Hot Spot: Hungerford, Berkshire

Sparsely populated and rural to the core, this is a favourite of families fleeing the Big Smoke, says Robert Liebman
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Unless you live for golf, horses, angling or antiques, there is not much to do, see or buy in Hungerford, and for most locals that is just as it should be. This old market town on the Kennet and Avon Canal and the River Kennet is stubbornly rural despite being only 65 miles from London and with a direct rail link to Paddington. Convenient and attractive, and in an area with low property density, Hungerford enjoys consistently high property demand and limited supply.

Unless you live for golf, horses, angling or antiques, there is not much to do, see or buy in Hungerford, and for most locals that is just as it should be. This old market town on the Kennet and Avon Canal and the River Kennet is stubbornly rural despite being only 65 miles from London and with a direct rail link to Paddington. Convenient and attractive, and in an area with low property density, Hungerford enjoys consistently high property demand and limited supply.

The town was long anonymous, until 1986, when Hungerford achieved notoriety after a local man killed 13 people before fatally shooting himself. Nearby Newbury hosts major agricultural fairs, whereas Hungerford hosts mainly small-scale carnivals and fairs. The town's big day - its ancient annual Tutti Day - is quaint and purely local.

Many Hungerford homeowners enjoy grazing, fishing and hunting rights on the large common just outside town. The area, Freeman's March, was given to the locals by John of Gaunt (1340-99), son of Edward III and father of Henry IV, in 1343.

"Hungerford is an extraordinary area. There are not many houses within a 15 mile radius of the town," says Michael Gatehouse of estate agents Lane Fox. "The surrounding countryside is mainly estates or farms, unlike the Cotswolds, for example, where rich merchants built many houses. Even when the property market is weak, it is good here, and when it is good generally, Hungerford is very strong."

Property prices are relatively high. "Many buyers are young London families who want a bit of greenery and sold in Fulham, Wandsworth or Battersea, or people who can afford a nice country house or cottage as a second home," says Gatehouse. "Nice cottages cost about £800,000, and small ones about £400,000."

The market is holding true to form: "The first six months of the year are always better than the latter six months, and we have had an extraordinary start this year. I suspect this is a hangover from last year, which was not great by our standards. Now we are really steaming along," says Gatehouse.

One commoner who exercises his rights is Tony Nye of agents Nye Haines: "Fifteen of us are known as the Hungerford graziers. We had a total of 30 cows on the common last year, two each. People who live in Hungerford tend to stay."

The Low-down

Getting there

London Paddington is 80 minutes by train. Hungerford is three miles from Junction 4 of the M4.

Attractions

Big on antique shops and local amateur theatrical and other cultural groups, the town is anaemic in terms of cinemas and theatres, and relies on Newbury, Oxford, Reading and Swindon to fill these gaps.

Schools

Hungerford County Primary, Chilton Foliat CE Primary, and John of Gaunt, a mixed 11-16 with attached sixth form, are the local state schools. Popular area prep schools include Cott Hill near Abingdon, Summerfields and the Dragon School near Oxford, Cheam and Hollis Hill near Newbury, and Ludgrove in Wokingham. Also nearby are Eton, Marlborough, Radley and the Oratory.

Tutti Day

Also known as Hocktide, Tutti Day on the second Tuesday after Easter involves fancy-dress Tithing Men, the Orangeman and Tutti Wenches collecting dues from the Common Rights Properties. Payment nowadays involves a kiss in exchange for an orange.

Starter properties

A refurbished Grade II-listed, one-bed cottage in Eddington, just north of Hungerford, with a galleried bedroom and shared garden is £150,000. A Victorian two- or three-bed semi in Hungerford itself, near the station and with a 50ft rear garden, is £182,500. Both at Nye Haines.

Family homes

Three- and four-bed family homes start from £200,000. The Block House in Lambourn, eight miles from Hungerford, has four bedrooms, a double drawing room, Rayburn cooker providing heat and hot water, a garage, and a garage converted into a reception room; offers over £400,000 at Lane Fox.

Serious money

Shefford House, six miles from Hungerford, comprises the major portion of an erstwhile nunnery and country house, with three bedrooms, two garages, shared swimming pool and communal gardens with paddocks on more than nine acres; guide price £550,000. The six-bed Craven Farmhouse in Chilton Foliat has an indoor swimming pool, Grade II-listed barn, listed granary, self-contained annexe and mature gardens and paddock on about 10 acres; £1.3m. Both at Lane Fox.

Heavenly

Church House, built in 1868 as St Saviours and converted in 1980, boasts 5,500sq ft of interior space with original arched doors and stained-glass windows and ecclesiastical murals. Vital statistics include five bedrooms, a 37ft kitchen, garage, heated swimming pool and about one acre of land in Eddington. Enquiries at Burrough & Co.

Lettings

Nye Haynes is letting a one-bedroom flat in a modern block for £450 per month, and a one-bed modern semi for £550,000; a two-bedroom flat is £625. For a three-storey, town-centre, period town house, rentals start at about £700. Two very attractive houses are also available: the two-reception, three-bed Dairy Cottage in Leverton for £725; and a rustic, half-timbered, three-bed house in Chilton Foliat for £750.

Estate agents

Burrough & Co, 01488 682349; Lane Fox, 01488 686001; Nye Haines, 01488 683334.

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