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For sale: one estate, village included

SHEEP dot green hills. Pheasants hop across country lanes. Quaint cottages sit next to a tiny stone church. Neighbors who have known each other since birth greet strangers warmly. And for at least 23 million pounds (about US$32 million), this leafy, nostalgic slice of England could be yours.

The village of Linkenholt's 21 cottages, grand manor house, lush green cricket pitch and accompanying pavilion are part of an estate that also encompasses 600 hectares of farmland and 170 hectares of woods.

The entire estate is for sale - as a whole - with the only part not on the block being St Peter's, built on the site of a 12th century church.

"That," said real estate agent Tim Sherston, "is owned by God."

Having an entire estate become available is "very unusual indeed, particularly in the south of England," Sherston said. "I can't recall the last time a village came up for sale."

The 40 or so residents, many of whom have lived here all their lives, hope any new owner will keep the estate together and resist the urge to parcel off the land located in Hampshire only 120 kilometers southwest of London.

"The Garden of Eden, this is," said 84-year-old Alan Smith, who moved to the village in 1948 to work on the estate's farm and stayed.

His wife, Betty, was born in Linkenholt. They married after meeting at a local dance.

"I don't want anything else. I don't crave for anything," agreed 79-year-old Betty Smith, who looks after the church, which hosts services once a month for about a dozen parishioners. "We're just happy."

Betty Smith was educated at the local school and at age 14 started working as a scullery maid at the manor house, which was then owned by the Dudley family and was the centerpiece of a busy, working farm.

"You could walk through the village, and each and everyone would be in their gardens. You could chat," she recalled. "We were all just one big happy family."

The Dudleys lived at the manor house and owned all the land. People such as the Smiths, who harvested wheat, barley and oats, tended vegetables, cattle and sheep, lived in the cottages.

Things haven't changed much: the entire village is owned by the estate, which rents the cottages to residents. Rents range from 600 pounds to 5,000 pounds a month, Sherston said, adding that the leases have all been extended for at least two years.

The new owner will be able to live in the manor house, but wouldn't actually become lord or lady because there's no title attached to the estate. The owner could, however, become president of the local cricket club.

The only asset missing from the village's balance sheet is a liquid one: a pub. Linkenholt's local closed a few years ago, and those in want of a drink can walk to one of the neighboring villages for a pint.

It's not the first time the estate has gone up for sale. It was bought for 2,000 pounds in 1629 and sold about 60 years later for 12,000 pounds - a kingly sum in those times.

The estate remained in the same hands until the 19th century, and Roland Dudley bought it in the 1920s.

In the 1960s Herbert Blagrave took ownership - and after he died without heirs his charitable trust became the owner.

Sherston said the trust wants to diversify its interests, which is why it has chosen to sell. Despite the challenging economy, he said, Linkenholt is a unique purchase: "There isn't really anything like this on the market."

One of the estate's assets is its pheasant shooting; the birds pepper the fields and leafy lanes leading to the village. The shoot attracts people who are willing to pay thousands of pounds to participate.

Tina Abbott runs the village store - next to the cricket ground and pavilion, which hosts lunches for the shoots - and has lived in Linkenholt for 39 years. Her husband, Robin, was born in the village.

They've lived through two different owners and hope whoever takes on Linkenholt recognizes its uniqueness and keeps it together.

"There's not a lot you can do about it," Abbott said, in between waving to neighbors and sending meandering dogs back home, "unless you've got the money to buy it yourself."


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