Lord of the Manor

Sometime last year between our offer being accepted on Drovers Cottage and when it finally dried out from the floods, we had a wobble and looked around at long-term rentals as an alternative to buying. One of the rentals was in a picturesque hamlet not far from our weekend rental in the village of G.P. It was in a row of three stone cottages, all with front gardens overlooking a sheep strewn hillside. Husband went first for a visit on his own and was showed around by the next door neighbor, a resident of 27 years. When husband enquired about the neighbors on the other side he was told the cottage was occupied by a deaf woman with two kids. He was then informed the resulting noise was “the only nigger in the woodpile.”After picking his jaw up off the ground, husband returned with me for a second viewing. This time we were greeted by the local squire. Literally. He owns the cottages as well as most other houses in the hamlet. He was clearly there to give us the once over, which he did albeit in a charming way and without the use of any racial epithets.

A family that owns an entire hamlet is not unheard of in the Cotswolds. I can think of at least three such hamlets, all readily identifiable by the immaculate condition of the cottages and the matching paint jobs. For an American this is odd. We want to be unique, which is often apparent from the diverse architectural styles found on a single street (our L.A. cul-de-sac boasted bungalow, Spanish, mock Cape Cod, and modernist cube). In my parents’ south Florida gated community the demand from the developers for identical mailboxes caused an uprising amongst the residents.

I was somewhat primed for antiquated real estate concepts by my exposure to leaseholds and freeholds when buying a flat in London. For the uninitiated, a leasehold means you are buying the right to the property for a certain number of years. The number varies, but if it’s between 80 and 125 years you are paying more or less full market value as if you were buying outright. I find this all outrageous and in and of itself a good justification for the revolution, but it’s just the way things are done here. Freehold, on the other hand, means you actually own what you bought, i.e., the American way.

Back at our interview with the tweed-bedecked squire, husband started to have an out-of-body experience. He describes it like the birth scene in Alien only what was emerging from him was a corn cob-chewing, cider-swilling, thread-bare cap tipping peasant whose heart was aflutter by a visit from the local squire. The squire was busy talking about his residents like subjects, “a good bunch” who he has over to the estate at Christmas.

In the end it was all to weird for us. Twelve years in America had liberated husband from his downtrodden Liverpudlian roots, and he wasn’t going back. We found our nerve and stuck with buying. It sounds cheesy but husband and I both feel that as owners of our Cotswold cottage we are custodians of a modest piece of English heritage. And husband has found another way to satisfy his need to play the role of underling. Three weeks ago he went to work for a real lord in the west end of London.

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