farmer’s market as well as four primary schools and a secondary school,’ says Ben Pridden of Savills in York. ‘Harrogate is nearby and offers more extensive amenities, and The Nidderdale Area of Outstanding National Beauty is only 16 miles to the north east.’

  • Average sale price Apr 15-Apr 18: £329,791
  • Listed buildings per 100 people: 0.28
  • Outstanding primary schools: 2
  • Nearest station: 4.5 miles to Cattal station
  • Nearest AONB or National Park: 9.5 miles to Nidderdale AONB

Find property for sale in Wetherby


7. Bakewell, Derbyshire

Population: 3949

There’s a dreamy quality to Bakewell, according to Chris Charlton of Savills in Nottingham. ‘Many of the houses are built in lovely mellow, honey coloured stone,’ he says, while others make the most of the location. ‘The type of housing offered ranges from modern vernacular built apartments and town houses set on the banks of the River Wye on the edge of the market town centre to large country houses set around the glorious Peak District countryside,’ he adds.

The lure of the original Bakewell Tarts alone would probably ensure plenty of visitors in the summer, but the pretty town also has connections to Jane Austen which make it a very popular tourist spot. But while it gets busy in summer, adds Chris, this ‘quintessential and largely unspoilt market town is surrounded by glorious open countryside that offers an easy escape.’

  • Average sale price Apr 15-Apr 18: £306,746
  • Listed buildings per 100 people: 4.33
  • Outstanding primary schools: 0
  • Nearest station: 3.1 miles to Rowsley South station
  • Nearest AONB or National Park: Falls entirely within Peak District National Park

Find property for sale in Bakewell


8. Keswick, Cumbria

Population: 4821
Lake District National Park

The Lake District National Park is on Keswick’s doorstep

The Lake District’s towns all have plenty of attractions, but Keswick’s quirkiness makes it an unforgettable place. Full of interesting shops, delis and cafes, it also boasts museums and galleries including the quirky and world-famous Pencil Museum. Property is much more reasonably-priced than it is in Windermere or Ambleside, yet enjoys just the same benefits of lake (Derwent Water) and mountains nearby.

  • Average sale price Apr 15-Apr 18: £296,418
  • Listed buildings per 100 people: 0.95
  • Outstanding primary schools: 0
  • Nearest station: 12.7 miles to Aspatria station
  • Nearest AONB or National Park: Falls entirely within Lake District National Park

Find property for sale in Keswick


9. Epping, Essex

Population: 10289
Woodland path in Epping Forest

Woodland path in Epping Forest

‘Epping is a beautiful market town that is steeped in history, character and green spaces,’ says James Lamb of Savills in Loughton. Buyers moving out of London are drawn by the fact that they can have a home on the end of the Central Line that has true countryside on the doorstep. ‘Epping Forest is a huge draw for property buyers offering hectares of beautiful open green space,’ adds James. ‘You can enjoy a plethora of outdoor pursuits including horse riding, walking, fishing, mountain biking, to name just a few.’

There is an eclectic range of property stock from new builds and Edwardian homes to Victorian houses and some even older properties – something to suit all types of buyer.

  • Average sale price Apr 15-Apr 18: £513,445
  • Listed buildings per 100 people: 0.45
  • Outstanding primary schools: 0
  • Nearest station: London Underground Central Line
  • Nearest AONB or National Park: 20.8 miles to Kent Downs AONB

Find property for sale in Epping


10. Stamford, Lincolnshire

Population: 19701
conservation areas

Stamford town centre

‘Stamford is a Georgian gem,’ says James Abbot of Savills Stamford. He’s not the first to wax lyrical about its architectural charms: back when it was rather newer, no less a figure than Sir Walter Scott labelled it, ‘the finest stone town in England.’ Beyond the admittedly beautiful buildings there are many other plus points: a good selection of independent and mainstream shops and restaurants, state and private schooling so good that many families move here for that reason alone, and the Lincolnshire countryside on the doorstep – including Burghley, home of the annual horse trials.

  • Average sale price Apr 15-Apr 18: £271,748
  • Listed buildings per 100 people: 2.25
  • Outstanding primary schools: 1
  • Nearest station: Stamford station is in town boundary
  • Nearest AONB or National Park: 35.7 miles to Norfolk Coast AONB

Find property for sale in Stamford


Britain’s top 10 market towns: Analysis

Market-town communities are often described as the happiest places to live in the UK. For those moving from town to country – or, at least, city to town – they offer the perfect balance of country life and accessible amenities. Indeed, the market town is a remarkable example of social cohesion over time.

‘Even in the furthest corners of the country, the ever-present infrastructure of big house, church, parsonage and market town produced a mix of classes and fortunes, providing a secure berth for people of any background,’ writes Harry Mount, in How England Made the English (2012).

Demand is high for properties in market towns for ancient reasons, says Frances Clacy, research analyst at Savills: ‘They were traditionally established near landmarks such as castles or monasteries and were located where transport was easiest.

‘Today, buyers still look to areas that are in close proximity to local amenities and good transport links. As such, homes in many of the market towns across England can be significantly more expensive than the average for the county in which they sit.’

It comes as no surprise, then, that the towns chosen by Savills are some of the most beautiful in the UK. Take Bakewell, Derbyshire, for example, in the heart of the Peak District National Park. According to Savills’s research, it has 171 listed buildings, enough for 4.3 per 100 residents, among them the church and the Queens Arms Hotel.

There’s plenty to do, too, from Chatsworth, two miles away, to exploring Arbor Low, a Neolithic henge monument. Plus, it’s eminently commutable, being 37 miles from Manchester and 20 from Sheffield.

Chatsworth Country Fair

Chatsworth Country Fair

Stamford, Lincolnshire, is another popular hotspot, an hour and 23 minutes from London King’s Cross by train, its local ‘big house’ is Burghley and there’s the usual array of cosy town shops: a cheese shop on St Mary’s Street and a scattering of antique dealers.

Epping, Essex, might seem an unlikely contender, given its proximity to London, but it is, says James Lamb, head of Savills’s Loughton office, ‘a beautiful market town steeped in history, character and green spaces’.

Epping Forest is a particular draw for buyers: there’s riding, walking, fishing and cycling to be had within its 6,000 acres – all a 37-minute ride on the Central Line to Oxford Circus from Lough-ton. ‘This certainly underpins property values and there’s an eclectic range of stock, from new-builds to characterful Edwardian homes and some even older,’ says Mr Lamb.

However, it’s Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, that takes the top spot. This pretty market town is, explains Chris Moorhouse, head of the town’s Savills office ‘divided into the Old Town and the New Town. The Old Town is bursting with period buildings and quintessentially English pubs and restaurants, as well as a well-kept main street, and the New Town is well catered for, with a Waitrose and other well-known shops and restaurants’.

There’s a Tuesday market in the Old Town and a monthly farmer’s market, too, ‘something that caters for everyone,’ says Mr Moorhouse. Plus, it’s just off the M40 and the Chiltern line from Beaconsfield to London Marylebone takes 30 minutes.

All of this comes at a cost, of course. ‘The average sale price for properties is just over £1 million, two and a half times higher than the average for Buckinghamshire [£398,933],’ adds Mr Moorhouse.

In Warwickshire, 70 miles away, the market town of Southam is similarly expensive for its surroundings; second-hand sales across the country are about £262,000, but Southam buyers may pay 124% more – £587,000.

The market-town premium is well worth it, says Adam Buxton of Middleton Advisers. ‘With some villages struggling to keep the pub open, let alone the shop, a market town’s facilities can be relied upon to be there for the foreseeable future.’

The market town is also remarkable for how it keeps people together. James Nason lives, with his wife, Rowena Colthurst, and their three children, at Pitchford Hall, near Shrewsbury, Shropshire’s county town. ‘Living on the borders of two countries created an independent spirit in the Marches that endures.’ In today’s Shrewsbury, this has fostered a thriving independent retail sector – a welcome rarity at a time when so many British town centres have become clones of each other.