With its academic air and pocket-sized footprint, Winchester could be perceived as a mini Oxford—without the tourists. Arabella Youens investigates its relocation charms.
Local property market update
For Londoners anxious about abandoning pavements—and big-name restaurants—altogether, a move to Winchester is considered by some to be the perfect stepping stone to life in the country. Chefs Rick Stein and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall both have outposts in the city and, between the college and cathedral, many of the historic buildings are carefully preserved.
‘Arguably,’ says George Clarendon, head of Knight Frank’s office in the city, ‘Londoners needing more space might opt to move to Richmond or Barnes, but it could then take you just as long to get into town as it does from Winchester. And Winchester is properly lovely.’ Philip Blanchard of Jackson- Stops & Staff seconds this, saying the market is often dominated by London demand. ‘On the fast train, it’s an hour into Waterloo, but you can also be in the Midlands or on the south coast easily, so it’s well positioned for lots of places.’
But it doesn’t just appeal to families escaping London, adds George. ‘We have plenty of clients who find that they want to move to the city once their children have finished school. They’re in their fifties or sixties and want to be closer to the action.’
The result is that the appetite for good-sized houses tends to be very strong—particularly if they’re priced sensibly. ‘The top end has struggled as figures have become excessive,’ warns Philip. For a family home in the St Cross area, prices range from between £700,000 and £2 million, according to George.
The key to buying in Winchester, believes Bobby Hall of The Buying Solution, is to concentrate on its ‘limited sweetspot’. He explains: ‘A lot of the city is owned either by the Church or by Winchester College, so that limits supply, but, on top of that, you need to watch out for road noise to the east from the M3 and the trainline, which runs through the west of the city.’ Lindsay Johnn of Savills Winchester identifies St Cross just to the south of the city centre, which has a collection of big Victorian houses, and Fulflood as the best areas—the latter is particularly popular with young families. ‘Alfred Homes has built some lovely neo-Georgian houses in the Sleepers Hill area, which is worth a look, too,’ recommends Bobby. ‘You can easily walk down into the town from there.’
Part of the attraction of the St Cross streets is that many fall within the catchment of St Faith’s Primary School, recently among the top five in the country for SATS results. Other popular State-funded primaries include Western and St Bede. From there, there are strong secondary choices in Kings’ School, The Westgate School and Henry Beaufort— not to mention Peter Symonds sixth-form college. But Winchester is famously well served by the private sector, too, with co-educational Prince’s Mead School just to the north, The Pilgrims’ School boys’ prep, St Swithun’s for girls and Winchester College.
Butcher, baker, coffee-maker
There is no outstanding butcher in the city centre, but Lindsay recommends T. H. Burroughs at The Good Life farm shop at Headbourne Worthy, just to the north of Winchester.
The Master Baker, on Priors Dean Road, is currently the only independent bakery in the city, but there are some good delis and coffee shops, including Tom’s Deli on St George’s Street, Caracoli on the High Street and SO Winchester, which aims to source all its produce from within the SO postcode area.
The farmer’s market, which takes place on the high street twice a month, is one of the largest in the country. Finally, Philip recommends the outfitter Cadogan & Company, on the Square, as ‘the one place you can buy decent clothes’.
Out and about
The city is served by two theatres: the 400-seat Theatre Royal and the smaller, am-dram Chesil Theatre. It has an active calendar of festivals, including the Hat Fair—street theatre—in July and the Winchester Festival in August, plus sublime music on tap in the cathedral. Also, the (fully licensed) Everyman Cinema was refurbished last year to enthusiastic reviews from locals.
Hyde Park homesick
The city has the Test Valley to the west, the New Forest to the southwest and the South Downs National Park to the east, so there’s no real need for an extensive urban lung, but the Water Meadows, which inspired Keats to write the ode To Autumn, is a popular place to walk off a good lunch at the Black Rat or the Wykeham Arms.
Need to know
On the horizon is an exciting redevelopment to the south of the city, which will include new houses and shops. Currently, Waitrose hasn’t managed to find a retail space large enough in the city, so that means most aficionados have to get in the car to reach its outpost on the Stockbridge road.
Houses for sale in Winchester
For sale £850,000 Knight Frank are marketing a plot, with full planning permission for this neo-Classical house, in the St Cross conservation area. The proposed house has four bedrooms and a good-sized kitchen/ breakfast room, plus a basement flat (01962 850333)
Four-bedroom family home
For sale £799,950 Originally the wing of a large Victorian house, this property was divided in two several years ago, resulting in a four-bedroom home with two reception rooms, a cellar and parking. There is a small garden, which is mainly paved. Winkworth (01962 866777)
Townhouse in the centre
For sale £1.45 million This house is so central that the front door stands opposite the outer wall of the Cathedral Close and everything—from the train station to the water meadows—is within walking distance. The three-storey town house has four bedrooms, a garage and an internal courtyard garden. Jackson-Stops & Staff (01962 844299)