Like its American owners, we are to the manor drawn
When American oilman Robert McCulloch bought London Bridge in 1968 he had it installed over a lake in his Arizona retirement estate before realising it wasn't Tower Bridge.
Likewise, on reading that an American woman had once bought a Cotswold village we turned off the A436 expecting to find a Disney theme park.
Just a few paddocks beyond Gloucestershire's eastern border, Cornwell was run down in 1939 when a Mrs Gillson hired architect Clough Williams-Ellis to restore it – the café and shop he designed on Mount Snowdon fell into disrepair and was dubbed by Prince Charles "the highest slum in Wales".
We drove down a quiet lane overhung with trees, sun shining through gaps in their canopy of new spring leaves, through farmland stretching on both sides.
Arriving at stone cottages that blended like any other Cotswold settlement, a sign across its central lane said "Private". Now tiptoeing like trespassers, we followed a public footpath outside a hedge bordering Cornwell Manor and its romantically overgrown garden, down to a wooded parish church.
The tree-shaded garden had a lifelike statue of a woman with a small dog that jumped up at her and was thickly carpeted with bluebells and green clumps of daffodil leaves whose March flowers had gone, like the manor's famous daughter, Thorn Birds star Rachel Ward who in a July 10, 2010 Telegraph interview, remembered her father (the 3rd Earl of Dudley's son) coming to see her play the lead in a school play. He "snored all the way through… Nobody cared if [her] school reports were poor. Yet if her younger brother, Alexander, was below par, 'he would get the strap'." No prizes for guessing who inherited "all the money".
The manor once entered an open garden scheme but when tourist coaches swamped their seclusion they stopped. Yet the hubbub is back, Cornwell Manor recently being converted into a holiday let for the rest of us to show how we'd compare as lord and lady.
Back at the car after chatting to a gardener on a mower, all that broke the silence on that warm sunny day was the sound of trickling water.
Cut across the back of gardens like a slot was a narrow open drain with flat stones inside. With no stream in sight to feed it naturally, in a field we saw a pump-house to supply this "water feature" which seemed as aptly unreal as the "village" itself.
A nice detail where we'd parked were stone balls atop two gate pillars which I was pleased to notice had not rolled off and squashed our car in my nosey absence. I later found out that the balls weren't original.
The stone features they replaced imitated half-eaten apples, a rare Cotswold feature which any sculptor would have loved attempting, given the chance.
Anxious to find out the truth behind this closed community, I wrote to a resident who'd advertised an "all-welcome" fair. Her friendly reply explained that everyone there worked "for the estate" (a 2,000-acre farm) and they do call it a village. Far from being a spoilt person's folly, it had been this way for hundreds of years, and it seemed the Gillsons had done it as tough as any family during the war.
Mrs Anthony Gillson (as two English Heritage listed building lists referred to her in 1989) drove ambulances in London; let the Auxiliary Territorial Service use Cornwell Manor; and in March 1944, her husband, Lieutenant-Colonel Godfrey Anthony Gillson, whose regiment was The King's Own Scottish Borderers, was killed in an air crash.
Not only was there no intrigue here but, however fiddly Williams-Ellis had been in his architectural detailing, I was informed straightforwardly that "a great deal of improving work was done to village houses".
It appears Mrs Gillson was not someone to muck about. On first arriving she must also have noticed her tenants stoically going without certain amenities and in every cottage she promptly installed a water supply and indoor toilet.
Under her influence this corner of the Cotswolds was soon to be quiet again. Perhaps it was just as well the road sign didn't say Cornwell Estate or we'd not have dared venture that way and discover that it takes all sorts, wherever you live.