Marlborough may no longer hold sheep fairs, but the fortunes of the Wiltshire town remain closely entwined with those of the surrounding countryside. Since the 1980s, thousands of acres of farmland outside the town have been bought by entrepreneurs who have established studs and developed sporting estates and new businesses.
Stefan Perrson, chairman of fashion chain H&M, is one example; he started the Ramsbury Brewery in 2004 to make beer from barley grown on his 10,000-acre Ramsbury Estates. And it is the needs of landowners such as Perrson for grooms, farm workers, estate managers and other staff that provides jobs for many local residents.
But it is not this entrepreneurial boom alone that makes Marlborough a hotspot for property buyers: the countryside also offers ample leisure opportunities. Golfers have two courses to choose from, walkers can follow the Ridgeway trail that passes the town, and there are events for keen equestrians, including point-to-point meetings at Barbury Racecourse.
Festivals further enrich the town’s cultural life – some longer-standing than others. The Mop Fair has been running since 1204, when the town received its charter, and now jazz and literature festivals also thrive.
“It is one of the best places to go to find the rural life, but it is also sophisticated,” says Charlie Wells, director at buying agency Prime Purchase.
Which brings us to the other great influence on Marlborough’s fortunes: Marlborough College. Established in 1843, the school (which is also well known as the Duchess of Cambridge’s alma mater) now has some 900 pupils, exerting a disproportionate impact on the town’s population, which the 2001 census put at 7,713. An important employer, the school also lays on cultural and educational facilities for Marlborough’s residents.
With centuries of history behind it, the town has many period buildings. Its centre is mostly Georgian and Victorian, but the outskirts also have 20th-century housing and one-offs by individual architects.
The most desirable part of town is the north-west corner, where large houses can be found on streets such as Cardigan Road. These include Wakefield House, a six-bedroom detached property with 0.9 acres of grounds, for sale at £1.65m through Carter Jonas.
Ruth Wilkinson of estate agency Chesterton Humberts says the town and nearby villages attract families who want to live in the catchment area of St John’s College, a highly regarded state school. “Smaller homes close to the centre are popular with downsizers and retirees, and with parents looking for a second home when visiting their children [at Marlborough College].”
Marlborough attracts buyers either moving or commuting from London. At about 80 miles from the centre of the capital, it can be reached either by the M4 motorway or by a train to the village of Pewsey to the south. Heathrow airport is just over 50 miles away.
Large country houses on the market include Clatford Hall, a Grade II-listed building with 103 acres of land that is on the market via Savills for £3.25m.
Villages popular with buyers include Manton, Axford, Ramsbury, Great Bedwyn and Little Bedwyn, which has a Michelin-starred restaurant, The Harrow. Hamptons International is marketing a five-bedroom thatched cottage with 1.67 acres of grounds in Axford for £890,000.
Developers too are setting their sights on Marlborough. Crest Nicholson is building St John’s Park, an estate due to be completed in spring 2013. Of its 169 homes, 101 are for sale and 68 are designated as social housing; 21 homes remain unsold at prices from £269,995 for four bedrooms.
Meanwhile Thomas Homes has turned a former school into a development of 12 houses for the over-55s called Kingsbury Mews; the only remaining unsold home, a three-bedroom mid-terrace house, has just been reduced from £435,000 to £399,000.
Marlborough’s high street is home to markets, Waitrose and colourful independent outlets, including the 100-year-old Polly Tearooms.
Recovery in the high street is echoed in the housing market, with prices averaging £313,608 in May 2012, about £4,000 down from the November 2007 peak, but higher than in November 2009, according to Chesterton Humberts.
● Strong community
● Close to M4
● No railway station
What you can buy for ...
£100,000 A tired, three-bedroom house in a less sought-after village
£1m A Grade II-listed 16th-century town house with six bedrooms