The house that talked
Can a house talk? Of course it can’t. It doesn’t have a larynx, voice box, lungs or even a brain! We can sometimes hear the creaks and noise that older houses make as they gently move as wood expands and contracts but why do some people insist that the house has spoken to them? Are they deluded, gullible, fantasists, romantics or do they have special powers?
We visit a lot of houses and I get an immediate feel for the property. We often visit with a colleague and whilst walking and talking we appreciate the ambience and atmosphere but rarely listen to the voice of the house. In June, however, I became a fully paid up member of the loopy gang when I am sure a house talked to me.
We had been marketing Hayden Farm at Charminster near Dorchester and were due to auction the property the next day and I visited so that I could prepare my notes to read out from the rostrum.
It is an unspoilt Grade II listed farmhouse requiring modernisation with a range of farm buildings, pasture and water meadows, the land bordering the river Cerne.
The farm had been in the Miles’ family for many generations but they had only bought it in 1952 as sitting tenants. The last member of the family, Olive, had died a spinster aged 97 and by all accounts she was a formidable woman. She had stipulated in her will that the property must be sold at auction and all meetings, whatever the time of year and in all winds and weathers, were conducted in front of a roaring fire.
This was a proper Dorset farm, Olive kept Dorset Horn sheep and was a true character loving her point to points, walking hound puppies and hosting a hunt meet every year. Apparently there were 93 consecutive meets at Hayden.
When I entered the house it had such a bright, happy, feel and the accommodation was well laid out but ‘raw’ and every room needed some work.
I stood in the hall on the well-worn flagstones and thought of all the people who had walked through the house over the last 300 years. I then felt that the house was talking to me. It was as though it was sizing me up “who are you? What do you want?” I shrugged thinking my mind was playing tricks and I walked in and out of every room admiring the views over the fields and wondering how much money needed to be invested to bring the house up to acceptable modern standards.
Before I left I stood in front of the fireplace and I suddenly felt that I was being lectured “Now then young man you make sure somebody decent buys this house, someone who will breathe life back into it and make it a happy home once again”
I shook my head and with a wry smile I locked the door and leaned over the field gate wondering whether I had begun to lose the plot. Was I imagining it or was the house really talking to me? I shook myself out of my reverie and went back to my desk to prepare for the auction.
Symonds & Sampson property auctions in Sherborne are a very popular way to spend a few hours and people come along for the drama, the theatre and for unpredictable excitement. The sale room, therefore, was full and many who could not attend arranged to bid over the telephone.
After various lots of agricultural land, commercial buildings and cottages for renovation were sold our last property was Hayden Farm. I told the audience what a privilege it was for me to offer such a prestigious property to them and I mentioned that the house may have spoken to me. Many people laughed and assumed I was joking but I noticed that one couple smiled and nodded as though they had felt the same way.
The guide was £575,000 and I was started with a bid of £550,000 the bidding rose gently, in £5,000 bids, until £735,000 when the increments were smaller; £738,000, £740,000, £742,000, £745,000 and buyers dropped out as new ones raised their catalogues to bid. Up and up went the price until we just had two couples competing to buy and when one reluctantly shook their head my gavel fell at £848,000.
The sale room erupted into an impromptu round of applause to celebrate the good fortune for the executors and as congratulations to the buyer.
When I spoke to the buyers afterwards I mentioned that I had seen them nod and smile when I had mentioned that the house may have spoken to me and they fully understood what I meant.
So who really was talking to me? Was it the house or the spirit of the powerful arduous spinster who had lived her whole life at the farm? Or was my romantic nature just getting the better of me?
If it was Olive Miles let us hope that she approves of the new owners. I am sure she will once she sees them renovate her house to its former glory and makes it a happy home once more. Perhaps they will have many convivial conversations in the years to come.