No sooner had the dust settled on Jeremy Clarkson’s controversial attack on Meghan Markle than he stoked another hornet’s nest by accusing people who live in houses with names rather than street numbers of being Social climbing nimbies.
Clarkson, 62, says it was the posh types whose homes have names that died against his Diddly Squat farm and shop in Chadlington, Oxfordshire – which was inundated with visitors after being the subject of an Amazon series Extremely popular Prime Video – while residents who live in numbered houses tend to be more tolerant.
“It’s pretty evenly split between those who have a house number – you know, 22 Oak Avenue or 3 Grove or whatever – who tend to support us because we bring business to the area and jobs for their children” , says the former Top Gear presenter.
“If they have a house name, they tend not to like us, because they tend to have moved here from London fairly recently, and they don’t want crowds of people coming to the farm shop, so this seems like the split to me.
Broadcaster Jeremy Clarkson pictured at his farm shop Diddly Squat in West Oxfordshire
Clarkson, 62, says it was the snobby types whose houses bear names who died against his farmhouse and shop Diddly Squat in Chadlington, Oxfordshire.
Actually, Clarkson doesn’t mention “posh types” but that’s what he’s getting at. And, while, in the grand (or not grand) scheme of things, it doesn’t matter if your house has a name or just a number, it matters hugely when it comes to the minutiae of class distinctions for which Britain deservedly famous all over the world.
House names were rare until the late Victorian era, as single family homes were not common – in the strict sense of the term. A century ago, nine out of ten houses were rented by individuals, but in 1939, a quarter of the houses were owner-occupied.
With the increase in the number of owners, there has been an increase in the number of house names. But the name you chose for your house said a lot about your status – and was a social minefield. Is still.
Call your home a “mansion” when it’s clearly just a modest family dwelling and you’re a social climber. Conversely, a citation in the Oxford English Dictionary for the word “naff” reads: “It is naff to call your home The Gables or Mon Repos”.
Clarkson said: “If they have a house name, they tend not to like us, because they tend to have moved here from London fairly recently, and they don’t want crowds of people coming to the store from Shut up, so this seems to me to be the split’
But there is no doubt that the name of a house can somehow “elevate” those who live there. After all, people who were wealthy, or who considered themselves landed gentry, or socially superior in some way, for centuries called their homes a “mansion”, a “hall”, a “castle” or even a “grove”.
And we can probably all agree that the phrase “born at the mansion” sounds better than “born at 27 Elm Tree Walk.”
Mind you, there are house names that have an air of grandeur and then there are those that can easily lead you down a lousy cul-de-sac. Meadow View, Tree Tops, Sunnyside, Oak Barn and Primrose Cottage all feature in the top 20 house names, according to The House Nameplate Company. But none have quite the cachet of a Dartington Hall, Hartley Wintney Hall, or even more ubiquitous monikers such as The Old Rectory or The Vicarage.
Indeed, there is even a special membership organization for people who live in a manse or parsonage. Founded in 2006, it is called The Rectory Society and has the Lord Chartres (former Bishop of London) as its ecclesiastical patron and former Daily Telegraph editor Lord Moore of Etchingham as chairman of the trustees.
The dust has only just settled on Jeremy Clarkson’s controversial attack on Meghan Markle
I could be wrong, but it seems unlikely that there is a similar grouping for those living in a Tree Tops or Meadow View.
My own childhood home in Berkshire had a name. It was called Foudry House, after a local stream, and although Grade II listed, it overlooked a busy road and was not particularly posh.
My grandparents, on the other hand, lived in a stately home at the end of a long road in the Scottish Borders called Manderston, which was so grand that, like King Charles’ Highgrove in Gloucestershire, or the official country residence of the Prime Minister, Checkers, his name told you all you needed to know.
When I first married, my wife and I lived at 35 Broxash Road in south London, a small terraced house with what estate agents called ‘potential’. I suppose we could have called it Broxash House to distinguish it from all the other nearly identical houses on the street, but that would have been ridiculously pretentious.
And yet, according to Alexander Gibson estate agents in Harrogate, Yorkshire, buyers are willing to pay up to 40% more for a house with a name and, according to a survey, some 85% of people said prefer a house with a name rather than a simple number.
But achieving such ambition is largely the prerogative of rural people. Many city dwellers can only dream of a day when they live in a house with a name attached – but, in the countryside, that’s the norm rather than the exception. In some villages, up to 95% of houses have names rather than numbers.
And that makes it a scourge on the emergency services. A former copper reacting to Clarkson’s comments online said: ‘When I was in the police we had a road about five miles long in a village [with] no numbers just names… try to find the “blog villa” at night in case of emergency.
To make matters worse, some villages have more than one property with the same name. A colleague tells me that a postman friend delivers to a village with three Yew Tree Cottages.
You can, of course, have both a name and a number. My wife and I have just finished building a small house in the main street of a village in Wiltshire. There used to be a bungalow on the site called Glenafon and so it was assumed that our house would adopt the same name.
But Joanna wanted to change it to Bend In The River, partly because we can pretty much see a bend in the Kennet River from our bedroom windows and because one of her favorite books is A Bend In The River by VS Naipaul.
So for a fee of around £80, Wiltshire Council let us change the name. The problem was that the postmen and delivery drivers had no idea where Bend In The River was on the High Street.
The solution was to revert to Glenafon’s actual house number, which happens to be 55B. I fear my late grandparents see such social descent gravely and so we have now opted for the best – or the worst – of both worlds. Our house is called Bend In The River, 55B High Street.
The postman is happy but I’m not sure the long-time inhabitants of the village approve of us London escapees rejecting a name that has been part of the community for almost 100 years.
The letter after our number could indicate that we live in an apartment rather than a house. But who cares ? The answer is a lot of people. There are those whose aspirations go no further than losing that telltale letter on their mailing address. After all, there is no greater sign of urban evolution than living at number 12 rather than 12B, a sure sign that one occupies a house rather than an apartment.
Some country escapes go the humorous route, which, in this case, is what Clarkson did when he called his farmhouse Diddly Squat. It’s like taxi drivers retiring in Essex and renaming their homes Dunroamin. Or the couple called Dave and Trisha who named their home Daverisha. Elsewhere I came across an East London semi-trailer called Erseandmyne, a country house called Windy Bottom and another, whose owners probably don’t plan to sell anytime soon, called Bog View. There is also a holiday home in Wales called Llamedos, which should be read backwards.
I suspect there is smugness about the house name camp in general, but it’s worth remembering that arguably the biggest address in the whole country has a number, namely London number one, which overlooks Hyde Park Corner towards Buckingham Palace.
It was acquired by the Duke of Wellington from his brother in 1817, two years after the general’s victory at the Battle of Waterloo, as a London pied-à-terre.
In fact, like my little home in Wiltshire, it has a name, Apsley House, and a number. So I’m in excellent company.