Austen’s other county

Eleanor Doughty de­lights in the char­ac­ter­ful vil­lages of Sur­rey, the set­ting for pic­nics and sum­mer­time match­mak­ing in Jane Austen’s Emma, as well as some fine prop­er­ties

Country Life Every Week - - Property Comment -

IT is a truth universally ac­knowl­edged that Sur­rey is very, very lovely. It’s also well known that, if you live on the A3 cor­ri­dor be­tween Guild­ford and Oxshott, you can make the dash to Lon­don in just over an hour; that a pri­vate es­tate ex­ists called St Ge­orge’s Hill, where John Len­non once lived; and that, in Sur­rey, the Range Rovers never get dirty, be­cause there’s no mud in Cob­ham.

This is not the real Sur­rey. No, the real Sur­rey is leafy and green—in fact, it’s ‘the most wooded county in Eng­land,’ says Mark Cramp­ton of Mid­dle­ton Ad­vi­sors—with its own AONB, the Sur­rey Hills. And this year, it’s due a cel­e­bra­tion, thanks to the bi­cen­te­nary of the death of Jane Austen, the woman who put Box Hill, the county’s best bit, on the map.

Austen is of­ten, and rightly, as­so­ci­ated with Hamp­shire. She was born in Steven­ton, near Bas­ingstoke, in 1775 and, in 1817, was laid to rest in Winch­ester Cathe­dral. How­ever, her mas­ter­piece, Emma, pub­lished in 1815, is set in the fic­tional High­bury and Hart­field, in the very real county of Sur­rey.

She writes of Box Hill, sum­mit of the North Downs, which is the set­ting for a so­cially dis­as­trous pic­nic, de­spite the ‘burst of ad­mi­ra­tion’ in­spired by the land­scape, and Cob­ham, too, where Emma’s sis­ter, Is­abella Knight­ley, is re­as­sured that ‘there is no scar­let fever’.

It’s the beauty spots around Box Hill, now owned and run by the Na­tional Trust, that in­trigue the most. These vil­lages, which per­haps in­spired Austen, are slightly off the beaten track and of­fer a dif­fer­ent nar­ra­tive to the Sur­rey stereo­type. The ‘clean’ Range Rover vi­sion is a Home Coun­ties thing, ‘not nec­es­sar­ily a Sur­rey thing,’ Mr Cramp­ton em­pha­sises. ‘In the north­ern part of Sur­rey—es­her, Cob­ham, Wey­bridge—you will see a lot of it, but not ev­ery­where.’

In the pic­ture-post­card-pretty vil­lages of Mick­le­ham, nes­tled in the Mole Val­ley, Brock­ham, at the foot of the North Downs, and Won­ersh, in the AONB, what you’ll get is tim­ber­framed houses, hunt­ing with the Sur­rey Union and a string of thor­oughly mucky cars.

In these vil­lages, Mr Cramp­ton says, you’ll find those whose time work­ing 7am-at-thedesk jobs in the City has pe­tered out. ‘In­stead, it’s the guys who’ve been there and done that and are now work­ing in a hedge fund or they’ve sold their busi­ness, so life is slightly dif­fer­ent now. It’s more about fam­ily and schools and they’re more likely to be work­ing from home or go­ing up to Lon­don on a later train.’

In short, those in the neigh­bour­hood are slightly older—‘per­haps the chair­man, not the chief ex­ec­u­tive’, Mr Cramp­ton sug­gests—as are their chil­dren, who are at pub­lic school, not prep.

Of course, this cov­etable sit­u­a­tion comes at a pre­mium. House prices re­mained ro­bust through 2016, says Daniel Burstow, head of Strutt & Parker Guild­ford (01483 306565). Many of his sellers are tak­ing part in Na­tional Open House Day on May 13: ‘We open the doors to all of our sales of­fer­ings on the same day, so buy­ers can move freely from one house to an­other with­out any pres­sure.’

One such prop­erty is the eight-bed­room Mill­wa­ter, a grade Ii-listed Tu­dor house with a leisure barn, two miles from West Byfleet train sta­tion and on the mar­ket with Strutt & Parker (01483 378290) for £6.5 mil­lion. It’s sit­u­ated off the A3 be­tween Cob­ham and Ock­ham—prime com­muter­ville.

Richard Win­ter, head of Sur­rey, Berk­shire and West Sus­sex for Sav­ills (01372 461900) ex­plains that the re­al­is­tic range starts at £450,000, but that any­where up to ‘£2 mil­lion can buy you a very lovely home’.

‘This is not the real Sur­rey. No, the real Sur­rey is leafy and green

Edited by An­nun­ci­ata Wal­ton

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