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More Yanks Buying Their Way Into British Peerage

December 12, 1986|MARIAN SMITH HOLMES | Holmes is a former View copy editor who lives in London. and

Calling herself an amateur genealogist, she said she has been digging up the family roots since 1956 and has discovered an illustrious family tree. With six ancestors in the American Revolution she is an undisputed member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. One relative was a member of Colonial Virginia's House of Burgesses.

The Williamses are also descendants of the barons at Runnymede who forced King John to accept the Magna Charta in 1215.

The couple are frequent visitors to England, often to do research for their architectural and interior design firm. But the intent of the last trip was to buy lordships.

Initially, they avoided the auction, choosing instead to arrange to buy the first title through Smith for 8,000 ($11,360). "I thought it was going to be a lot of pressure, like a cattle auction," she said. Unable to get the Stratford title privately, they went to the sale and found it "was sedate and calm."

Only in Jest

Shunning the traditional Texas cowboy hat and string tie, the white-haired Williams wore a dark suit and his wife was smartly attired with a fur coat draped around her shoulders.

The title Lord and Lady will be used only in jest, they said. "In the U.S. it doesn't mean much," he added.

Anxious to inspect their documents, the Williamses managed to visit their manorial districts during their hectic week.

Ancient Sheepskin

"It was such a thrill to roll out the ancient sheepskin documents from 1532. I was almost teary-eyed. We own them," she said. She and her husband were distressed that the aging papers were not being preserved carefully. Some were packed in boxes and held together with paper clips.

They are interested in an actual manor house and another lordship. "We'll watch the auctions and try to get something closer to our Domesday Book ancestor," he said.

When John Egan was teaching in the Defense Department's overseas school system, he used to bring medieval crossbows and breastplates to class. "Some people accused me of living in the past," the new Lord of Wicks Bishop chuckled.

"I've always had a keen interest in history, now I'm part of it; I'm in their books. I'm a part of record that goes back to the Norman Invasion."

A Folksy Manner

Egan, 64, who divides his year between the seaside town of Felixstowe, England, and Concord, Calif., was on his way back to the States when he stopped in at the auction. Dressed casually in an open-necked shirt, he laughed and talked in a folksy manner.

"I had never been to an auction before," he said. "I thought the prices would go through the roof. I was amazed that they were so cheap."

Appeals to Tourists

Egan, who organizes educational tours to England, said he may use his title in his business. "That appeals to American tourists," he noted.

He hopes to be able to donate or sell two of his 10 documents to a museum if allowed. And he fully intends to be available for public appearances in his lordship, which is an area he knows well. Opening fairs or visiting schools, taking part in village events and making donations to local causes are often part of the lord's duties to his district.

Despite the British belief that Americans are enamored of titles, most of the lordships remained in British hands. But from the sprinkling of brown faces at the auction, Britain's new titled class is likely to be multi-ethnic.

The new owner of the Sarah Ferguson-connected lordship is rumored to be an Arab. The Lord of the Manor of Butley is a Sikh. In this last round of sales, Sukhdev Singh, an accountant from Leeds, became the second Sikh to buy a title. "I've been in this country a long time," he said. "I belong to its present and hope to belong to its future and now I belong to its history."

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