Maggie’s cottage is up for sale for £350,000. I remember it being sold in the early 1970s for £9,000. The selling price at that time was three times the price paid by my parents for our three bedroomed semi-detached council house. There was bafflement in the village why anyone would wish to pay such a price for a house that was almost derelict and that had a small, overgrown garden.
Maggie didn’t seem to mind dereliction and almost impenetrable gardens, for she had another house at the end of our road that was in a state similar to that of the cottage. Maggie would walk from the cottage to the house every day to check that all was well
It was never quite clear how someone with such limited means had come by two properties. Decades later, I heard the suggestion that one had been left her by a man friend. Perhaps someone who had gone off to the Great War and had never returned. Maggie’s eccentric behaviour and derelict properties were a source of ghost stories.
Maggie’s house at the end of our road stood set back from the road in a garden that was filled with briars. It was close by to other houses, but it was also very isolated. The overgrown gardens created a strong physical barrier against the world around.
I have no reason in the world to believe that Maggie was anything other than a kind and sweet old lady, but the ghost stories created an aura of mystery around the house, it was a place to quicken your stride as you went by, especially in the dark.
I wonder about Maggie, and all the other people like her who are in the shadows of our memories.
It would be hard to imagine a house like it today, partly because the property prices would have made it attractive to sell and buy a nice little bungalow by the sea, and partly because, for all the faults of our contemporary society, I think we would try harder to stop such isolation.
However critical we might be of the state we’re in, most of the time social services will call to try to make sure people are safe and well; meals on wheels will try to make sure that people are fed; community health care will try to make sure that no-one is left lying sick. Neighbours will tend to intervene, even when they are not wanted.
Things are far from perfect and things still go wrong, but ghostly houses are few and far between now, and fewer Maggies live lonely lives.