This post is by Guy Shrubsole.
In exploring the old landed estates that still dominate large tracts of England, I’ve visited many stately homes, landscaped parks and barren grouse moors. But the weirdest manifestations of enduring aristocratic influence are to be found in the villages where feudalism never died.
These are the settlements where almost every house belongs to the big estate – and is suitably marked out with the estate colour scheme, from the colour of the front door to the paint-job on the guttering. Some estates have gone further, branding their tenants’ houses with their noble master’s initials or heraldic crest. Down the road, the post office, village store and pub all have the same colour scheme, too – to say nothing of the signage. There might be a village hall with a dedication to the lord of the manor, or a chapel with stained glass windows commemorating his ancestors.
Walking through these villages, I’m often put in mind of Hot Fuzz, with local order being maintained by some decorous yet shadowy patrician operating out of the Big House on the hill. They’re not necessarily a bad thing at all; estate villages are often neat and well-looked-after, and have retained their shops and services when many other rural settlements have seen theirs disappear.
On the other hand, I guess it might sometimes feel a bit claustrophobic to have the estate dominating all local decisions (check out the parish council minutes of such places and you’ll usually find a representative of the estate attending, far more regularly than members of the public). Some tenants may find their estate-owned properties to be subject to ancient restrictive covenants governing what building work they can do on their house. And, whilst it always used to be said that council house tenants in the 1970s couldn’t even choose the colour of their front door before Right to Buy came along, I find it ironic that such questions never seem to get levelled at England’s aristocratic landlords.
Above all, though, such quirky and fascinating villages seem to me to epitomise England’s anachronistic yet enduring quasi-feudal system of land ownership. So, here are a few examples I’ve strayed across; if you know of more, please post them in the comments section below.
The 3,000-acre Albury Estate near Guildford in Surrey has been owned by the Duke of Northumberland since 1890 (he also owns Syon Park in London, and around 100,000 acres of Northumberland). As you can see, the estate’s colour scheme is green, and its ensign is a crescent moon on its back – and almost every building in the village of Albury (population: 1,190) is decorated in this way. From the green gables…
… to the green fencing…
… to the green drainpipes; and on this house, you can also see the Duke’s crescent emblem embedded in the wall of his property, together with the date of construction – 1899 – not long after he acquired the village and surrounding hills for miles around. I found various examples of this on houses in the village.
In Albury, the village hall’s owned by the Duke…
… as is the post office!
Here’s a map of the overall Albury Estate, with the village nestled in the middle (created by digitising Highways Act landowner deposit maps, originals here.)
Eridge, East Sussex
The little village of Eridge lies to the south of Tunbridge Wells, within the 3,000-acre Eridge Estate of the Marquess of Abergavenny (the Nevill family). The whole area is controlled by the Nevill Estate Company; estate map below.
In Eridge’s chapel you can find both the stained glass window pictured above, and the arms of the Marquess of Abergavenny emblazoned on a pew; note the golden portcullis and the red rose (incidentally, the family played a big role in the Wars of the Roses):
Walking around the village, these emblems soon started popping up everywhere; on walls and gates…
… but also on the side of houses, together with the initial ‘A’ for Abergavenny.
I mean, you might own the place, but do you really have to stamp your initial on the side of every house in town…?!
Glynde, East Sussex
Glynde is indelibly associated with opera, thanks to Glyndebourne (owned by Gus Christie), but the village itself is owned by Viscount Hampden – whose coronet and initials can be found moulded onto the front of Glynde Social Club…
… and whose estate colour scheme – a deep blue – can be found throughout the village, such as on this row of flint-walled cottages, resplendent on the edge of the South Downs:
Firle, East Sussex
Just south of Glynde is yet another aristocratic estate: Firle Place, the domain of Viscount Gage. Just in case you thought I was overegging it about this feudalism business, even Tatler magazine describes Lord Gage as living “in feudal splendour” at Firle. And, as befits a Viscount, the beautiful little village has been given the estate paint job:
The village’s reading room bears a 1913 dedication to the 5th Viscount Gage, made out in an earlier era of forelock-tugging deference “as a token of esteem and affection by his tenants”:
Mind you, these days the Gage family seem content to dine with the plebs at the village’s (amazing) pub:
Yattendon, West Berkshire
Yattendon is both a village and an 8,000-acre estate in West Berkshire (the county I grew up in, where just 30 landowners own nearly half the county). Baron Iliffe, a newspaper magnate, acquired Yattendon in 1925, and painted the town conifer-green. His ancestors have gone on to also carpet the surrounding fields with xmas trees, a major income stream for the estate.
All the usual things in this quaintly feudal village are green: doors, window frames, guttering, the village pub, etc. But what’s unusual about Yattendon is that even the telephone box is painted green…
Other ‘feudal villages’
- Abbeystead, Lancashire – heart of the Duke of Westminster’s Abbeystead grouse moor estate – the village/ estate colour scheme is gunmetal grey
- Raby Estate, North Pennines – all the estate-owned houses in Baron Barnard’s vast 55,000-acre estate have whitewashed walls – the story goes that a previous Baron mandated this so he could find his properties to shelter in if caught out in a storm…
- Midhurst, South Downs – the Cowdray Estate’s tenanted houses are all painted yellow, reflecting the first Viscount Cowdray’s political affiliation with the Liberal Party (he owed his peerage to Liberal PM Lloyd George).
This article in Country Life has more examples of estates and their colour schemes.