What it's like to live in Winchester
PUBLISHED: 16:07 13 October 2017 | UPDATED: 16:07 13 October 2017
James Oliver Photography
Winchester, ancient capital of England, still leads the country today, as the best place to live for a very modern lifestyle. Local resident Emma Caulton was only too happy to pay a visit
If you live in Winchester, it is easy to feel smug as you cycle nonchalantly through the city’s quaint medieval streets and the cathedral grounds. While the throng of tourists ‘oohhh’ and ‘ahhhh’ at the surroundings, this is your everyday. And, yes, it is a privilege. The house prices make sure of that, buoyed up over the past decade or so by many moving out of London, attracted by a decent commute time of just over an hour into Waterloo and very good schooling. But more of that later.
Last year Winchester topped two separate studies (one by The Sunday Times and another by the Halifax) as the best place to live in the UK, largely based on criteria such as broadband access, low crime rates, high earnings, health and the weather. However, it is those factors that are less easy to quantify that make the city special.
First there is the delightful proximity of countryside and open space to the city centre. The leafy sward of St Giles Hill is at the end of the Broadway; river-edged playing fields and boardwalks through Winnall Moors lie in one direction from the High Street, while footpaths wind through water meadows to St Catherine’s Hill in the other.
Second there is the ease with which you can find a good cup of coffee and somewhere to sit and people watch - the likes of Cabinet Rooms cafe bar, Caracoli, Coffee Lab, Chococo, Josie’s and many more.
Third there is the thrill of creativity, perhaps encouraged by Winchester School of Art. Hunt out Jenny Muncaster’s exuberantly decorated bollards in The Square and beside the Itchen, an Elizabeth Frink sculpture near the Law Courts, a Barbara Hepworth beside the cathedral and an Antony Gormley in it. There are even ‘artists in residence’ in local shops, such as Sue Tinkler’s glass art in Enigma Hair Design and Eve Dawson’s abstract works in Hobson’s Choice kitchen showroom.
Next there’s the burgeoning events calendar. There is always something going on – from the street theatre of the Hat Fair in summer to the magic of the Christmas Market, plus Comedy Festival, Writers’ Festival and some tempting recent additions - Ginchester Fete and Winchester Wine Festival (the latter delivered by the city’s MW duo, Susie Barrie and Peter Richards, often seen on Saturday Kitchen).
Actually, Winchester has developed into a destination for foodies. It started years ago with the twice monthly farmers’ market and has resulted in restaurants like Michelin-starred Black Rat, Good Food Guide Recommended Chesil Rectory, The Corner House (the first in the area to launch the casual, but chic dining vibe), Forte Kitchen, Kyoto Kitchen and, the very latest, The Dispensary Kitchen.
Rick Stein has set up here. So, too, has Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall with The River Cottage Canteen. And let’s not forget the plethora of welcoming locals and gastropubs such as St James Tavern, The King Alfred, The Old Vine, Black Boy and The Wykeham Arms.
Then there’s the shopping experience with its enticing mix of big names (Space NK, White Company, Jigsaw with TK Maxx coming soon) and quality independents (Hambledon, Maxim’s, Jeremy France and Justice), along with boutique homeware stores, swanky kitchen showrooms and eye-catching art galleries.
Particularly unquantifiable is Winchester’s charming quirkiness. Even the usual is anything but. The cinema is in a converted chapel and has deep sofas for decadent screen experiences. Drama is provided not only by the Theatre Royal, the only surviving cine-variety theatre in the country, but by Chesil Theatre, home to the 150-year-old Winchester Dramatic Society, with studio-style theatre in a medieval building.
These characterful elements continue into the housing market with imaginative conversions of barracks and churches, and exclusive small developments (particularly along Chilbolton Avenue, Southgate Street and off Sleepers Hill) which borrow aesthetics of the past to enhance the city’s built landscape and its appealing architectural hotchpotch of medieval through to contemporary.
There are big family mid-century homes on Winchester’s outskirts, yet it is the Victorian terraces found in city centre ‘villages’, such as Hyde and Fulflood, which seem to be in greatest demand, liked for their community spirit, easy access to the station and popular primary schools.
However, the schooling throughout Winchester is exemplary. All schools at all levels are rated at least ‘good’ by Ofsted with primaries St Bede, St Faith’s and St Peter’s and secondary Kings’ all awarded ‘outstanding’, ditto Peter Symonds sixth form college. And Winchester has long been recognised worldwide for its private schools. There’s Pilgrims’, the choir school for the cathedral, Winchester College, one of the oldest and academically highest achieving schools in the country, and St Swithun’s for girls, which sits high in the league tables.
Winchester packs a lot in for a small city (even one that was once England’s capital). There’s also the hospital, university and Hampshire County Council headquarters. Overall it has a buzz, but it is a cultured, tasteful buzz.
Are there any downsides apart from property prices? Some will say the one-way system. Others worry about the long-debated redevelopment of part of the centre (Silver Hill) – an area which is looking increasingly tired.
Finally, however, a plan has been agreed providing community space and buildings that suit the scale and elegance of the city. Many are relieved; for Winchester is special. A curious confluence of traditional and cool, conservative and creative. And is it the best place to live in the UK? Very probably.
Agent talk - Kevin Prince, Partner, Carter Jonas, Winchester
The start of 2017 followed the pattern of the last three years with a strong first quarter, then a hesitation as the country took to the polls. The strongest price bracket has been between £300,000 and £800,000. As ever, those houses within catchment of the best schools tend to attract a premium as do those with easy runs to a railway station, and they are always in high demand. We are also seeing much more confidence in the market between £1m and £1.5m with houses now selling at this level much more easily than last year.
Elections always cause hesitation in the market, and this year’s result was no exception. We are still seeing good demand and expect the autumn market to pick up where the end of the first quarter stopped. We don’t anticipate a huge growth in selling prices, but because demand is outstripping supply, there could be a modest increase.
Winchester remains a popular place to move to across all buyer types, but we are seeing lots of activity from young families wanting to move into the city attracted by the range of good schools and lots of entertainment for mum and dad. The fact that Winchester is consistently mentioned as one of the top cities in which to live in the UK speaks volumes.
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