Country buyers keen to get up and go
The wealth of top schools and universities is driving demand in Buckinghamshire
DAMIAN GRAY of Knight Frank’s busy Oxford office (01865 790077) is in buoyant mood: ‘Although others in the business seem to think we’re standing on the edge of the abyss, in July, our London offices recorded their busiest period for 12 months, although we don’t really know why. Already, this increased activity in the capital appears to be having an impact on the country-house market in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, which is largely schools-driven.
‘In Oxford, where the demand from international buyers for flats and houses is enormous, we’ve been seeing a new Chinese family looking to buy every 10 days or so. Given the perennial shortage of stock in Oxford itself, families who already own flats there but want more space are now starting to buy houses in the country within 20 or 30 minutes’ drive from their city base,’ he reveals.
‘Schools have always ranked high on the agenda for country-house buyers in Buckinghamshire and competition for good houses within easy reach of Stowe, Rugby or Tudor Hall is still strong. Furthermore, with Silverstone just across the county border in Northamptonshire, large country houses with land in north Buckinghamshire are also a target for the Formula 1 fraternity,’ adds Mr Gray.
He hopes to whet the appetites of these and other buyer groups with the launch onto the market of the impeccably restored, Grade Ii-listed Foscote Manor at Maids Moreton, Buckinghamshire—2½ miles from Buckingham and 28 miles from Oxford— for which joint agents Knight Frank (020– 7861 1065) and Savills (020–7016 3713) quote a guide price of £7 million.
Set in 39 acres of landscaped gardens and parkland a couple of miles north of the university town of Buckingham, the manor of Foscote (or Foscott) is listed in the Domesday survey among lands belonging to the Bishop of Bayeux. According to Pevsner, in 1639, the property was acquired by Edward Grenville and he’s thought to have built the present house, some say in about 1656. Described as ‘a large square building of stone’, its front is Jacobean in style, with a 17th-century north-east front and a rebuilt 17th-century porch.
The Foscote estate remained with a branch of the Grenville family until the sale of the 2nd Duke of Buckingham’s estates in 1848, after which it passed to Lawrence Hall. His son, also Lawrence, succeeded him in 1866 and it was he who extended the house to the north-west in 1868; his widow had the south-east front remodelled in 1908.
Last seen on the market in 2009, the purchase of Foscote Manor by its current owners was the result of a carefully planned logistical exercise, in which a line was
drawn around London showing suitable country-house locations within a maximum one-hour journey from the metropolis. Foscote Manor’s location 12 miles west of Milton Keynes with its super-fast, 35-minute train service to London Euston and easy access to the motorway network, via junction 14 of the M1 or junction 9 of the M40, surely helped to clinch the deal.
Metaphorically at least, not one of Foscote’s mellow stones was left unturned in the course of the restoration of the house and gardens that followed. The manor’s 11,345sq ft of living space includes an impressive reception hall, a staircase hall a fine, ornate, 17th-century oak staircase, a light, triple-aspect drawing room, a splendid double-height dining room and a full-height oak-panelled sitting room.
Other well-planned rooms include an informal dining room and a light, modern family kitchen. Three first-floor bedroom suites include a vast master suite occupying the south and west wing with views over the park and two guest suites; the second floor houses four further bedrooms and two shared bathrooms.
Foscote Manor has been a blissful weekend retreat for its current owners, but with many family members having already moved on, the time has come to downsize. With little left to worry about, the next incumbents can make the most of the manor’s many amenities, which include lovely landscaped gardens, stabling, a swimming pool, a tennis court and a two-acre lake.
It may well be that the chronic shortage of high-quality country houses that has plagued the market in recent years could finally work to the advantage of substantial country houses that have been completely renovated in a style likely to appeal to today’s younger, more impatient buyers, who are bored with sitting on the sidelines and would be more than content to buy the entire contents of the house if it meant that all they had to do was walk through the door and unpack their bags.
Ten minutes up the road from Foscote Manor, Knight Frank are also handling the sale at a guide price of £6.25m of The Manor at Lillingstone Lovell, a beautifully crafted, 14,657sq ft house set in the middle of its 120 acres of land, six miles from Buck-ingham, seven miles from Silverstone and 34 miles from Oxford.
Here again, the current owners, who bought the property in 2008, have completely transformed the house, installing new services, new bathrooms and a vast, new kitchen with an open-plan breakfast area leading out into the garden.
The village of Lillingstone Lovell is one of the oldest and most unspoilt in Buckingwith
hamshire and its name derives from the Old English for ‘Lytel’s boundary stone’, a reference to its proximity to the Northamptonshire border. Once a part of Oxfordshire controlled by the royal manor of Kirtlington, the village was transferred to Buckinghamshire under the Counties (Detached Parts) Act 1844.
In 1546, the manor was given by the King to Sir Nicholas Wentworth and remained in his family until 1784. The Wentworth family seat was a Tudor mansion, demolished when a cousin inherited the estate, the foundations of which are said to be visible in dry weather. In the early 1820s, the estate was sold to the Delap family from Northern Ireland and, in 1923, the estate was finally broken up and sold off, mainly to former tenants. The earliest part of the present manor, which is unlisted, dates from 1744, although the main house was built in 1860.
The house, built of locally quarried cut stone, is approached through grand entrance gates along a drive that leads through the deer park and woodland to a large gravelled courtyard at the front of the house. Grand living and family comfort are both well catered for in the main ground-floor reception rooms; spaces for amusement include a snooker room and bar, a cinema, a gym and a wine cellar. Upstairs, a sumptuous master suite has two dressing rooms, a bathroom and a shower room, plus five further bedrooms, all with en-suite bathrooms. A self-contained annexe is currently used as offices.
For practitioners of equestrian sport at the highest level, The Manor boasts mouthwatering stabling and training facilities. The main stable yard, arranged around a large, enclosed stone-paved courtyard, has 14 loose boxes, two hot and cold wash/ solarium boxes and all the usual tack, feed and storage rooms. Nearby is a covered horse-walker and lunge pen and there is an Olympic-sized indoor school, together with a range of modern farm buildings and two isolation boxes. Most of the land is laid out as 16 post-and-railed grass paddocks and within the stable yard are two guest or staff cottages.
Historic Foscote Manor at Maids Moreton is well placed for commuting by car or by rail as well as the area’s excellent schools. £7m
The house’s stylish interiors offer a wide range of family comforts and amusements, including a gym and cinema room
Recently renovated The Manor at Lillingstone Lovell is set in 120 acres and offers extensive equestrian facilities. £6.25m