ESTATE LIFE: LIFE IN ONE OF CORNWALL'S OLDEST FAMILIES
PUBLISHED: 16:27 19 May 2014 | UPDATED: 12:31 30 August 2017
Gillian Molesworth St-Aubyn on the vicissitudes of life in one of Cornwall’s oldest families at Pencarrow
Manhattanite to socialite: Gillian Molesworth St-Aubyn (of Pencarrow) is better known to her friends as Gilly; the New York-born writer joins Cornwall Life as our new columnist on the vicissitudes of life in one of Cornwall’s oldest families
“Let’s see what you make of me,” I said to the computer screen. I hovered the mouse over Tell us about you’. The second question in the BBC Class Calculator, after What is your annual household income after taxes’, was: Do you own or rent a property?’
Houses, eh? It’s still all about the houses. A Briton’s home is his castle. I thought I would confound this sociological survey. On one hand, I am American, so am technically classless (though not, I hasten to add, without class).
'I was either an Emergent Service Worker or an Elite, depending chiefly on the question of whether I owned my house'
On the other, I am married to a pedigreed Cornishman, a Molesworth-St Aubyn of Pencarrow near Wadebridge, and am listed in Debrett’s Peerage and Baronetage (as my grandfather used to say: That and a nickel will get you a cup of coffee’).
I reckoned it would average out to middle class, which was about right. We live on the grounds of a Georgian mansion, surrounded by visionary landscaping and fine craftsmanship. However, my husband spends the majority of his days doing things like unblocking drainpipes, keeping jackdaws from nesting in the cupolas, greeting coach tours and locking up at 1am after the wedding band has packed up its cables.
It’s a far cry from the aristocratic pursuits of yore, most of which we couldn’t afford. This is the irony of the question about whether we own a house. Often, I feel like the house owns us.
'We live on the grounds of a Georgian mansion, surrounded by visionary landscaping and fine craftsmanship. However, my husband spends the majority of his days doing things like unblocking drainpipes, keeping jackdaws from nesting in the cupolas, greeting coach tours and locking up at 1am after the wedding band has packed up its cables.'
The survey had three sections. The first was about your financial standing; the second, your cultural pursuits and how you spend your leisure time; the third was about what sort of people you know socially. Was that it?
I thought. Something’s missing – but what? Manners. I think manners should figure into it. I don’t mean when to use the fish knife’ technicalities, but that innate courtesy that seems second nature to so many people I have met in this country. I have learned a lot about good manners in my eleven years in Cornwall.
The most important is that really good manners mean putting other people before yourself. Also, what about volunteering? I think volunteers should be bumped up the class ladder. This world is full of a few people
who do the grunt work for the many. Sitting through boring committee meetings and endlessly baking cakes or putting away tables in the village hall should be enough to advance you a rung or two, surely.
In today’s world, what is an aristocrat, anyway? Aristo’ in Greek means excellent, and kratos’ means power. Some aristocrats did use their power wisely and create excellent things. Of course, there were a lot of spendthrifts and morons that rather undermined the ideal – especially when they made up the government.
Those days are gone – even Prince William has firmly demonstrated that he wants to lead a normal’ life, more associated with the middle classes than the mystique of royalty. Most aristocrats today are simply hardworking custodians of their expensive heritage.
But the principle is sound, isn’t it? We should all be striving for excellence, whether our field is art or business or public service or gardening. That’s the third point that this survey is missing: excellence. If you are excellent at something, you are a little bit better than the rest.
I clicked through the questions on the BBC Class Calculator. It didn’t take long to get my results: I was either an Emergent Service Worker or an Elite, depending chiefly on the question of whether I owned my house.
What conclusion do we draw from this, readers? I’m going with this: sociologists can tell us what we are, but not who. That much hasn’t changed over time. It’s the deeds that make the man – well, that and maybe the house. Just be glad that it isn’t a castle, after all. You’ll spend your whole time unblocking drainpipes and clearing the birds’ nests from the turrets.