7 MAY 2005, Page 26

Game of the name

Michael McMahon

A‘Rose Cottage’ by any other name would smell as sweet, but it probably wouldn’t sell as sweetly if that other name happened to be ‘Osokozi’ or ‘Dunramblin”. Names matter. A good one doesn’t necessarily push up a property’s value, but it can make it more attractive to purchasers. The property boys know this, and they choose the names of their developments carefully. CALA Homes (agents: JacksonStops & Staff) is turning the Oatlands cricket ground in Weybridge into a gated microcommunity of six five-bedroom homes priced between £1.2 and £1.5 million. What have they called it? ‘Boundary Park’. Clever. ‘Boundary’: a border that indicates enclosure, a high-scoring stroke that suggests success; ‘Park’: a place of relaxation, a sense of space, a pleasing prospect — are those deer I can see in the middle distance? Get that brochure in the post! When it arrives, it explains that ‘In respect of the former cricket ground and the “Gentlemen’s Game”, the houses have been individually named after famous English cricket players: Cowdrey House, Grace House, Hutton House, Compton House, Hobbs House and Laker House delivering further provenance and character to this unique location.’ Oddly expressed, perhaps, but the message is clear, and the key words are ‘Gentlemen’s’ and ‘House’. Put ’em together, and what do you get? Precisely.

Real gentlemen don’t like buying houses, of course; they’d rather inherit them. But they are sometimes forced to sell them, allowing those who are not to the manor born to live in a manor bought. In Norfolk, where I live (in a ‘Cottage’, as you ask) we are not particularly well-manored; here, the grand houses tend to be called ‘Halls’. But they are not all as imposing as Oxburgh or Blickling. Savills have just found a buyer for Garboldisham Hall, between Thetford and Diss. Louis de Soissons of Savills’s Norwich office tells me that it is a charming property in a beautiful situation, but that it is not the sort of building that its name would suggest. The old house burned down in the mid1950s. The new one is a comfortable chaletbungalow. Did the name add to the property’s value? Probably not, he says, but it certainly encouraged people to come and have a look.

Such a mismatch is not unique. A couple of miles from my house lie some ruins identified on the Ordnance Survey map as Beckham Palace. They are not (as far as I know) for sale, and even if they were, it would take more than a footballer’s millions to restore them to their original state. No footballer’s wife would want to live there. Palatial in scale but not in comfort, Beckham Palace was the Erpingham Union Poor Law Workhouse. The name is a euphemism — a joke that stuck, like the better-known ‘Beckingham Palace’, though that name does not appear on any OS map. The real name of Mr and Mrs David Beckham’s home is ‘Rowneybury’. That isn’t for sale, either.

One grandly named property that is on the market at present is a ‘Castle’. It will cost you rather more than the £120,000 we are told the Beckhams spent last year building a 30metre square fort with tower, portcullis and drawbridge for their children to play in. But then I am talking about a real castle. Sort of. If you go for grand addresses, Jackson-Stops & Staff are selling one that will have you running your fingers over your embossed Smythson notepaper in delight: Berkeley Castle, London W1. Well, Berkeley Castle, Mount Row, London W1. All right, Berkeley Castle, 8 Mount Row, London W1K 3SB if you want to be really picky, but for Heaven’s sake, Mr Postman, how many other castles are there in the West End?

This Berkeley Castle isn’t quite as castellated as the place in which Edward II came to a hot and sticky end, but it is about as castley as a townhouse can be. It has crenellated turrets and parapets on the outside, and oak panelling, ornamental plasterwork and gothic doorways within. Yes, there is something of the folly about it, but it is also a comfortable 2,500 sq. ft house, with 4/5 bedrooms, a roof terrace and full modern facilities. JacksonStops director Dawn Carritt tells me that it was created in 1928, when the Bloomsbury Group artist and architect Frederick Etchells remodelled part of 52 Grosvenor Street. It is now listed, Grade II. Offers above £3 million are invited for the freehold.

There is, of course, an element of selfmockery in calling an extended mews house in Mayfair a ‘Castle’, but the joke works, because it is delightfully and confidently appropriate. Such confidence is not always well placed. I know of a bungalow in an East Anglian cul-de-sac that has been named ‘Nessun Dorma’. A charitable interpretation would be that the occupant has an acerbic sense of humour and noisy neighbours that don’t understand Italian, but my guess is that he heard the tune on the telly and thought it sounded like a nice name for his house. And why not? He has got just as much right to call his home ‘None Shall Sleep’ as the fellow I know who moved to a mid-terrace house in north Oxford and painted ‘Sea View Cottage’ on the front gate. In any case, most people who give their houses quirky or whimsical names don’t go to the bother of formally registering them with the local authorities and the post office. A new owner can always take down the sign and put the street number back up.

But doesn’t that confuse the poor postman? Not out here in the country, it would seem. Some years ago I sent a postcard to a generous but indigent schoolmaster friend who was well known for spending far more than he earned. He lived in a house he had called ‘Overdraft Cottage’. I addressed it thus: M.J. Barrett Esq., M.A. (Cantab.), ‘The Mortgages’, Baconsthorpe. I put a first-class stamp on it and posted it. Two days later a reply dropped on to my mat. There were only three lines in the address: Michael McMahon, Esq., B.A. (hons) (Dunelm.), ‘The Empties’, and the name of my village. I chased after the postman and asked whether my frequent visits to the village bottle bank were a matter of comment.

‘Well, now you mention it, I have seen you there a fair bit,’ he replied. ‘Why do you ask?’ ‘The address,’ I said, showing him the card.

‘Oh yes,’ he said — and laughed. ‘I hadn’t noticed. I only look at the name of the person. I never look at the name of the house.’