Friday, 17 September 2021

Owners put their stamp on former PO

HENLEY’S surrounding villages are known for their quaint, rural appeal. These are quiet, picturesque enclaves that

HENLEY’S surrounding villages are known for their quaint, rural appeal. These are quiet, picturesque enclaves that are close to shops, amenities and transport links, and yet still have thriving close-knit communities.

As buyers find themselves being priced out of Henley, these villages are becoming ever more popular — and Highmoor is no exception.

This lovely village, four miles west of Henley, includes the settlements of Witheridge Hill, Satwell and Highmoor Cross — the latter being the location of this week’s star property, Highmoor Cottage.

In the late 1800s, Highmoor was a farming community with a busy local post office. The post office operated in three different houses around the village green from 1891 to 1980 — one of which was Highmoor Cottage.

Michael and Linda Oxberry have lived at the Victorian property for the past 29 years, having previously lived in Maidenhead.

“We had been looking for a more rural spot where we could still commute to Reading and London, and this was perfect,” says Michael, who reckons it takes him 15 minutes to drive to the M4 and to the M40.

“The motorways are equidistant from here. You just use the A and B roads,” he adds.

Since their arrival, the couple have overseen six separate building projects.

“We didn’t start out with the idea of doing things this way,” says Michael. “It’s just that, as our needs changed — having children, especially — and our living needs altered, the building evolved.

“The first building project gave us a proper third bedroom, the second project gave us another bedroom and garage, the third gave us a master with en suite — and so on!

“If you look, you can see where the original cottage is absorbed — it’s part of the reason this house feels so warm and full of charm.”

Now a beautifully large family home, in pristine condition, the accommodation offers four double bedrooms, two bathrooms, one downstairs shower room/WC, a utility room, living room with wood-burning stove and bi-fold doors to the west-facing garden, a downstairs office, a gorgeous country kitchen and diner, and a separate garage for two cars with workshop space, as well as a large drive with parking for up to four vehicles.

Loving a bit of history, the Oxberrys have tried hard to retain character features wherever possible, during their projects. “We especially love the beams in the kitchen and cast-iron fireplaces,” says Michael.

The majority of the rooms have their original wood doors and large wooden sash windows — with discreet double glazing to keep the heat in and drafts out — and in the kitchen the range cooker sits in the old fireplace utilising the existing chimney as a flue.

“My only regret is not keeping the amazing washing copper that once stood in the kitchen,” adds Linda.

“It had been built into the corner of the old kitchen. We tried to incorporate it when we had the kitchen upgraded.

“However, it just didn’t work and we finally said goodbye to what had served for many years as our vegetable store. A shame, but that’s how it is.”

The Oxberrys went for handmade oak fronted units in the kitchen with granite working surfaces, painted dresser and larder units made locally by Matthew Leighfield, a five-zone electric range cooker with double oven, and a central island unit with drawer storage, vegetable sink and built-in dishwasher.

“The great thing about the kitchen-diner is that it is quite open plan and yet you can still shut the doors on cooking smells if you so wish,” says Linda. “It works particularly well when we use the more formal dining area off the living room.”

Michael and Linda chose to have zoned underfloor heating downstairs, as well as centrally heated radiators throughout and electric underfloor heating in the en suite — which they say they find very comforting on winter mornings. With the wood-burning stove ticking away, doors can be left open to maximise the benefit.

Linda adds: “The agents all tell us that the families of today are looking for the kind of downstairs layout that we have, but it’s just luck that our house evolved this way.”

Highmoor Cottage was built for the Baldwin family, who originally ran the post office. The Oxberrys have a photograph of the family standing in front of the house, along with all kinds of other paraphernalia which will be included in the sale.

“We found these items during our building work, and they are part of the house,” says Michael, adding that the Baldwins had previously run the post office out of one of the smaller farm cottages to the left of the house. “But eventually that cottage became too small to handle all the business and their seven children, so Mrs Baldwin commissioned the building of our house to become the new post office site.

“If you look at the front wall of the house, you can see the position of the original post box. Sadly, we no longer have the box itself, but the lost papers and second class rail season tickets give a fascinating insight to the past.”

Linda adds: “I think the best thing we found is an invoice from ‘Hales, the Bakery’ in Market Place, Henley, for the purchase of currant buns by Mrs Baldwin in 1928.”

Overlooking Highmoor Cross village green, Highmoor Cottage is approached through a five-bar wooden gate on to the ample gravel drive. Just over the road is the village hall which doubles as a pre-school during the week.

“It’s very reputable,” adds Linda, “as are all the schools around here. I think our catchment is Nettlebed — a five-minute drive away — and the primary school there has an ‘outstanding’ certification from Ofsted.” Highmoor also has the Grade II listed church of St Paul — now closed, awaiting conversion — and local pub, the Brakspear-owned Rising Sun at Witheridge Hill, which has been called “a cute little pub in a cosy setting”. All of these things the Oxberrys say they will miss.

Michael adds: “Like any move, this will be hard, as the house has been part of our own family history for almost 30 years, but things change and we move on.

“We’ll also miss our neighbours, plus there is such wonderful countryside here.

“Highmoor is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and you can find amazing walks in all directions from the house, including tarmacked trails through the woods for baby buggies.

“The house would suit most people but especially a family looking for a special home with a soul and a story to tell.”

* Highmoor Cottage, Highmoor Cross. Guide price £1,060,000 with Robinson Sherston on (01491) 411911. Also for sale with Knight Frank.

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