Hot Spot: Winchester, Hampshire

Top-flight schools and historic buildings keep demand high in this ancient city, says Robert Liebman
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The Independent Online

For a who's who in English history, go no further than Winchester, only 65 miles from London and 12 miles from Southampton. Once the capital of Wessex and, indeed, of England itself, the Hampshire city was home and office for the early kings Alfred and Canute, and one of its two castles was built by William the Conquerer in 1067. In addition to housing the Domesday Book, this erstwhile edifice was adored by Henry II, the location of Richard I's second coronation and the birthplace of Henry III. On a rather darker note, Sir Walter Raleigh was tried and sentenced to death here in 1603.

Properties from many periods are still standing. A prominent medieval structure is Winchester College (founded by William of Wykeham in 1394), and among the extant Georgian homes is the still-private residence that was Jane Austen's final home. Victorian properties include King Alfred's College and the Guildhall. The property legacy would be even richer if it were not for the Civil War, when many houses were destroyed. The castle was demolished on the orders of Oliver Cromwell.

Times are good for estate agents. "Winchester's housing market is the best we have seen all year, due to a very active top end," says Carolyn Vanstone of Bradford & Bingley Morris Dibben. "We have seen an increasing number of buyers at the £400,000-plus level. Many are 'in-betweeners'. During the recent uncertainty and predicted down-turn, they sold their homes at the peak of the market and rented for the first half of the year. Now they are re-entering the market with confidence."

Matthew Hallett of John D Wood comments: "Winchester's housing is largely Victorian, with houses that date back to the Reformation near the cathedral and college. Among the best of the town's excellent education facilities are Winchester College and St Swithuns School for girls, which was the basis for St Trinian's [a cinematic comedy series popular a half-century ago]. There are also fabulous prep schools such as Pilgrim's and Princes Mead. Kings Secondary School is a highly sought-after state school and Peter Symonds is a first-rate sixth form college. Last year it was third in the country."

Charlie Taylor of Knight Frank adds: "The property market remains buoyant and driven by a lack of supply. Over the summer months we sold several properties in excess of their guide prices, and demand for good quality property in and around Winchester remains high."

THE LOW-DOWN

Getting there

Journey time by train to London Waterloo is about an hour. The M3 skirts the town.

Shop till you drop

Brooks Shopping Centre contains branches of Argos, BHS and other familiar high-street names. Also in town are Waitrose, Sainsbury's and M&S along with a daily market and farmers' markets. Local shops of repute include Cadogan & James delicatessen and BE Chaplin gunmakers. For diners, Chesil Street Rectory has a Michelin star.

Entertainment

The town centre has a two-screen cinema, and the Theatre Royal was recently refurbished.

Sport and leisure

For anglers, the River Test and River Itchen are renowned chalk streams. For golfers, the Royal Winchester and the South Winchester are nearby. The Hambledon Hursley Hunt is local. Riverpark Leisure Centre has swimming pools, flume, fitness suite, badminton and squash.

Attractions

The main attractions in town are the cathedral, Pilgrims' Hall, Cheyney Court (the 15th-century Bishop's court house), Kingsgate (one of the two surviving city gates), Hospital of St Cross and the Great Hall, with the Round Table built long after the death of Arthur. A steam railway runs between the Georgian town of Alresford and Alton.

Prices

Two-bedroom first-time buyer properties are about £150,000; two-bed flats start from £250,000, and four-bed detached family houses from £400,000. House prices range between £300,000 and £2m.

Properties

An upper-storey two-bed flat in Abbots Barton, £161,950; a ground-floor one in Owslebury, £154,950. Three-bed terraces near the station are around £300,000 at Bradford & Bingley.

Hursley village

Penyards is selling a Grade II-listed timber-framed 16th-century two-bed cottage at £259,950, and a large Tudor-style semi with planning permission for a two-storey extension, £385,000.

Old Dairy

A three-bed house in a courtyard of brick and flint former farm buildings in East Stratton has a walled garden, exposed beams, open fireplace, and maintenance charge of £720 per year. Guide price £465,000 at Knight Frank.

Old Brewery

The Counting House was originally the front office of the Marston Brewery and contains an early 18th-century date stone in the cellar. It is now a three-bed semi with 24ft x 19ft kitchen/sitting room; £395,000 at John D Wood.

Tee off

Banner Homes is nearing completion of the 33-unit Chilbolton Court with two-bed flats and three- and four-bed houses near the city centre and Royal Winchester golf course; from £249,500 for two-bed flats. Selling agents are Connells, 01962 864444.

Retirement properties

English Courtyard's Wyke Mark consists of two- and three-bed retirement flats in Weeke, one mile from the town centre; 16 of the 25 units are still available, from £415,000 to £515,000 (0800 454627).

Estate agents

Bradford & Bingley, 01962 866422; Jackson-Stops & Staff, 01962 844299; John D Wood, 01962 863131; Knight Frank, 01962 850333; Penyards, 01962 849433.

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