When an Englishman's home is his castle... shooting range and bunker

Check the small print when you're buying a house – you may be entitled to some unusual perks, says Graham Norwood
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The Independent Online

Every year, thousands of movers grit their teeth when they get into their new home and find that the previous owner has taken the light bulbs and curtain rails. But what if a house comes not only with fixtures and fittings but some unusual perks, too? Such as fishing rights, free wood for the fire, or even a place in a nuclear bunker?

A surprisingly large number of homes come with what estate agents call "rights and extras", which rarely add value but definitely add character to a property.

There are six main historical rights, says David Pardoe of estate agents Savills and one of the country's leading experts on what might be called eccentric entitlements.

First, he says, some homes give you the right to graze livestock. Second, "estovers" rights may permit you to collect wood free of charge from a nearby area. Then there is the right of "turbary", which allows you to dig peat or turf. A fourth entitlement is to mine minerals in the soil, while a fifth is the "piscary" perk allowing you to fish on a given stretch of a local river. The final right is of recreation, which allows you to treat your grounds a little like a village green – perfect if you hanker after a maypole.

"These rights enhance attractiveness of a property in the eyes of potential buyers. They're usually a selling point," explains Pardoe.

Unsurprisingly, many of these extras are steeped in history so come with the oldest and poshest of homes, often on land once owned by royalty. For example, at Corfe Castle Common in Dorset, cottage owners may let nearby land be grazed; these days they do not have livestock so instead "pool" the entitlement and let the land to a farm.

Something similar happens in Berkshire, where Adam Power's Georgian house sits on Hungerford Common. Ownership entitles him to graze livestock free of charge – "I get 60 to 100 kilos of beef a year and can sell some of the rest" – and he gets free shooting rights and can fish with impunity on a four-mile stretch of the River Kennet.

"Our house came with rights granted by John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster in the 14th century," says Mr Power. Being a homeowner on the common also requires Adam and his neighbours to share responsibilities each year for tasting local ales and, perhaps less enjoyably, looking after the livestock.

Then there is Craighall Castle on the edge of the Highlands. It has the rare "right of pit and gallows", a sort of medieval bushtucker trial which – although contravening many modern laws – theoretically gives the owner the right to declare a visitor a criminal and have him or her thrown into a pit of filthy water and then killed.

At Harwood Forest in Northumberland, a hamlet built originally by the Forestry Commission consists of 10 homes where residents – now private owners – have the right to gather wood from a 20,000-acre surrounding area. They can also draw water from the forest's springs but, on the downside, have to pay for the upkeep of the pipes.

"Eccentric extras can be bad as well as good," warns Jayne Perks of Stacks, a buying agency that specialises in country properties.

"For instance, sometimes the owner of a manor house in a village can find that he or she is responsible for repairing the church. The details of any eccentric extras will be outlined in the deeds of a property so make sure you read them carefully and are aware of any potential pitfalls," she advises.

But it is not just period piles that have these unexpected features. Some modern homes boast contemporary equivalents – although they do not always help when it is time to sell up.

Thousands of homes built in the 1930s have air-raid shelters in their gardens, ranging from corrugated tin huts to more sophisticated, but no less ugly, concrete versions. Estate agents often ignore them when marketing homes on websites and brochures, because many buyers associate them with junk and rats.

But John Emin, an inventor and the half-brother of the redoubtable artist Tracey, has gone one better than that.

He has built a vast nuclear fallout shelter beneath one of three interconnected properties at East Grinstead. "I constructed it in 1982, during the Thatcher era, when every local council in the country was told to build shelters to withstand attack from the Soviet Union," he says. His very own nuclear bunker was built as a template for what he thought might become mass production shelters.

It has over 500 sq ft of space, which includes two generators, and is built as spacious living quarters for a family, although it can accommodate 75 people in the sort of emergency that we hope will never happen but for which it was designed. The idea did not catch on with other builders and Emin admits his bunker has not been a hit with buyers either.

The interconnected homes have been on and off the market since 2004 with no purchaser found and, thankfully, no nuclear attack. Now they are on sale again for a cool £2m (Chesterton Humberts, 01342 326326, www.chestertonhumberts.com).

"When estate agents show people around, they tend not to say, 'and a big feature of this property is its nuclear bunker'. Instead they mention it in passing. It's a sort of 'oh ,and by the way, there's a fallout shelter here' type of feature," admits Emin.

He believes it should be regarded as the 21st-century version of the right to fish, graze livestock, shoot or collect firewood or peat. "The agents could make more of it but they seem to think it's not a big attraction. For the right buyer, though, it would only be a nice little extra."