How we cre­ated a Cor­nish ro­mance

A clas­sic novel has in­spired the restora­tion of an old vicarage, finds Caro­line McGhie

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Life Property -

In Corn­wall, the past and the present, fact and fic­tion, seem in­ter­change­able. It is some­thing to do with the area’s beauty, its his­tory and its build­ings, which al­ways have a story to tell. When Jane Martin found a for­mer vicarage at My­lor Creek, she be­came caught up in its real and fic­tional iden­ti­ties. She iden­ti­fied the Old Vicarage as the cen­tral lo­ca­tion in Howard Spring’s novel, All the Day Long, pub­lished in 1959. The book tells the story of Maria Le­gas­sick, a young girl grow­ing up in a vicarage called St Tudno. “It de­scribed the red post­box in the wall of a white­washed byre which you can still see in the road, as well as the sy­camores which are still there, and the white­washed ob­long win­dows on each side 1. The Count House, Car­bis Bay. A Grade IIlisted property once lived in by the pot­ter Bernard Leach, with four bed­rooms and an artist’s stu­dio. Miller & Son (01736 798833) £565,000. 2. Or­chard Cot­tage, Kel­low, East Looe. Has two bed­rooms, sea views and a sum­mer­house. Bradleys (01503 264888) £285,000. Novel: the Old Vicarage has been re­fur­bished ac­cord­ing to de­scrip­tions of the build­ing in ‘All the Day Long’ of the old sta­ble block,” says Jane. With her hus­band, she set about trans­form­ing the vicarage, us­ing the book as in­spi­ra­tion. “It is a listed build­ing so we spent a year in plan­ning and de­sign, and a year with builders. It was in an ap­palling state with wa­ter com­ing through the roof but I could see it could be beau­ti­ful,” she says. “It had no cen­tral heat­ing and just a range in the kitchen. The gar­den hadn’t been touched for years and the trees came up to the house. We couldn’t even find the drains.” As the project con­tin­ued, Jane be­came ab­sorbed by the build­ing’s role as St Tudno. Spring de­scribes the ap­proach up a “gravel sweep” of drive­way: “When you drive up to the vicarage of St Tudno, you come to a small por­tico – so small that a trap, much less a brougham had bet­ter not try to pass un­der it, and you en­ter a stone-floored hall burst­ing with its mes­sage of plain liv­ing and high think­ing.” Tak­ing her cue, Jane re­turned the drive­way to gravel and re­stored the “stone-floored hall” when she and Richard found flag­stones buried un­der lay­ers of lino and par­quet in the kitchen. The cou­ple kept the floor plan as close as pos­si­ble to the orig­i­nal but sac­ri­ficed a bed­room to cre­ate more bath­rooms. They also did work on the gar­dens, mak­ing semi­cir­cu­lar grass ter­races wide enough for people to sit on with pic­nic ham­pers. “It works like a lit­tle am­phithe­atre, so we can have con­certs and opera events to raise money for the church,” says Jane. In All the Day Long, Maria’s fa­ther went out around the par­ish with his pony called Ne­buchad­nez­zar, or Neb. The Martins have con­verted the old sta­ble into a two-bed­room hol­i­day cot­tage, which they have called Neb’s Cot­tage as a trib­ute. The cou­ple have now reached the last page of this Cor­nish ro­mance and want to down­size. Jack­sonS­tops & Staff (01872 261160) is sell­ing the Old Vicarage, which has five bed­rooms, at £2.5mil­lion. Even as they sell, new writ­ers are sum­mon­ing sto­ries from Corn­wall’s build­ings and land­scape. Liz Fenwick has just pub­lished A Cor­nish Stranger (Orion £12.99), the third in a se­ries of nov­els based in Corn­wall. As her hus­band Chris works in oil, they move around the world but keep a house in Corn­wall as a base. “I fell in love with the area in 1989,” she says. “It seemed the most heav­enly place on Earth. My hus­band pro­posed to me at French­man’s Creek.” Like Jane, Liz is hugely in­spired by the area’s houses, which she stud­ies through es­tate agents’ de­tails and floor plans. “I use the houses as in­spi­ra­tion. They are the key. Just a tiny bit of his­tory can give me enough to see a whole new novel.”

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