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  • Speaking in tongues

    Anyone who has ever bought a property will be familiar with the language used in modern sale particulars. The excesses of some of the more subjective descriptions have been suppressed by consumer protection legislation in recent years, but it was a very different story a century ago.

    On a recent research project in Dorset I came across a set of sale particulars that elevated hyperbole to an art form. In case you think I am exaggerating, consider these extracts from the prospectus for freehold building sites in a six-acre seaside estate published in 1892:

    ‘Standing at the verge of the sea shore, the view that is here obtained is one of peculiar grandeur and beauty which cannot fail to strike the observer with wonder approaching almost of incredulity at the unique and picturesque scene which is here presented to him.’

    ‘The upper lakes gradually open to the view, and it is at this point more than any other that one can realise the exquisite beauty of the estate, and pause to gaze with admiration on the scene thus depicted, the ‘tout ensemble’ being of such a character that it cannot fail to have either a soothing influence upon the jaded mind, requiring rest from the busy turmoil of life, or an exhilarating effect upon the shattered nerve from whatever cause it may arise.’

    ‘The gentle rippling of the water from the lakes, the murmuring of the zephyr-like breezes wafted up from across the Channel, the melodies of the numerous feathered songsters which at all times may be heard here are features on the estate which render it the most perfect Elysium it is possible to find.’

    Even the estate agents themselves were forced to admit in their concluding remarks that anyone might be forgiven for thinking they had ‘over-egged the cake’:

    ‘In the foregoing particulars it is impossible to convey to the reader who is not acquainted with the spot a full idea of the beauties and grandeur of the estate and it is a source of satisfaction to the auctioneers to know they cannot be justly accused of giving a too florid or flourishing account of the property. The power of description, however poetical or eloquent the language may be, utterly fails to do justice to the merits of this enchanting spot.’

    I concede that, having visited the area in 2017, it is still an attractive area with many desirable properties, and can only hope that the purchasers of the vacant plots then awaiting development had their expectations fulfilled.

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