In his TV series A House Through Time David Olusoga makes the case that while we might own and live in our properties and think of them as ‘ours’, we are really only ‘passing through’ – just one in a series of owners/occupiers, and another link in the chain of their history. And as he also demonstrates through examining the former occupants of a Liverpool property, there are many factors that determine the fortunes of those who live there and the social and economic climate of their times. It’s the human stories though that bring the house to life, and I have certainly discovered a fair few of my own.
A heart-warming story of a cottager on a scrap of land who diligently paid his dues to the lord of the manor and was eventually able to gain the freehold as the manorial system declined contrasts with the wayward son of a wealthy landowner who frittered away his inheritance speculating in the South Sea Bubble and other dubious investments and was forced to sell the family home.
Two brothers who took care of their mentally ill sister and acted as her guardian, seeking suitable nurses to care for her contrasts with two neighbours coming to blows over the position of a wooden fence, said to be 6” out of place, and taking up two years of court hearings.
I have read about a poor man poaching rabbits to feed his family, and the impact on farmers of people stealing their livestock, as well as the tragic effects of over-zealous gamekeepers with shotguns. I have discovered the scurrilous letters a landowner wrote to local dignatories for his own amusement and their outrage, the receipt for Peruvian guano among many boxes of accounts kept by an estate matriarch, and the notes thoughtfully written by the vicar’s wife describing the character and social status of her husband’s parishioners for the benefit of the next incumbent.
All these people lived in houses I have researched and lead me to agree with the old saying that there is definitely ‘nowt so queer as folk’.