Mov­ing with the times

Carla Carlisle has to ad­mire the grace­ful man­ner in which one gen­er­a­tion of one fam­ily is mak­ing way for the next

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

THE in­vi­ta­tion did not say ‘End of an Era’ or ‘Passing the Torch’, but ev­ery­one seemed to know it was. Driv­ing through the 400-acre deer park with its an­cient oaks, walk­ing across the bridge over the deep moat and into the court­yard, it was as much a per­sonal story as a jour­ney through English his­tory. This was a Suf­folk gath­er­ing with the col­lec­tive mem­ory of another party held here a decade ear­lier.

That was a gala evening cel­e­brat­ing the un­bro­ken res­i­dency of the same fam­ily in this house for 500 years. The night ended with fire­works re­flected in the moat and ac­com­pa­nied by mu­sic, a stu­pen­dous spectacle made pos­si­ble by speak­ers in the park the size of freight cars.

Our gen­er­ous hosts, still stylish, beau­ti­ful and youth­ful, brought this house and es­tate into the 21st cen­tury with taste, orig­i­nal­ity and so­cial con­science. Now, they’re mov­ing out of the grand manor house and into the smaller house on the es­tate where they be­gan their mar­ried life in 1970. Their el­dest son and his young fam­ily are mov­ing in.

If you check vol­ume 1 A–M of the Shorter Ox­ford English Dic­tio­nary, first pub­lished in 1933 and reprinted with cor­rec­tions in 1959, the word ‘down­siz­ing’ does not ap­pear. What hap­pened in nov­els as well as in real life was the un­writ­ten tribal pro­ce­dure of aris­to­cratic pri­mo­gen­i­ture: the hus­band died and his widow moved into a dower house. If there was no dower house, she might be per­suaded to move into another house on the es­tate.

Fail­ing that, a flat near Peter Jones. In Vita Sackville-west’s All Pas­sion Spent, the wid­owed Lady Slane buys a small cot­tage in re­mote Hamp­stead, a move so dar­ing that it shocks her friends and chil­dren.

Times have changed. The dower house may have been sold when In­her­i­tance Tax was 98%, lost af­ter the de­ba­cle with Lloyds of London or be­cause too many gen­er­a­tions have lived off the cap­i­tal. More sig­nif­i­cantly, we now live in the age of ti­ta­nium hips, triple by­passes, stents, statins, flu shots, pneu­mo­nia shots and airbags. We haven’t yet con­quered the Grim Reaper, but we have tri­umphed over at least one of Man’s ini­tial hand­i­caps: the brevity of life.

De­spite the alarm bells in med­i­cal col­umns, we are liv­ing longer and, if each gen­er­a­tion stays put in the ‘Big House’ un­til death does one part, the next gen­er­a­tion can’t bring the sun­light, oxy­gen, fun and sheer stamina needed to keep these de­mand­ing big houses and es­tates alive. The wise and the brave recog­nise this and plan their de­par­ture while they have the en­ergy and imag­i­na­tion to em­bark on the new pas­sage.

There is a pal­pa­ble sense of ex­cite­ment in cou­ples who make the move. It’s as if the decades of stew­ard­ship—bring­ing life to the gar­den, con­vert­ing the sta­bles into a wed­ding venue and the old smithy into tea rooms, or­gan­is­ing gar­den fes­ti­vals, mu­sic fes­ti­vals, farm shops—have been an ex­cit­ing and com­pli­cated meal. Mov­ing out—and cre­at­ing their new, smaller house in which an­ces­tral por­traits and dark fur­ni­ture are re­placed by mod­ern pic­tures, pale so­fas and tout con­fort—this is the lovely dessert.

Even with­out the moated house and 5,000 acres, the urge to down­size be­fore it’s forced upon you by sick­ness, old age or the death of a spouse is a pow­er­ful one. Read­ing in the FT Week­end about wine writer Jan­cis Robin­son and her hus­band, Nicholas Lan­der, sell­ing their four-storey Vic­to­rian house in Bel­size Park and mov­ing into a large top-floor apart­ment in King’s Cross could fill the most ded­i­cated lover of coun­try life with envy. Even the de­scrip­tions about spend­ing ‘ev­ery free week­end for more than a year throw­ing things out’, giv­ing away the piano, culling and re­cy­cling un­til the last day, feel like a tale of courage and de­liv­er­ance.

‘They cel­e­brate the free­dom and in­de­pen­dence that down­siz­ing pro­vides ‘The be­lief that gen­er­a­tion must tread upon the heels of gen­er­a­tion is a law of Na­ture

On a more mod­est level, it’s what more and more coun­try folk are do­ing— mov­ing out of their patch of ru­ral par­adise where life de­pends on the car. All around me, cou­ples whose chil­dren have left home are now mov­ing into their near­est mar­ket town. They miss the chick­ens and the kitchen gar­den, but they brag about be­ing able to walk to the cinema, restau­rants, shops, train sta­tion and GP. They cel­e­brate the free­dom and in­de­pen­dence that ‘down­siz­ing’ pro­vides. They may not walk home af­ter a movie fol­lowed by risotto and a glass of Sauvi­gnon Blanc at Car­luc­cio’s ev­ery night, but they like know­ing that they can.

Leav­ing the an­cient moated manor house on a large es­tate is a lit­tle more com­pli­cated. It re­quires tim­ing and prepa­ra­tion com­pa­ra­ble to putting on the Olympics. It also re­quires a son or daugh­ter, not nec­es­sar­ily the el­dest, who is up for the role and has what it takes to hold it all to­gether. Some­times that isn’t ob­vi­ous, even to the hope­ful par­ents, but the be­lief that gen­er­a­tion must tread upon the heels of gen­er­a­tion is a law of Na­ture em­bed­ded in our DNA. The his­tory of this coun­try in­di­cates that its landed aris­toc­racy has sur­vived this long be­cause of its ca­pac­ity to make the ‘leap of faith’.

As for the cou­ple giv­ing the party, their fam­ily motto bodes well: Con­fido Con­qui­esco —I trust and am con­tent.

Carla Carlisle

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