Xan Lyppiatt’s ancestral home and the place where Theo Faron spent his summer holidays as a child, Woolcombe represents the lifelong imbalance of power between cousins Theo and Xan, and the resulting tensions that haunt their past and present alike. Theo, in the present—having served and resigned from his post as an adviser to Xan, who is now the dictatorial Warden of England—writes in his diary that he believes Xan enjoyed having Theo at Woolcombe over the summer because Theo was “wished on him.” Xan, isolated from his family and mostly friendless, wanted the “burden of parental concern” lifted, and Theo provided him with that out. Theo describes the both of them as having always been “obsessive[ly] self-sufficient,” and this trait has become both a blessing and a curse in the new, futureless world they live in. Xan has consolidated power for himself and surrounded himself with sycophants who have never and will never truly know him. Theo has isolated himself in his large home in Oxford, alone with his thoughts and with the futility of his chosen profession.
Additionally, in the present of the novel, Woolcombe has been converted into “a nursing home for the nominees of the Council”—a place for the once-powerful to live out the end of their days. The symbolism of Woolcombe as a kind of hospice represents the ways in which, despite their futility and irrelevance, some members of society still cling to the systems and institutions of the past. Though the estate has fallen into some disrepair and no longer represents the aristocracy who once occupied it, it is still a place for the upper echelons of society—for those who once sat on the Council which now governs England. Old ways die hard, and even in the frightening, dystopic world of the novel, the institutions that have historically provided shelter and privacy for the upper classes continue to do so.
Woolcombe Quotes in The Children of Men
I know now, of course, why [Xan] liked having me at Woolcombe. I think I guessed almost from the beginning. He had absolutely no commitment to me, no responsibility for me, not even the commitment of friendship or the responsibility of personal choice. He hadn’t chosen me. I was his cousin, I was wished on him, I was there. I lifted from him, an only child, the burden of parental concern. From his boyhood he couldn’t tolerate questions, curiosity, interference in his life. I sympathized with that; I was very much the same.