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
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