New village squire lands piece of old England for pounds 8m

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With a magnificent mansion, 33 Cotswold-stone cottages, 1,650 acres of land, a Norman church and a working farm with 170 cattle and 600 sheep, all for just pounds 8m, the picturesque Cotswold village of Salperton in Gloucestershire was a bargain Barry Houghton could not resist.

The estate, which appears in the Domesday book, went on sale last year with an original asking price of pounds 10m.

Mr Houghton, 47, boss of the Merseyside-based Rainford Group, a telecommunications company, waited until the price was right and is now the proud owner of an historic estate.

The new squire and his family were introduced to the villagers - now his tenants - at a party thrown by the previous owner, London construction firm boss Victor Watkins.

Joy West, 66, who has lived in the village for 43 years, said: "We are relieved the estate is not being broken up. It would have been the end of an era."

The new owner of the close-knit community has pledged not to make drastic changes or sell off parts of the estate. He has promised his 40 tenants that life will go on as it has done for the past 900 years. The village will continue its two principal activities: farming and shooting.

Mr Houghton, who lives in Cheshire, is currently on a business trip to the US. His son, Jason, will take over the daily running of the estate and has moved into the 11-bedroom 18th century Grade II listed mansion house. He said: "We regard it as a private transaction and for that reason we don't want to say anything."

The new squire is unlikely to stand a round of drinks at the local pub, there isn't one. In common with many rural communities, the village has lost virtually all its amenities, including the pub and the post office.

Former owners of the village include Sir Edward Hulton, owner of Picture Post, who was squire from the 1950s until he sold it to Mr Watkins in 1981.

Mr Watkins, who bought the estate for pounds 3m, will continue to live in the village where he remains extremely popular.

Locals had speculated for more than a year over who would become the new squire with names such as the Sultan of Brunei and Paul McCartney being mentioned.