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House for rent - Lefties need not apply

Started by Taman Tun, October 05, 2020, 12:33:35 PM

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Taman Tun

This from today's Times.  The great British eccentric is alive and well:-

Wanted: a rich tenant to take on a struggling stately home in Somerset. "No lefties or Marxists" need apply, says Sir Benjamin Slade, the cash-strapped aristocrat who hopes to find tenants to help pay the bills while his wedding venue business limps through the pandemic.

"They can also bring as much wine as they like, as long as it's high quality and I'm allowed to drink it," he adds.

He has put Maunsel House, his 14th-century manor house in North Newton, near Bridgwater, Somerset, on the rental market for £20,000 a month.

Government restrictions have killed off the estate's usual income as a wedding venue and holiday let, so Sir Benjamin, 74, is hoping that permanent use of the whole house, where Geoffrey Chaucer is said to have written part of The Canterbury Tales, may appeal to wealthy pandemic-weary city-dwellers looking to escape to the country.

"London is like a dreadful ghost town right now. All this crap about not being able to have more than six people in your garden. Well, my garden is 12 acres and I've got 98 acres of parkland and 34 bedrooms so there's no problem for social distancing."

It is the first time he has advertised for permanent tenants. "We need the punters. We want amusing ones though. Good right-wing, hunting, shooting types," he said, adding, for reasons which were not entirely clear that he would discriminate against anyone who went to public school at Winchester or Millfield.

Sir Benjamin, seventh baronet, inherited his title from his father in 1962. The pandemic had hit his business hard, he said, claiming £500,000 in lost earnings from wedding and holiday cancellations.

He accepts that his country pile will be competing with much grander properties on the rental market. "I don't have a swimming pool or tennis courts, but there's about three million quids' worth of antiques and all the rest of it. They'd have the gardener, the housekeeper, the maintenance man and all these people to drive them around. They could live like country gents."

An advert for the property highlights features such as a ballroom that "has been converted into two beautifully decorated period drawing rooms together with a large dining room, library, cloakrooms, grand panelled entrance hall and large kitchen".

It adds: "The property and furnishings are steeped in history with some artefacts dating back to the Roman period, with secret passages and hidden staircases adding to the charm.

"Maunsel House is a wonderfully welcoming home, beautifully furnished with more than a touch of eccentricity!"

Before the restrictions came into force, he said he was able to rent the house to large parties of about 60 or 70 guests for £18,000 to £22,000 a week. He claimed that a German porn director had been in touch, inquiring about use of the venue as a set, but travel restrictions prevented filming. "He couldn't fly everybody over in the end."

It is not the first time the publicity-seeking baronet has placed an advertisement. He made headlines last year after publicising his search to find a wife who could provide him with male heirs. His list of requirements for the perfect "breeder" stated she should be taller than 5ft 6in — preferably 6ft 1in or 6ft 2in — aged between 30 and 40, possess a gun licence and be "castle trained".

The search proved unsuccessful and he continues to live alone in a farmhouse on the estate.

He said that the pandemic had "left everybody in the same boat", adding that he too had suffered from coronavirus. "I had a runny nose for eight weeks and my undercarriage hasn't been working well."

Sir Benjamin, who made his fortune as a shipping magnate, also made headlines in 2012 after police raided his home. He was charged with possessing a firearm without a certificate and breaching a shotgun certificate by leaving a weapon unsecured. He pleaded guilty, adding that he used the shotgun to shoot at foxes from his bedroom window. He was fined £2,000.
If the old only could, if the young only knew.

Taman Tun

This is from today's Times, edited down to the forum's 10,000 character limit:-

Sir Benjamin Slade was quite clear about what sort of person he wanted to live in his manor house and share his 2000 acre Somerset estate.  "Good right wing, hunting, shooting types" he told the Times this week, with a love of fine wine and GBP 20,000 a month to pay the way.

So I feel a bit of an impostor as I sit in front of his roaring log fire, sipping tea and asking if he thinks I might be suitable material as a tenant of Maunsel House. We haven't discussed money yet, but I have confirmed that I am not a Marxist — "that's good" — and that I enjoy wine, although I usually don't spend more than a tenner on a bottle. "I prefer a bit better," he says, "but in difficult times we have to sample everything."

Then there is the hunting. The bar where we are sitting is crammed full of stuffed birds and furry creatures. "You could be a possible," he says, eyeing me uncertainly. "We're looking for like-minded people. It is no use people who are anti-hunting, shooting, fishing coming here."

I have shot clays a couple of times, but I have never killed anything, I confess. Is that going to count against me? "It is a bit. But if you're hungry enough, you'd shoot the old snipe wouldn't you?"

Um, maybe. I mention that I had spotted some peahens as I walked up the drive through the park. "You don't shoot them," he says firmly. "They're part of the team."

Would I have to pluck and skin what I kill? "No! We've got staff." How many staff would I get for 20 grand? "Probably the housekeeper, the gardener, the maintenance man."

Slade is a 74-year-old aristocrat (a 7th baronet) who never appears anywhere in print without being called "eccentric". This is a man who has advertised for a wife who can provide him with an heir, reached for a gun at the sighting of a big cat and declared war on beavers. Now, after Covid-19 destroyed his country-house wedding business, he is looking for a tenant to cover costs until the property can once again be used for ceremonies and receptions of up to 400 people.

I had been told that he would be available "after four". To me that means turning up shortly after 4pm, but it is more than an hour before Slade appears. He lives close by in a farmhouse and keeps Maunsel House, near the village of North Newton, free for events. It is emblazoned with Virginia creeper in all its autumnal glory, and sits in 98 acres of park, where geese roam free.

He doesn't exactly apologise for his lateness, but he does check that I have a cup of tea. He is accompanied by 14-year-old Bully, a very sweet and friendly but ferociously malodorous Jack Russell. "You're a smelly dog," Slade tells him fondly after I have been forced to abandon politeness and turf the pungent Bully off my lap. "We're going to brush your teeth this evening."

Slade expands a little on the world view he is seeking in his new estate-mate. "Got to be Brexiteers really, haven't they? Got to run our own country as badly as we want to, haven't we? We don't want the Germans running it. They tried that in the first and second world wars."

I try to change the subject. "It's very cosy in here," I say. This is not 100 per cent true. The low-beamed bar room has a splendid fire, but the quaintness is undermined by the 80 firearms on display, including vintage rifles, Kalashnikovs and an SLR (self-loading rifle), which is apparently like those used by US Marines.

I take it he's a collector. "What I try to collect is money," Slade says. "Guns sell beer. At most weddings I've seen the bride and the bridesmaids out there waving the rocket launcher around, and the Tommy guns. That's good for business."

He has been raided four times by the police, he says. After one occasion he was fined £2,000 for possessing a gun without a licence and not properly securing another gun. One raid came during a wedding. Would my family be safe here? "Oh yes, they're all deactivated."

On another occasion he caused outrage when a beaver was spotted on land near Woodlands Castle, another of his properties where he hosts weddings in Somerset (he also has a shooting estate in Northumberland). He put up "Wanted dead or alive" posters and offered a £1,000 reward.

Now he says he likes beavers and would like to release them on his land on the Somerset Levels. He also says he would allow gypsies to stay on the land, and it is not clear where this story is going until he says that the beavers would cause a big flood "and that would be the end of the gypsy problem".

He later tells a distasteful joke about gay ghosts. He has a record of causing offence. Last year he was ordered to pay £150,000 after he lost a sexual discrimination case brought by two women former employees at the castle who accused him of forcing them out of their jobs after they got pregnant. He is appealing against the ruling and says he'd be prepared to go to the European Court of Human Rights "as it makes anybody very reticent about employing females".

The judge called him "arrogant and misogynistic", I point out. "Misogynist!" he says, outraged. "I didn't like to say, 'I've got five mistresses. And three of them are active.' I love women." Does he still have three mistresses? "No, had to slow down a bit. I've got one-ish." Does one-ish mean more or less than one? "I don't know, I'll ring them up and ask them. I collect old masters and young mistresses."

A few years ago he advertised for a wife: "You must have a shotgun certificate, be able to run two castles, an estate and a grouse moor. Must be able to breed two sons . . . A little private capital and income would be helpful. A large fortune would be more helpful!!"

He says he would not use the word "breed" now. Sadly, the right woman has not materialised. "I just spent a lot of time interviewing very amusing people. It's quite good because it keeps you in the picture and annoys all my friends. They're my age and their wives are past their sell-by date and the shit's hit the fan, and I'm out there partying and having fun. I work hard and I play hard and I have an interesting life."

He froze his sperm 20 years ago. "All good stuff — 80 per cent wrigglers." Now he wants to unfreeze it. "Some lady said she wanted to try it out." To create an heir? "Hopefully." He says that there is also a continuing frustration about locating the banked sperm. "Another story."

We set off on a tour. Parts of the house date back from the 13th century, and there was a home on the site much earlier. It is claimed that Chaucer lived there, and Slade contends that the Wife of Bath was based on a local woman whose husbands mysteriously disappeared. "Bridgwater police have still got the file open."

This house has been in his family since 1771, although as the younger son of a younger son he didn't grow up here. His brother died in an accident when Slade was 12, and his parents died in fairly quick succession. "I was orphaned at 15."

He went to Millfield School, where it had been hoped that he could be helped with his dyslexia, but he hated it. He went to Australia, starting out on sheep stations before moving into business. "I went there with $118. I made three fortunes, lost two and came back." He was a stockbroker, then invested in shipping containers and aircraft.

The bridal suite is the "King's Room", and has a massive carved four-poster bed, eight and a half feet wide. "It has magical qualities. We've had five people who on their wedding night have done the business and then nine months later a child pops out." He goes to a rope in the corner of the room and pulls it. A bell rings high up in the ceiling. "When they get their rocks off they can ring the bell."

The library is full of armour, much of it replica, dozens of hats for guests to play around with, a stuffed bear who usually takes his place in wedding line-ups, but no books. "They got nicked in 1838." He bought back six tonnes of them from another branch of the family a decade ago, and has plans to persuade Slades from around the world to cough up for a new library.

Slade wants a tenant to be "a party person". But we're not supposed to be having parties. "One can entertain if one's clever about it. We've got 12 acres of gardens. So they could be anywhere, couldn't they? And how are they going to prosecute that?"

And would he be part of that socialising? "Yeah, definitely. That's the whole thing: have fun. And I'll introduce you to everybody around here. We like new faces, new ideas."

He has come close to securing tenants, including a group of doctors. If he can't find one family group, he'd like a series of people to come down and stay. "That's what they did in the last war."

If I did have the money, which we both know I don't, would I be the right sort? I tell him I don't think we'd see eye to eye on quite a few things. "We like lively debates," he says. "You'd be ideal."

So there you go, you can have lively debates with Sir Benjamin Slade for just £20,000 a month. If you're lucky, he may even confide in you about the whereabouts of his wrigglers.
If the old only could, if the young only knew.

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