PROPERTY / A house by any other name: Of all the homes for sale at any time, 200 are called Rose Cottage. But there, discovers Rosalind Russell, similarities - as well as claims to cottageness, or even roses - end

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EXPLORE THE misty hill stations of India and you will find Rose Cottages with picket fences, haunted by memsahibs who never forgot Surrey. Rose Cottages bloom on Kenyan coffee plantations, in Durban suburbs and on the rubber plantations of Malaysia. Wherever a British foot has trod, it has left in its imprint a Rose Cottage.

Of all the homes for sale in Britain at any given time, estimated at around one million, at least 200 are called Rose Cottage. They come in all shapes and sizes. There are two up, two down terrace Rose Cottages standing stony-faced on brisk Lancashire hillsides. There are innumerable bungalows with 'Rose Cottage' scrolled on the pebbledash. There are Rose Cottage redbrick suburban semis, more Busy Lizzie than Ena Harkness, and long, low-slung Rose Cottages with thatched roofs like untidy ducks' nests.

A grand three-storey Rose Cottage on the Wirral pensinsular doesn't look cottagey at all. Built in 1822 by a sea captain and painted sugar pink, it comes with the right to an assigned pew in the local church. Margaret Lowry has lived in it for 42 years. 'Anything less like a cottage you have never seen,' she says crisply. 'It's three storeys high, and with a cellar. It used to be a pub where people would wait to catch the ferries crossing over to Ireland.'

During the Second World War, Mrs Lowry (who is a graduate in modern languages) assisted in the interrogation of captured German prisoners; special permission had to be sought for the acquisition of the pink paint through the rationing system.

'The previous owner, a Mrs Bibby, was a patron of music and used to give recitals in the house. She had a grand piano in the drawing room and very little else. Everyone must have had to sit in the hall. It's a most interesting house. When we moved in, the only other house nearby was the old manor. The whole village was certain its owner was a witch. She didn't like the village and they didn't like her.'

There are as many species of Rose Cottage as there are roses (250), and they have similar habits. They climb, ramble, stand stiffly in municipal rows, are often hybrids and suffer from the occasional Black Spot.

The beauty of the name Rose Cottage is that it means all things to all people, a universal house name that you wouldn't be ashamed to own up to. Small wonder that it's number three on the Halifax Building Society's list of the top 10 most popular names. (Sad to report, The Bungalow is number one.)

'The name Rose Cottage transcends class boundaries,' says Greg Hadfield, who is co- author of the newly published guide to pecking order, Class: Where Do You Stand? (Bloomsbury pounds 9.99). 'It suggests rural idyll, which may not be the case at all as there are numerous Rose Cottages in cities.

'Cottage is a very late Eighties and Nineties word; it's all part of the new nostalgia in Britain. The late Seventies and early Eighties period was all about the G-Plan generation, all spotlights, chrome and black leather furniture. Now builders are building fewer rabbit hutches and designing houses dripping with gables and eaves to suggest the craftsmanship of a bygone era. Stick a Welsh dresser in a modern semi and you have a Rose Cottage.'

British gardens bristle with roses - four times as popular as the gardener's next favourite, hellebores - so the name-hunting homeowner doesn't have to look further than the flowerbed for inspiration.

But something horrible happened to house names at the start of the century, when gentrification set in like embalming fluid. Instead of being simple and illustrative, they became coy and self-conscious. Some laboured under appalling jokes. Windy Ridge turned into Dambreezee. When the fashion for amalgamating family names began, it spawned a rash of improbable addresses. Poor Renee and Albert, innocents both in the terminology of biology. As Leslie Dunkling, author of The Guinness Book of Names, records, they proudly named their home Renal.

Timeless, classless, Rose Cottage has somehow outlived fashion, feeble humour and social climbing. But why the name Rose? Why not Geranium, or Carnation? 'Because the scent of roses is so glorious,' says Sheila Pickles, who runs the Royals' favourite perfume company, Penhaligon's. Its Elizabethan Rose fragrance is an abiding success.

'The rose is also associated with love. It's the smell of childhood, memories of visiting aunts; it suits tiny cottages and grand houses. Light a rose candle in a city home and you're transported to the country. It's adaptable; it transcends everything.'

Graham and Heather Cowan bought their Rose Cottage in Upper Heyford, Oxfordshire in 1987 when it was derelict but smothered in roses. They parked a caravan in the overgrown garden and spent the next 18 months replacing joists, floors, stairs and electrics. Carbon dating revealed its origins as 1565. Rose Cottage once saw service as the village Post Office and then, during the Second World War, as an air-raid post. What lies behind its acquisition is just as noteworthy: its two previous owners before the Cowans both bought the cottage with the money from winning the Pools. Graham Cowan's story is hardly less colourful. He made his money as a professional poker player.

'Heather and I both worked in casinos: she was a games inspector and I managed the poker room before I left to go professional. I had a few big wins. I still play in competition for amusement; the prize money isn't too bad, usually about pounds 1,000.'

Graham, who now works as an electrical contractor, and Heather, who is currently qualifying as a solicitor, are ready for their next gamble. This week they sold Rose Cottage and bought a derelict farmhouse and three run-down cottages overlooking the sea near Kinsale, on the southern tip of Ireland. 'We're going to do it all again,' Graham says.

Michael and Rosalie Fitzgibbon's Rose Cottage in Potterne, Wiltshire, is of the solid Victorian redbrick variety. So solid, the telephone engineer broke two drills trying to get through the wall. Built in 1870, everything about it is substantial, from the cast-iron fireplaces to the original wooden doors and the original well and iron pump. Long before the Fitzgibbons bought it, it was owned by an old woman who ran a small market garden.

'She grew the best tomatoes in Wiltshire,' Rosalie says. 'But everyone in the village knew to come and buy them after 2pm. By that time, she would have been to the pub for her jug of ale and couldn't tell the difference between a pound of tomatoes and two pounds.'

The house is surrounded by roses, including the fragrant Peace, and up the walls, the Dublin Bay red climber. 'The irony is that roses don't do at all well in Potterne,' Rosalie says.' The soil is very limey and roses hate the lime.' The three-bedroom house with its 181ft by 81ft garden is for sale through Drewatte-Neate at around pounds 129,000.

Phil and Linda Hogg have owned their 250- year-old, three-bedroom, apricot-coloured Rose Cottage in Ashen, Suffolk, for three years. It looks like a doll's house, with patched thatch punctuated by a tiny dormer window. They share it with a red setter, two collies and six ducks - though the ducks live outside, by the pond. The garden, with roses, apple tree, flowers, shrubs and lawns is a special attraction. Previous owners apparently used to host large tea parties in it.

Phil has lived in thatched cottages all his life. 'Even people who haven't seen it can picture what it looks like because of its name,' he says. 'It really does have roses dangling over the door. It stands back from the road, next to the church. You can get drunk without anyone interfering with you.

'I'm a traditionalist. I will always live in an old house and I like the old names. If the house had been called Dunroamin when we bought it, I would have changed the name instantly. It's horrid, very Basildon. I'd be ashamed to live in a Dunroamin. A previous house we bought had a number but no name, so we gave it one: Three Chimneys - which it had.' The Hoggs now fancy living in a Victorian home, so have put Rose Cottage on the market with GA Property Services for pounds 99,500.

According to the Halifax Building Society, one in every 15 houses has a name, but the trend is tailing off. Now, only one out of every 19 new homes built in Britain can boast anything more memorable than a number.

Doris and Lance Meadows, both retired, bucked the trend. Their three-bedroom neo-Georgian home in genteel Little Midhurst, West Sussex, was just another house in Poplar Way until they moved in six years ago. The prize-winning development by Seaward Properties was designed to match the existing Georgian architecture of the town. The Meadows' home has an Old Curiosity Shop-type window, small panes and a tile-hung gable.

'My wife decided it should be called Rose Cottage, as the rose is her favourite flower. We have a number of them in the garden - climbers, ramblers, Pink Elizabeths and Golden Clouds. Not everyone in the square has given their house a name. But where they have, they have some very nice signs on the walls. It makes them all a bit different.' The Meadows' Rose Cottage is for sale through Gascoigne-Pees for pounds 84,750.-

(Photographs omitted)