: How Wealthy American Expats Transformed the British Aristocracy #WorldNEWS It could have been a screenplay for one of those gentle comedies that British film studios used to do so well: In 1924, a
How Wealthy American Expats Transformed the British Aristocracy #WorldNEWS
It could have been a screenplay for one of those gentle comedies that British film studios used to do so well: In 1924, a young American from Portland, Maine, was on vacation in England and strolling down the Strand when a colored engraving in a shop window caught his eye. It showed a glimpse into the courtyard of a romantic fourteenth-century manor house, Ightham Mote in Kent. Something about it intrigued him.
Some years later the same young man, whose name was Charles Henry Robinson, was holidaying in England again when he recognized a photograph of that courtyard in a copy of Country Life magazine. Ightham’s owner, Sir Thomas Colyer-Fergusson, was then opening the house to the public on Friday afternoons at a shilling a head; with time on his hands, Robinson decided to go down and see if the reality measured up to the romance.
Ightham Mote was the stuff of fairy tales. Robinson was enchanted, haunted by its charm. It was, he told himself, “the only house in England that I should ever care to own. ” And he was rich enough to buy it. But Sir Thomas, who was of an antiquarian turn of mind—his favorite pastime was transcribing parish registers—had no intention of selling.
Fast forward to the 1950s. Sir Thomas was dead and his heir had moved quickly to sell the estate. Most of Ightham’s contents went in a three-day sale in October 1951, but the house itself failed to make its reserve price at auction. In a last-ditch attempt to save it, three local businessmen formed a syndicate to buy Ightham and thirty-seven acres, paying around £5,500 (approximately ,400—or just over 2,000 by today’s currency standards) for the freehold with the intention of keeping it safe until a suitable buyer could be found. But there was no sign of a savior. Unoccupied, the house began to deteriorate.
But Robinson hadn’t forgotten his pre-war visit to Ightham; in the spring of 1953, on another of his regular trips to England, he went down to see what had become of the place—and he was appalled at what he saw. “Sinister and cynical, crumbling into its moat,” he wrote later. “It was like some old person, abandoned and embittered, that needed a little affection, care and security. ” So he met with the members of the syndicate and suggested he might buy it himself.
What would he do with it? Robinson was a bachelor in his early fifties, and his business interests lay in America. It would cost a small fortune to put Ightham right, and he would have to do it from across the Atlantic. Sailing home on the Queen Mary a week later he had second thoughts, and wrote from the ship to tell the syndicate the deal was off.
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