Melbury Park

Do you feel you are working harder than ever just to make ends meet?  I certainly do.  But in the past 24 hours I’ve encountered two people, from very different situations in life, who have made me realise that being wealthy, and being poor, are to a large extent a state of mind.

A deer park to die for

Yesterday I was writing a new website for the Acorn Inn in Dorset (a brilliant pub, but I’m biased) and was doing some research into local walks.  The pub is next to Melbury Park, a 900 acre deer park (cited as the most beautiful in all England) and stately home owned by the Ilchester Estate.  This is just a small part of the land owned by Charlotte Townshend.  Never heard of her?  She’s one of the richest women in the UK.

How did she get that rich?  By genetic good fortune – and the bad luck of others.  She is the only surviving daughter of the 9th Viscount Galway and, her two brothers having died in accidents, she inherited the entire estate.  Then her mother, Lady Teresa Fox-Strangways, daughter of the 7th Earl of Ilchester, died in 1990, leaving Charlotte the Ilchester Estate.    Lady Teresa had only inherited the vast Ilchester estates because her two brothers both died before she was 27.

So, thanks to the tragic deaths of four male heirs, Charlotte Townshend inherited not just the Galway Estate but the Ilchester Estate as well.  The Galway Estate is hefty, but the Ilchester Estate (or estates), carefully built up by successive generations, is now truly enormous.

It paid to be mates with Henry VIII

Things really got going with Sir Giles Strangways, who was a loyal servant of Henry VIII.  He had a house in London and property in eight counties and the Isle of Wight. The estates in Dorset were to be further increased by a grant in 1543 of the dissolved abbey of Abbotsbury and the manors of Abbotsbury and East Elworth, for which Strangways paid nearly £2,000.  Around the same time he picked up a number of other lands and estates courtesy of a grateful monarch who was good at grabbing land from the church.

Pass GO and collect Holland Park

A couple of hundred years later the estate also got a large slice of land to the west of London through some fortuitous family connections.  So when Charlotte inherited the Ilchester Estate it included 15,000 acres in Dorset – Melbury Park, Abbotsbury (Charlotte is the only woman in England, apart from the Queen, allowed to own swans), Chesil Beach and its Fleet.  There was also 3,000 acres in Nottinghamshire, more properties in Yorkshire, and around 20-40 acres in central London, mostly in very expensive Holland Park.  Among the properties she owns in Holland Park is the freehold of the 48-room mansion occupied by film director and restaurant critic Michael Winner – it is said to be worth £35million.

According to the Rich List her current wealth is believed to be in the region of £342 million, which is some way north of the Queen’s!

Rich, moi?

In the Daily Mail article I read Charlotte declares “I don’t feel rich.”  I was initially amazed at this remark, but then it made sense – she probably doesn’t feel rich.  How can you feel rich when you’ve never experienced poverty?  And this reminded me of the TV program I’d seen the night before.

Attitude is everything

Welcome to India, episode 3, stuck a lens into the lives of a three families in the slums of Mumbai.  Their cheerfulness, their willingness to work incredibly hard for an absolute pittance, and the sheer joy with which they lived their lives was amazing, and humbling.  But the most remarkable character (amongst many contenders) was a kid who lived on the banks of the Ganges, in what looked to me like a glorified wooden packing case, surrounded by every kind of shit.  To an observer from the developed world you would say that life, which had dealt Charlotte Townshend such wonderful hand, had dealt him a dreadful one.

He didn’t see it like that – his ingenuity and cheerfulness were astounding.  He and his mate took small magnets out of scrap electrical items, tied them on the end of bits of discarded string they knotted together, then cast them into the muddy waters.  This enabled them to retrieve the coins which others threw into the holy river as offerings to the gods.

He then turned to camera and said with a huge smile“ I’m so lucky to live here – it’s like living next to a huge ATM machine!”



Photograph courtesy of Alwyn Ladell