Fam­ily facts merge with fic­tion to paint rich pic­ture of a great house

My Story: Cor­nish au­thor and bard Jane Nan­car­row ex­plains the back­ground – and per­sonal fam­ily con­nec­tions – to her third novel, which is pub­lished this week

Western Morning News (Saturday) - - Witness -

Tre­di­don House stands in a beau­ti­ful set­ting in the ru­ral parish of St Thomas by Launce­s­ton, next to the mag­i­cal Hid­den Val­ley. When I was quite a young child, my grand­fa­ther took me there to find a se­cret grave, hid­den among the trees. We had to make our way along a trod­den path, al­most as if it was cre­ated by wild an­i­mals such as badgers or foxes. I re­mem­ber we were faced with a wall of mossy stone, in a glade of green leaves and bird­song. There was a nar­row slit in the wall for an en­trance, as if to an­other land.

Sun­light fil­tered through the beech leaves on to what I now know is a listed mau­soleum and ivy clawed at the stonework of its roof. Across the val­ley to­wards Egloskerry in the dis­tance, the view is stun­ning. This then was the last earthly rest­ing place of the man known back over the years as Squire Buck­nell. It was the place which he loved be­yond all oth­ers.

So my fas­ci­na­tion with

Tre­di­don be­gan and it seemed in­evitable as I grew older and started to write short sto­ries and nov­els, that one day I would want to write about stun­ning Tre­di­don House and in­clude some of the his­tory of the peo­ple who once lived there.

My roots are firmly in North Corn­wall and I was born at St Stephens at Launce­s­ton, but I spent most of my early life in our fam­ily home in Tredy­dan Road next to the busy rail­way line with trains tak­ing hol­i­day­mak­ers down the line to­wards Egloskerry and Tres­meer and be­yond, puff­ing through Bet­je­man’s “minty mead­ows” to­wards the sea at Pad­stow.

Across the rail­way line from my old home are the ru­ins of the Pri­ory, which was once vast and ex­tremely wealthy. Now it is a tiny oa­sis of calm, a jum­ble of an­cient carved stones shrouded amongst the trees, where we played as chil­dren un­til the light started to fade and a sil­ver mist de­scended over the ghostly graves of past pri­ors.

One grave was that of long-dead Prior Stephen Tredy­dan him­self, who left his name for the road where I grew up. But it was Tre­di­don House, with its slightly dif­fer­ent spelling and its con­nec­tion to my mother’s fam­ily, which truly cap­ti­vated me… and made me want to write about it in my lat­est book.

My novel (for it is a novel with a blend of fact and fic­tion) be­gins with the ar­rival of James Buck­nell, the new owner of the Tre­di­don es­tate in about 1833. It had been pur­chased for him by his af­flu­ent fa­ther, and James

later be­came well-known lo­cally in the area as Squire Buck­nell, a clock-maker and sil­ver­smith like his fa­ther be­fore him.

It ap­peared that the fi­nal stage of Buck­nell’s jour­ney, as he neared the an­cient mar­ket town of Launce­s­ton and then on to Tre­di­don, was ex­tremely dif­fi­cult be­cause of the pits and pot­holes in

the parish’s high­ways and by­ways. It seemed clear that his­tory re­peats it­self, for it’s still one of the grum­bles of life to­day, par­tic­u­larly in the nar­row, rut­ted, back lanes of the Cor­nish coun­try­side.

The book ex­plores the fam­ily’s time at Tre­di­don, weav­ing in much lo­cal his­tory, in­clud­ing the go­ings on at the grim work­house in Launce­s­ton, the busy fairs and the umpteen pub­lic houses, crime and pun­ish­ments in the early 1800s, even a forced mar­riage or two; and the squire’s own prob­lems with run­away ser­vants and a venge­ful house­keeper.

The se­cond part of my story moves on to the ar­rival of a down-to-earth, lo­cal farm­ing fam­ily who come to live in Tre­di­don House, a very dif­fer­ent fam­ily to that of the Buck­nells. It must have seemed a dream for them to live in such a beau­ti­ful house and farm the land there. The new ten­ants were, in ac­tual fact, my own great-grand­par­ents, Wil­liam and El­iz­a­beth Gynn, along with my grand­fa­ther who was still only a boy of some ten years of age and his two younger sis­ters and a brother.

It was a time of change, in the early years of the 20th cen­tury, but, as al­ways, new ideas were a bit slow to come to the north of Corn­wall.

How­ever fam­i­lies were still large and life could be hard. Child mor­tal­ity rates were slowly im­prov­ing since the days of the Buck­nells and, as time went on, my grand­fa­ther was the el­dest of a large fam­ily of four­teen chil­dren.

I take my story through to the start of the First World War and be­yond, with the ef­fect it be­gins to have on the fam­ily liv­ing at Tre­di­don and the dev­as­ta­tion for lo­cal farm­ing fam­i­lies when their horses were com­man­deered by the Army for the cav­alry and later for pulling ar­tillery.

The story tells of or­di­nary peo­ple liv­ing in the Launce­s­ton area, some of whom were al­ready hoard­ing food at the start of the con­flict… up to the end of the Great War.

All the way through my story the fa­mous Par­lia­ment clock on the wall above the stair­case cre­ated by Squire Buck­nell him­self keeps on re­lent­lessly tick­ing… as time passes and life’s tragedies are played out in the beau­ti­ful old house.

It re­minds me of words in a poem by lo­cal poet Charles Caus­ley, which read: I have not seen this house be­fore, Yet room for room I know it well: A thud­ding clock upon the wall.

My book, The Tick­ing of Time at Tre­di­don , is avail­able at the Tourist In­for­ma­tion Cen­tre,

White Hart Ar­cade, Launce­s­ton and the TIC, Mount Folly, Bod­min, priced £8.50.

It is also avail­able di­rect from me at 2 Duke Ter­race, St. Stephens, Launce­s­ton, PL15 8HJ, priced £10.50 (to in­clude £2 pack­ing and postage).

Jane Nan­car­row at the door of Tre­di­don House, near Launce­s­ton. Left: Jane’s great-grand­mother and her 14 chil­dren pose out­side the same door in 1920. Her grand­fa­ther is the el­dest of the 14, stand­ing at the back

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