The relative cost of your English country house

Great Hockham Hall, Norfolk (Image: Savills)
Great Hockham Hall, Norfolk (Image: Savills)

So you’ve decided you really want a country house.  Nothing too big; more a residential estate than a working or sporting one so perhaps just 48 acres. Luckily your four-bed house in the best part of Fulham is worth £1.75m so you can sell up and surely move straight into your dream rural arcadia? Unfortunately a recent survey by upmarket estate agents Savills has shown that you might need just a bit more money than that.

As always, proximity to London is the key factor in determining how far your money will stretch.  With the Russians and Middle Eastern families not willing to be too far from the cultural delights of Bond Street the price of a decent country house with 48 acres in Surrey tops the table.  To secure a decent small estate in the nicest parts would require between £15m-£20m but a similar property in Hampshire would set you back just £10m on average.

So with the those two counties ruled out, where next?  The Cotswolds have always been popular with the corresponding effect on prices but if Hampshire is too expensive then unfortunately you’re also out of luck in Gloucestershire with the average there hitting £12m – but north Oxfordshire might look attractive with the average of between £7m-£8m.

Distance from London reduces prices but with broadband making working from your country home on Friday possible Dorset or Wiltshire are still very attractive but more affordable – but you’ll still have to expect to pay between £4.5m-£5m.  Fewer transport options make East Anglia even cheaper with a country house in Norfolk going for around £3.25m – which makes the pretty Great Hockham Hall [pictured above], a grade-II listed Queen Anne house built in 1702 and with 47.66 acres, almost a bargain at £2.95m.

So where could you trade in your Fulham house for a small country estate? Step forward Lincolnshire where the average is the lowest in England at ‘just’ £1.75m-£2.25m. So proving that everything is relative it seems that even the high prices of London don’t always directly translate into a ticket to the country life unless you’re willing to go where the market takes you.

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Source: research by Savills (but listed not on their website) and reported in The Times ‘Bricks & Mortar’ property supplement on Friday 18 June (but their website doesn’t allow access so no link there either).

If you are interested in the rest of the report or the averages for other counties I’m guessing the best contact is Alex Lawson at Savills (Rural Research) on +44 (0) 20 7409 8882 or email alawson@savills.com.

How did Bessingham Manor get into this state?

Bessingham Manor, Norfolk (Image: Eastern Daily Press)

Norfolk has suffered the loss of many of it’s larger country houses but the smaller houses often not only survived but were much cherished as manageable but beautiful examples of local architecture.  Yet, even today it’s possible for one of these lovely red-brick homes to slip into dereliction, at risk from the weather and criminals; Bessingham Manor has become another of these sad examples.

Built in 1870 for the Spurrell family, who had farming connections in Suffolk going back over 500 years, the house originally had 52-acres but this has now been reduced to a more manageable five.  The house remained in the Spurrell family until the last member died in 1952.  It was then bought by Robert Gamble who eventually found maintenance a significant challenge which was compounded by a poor quality roof repair which failed leading to massive water damage to part of the house, including the collapse of sections of the second floor.  The near derelict state of the interior is mirrored in the exterior which is partially supported by scaffolding or probably held together by the extensive ivy.  Perhaps questions should be asked as to why this gradual decay was not spotted by the local conservation department who may have been able to force repairs before the damage became so extensive?

It was in this sorry state that the house was finally put up for auction in September 2009 with the agents, William H Brown, who optimistically thought it might go for around £900,000 – despite a likely £1m bill to fully restore the house.  Unsurprisingly, it failed to reach even the reserve of £640,000 from a starting price of £400,000.  To compound the problems, thieves also broke in and stole a fireplace from one of the ground floor rooms.  Despite this the agents have continued to try to find a buyer but with only limited success.

By the beginning of 2010, there were three offers on the table.  Two were from individuals looking to create family homes but worryingly, one of the offers still in the table was from a developer looking for a commercial project – which is probably an inappropriate enabling development.  With all the wealth still available and our nation’s ostensible love of older buildings, it is sad and mystifying as to it’s been so difficult to find a sympathetic owner.   Once restored the house would probably be worth several million – so if someone has approximately £1.5m needing a profitable use then this would be the ideal opportunity; just please do it sensitively.

Estate agent: William H Brown

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Good news

Despite the initially pessimistic outlook and the subsequent challenges, Bessingham Manor has survived, and more than that, is nearing completion of the restoration – see this comment left on another Country Seat article by William Hickey. This shows that the analysis of developers should often be taken with a measure of scepticism, especially where heritage assets are involved.  The rescue/restoration of Bessingham Manor is to welcomed and the owners congratulated for their success.

Posh B&B – stately home owners diversify

Sennowe Park, Norfolk (Image: sennowepark.com)

A country house was traditionally the centrepiece of an estate usually absorbing huge amounts of money in running costs and improvements.  This model was sustainable when the estate or other source was sufficient to provide the necessary income but today often a family can inherit a large house with all the costs but not the means to fully maintain it.

In another example of the diversification that has allowed so many of our country estates to survive, aristocratic families are now offering the chance for those willing to pay from £1,000 per day to experience life as it is for those lucky enough to live in these beautiful homes. A Suffolk firm, ‘More than Good Manners‘ arranges these luxury stays with an emphasis sharing in some of the best country pursuits in houses such as Sennowe Park, the grand Edwardian family home of Thomas Cook and his descendants.

Some may complain that these are a devaluation of the grandeur of the country houses and the families who live there. However it could be argued that there is a long tradition of these houses hosting visitors for gain when years ago the monarch would be lavishly entertained in hope that honours or privileges would be bestowed on the hosts. This modern twist on the theme sees income being provided in a way which doesn’t greatly increase the wear and tear on the fabric of the house and is largely in keeping with the original purpose of the house as a centre for leisure.

Full story: ‘Take a break – with an aristocratic family‘ [Eastern Daily Press]