This morning, Tramp and I walked up towards The Manor and into Fiddler’s Copse on our walk. This way we passed probably the most expensive properties in our village, in stark contrast to the ‘affordable housing’ and social housing at The Meadows on the opposite side. But I was surprised to pass an estate agent’s ‘For Sale’ sign at the foot of the drive to The Manor, with a little arrow stapled to the post, no doubt in case you did not notice the vast sprawl of buildings before you, crowning the hill ahead.
As we drew close, I could see the owners, Judith and Donald, were serious about selling. The potholes in the drive had been filled and the surface re-dressed in new shingle that sparkled in the drizzling rain; fences had been repaired and the lawns looked unnaturally groomed.
Judith is a staunch supporter of all things church, from organising the flower roster, to taking bible classes, and from running local coffee mornings to packing parcels for the poor overseas. In our village, she is the visiting vicar’s right-hand person; without her drumming-up business, he probably wouldn’t bother to come at all and the Church would be turned into a country tea room, no doubt.
Although The Manor is rumoured to be owned by Judith, inherited from an old aunt who died many years ago, over the years Donald has assumed the role of ‘Lord of the Manor’ with some dedication. He can be seen most days, strolling through the village wearing heavy green corduroy trousers with a loose silk cravat at the neck, while two floppy brown spaniels meander in his wake. His unkempt, bushy white hair and the ornate walking stick he carries, with its polished brass handle, add the desired air of slight eccentricity.
Donald is not an elected Parish Councillor – he’s about as far as you could get from being ‘a man of the people’; but he can be found at every open village meeting, ready to pass comment in measured tones, weighted with gravitas. He operates as an unelected leader of the wealthy, ‘landed gentry’ types in our village, who speak as one against any suggestions for development in general, and for more social, or ‘affordable’, housing in particular.
‘We must preserve the look and character of the village at all costs, or it will be lost forever to our children!’ so-says Donald regularly, finishing with a tap of his walking stick for emphasis.
Of course, most young people born and raised in the village are forced to move away -- they cannot afford to live here, in the rare event that a property does come on the market.
So I was more than surprised, then, to notice Judith and Donald’s power base was up for sale. I made a slight detour to call on my friend Marianne on the way home. While the kettle struggled to boil on the Aga hotplate, and Tramp settled on the floor to warm by the ovens, Marianne looked up the details on her laptop.
We were astounded to see the asking price: close to £3.5 millions, but it includes several acres of farmland and woods – including Fiddler’s Copse, home to lucrative pheasant shoots. Even more interesting to us were the interior photos, of course, giving glimpses of rooms and a lifestyle that most of us in the village can only wonder about. The webpage showed us room after room with beamed ceilings and lead-light windows, each sumptuously furnished with sofas, rugs and polished antique furniture; polished silver gleamed while an open fire blazed in the inglenook fireplace.
‘Sad, really, for them to give up such a lovely old building. It must be 16th Century in places… as old as the village, almost. And in Judith’s family for years.’
‘I heard ages ago they were looking to move,’ said Marianne, ‘but I didn’t quite believe it. They have most of these rooms closed off, though. They just live in a few rooms at the back.’
‘Well, who could use - what does it say? - eleven bedrooms?’ Or afford to heat it all!’
I hadn’t realised the main house was quite as large as it was. It even had a ballroom and a library. Then there were all the converted outbuildings – one housed a swimming pool; others accommodated the gardener, the gamekeeper, along with their families. So, although Donald so strongly opposed any housing development, and the ‘drain on resources’ it would bring, it seemed he had quietly developed his own satellite hamlet, looking down on our village below.
‘Do you know where they are moving to?’ I asked.
‘Well, I did hear a rumour some time ago that they were buying a barn in a field right up the other end of the lane.’ Marianne finally poured the tea as she spoke. ‘Of course it’ll have planning convert it,’ she added, sarcastically, raising her eyebrows.
‘Oh, so they’re down-sizing, then! No room for a ballroom this time!’
‘No. Dancing days up there are over, that’s for sure.’ In Judith’s aunt’s time, The Manor had been renowned for the village dances it held, by all accounts. ‘I wonder what will happen to the old place; who will buy it?’
‘Maybe it will be turned into flats!’ We laughed at the prospect.
‘Luxury apartments, more like,’ added Marianne, knowingly.