Me and my home: Marie Caudwell

Cheryl Markosky hears how a battle against the Lord of the Manor over access took five years to secure a victory
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The Independent Online

Marie Caudwell, a training and development manager for Guinot UK, lives with her husband Tony Webb in an early 19th century cottage at Newtown Common, just outside Newbury. The couple, along with the other residents, recently won a landmark High Court victory after a five-year battle over access rights.

Marie Caudwell, a training and development manager for Guinot UK, lives with her husband Tony Webb in an early 19th century cottage at Newtown Common, just outside Newbury. The couple, along with the other residents, recently won a landmark High Court victory after a five-year battle over access rights.

We were living in a brand new box, which my husband hated with a passion, when we found this old house through an agent. It was not in a bad state and we loved the way it is so tucked away, up a hidden track.

We paid about £350,000 five years ago which was "shock, horror" at the time, but you learn to dismiss the feeling quickly. Ivy Cottage is really made up of two cottages that were knocked into one 15 or 20 years ago. Built in 1805, we have the original old drawing room and the rest is quite difficult to work out. It is not all on one level and you have to step up to the dining room. The ceilings are quite low and there is the odd beam. If you are six feet tall, you have to watch it.

The house feels quite cosy and caravan-like. It has four small bedrooms and we haven't had to do anything major to it. The downside is that there are things hanging over our heads that we should do, but have felt a bit de-motivated. I know we shouldn't be negative and should get our teeth into the whole refurbishment thing. The house needs to be tidy and straight and I'm not terribly good at this.

We have done up the kitchen and installed a Rayburn. I had one when we lived in Derbyshire and was keen to own one again. It is terrific, providing all our hot water and heating. Because it is so warm and friendly in the kitchen, we rarely use the dining room. We have what I laughingly called a study. You can hardly find it, mind you, because there are books everywhere. Tony is keen to put on a conservatory to bring in more light, but I'm not sure we really want another room.

Pine floorboards were everywhere when we arrived and I'm not sure they quite go with the house, so we have carpeted the sitting room and tiled some of the floors. I am not terribly Laura Ashley and probably need an interior designer to come in and tell me what to do. At the moment, the look is faded shabby gentility.

Tony fiddles around with colour schemes a bit - the kitchen has yellow tiles with the odd burgundy tile picked out to match the Rayburn. My daughter is keen on making suggestions too, which can be quite good. I need a bit of feng shui around here, I think. That is meant to help lighten the atmosphere and give you good fortune, isn't it?

We were both married before and have gathered up odd bits of furniture along the way. Tony, who was an RAF pilot, is mad about hi-fi equipment and you can't turn the TV on without getting loud music blaring out. I like the sitting room best, where I can escape and do yoga. It is peaceful and as this is not the lightest of houses, this room looks bright with its cream and yellow carpet. There are cream curtains that I think need replacing and I want more dramatic cushions. The dining room is quite dark, but looks really good in the evening.

The garden is lovely. It has been well designed and is filled with lots of shrubs and a huge oak tree. It is tranquil and quite straightforward to look after. You can't hear any noise from the roads around here, as we are right in the middle of the woods. People don't drive past and no one can find us here. There is a stable that is now a shed and we could put a garage at the end of the garden - but we're not sure it is worth it.

The Common has no centre as such, but there is a great village hall. We are two miles from Tesco where we get our groceries, and Newbury and the station are only three miles away. We enjoy life greatly here and know we are lucky to be in such a quiet spot that is close to the shops and restaurants when we need to buy something or fancy or to go for a night out.

It was pretty awful when the guy who bought the Lord of the Manor title for Newtown tried to charge all of us for right of vehicular access to the Common. We were told we had to pay 6 per cent of the value of each property - and if that wasn't paid within five weeks, the charge would rise to 10 per cent. We formed a Residents' Association and fought back. That fight has taken nearly five years and led initially to a change to the Countryside and Rights of Way Act and eventually, to our win in the House of Lords earlier this year. There are lots of commons in the UK, so this is a real landmark case. A law lecturer who said we didn't have a hope says this is one of the most interesting cases he has come across. All five Law Lords came down on our side, which is pretty unusual.

We also own a house in France, near Cognac. We have done everything there from scratch, which might explain our lethargy about getting on with work here. We don't spend enough time as we would like in France, and when we do go, we seem to spend weeks burning paint off shutters and other tasks, so the novelty of DIY wears off when we come back home to the UK. We just haven't got the balance right and need to dedicate more time to poor old Ivy Cottage.

The Newton Residents Association can be contacted through Tony Webb at avconweb@onetel.net.uk

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