With work going on around the house, I got to thinking about the old proverb, ‘An Englishman’s Home Is His Castle’. I looked it up, and it dates from 1581, used in legal terminology to assert the right to defend and protect your own home. In 1781, Pitt The Elder made this law, with his famous quote.
“The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the crown. It may be frail – its roof may shake – the wind may blow through it – the storm may enter – the rain may enter – but the King of England cannot enter.”
Home ownership is something of a national obsession in Britain. Unlike many other countries, especially France and Italy, where rented houses and apartments are the norm, owning a house, flat, or even a humble hovel, has always been the aspiration of the British way of life. Since the 1970s, the steady increase in property values in most parts of this country has also made it good financial sense to buy your own home, as it can often make you a great deal of money too. As a rented tenant, you have less rights, can be asked to leave, or be subject to rent increases that make it increasingly difficult to balance your finances.
Home ownership has come to represent security.
In more recent times, it has also become something out of the reach of all but those with good regular incomes, excellent prospects, and substantial savings. The last ten years have seen a steady increase in the number of people returning to renting, as the only way to be able to move with jobs, or leave the parental home. The selling off of state and council-owned properties during the time of Margaret Thatcher has also severely reduced the amount of homes available for social rented housing, and many young people are stuck in the family home well into their thirties, or beyond.
But owning your own home also brings with it great responsibility. It needs to be repaired and maintained, and if you are unable (or unwilling) to do this yourself, you can expect to spend a great deal of money above and beyond the purchase price, just to keep that much-desired roof over your head.
So perhaps it is time for us to rethink that national obsession. Relax about home ownership, and stop worrying about our ‘castles’. We will hopefully see a time when you just live somewhere, and nobody asks how much you paid for your house, and what it is worth now.
Napoleon once famously described the English as a ‘Nation of Shopkeepers’.
I wonder what he would make of our now empty shopping streets, and Amazon deliveries?