Hot Spot: Stafford

This quiet country town within a city commute has plenty of charms to attract ageing rockers, says Robert Liebman
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The Independent Online
Izaak Walton must be kicking himself. The Stafford-born (1593-1683) author of The Compleat Angler shared his fishing holes with poets John Donne and George Herbert. If he had delayed his birth by a few centuries, his companions could have been Neil Morrissey and Ozzy Osbourne. The ones that got away haunt anglers forever.

Morrissey, of Men Behaving Badly fame, was born in Stafford, and Osbourne was an erstwhile resident whose house is currently on the market. "There's a lot of old rockers around this town," says estate agent Anthony Phillips, whose two sons are members of the nine-piece band Grown at Home. "Noddy Holder from Slade lives in Rugeley, and the Rolling Stones used to visit Patrick Lichfield's place." The place in question is Shugborough Estate, owned by the Queen's photographer cousin.

"Stafford is a country town with good theatre that is becoming more of a commuter town as heavy engineering declines," Phillips adds. "The county is still big in agriculture, and Stafford is a major administrative town. We have county, district, police and NHS offices, and a big national nurse training programme. The Great British Kitchen project will also be based in Stafford."

Property demand is buoyant. "Not long ago, Cameron Homes released 71 flats in town, and they took 14 reservations in two hours. They were probably owner-occupiers, early retirees who want a new home that is easy to run," he says. "Most of these buyers would also own a home in the sun, in Spain or Portugal. We will be handling a riverbank site later this year, and I expect the same type of buyers. It will be mixed-use, with 20 flats."

Nikki Hewson of Reeds Rains, who is selling Osbourne's former home, says "many of our buyers commute to Newport, Telford or Stoke as well as Birmingham and Manchester. Many are professionals who work in the city and want to come home to a quieter country setting. Stafford has a town feel, and Eccleshall and other villages are very attractive. Local schools are also high quality."

A Stafford landmark is its castle ruins, an ideal setting for Shakespeare in summer and sledging in winter. Nearby is the ancient hunting ground of Cannock Chase. At only 26 square miles, it is the smallest mainland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England and Wales. Within it is the 3,000-acre 4.5 square-mile Cannock Chase Country Park, one of Britain's largest.

THE LOW-DOWN

Getting there

Stafford has rail links with Manchester, Birmingham and London and it is about 20 minutes to the new M6 toll road.

Amenities and attractions

The 1595 Ancient High House is England's largest timber-framed townhouse and contains a museum dedicated to Staffordshire's Yeomanry Regiment. Nearby are Sandon Hall, the County Showground, and RAF Cosford. Cannock Chase contains an Iron Age hill fort, a museum, walking and cycling trails, wild fallow deer, rare birds and small pearl bordered fritillary butterflies. Shugborough Estate (1693) is a working farm with adventure playground.

Blue plaque candidates

Walton's cottage is in Shallowford, near Stone. Samuel Johnson's birthplace museum is in Lichfield, and Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the Irish dramatist responsible for The School for Scandal, was MP for Stafford from 1780 to 1806.

What's cooking?

Prue Leith and Delia Smith are among the celebrity chefs backing the Great British Kitchen, a £40 million scheme to be based in Stafford on the 28-acre site of a former hospital. This national centre for the culinary arts will have a college offering professional and amateur chefs' courses. A council spokesman was in the dark, however, regarding the GBK's current status, and the project's own communications department is on the back burner.

Property values

In Stafford, a three-bed semi with dining room and garage is £137,000; new three-storey mews houses start at £160,000, at John German. In Eccleshall, a two-year-old four-bed detached house is £239,950. Much cheaper but not much smaller is a modern three-bed terrace on £119,995. Both at Reeds Rains.

Conversions

A three-bed house in a courtyard development of former barns in Bowers is £235,000 at Reeds Rains. Cream in colour, the four-bed Castle View Cottage is a former creamery dating to about 1820 and has a double garage and workshop; around £345,000 at John German.

Letters from home

A four-bed semi with two garages and small paddock is currently functioning as the village shop in Cranberry, Cotes Heath. A postbox is attached to the wall in front, and the property has planning permission for change of use to residential. Reeds Rains is seeking offers of around £199,950.

Gone fishing

A four-bed family bungalow on about seven acres has a paddock and stocked pool in Stowe by Chartley, about seven miles from Stafford; £430,000 at Phillips.

At home with the Osbournes

Ozzy's old home Bullrush Cottage in Ranton Green is a detached four-bed house with thatched roof, annex, paddock and double garage on about one acre. The one-time recording studio is now a family room; £475,000 at Reeds Rains.

New

About a dozen three- to four-bed homes, mostly mid-terraces, remain at Westbury's Marston Grove near Junction 14 of the M6; from £157,000 (01785 255947). New homes by Wimpey are available in Stafford and Rugeley, and via Wilson Connolly in Hixon.

Estate agents

AJ Phillips, 01785 254545; Bennion, 01785 252137; Nicolsons, 01785 214214; John German, 01785 236600; Reeds Rains, 01785 850241.

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