Oxford landmark 4 Folly Bridge for sale

imageMax Davidson studies the options for the buyers of 4 Folly Bridge – an Oxford landmark that is for sale.

Student lodgers, anyone? Whoever buys 4 Folly Bridge, a castellated property on an island in the heart of Oxford, will first have to decide what to do with the lodgers. There are seven of them, inhabiting four separate floors, and compared with Oxford students of old, they are living in the lap of luxury.

They have televisions, microwaves, fridge-freezers, washing-machines and proper non-creaking beds. And I only counted one spider in the entire house, which must be an Oxford first.

The students are studying at the Oxford Business School, which currently owns the property, and it is quite possible that the new owner will also see its buy-to-let potential. It is already licensed by the council as a house in multiple occupation (HMO) and brings in about £52,000 rental income a year, or 5 per cent of its capital value.

“That is an attractive yield in the present financial climate,” says Chris Way of agent Carter Jonas. “The buy-to-let sector has been comparatively quiet for the past two or three years, but we are seeing experienced investors starting to come back. It is getting harder to acquire new HMOs in Oxford. This is because there is more red tape than there used to be, particularly for houses with more than three lodgers. But if you can get hold of a property that already has an HMO licence, you are sitting pretty.”

There’s gold in students, even if some of them look a bit scruffy and play music at odd hours. You can expect to charge between £100 and £150 a week for good-quality student accommodation in Oxford, while the young professionals who commute from the city to London offer another potentially lucrative income stream.

Folly Bridge itself is so quirky that it could equally appeal to a recently retired couple, happy to restore the property for their private use. Perhaps with student lodgers in the basement. The first rule of so-called “retirement properties” is that there are no rules. You have to go with your instincts.

For the young at heart, happy to sacrifice the pleasures of a country retreat for a buzzing location in a world-famous university city, the house ticks all the right boxes.

Located just south of the city centre on the road to Abingdon, Folly Bridge is where the Oxford story begins. It is at this point on the Isis, the reach of the Thames that runs eastwards towards Iffley, that oxen used to be driven across a narrow ford, giving the city its name. The first stone bridge was built here in the 11th century, although the archaeological evidence suggests there was a wooden bridge long before that.

Roger Bacon, the 13th-century alchemist, had a house next to the bridge, and for centuries “Friar Bacon’s Study” was a place of pilgrimage for visitors to Oxford, including Samuel Pepys in 1669. For a time, a handsome tollbooth gateway tower straddled the bridge, painted by Turner and others.

The main trouble was the sometimes fast-flowing river, as hazardous as it was picturesque. The stone foundations eroded to the point that the old bridge, and the tower on top, had to be demolished.

A new bridge was built in the 1820s and a clutch of properties, including 4 Folly Bridge, sprang up on the little island in the middle of the river.

It is a fantastic location, and from the turreted roof terrace of Folly Bridge you can enjoy splendid views in every direction.

In Eights Week in May, one of the high points in the Oxford calendar, people in their thousands throng to watch the inter-college rowing races, and it is standing room only at The Head of the River pub, your local if you live by Folly Bridge. But even at other times, the activity on the river is incessant.

Students loll about in punts. Canal boats chug along the Thames, bound for Henley and Marlow. Swans and ducks glide under the weeping willows. All Oxford life is here.

It might seem the height of folly to buy a four-storey gardenless house on a cramped island, but like all follies, this one has an enchanting fairy-tale quality.

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