The dreams that money might buy: Market woes have made unusual properties affordable again. David Lawson went hunting for a home with a difference

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The Independent Online
DO YOU remember the good old days, when 'boom' and 'bust' were terms used only by share dealers and hardly anyone knew the level of interest rates, let alone punched out sums on a pocket calculator while musing over a prospective house purchase? Or, further back, when choosing a home was fun, and the idea of it ever going down in value was a joke you wouldn't understand.

Best of all, there was time to find something special, rather than just something you could afford. Perhaps that time has returned. There are certainly enough homes with a difference - and now, of course, they are cheap enough to be at least in range of a decent daydream.

Take the Clock House at St Leonards, deep in East Sussex. Church conversions were all the rage during the boom, but this place has never seen an altar, let alone an alteration. Decimus Burton, famous for the Kew Gardens Palm House and many Gothic churches, liked the idea of a cathedral overlooking the central gardens, Colin Pratt, of the agents Fox & Sons, says. Burton and his father, James, built the town, so they could indulge their whim - but they built their 'cathedral' only in miniature, and as a house. It is on sale for pounds 200,000- pounds 230,000.

Percy Stamwitz chose a different source for Arnussi, which sits like an Egyptian oasis in suburban Surrey. In fact, the name was taken from a watering spot near Gaza, while the domes and minarets sprang straight from memories of Army service in the Middle East during the First World War.

During holidays and weekends in the Twenties, Stamwitz and his son dug 100 tons of ballast from the neighbouring Thames to create a modern home with an ancient mantle, decorating the interior with hieroglyphics and even setting a mummified cat in the entrance arch.

'This is one of the few properties that genuinely deserves the overworked term 'unique',' says Mike Spalding, of Hamptons. Less unusual is the price reduction from pounds 250,000 to pounds 220,000.

Redgate Tower never pretended to be anything other than a means of storing water until recently. Now this landmark at Hunstanton, in Norfolk, has been turned into four apartments, which range in price from pounds 40,000 for the ground floor to pounds 100,000 for a penthouse with rooftop views across The Wash. Michael Knight, of Jackson-Stops, says the whole tower, which is a listed building, is also available for about pounds 225,000.

Holly Village is a monument to Victorian taste and wealth. It was built by Thomas Cubitt in 1865, and its Gothic grandeur seems appropriate when it is remembered the developer was Angela Burdett-Coutts, the richest woman in Britain at the time apart from the Queen. Yet the Illustrated Times said that the houses were 'suitable residences for clerks, commercial travellers and so on'.

Little had changed by 1921, when the dozen houses, set in three acres of lawns behind a massive gate, were bought by residents for pounds 5,000. Today a home in Highgate is a little beyond the average commercial traveller, however.

James Wilkinson, of Winkworth, is looking for just under pounds 300,000 for a house in Holly Village - it is in the middle of the photograph above.

The Chalet could have been lifted from the Austrian Tyrol and dropped on to the Chilterns by the RAF, which at one time occupied much of the surrounding land overlooking the Vale of Aylesbury. But this was another Victorian whim, created as a pleasure pavilion by Alfred de Rothschild on his country estate for high-powered guests, including Winston Churchill, Dame Nellie Melba and the Prince of Wales. The log house has been renovated, but the exquisite interiors, including a tooled leather wall and decorated ceilings, remain intact.

'It stands as a fitting epitaph to a period when the British Empire was at its zenith, and if a building was worth creating as an adjunct to a stately home, then this, too, should reflect the glorious era of prosperity,' say the agents Jackson-Stops. Someone obviously agrees, as the Chalet has a prospective buyer at almost pounds 425,000.

Stonehill is the kind of classic to which modern 'stick-on' copies aspire in vain. It has been casting a spell over buyers since Tudor times, when this was the standard pattern for country manors in the South-east. Conversions and improvements have been going on since then without noticeably infringing its authenticity. Sir Nikolaus Pevsner noted restorations in 1914 and 1924 (perhaps by J M Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, who lived there), but still called it 'the perfect timber-framed Sussex house'.

Keith Emerson, the current owner, invested some of his earnings from the rock band Emerson Lake and Palmer when he bought it 20 years ago. More went into an enforced restoration after a fire destroyed the roof in 1975. 'This work was carried out with such care that even the irregularities of age were painstakingly reproduced,' say the agents, Pereds, who found this house for the musician and are now seeking a buyer for about pounds 750,000.

Felin Geri in west Wales boasts far more extensive restoration, but the original idea by Michael Heycock merely to bring the old buildings back to use as a farm and mill has moved on under its own momentum. It is one of the busiest Welsh tourist attractions, with a falconry, museums, Japanese restaurant, organic farm and a bakehouse good enough to supply the official Welsh food stands at the Ebbw Vale Garden Festival.

A few years ago the agents, Lane Fox, would have been fighting off prospective buyers fleeing the rat-race for this peaceful valley near Newcastle Emlyn. But times have changed. Fear of making any sort of move has chipped away at the price over the past year, bringing it down to a mere pounds 150,000, which includes 32 acres of farmland.

Archers Mill is another classic suffering in a frightened market. Ann Campbell, a sculptress, is selling after 15 years of living and working in the 17th-century buildings, near Malvern, because the place is now too big. But the agents, J Patrick Power, of Ledbury, have had to drop the price by almost a third to pounds 250,000 for this slice of history.

Not all old buildings are losing value, however. A buyer has just snapped up a remarkable Queen Anne house in London's Mile End Road, restored by the Spitalfields Trust after years of neglect, which would otherwise have appeared on this page. Originally put on the market for pounds 140,000, it raised enough interest to go for pounds 155,000.

For those seeking the ultimate retreat, Knight Frank & Rutley offers Pitchford Hall, a Grade I listed Elizabethan manor in Shropshire, on the market for the first time in 400 years.

Included in the price is a miniature timber-frame version of the house with moulded cornice ceiling, oak-stripped floor and magnificent views of the gardens, which a buyer might be willing to sell off to ease the pounds 1.25m bill for the mansion and 72 acres. A buyer will need a head for heights, however. It is the oldest tree house in Britain and perhaps the world. But at 8ft 6in square, it is not much different from the broom closets being sold for ludicrous figures as London pieds-a-terre not long ago.

(Photographs omitted)

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