Sale of estate poses test for spirit of community: Charles Oulton visits a tied Cotswold village anxious about an imminent change of landlord

Click to follow
The Independent Online
ALTHOUGH it doesn't have a pub or a village shop, the Cotswolds village of Salperton has a particularly strong community spirit.

There are the normal events that bond villagers together like the fete, flower show and services at the church next to the manor. But there is something more significant which could yet prove to be catastrophic for the people who live in a village that has not so far changed very much since medieval days.

Next week, the entire village of 33 houses and cottages is being sold off, and the residents - many of whom rent houses tied to their jobs on the surrounding estate - are anxious about the future. They could be lucky, as they were in 1981 when the current owner, Victor Watkins, moved into the manor on the estate, and resolved to keep the estate and village as it has been since the days when it was recorded as 'Sealh-burn- tun', Old English for 'the settlement by a stream where the sallows (willows) grow'. If luck is not with them, however, they know that the new owner could make them unemployed and slice up the village, selling the houses separately and developing the barns. 'Its a lovely village to live in with a real sense of an agricultural community,' Joy West, a resident for 42 years, said. 'However, in this day and age, we know that the houses could be sold separately, and everyone is just hoping that the village stays intact.'

The village, which is between Cheltenham and Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire, is part of a 1,748- acre estate that includes a Grade II manor, a farm, and a partridge and pheasant shoot.

A price has not yet been put on the village, but the estate is valued at between pounds 8m and pounds 10m.

Mr Watkins, a building entrepreneur, used the manor as his family home, but now lives in a house in the village because his children have grown up. Savills, who are selling the estate, said that the decision to sell had been difficult, but he had many other interests and felt the time was right for a change.

However, Justin Marking, the director with responsibility for the sale, said that, although the village was available as a separate lot, Mr Watkins 'was anxious for continuity, and would prefer to sell as a whole'. It will appeal 'to an extremely wealthy individual of a philanthropic nature for whom the village and community would play a major part'.

Sales of entire villages are extremely rare. The most recent similar example was Glympton Park in Oxfordshire, which Alan Bond, the controversial Australian businessman, bought in 1988 on the strength of the brochure. His business problems quickly followed, and he sold the village without ever seeing it. Salperton is probably a better buy because it is part of an estate, and therefore more protected.

Those villagers most at risk would be the estate's current employees, one-third of whom live in Salperton, and another third who have shorthold tenancies. The village consists of picturesque houses with names such as Magnolia Cottage and Elm Tree Cottage, and although the pub and post office are now private houses, villagers claim there is a genuine community spirit.

Richard Dalton, the herd manager, said 'everyone mucks in. There is an old girl aged 86 who lives next door to me, and we all look after her. When she wants to go shopping, I take her in my car. It's an extremely pleasant, quiet village, and everyone is rather apprehensive about it being split up. Mr Watkins has been an extremely good employer, and we're just hoping we get someone similar.'

(Photograph omitted)