Thursday, 23 September 2021

House scores top marks on the Back to School-o-meter

The summer holidays are over. Children are back at school and university freshers’ week

The summer holidays are over. Children are back at school and university freshers’ week is fast approaching. All of which sent property editor LUCY BOON in search of school-related homes to buy and rent

UP until the early 20th century, Julia and David Pritchard’s country pile was a fully functioning village school, complete with headmaster’s quarters.

But for them, The Old School House is where the couple raised their own children — now grown and flown the nest — and where the family created many fond memories over their 20 years of living here.

"Although we never did have a naughty chair!" jokes David, who notes that the house is mentioned in The Book of Sonning by local historian Angela Perkins.

"Eventually the headmaster moved to a house further down our lane, leaving the school just for lessons. We are one of four properties down here."

The single-track lane is just off the village’s main road, Thames Street, in the heart of Sonning, and offers a quiet sanctuary tucked away from the buzz of the through-road.

In fact, being down a lane, plus a lucky bit of sheltering from neighbouring properties, and high hedging, means you don’t hear a thing when standing in the garden, apart from a bird chirp or two, or perhaps the soft buzz of a swimming-pool heater.

"This location is one of the things we’ll find it almost impossible to replicate elsewhere," says David. "It’s quiet and secluded yet you can walk to the river and all the local pubs and restaurants in no time at all."

Sonning is known for its dinner theatre The Mill at Sonning, fancy restaurant The French Horn, local pub The Bull Inn, and river-terrace spot The Great House, where the newly opened Coppa Club "serves an uncomplicated menu based on a love of fresh, simple, Italian ingredients" according to its website.

But alongside location, location, location, the house offers much to get excited about. "I imagine this would really fit the bill if you’re a young family from London, moving out to find their perfect country retreat," says David. "Likewise, I think The Old School House would love a family like this — people who realise that it is not a blank canvas, who appreciate the history and character, but who have the vision to make it their own. We never got around to removing the carpets to expose the floors, for instance."

The drawing room, which was formerly the school hall, is particularly lovely, with chunky beams, original wooden panelling and herringbone Tudor fireplace. "This is probably the best room in the house," agrees David. "We would have a roaring fire going all winter in here, with Julia playing on the baby grand piano in the corner."

The couple say they will certainly miss Christmases around that fire, passing the mulled wine through the hatch from the kitchen.

"We think this hatch was created in the 19th century as a way of giving access to the kitchen while protecting the panelling," adds David.

The building is Grade II-listed and the panelling in the interior of the drawing room is original.

The house is part Elizabethan, part Tudor, with a third section added later — probably in the early 20th century — providing a kitchen and two bathrooms, as well as another staircase.

In fact, there are three staircases in the house, if you’re counting the one to the lower ground floor. This level houses a study and utility room as well as a characterful porch that leads to the garden.

"Because the accommodation is arranged over three floors it was ideal for us — the children could use the bottom study as a TV and games room," says David.

"This is one of the quirks of the house that we all loved when living here. It’s got so many hidey holes and was ideal for hide and seek.

"Growing up, the children could chase each other around the house, up one staircase and down another, without ever having to do the same route twice!"

The main finial-carved staircase deserves an extra mention. The house offers a wealth of well-preserved period features such as this — exposed timbers, unexpected window lights, a bread oven...

A number of the windows appear to have their original leaded frames, and one or two have stained glass inscriptions.

"The one in the back bedroom is a fantastic little feature," says David, referring to a shepherd, standing over a faded text of Latin. "If I was going to hazard a guess, I’d say it’s Tudor, but sadly when we bought this place not a lot of information was available to us."

Outside, there are two gardens — or school playgrounds, if you will — to choose from. Being next to the kitchen, and being the smaller of the two, the front garden would make an ideal herb garden or vegetable patch, should you wish to create one. Currently there is a terrace with beds and lawn.

At the back, the quarter of an acre is an ideal family-sized space with room to climb trees and do cartwheels across the lawn. Being at the rear and edged with mature trees and shrubs, you feel very private and tucked away.

And of course, there’s that aforementioned swimming pool. Oval-shaped, it looked pretty inviting during Standard Property’s visit.

Standing to attention behind the pool, a long timber barn is a recent addition that currently fits up to two cars.

Standard Property thinks this would be well suited to a bit of an overhaul to incorporate, perhaps, a summer house, an office, a guest annexe, a games room — or perhaps all four! There’s certainly the space to do this.

To the side of the barn is enough parking for several cars, which increases if you open up the large double gates to the garden.

For local amenities Reading and Henley are not far off, with Twyford being closest a five-minute drive away, with that all-important mainline rail link to London Paddington.

Crossrail will also open here in a few years’ time. When this happens, expect Sonning to become an even more desirable place to live.

The Old School House is for sale with Davis Tate at a guide price of £1,250,000. Call the Twyford branch on 0118 934 4433 for more information.

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