An extraordinary number of house hunters can sum up their search criteria in two words — “something Georgian”.
The V&A is currently celebrating the work of William Kent, who was a popular designer of grand houses during the Georgian period — think Houghton Hall in Norfolk — and some of London’s finest landmark buildings, such as the Treasury in Whitehall.
The capital enjoyed a building boom between 1720 and 1820, also giving us John Nash’s fabulous Regent’s Park terraces, Kent’s design of Berkeley Square, the grand townhouses of Mayfair and the slightly less opulent versions built for Spitalfields merchants.
You might think that if you want a Georgian property you must either live in central London, decamp all the way to Bath, or hunt for a one-off Georgian rectory in the home counties. In fact, there are plenty of towns and cities within an hour of the capital with rich pickings of Georgian architecture:
Essex may be famous for its ranch-style bungalows and mock-Tudor mansions with party barns attached, but it also does Georgian aplenty.
The pretty town of Witham — often overshadowed by its larger and brasher neighbours, Colchester and Chelmsford — contains a picturesque heart and many fine historic buildings.
Most of the Georgian property is to be found on and near the high street, and Adam Roberts, a director of Michael D’Arcy estate agents, estimates that a four-bedroom house would cost from around £400,000 to £500,000, while first-time buyers could consider a two-bedroom flat above one of the Georgian shops for £115,000 to £120,000.
However, the smartest addresses are in The Avenue and Avenue Road, which have a great mix of period homes, and you could pay up to £600,000 for a detached Georgian house with four or five bedrooms. Witham (which is confusingly pronounced “Wittam”) is great commuter territory for those who work in the City because trains to Liverpool Street take from 44 minutes and an annual season ticket costs £ 5,060.
A major reason to consider the town is its fantastic schools for younger children. Elm Hall Primary and Chipping Hall Primary are rated “outstanding” by Ofsted, although for older pupils, Maltings Academy and New Rickstones Academy both “require improvement”. However, since both have relatively new academy status there is high hopes that those improvements will not be far off.
On the down side — because there is always a down side — Witham’s high street is not impressive and although the town has a decent choice of neighbourhood and branded restaurants and pubs it lacks imagination. While the town centre is pretty, the outskirts are not, being the focus of some dull social house building by the Greater London Council in the Sixties and Seventies.
By the standards of painfully expensive Surrey, Farnham represents good value which is probably why it has become a mecca for upsizers leaving London — six out of 10 buyers in the town, according to Rory McKenzie of Savills.
£239,950: a spacious two-bedroom flat in a handsome Georgian villa close to the deer park in Farnham
Farnham’s many attractions include trains to Waterloo take just under an hour, and an annual season ticket costs £4,472.
There is a plentiful and buzzy town centre with a good mix of independents and chain stores, and the obligatory Waitrose. There are regular farmers’ markets and arts and crafts fairs at the Farnham Maltings (which also has a busy cultural programme of film, music and comedy).
Since Farnham is within the Surrey Hills there is plenty of open space on the doorstep and educational opportunities are excellent. Farnham’s top rated schools include St Polycarp’s Catholic Primary School, Bentley C of E Primary School and All Hallows Catholic School (seniors).
The best place to hunt for a Georgian property is in the town centre. “The centrepiece is Castle Street, a broad thoroughfare lined with gracious Georgian facades, many concealing much older structures,” said McKenzie.
“Leading off it is a network of pretty lanes and streets, lined with cottages.” He estimated that properties on Castle Street range from two to three-bedroom town houses, selling for £500,000, up to six-bedroom houses with half-acre gardens which would set you back £2.5 million.
If this is too rich for your blood then the very pretty one-bedroom cottages on Lowndes Buildings cost from around £250,000.
Given the popularity of Georgian buildings, McKenzie believed they are sound investments. “It is one of the most requested property types and there are only so many of them around,” he said.
Compared with much of this historic city, its Georgian architecture ranks as “modern” and its elegant townhouses are infinitely more pocket friendly than anything you’ll find in London.
£1.25 million: this four-bedroom semi-detached, fully renovated Georgian house is in Westgate Grove, right in the heart of Canterbury, but with a charming secluded garden
The key location is St Dunstan’s, just north west of the city centre, where Matthew Harvey, of Winkworth estate agents, estimates that buyers could pick up a two- to three-bedroom townhouse on a street such as St Dunstan’s Terrace from around £500,000. An immaculate property would cost around £650,000.
This area is great for commuters because of its proximity to Canterbury West station, with trains to St Pancras taking just under an hour. An annual season ticket costs from £4,960.
Another option, this time right in the city centre, is Dane John Gardens, where £500,000 would buy you a three-bedroom property, while, for around £700,000 you could get a four-bedroom house with parking and a garden. The road overlooks parkland and is a lovely oasis in an area otherwise stacked with bars, shops and restaurants.
The centre is very pretty, although it is thronged with tourists which can be annoying for locals. The big plus for parents is the strong reputation of state schooling, with a trio of grammar schools.
Alternatively, for buyers who want Georgian in a village-style setting, then Harbledown, right on the outskirts and within walking distance of the city, could be perfect. It has a small clutch of white stucco townhouses which — when they come up for sale, which is not often — would be priced from £600,000 for a four-bedroom house.