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The Englishman's home is not his Durham Castle

“The Englishman’s home is his castle,” was born of the notion that no authority had the right to enter one’s abode for any reason. In the event one was formally summoned to a place of inquisition, the occupier was at liberty to remain in the sanctuary of his dwelling-place. He might even ask his neighbours to support him in this endeavour of remaining steadfast. It was a sort of self-imposed home-confinement inducing in man the earliest known bouts of agoraphobia. They may well not have all been out to get him, but why risk venturing out into the big, bad world just in case?

It was Judge William Standford in 1505 who made this initial conflation between “the home” and “a future ruin for tourists to gawp at”. The phrase later spawned the belief that the home-dweller, although preferably one’s servants, was licensed to inflict any amount of painful deterrence upon those intent on invading, pillaging or otherwise finagling about one’s property and its surrounds.

Alas, such times ceased to endure although some might be inclined to regret this, particularly in County Durham. The homes here are currently England’s sixth most-frequently burgled.

With such rich pickings for practice, it may not be too coincidental that County Durham’s constabulary claims the bronze medal for national burglary detection. Placing itself third out of the forty-three constabularies, Durham’s residents certainly might deem that achievement as worthy of a round of applause.

On the other hand, they may rush to thrust their hands in their pockets upon discovering that Durham’s police solve just under twelve percent of the received reports of breaking and entering. Probably most would think it a…

…in the ocean of home invasion clear-up rates.

It is little wonder then how many security companies opt to scream out, usually via their advertising, that there’s a burglary every one hundred and six seconds. More responsible anti-theft organisations have updated their website to claim there’s one every hundred and sixty-four seconds. That’s nearly an entire minute to relax for every three strikes past twelve of the burglar’s very hot watch’s second hand.

Only this is…

London, as expected, has the most home burglaries, with around one-hundred and ten break-ins per day. That works out at around one every thirteen minutes, or if one prefers: one every seven hundred and eighty seconds of a genuine fake rolex.

Who would have mused that the floggers of anti-theft devices were the real scammers here and how exactly did they fiddle the statistics? Most likely by nicking it from someone else’s website, who nabbed it from someone else, who had it fenced to them by a marketeer who, just possibly, surreptitiously removed the “home” from the act of burglary, only to later slide it back in again when it came to creating the need for selling anti-theft devices to protect your home. Commercial burglaries, for example, would include shop-lifting. Nanny nicking some banana from the fruit bowl known as Morrison’s is a far stretch from Uncle Albert and his machete coming a-tapping on one’s double-glazing.

Perhaps, then, the most shocking revelation for such states is that half of all home robberies are committed by a person who is already known to the victim. Added to the fact that 70% of burglaries are committed by the same person, I’m going to suggest we should all start talking about whom within our friend and family groups we think this might be. I realise this is inciting a lot of gossip, but it might be worth it if it drives down the burglary rates in the neighbourhood, especially given the police aren’t likely to manage it.

It behoves me to draw one’s attention to the fact that in 64% of burglaries there is someone present in the property. By this I mean there is a legitimate entitlement for someone being there in addition to the miscreant obviously. This is a very intimidating fact. Mind you, this statistic includes all those swift burglaries where someone has simply swiped a wallet, watch or handbag, rather than the full swagbag of electronic gubbins, before going on their merry way. Missing a genuine fake Rolex? Then one must simply report it stolen, get a crime number, before claiming it from one’s insurance policy. The police won’t investigate it either, but nonetheless your stat can later be included for maths bafflement by a marketeer flogging blue-tooth activated burglar detection systems at a later date.

Happening upon such casual stats such as those illustrated above might surely leave the average Englishperson to ponder where and what in the house would be most strategic for keeping one’s limited supply of weapons for repelling the home invader. Incidentally, one in seven burglars are said to gain access by walking through an unlocked door, which seems to suggest that the friends and family kleptomaniac delinquency theory has some merit.

It has long-since been a well-known criminal offence for the Englishman to protect his castle, unless of course, the victim can prove he used reasonable force. Either way, there’s a trial involved, but any victim of burglary may well be prosecuted in the event of…

Knives obviously belong in the kitchen drawer, which in the average English house, is located downstairs. Said kitchen typically has a backdoor, which is the second most popular means for gaining access with one in three respectable burglars waltzing in via this convention. Just one in five clamber through windows, but only six percent actually smash them. So happening to have taken a knife upstairs is an unlikely defence. Moreover, very few of us own a pitchfork as a matter of convenience. Combined with the fact that we are a firearms-free country (for the most part), and also one which doesn’t really play baseball, it really only leaves us to contemplate keeping an upstairs…

Nonetheless, and somewhat irrationally, this is usually inconveniently located under the stairs or in the futility room.

There are, however, many more reassuring facts to discover. About half of all burglaries take place on the spur of the moment. This implies that in half of burglaries, the crook, or family member, is aware of one’s comings and goings. The reality is that you’re either having a marvellous time on holiday yourself, or you come from a household that requires all and sundry to go out and earn enough to actually pay for the abode and its commodities. About forty-percent of burglaries take place during daylight hours, which sort of suggests that summer is the safest time of the year. Although Durham, being very northern, has one of the longest periods of daylights in England so this doesn’t quite add up. This suggests then, that its the very dark and dreary winters that are the issue.

What other good news may be less well perceived is that in the last twenty years burglary rates have plummeted from nearly nine hundred thousand per annum to around four hundred thousand pre-covid. Lockdown certainly had its benefits: with over 120,000 fewer break-ins in the years of 2020 - 2022. This suggests the average English adult would benefit from a bit more home-working and a lot more agoraphobia.

More contemporary protections are supplied by UNESCO. The convention was set up in 1946 to conserve enclaves, be they breath-taking wildernesses; evidence of intellectual history or because they simply represented a remarkable accomplishment of humanity. Such an invocation ensures the host government is tasked with safeguarding selected heritage sites from exploitation and ruination from those with enterprising ambitions, or plain neglect.

Durham Castle, the brainchild of William the Conqueror, was, along with several other national features, the first in England to receive the esteemed protection. Ironic, given it was the seat from which his soldiers harried the northerners into capitulation in 1069 by ransacking their villages and igniting their homes.

However, his legacy was to put some contemporary proof into the pudding that “An Englishman’s home is his castle.” For students at the University of Durham this is truly the case, with their lodgings situated within the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Upon graduation, Durham’s students are splurged into society: erudite, empowered and equipped with potentially a lifetime’s supply of indebtedness for the privilege. Nonetheless, one purports they are all the better at reading and comprehending the latest articles discussing the state of Britain’s housing “crisis”. For matters of national residencies, talk is always of a “crisis”, it is never just a bit of a to-do or folderol.

If globally, “shelter” is the first in the hierarchy of needs, in Britain, shelter means securing the largest possible mortgage just so one can occupy one of Europe’s smallest homes. Alas, Britain’s stock of housing cannot keep up with demand, England’s population in the last one hundred years has grown from around thirty-six million people to nearly fifty-six million today.

It is a typical British endeavour to own one’s home. Alas, twenty percent of politicians have enterprisingly worked out by owning buy-to-rent houses, they safely can glean consistent return on investments. Hence, rents are costlier than mortgage-repayments for houses and there’s little to no reason for this to change, crisis or no crisis. Incidentally, with home-ownership is now around 35% for those under forty, but around 75% for those over 65 years of age, the current reality condemns educated Englanders to spend less acquiring life skills, hobbies and other methods for personal development than previous generations.

Durham, incidentally, does not offer a single stately home for one’s perusal. This is because the term is simply not used by historians. Instead, they opt for castles and abbeys, historic houses of halls and manors, and country houses. The latter being weekend retreats for the wealthy elite to attract royalty for a bit of a hob-nob. England’s stately homes, or county spaces, are facing a uniquely British housing crisis of their own.

First up, there’s the legacy of such homes: Approximately one fifth of England’s most glorious houses were established via the wealth generated from the slave trade. The theft of souls and the mass displacement of culture and community makes such places an uncomfortable monument of the elitist past.

And County Durham has a finest example of regrets for the past.

Coxhoe, rebuilt in 1725, as a gothic castellated Georgian three-story hall, was once considered the grandest in County Durham. It fell under the ownership by two Jamaican plantation owners: Edward Moulton Barrett and his wife, Mary Graham Clarke. The emancipation of slaves in 1833 near-ruined the family’s wealth, forcing them to shed themselves of both their country piles, their second being in Herefordshire. Initially sold to a mining company, it was requisitioned for use as a prisoner of war camp throughout the war. The National Coal Board demolished it in 1956.

Nearly forty percent of England’s five thousand mansions have now been razed, with demolishing peaking in the 1950s. Most of England's homes were requisitioned in the war effort, their spacing useful as hospitals, prisons and shelter. Upon their return, the cost of restoring them to their former glory was prohibitive; even to cover the costs of maintaining them required the owners to sell vast tracts of land attached to them. And that is how most were converted into boarding houses and hotels. Then National Trust was formed: permitting the nations residents to finally comprehend how the other half can’t afford their housing either.

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