It has long been noted that the climate and atmosphere of Cornwall has been the reason that many inhabitants have felt better within themselves and ‘different’ to the inhabitants of other counties. It has also been attributed to the longevity of the people living there, perhaps only challenged by the Welsh and Scottish and Irish.
For health, eighty and ninety years of age is ordinary in every place, and in most persons accompanied with an able use of the body and senses. In the parish where God hath seated my poor dwelling, I remember the decease of four, within fourteen weeks space, whose years, added together, made up the sum of 340.
…in the language of the West, they should not call a person of seventy or eighty aged.
A Cornish correspondent of Mr. Polwhele’s observed,
George Worgan, in his 1811, General View of the Agriculture of the County of Cornwall, mentioned an interesting paper, drawn up by the Rev. John Trist, vicar of Veryan, on the population of his
Parish. There, in 1810 lived 1220 inhabitants, and Trist in a manner out of the norm for the times. Recorded the age at death of all persons within his parish for thirty years. These records produced some interesting statistics.
1 in 8 exceeded 80 years of age.
1 in 53.5 exceeded 90 years of age
Trist quoted Jonas Hanway, an 18th philanthropist who had noted,
The proportion of deaths, to the sum total of the living, is less than has been recorded in any political computation whatever, being as one to ninety.
In Cumberland, where, throughout the diocese of Carlisle, the ages of all persons buried have been noted in the parish register for thirty-five years past, in consequence of an injunction of a former Archdeacon, we have had the opportunity in many, particularly in some of the most populous parishes, of ascertaining the proportion of persons who had attained the ages of eighty and ninety. We were induced to undertake the search in that county as often as we had the opportunity, in consequence of the prevailing opinion of the longevity of its inhabitants; the circumstance of the registers was peculiarly favourable, and the result was in general the same as Mr. Trist found it to be in his parish of Veryan, that one in eight had attained the age of eighty; in some parishes we found that one in seven had attained that age, and even in the populous parishes of Carlisle, so much more unfavourable to longevity, the average, including infants, was one in ten.
Jean Brawne, the beggar, a Cornishman by wandering (for I cannot say by inhabitance) though Irish by birth, outscoreth a hundred winters by I wote not how many revolutions.
Prake of Talland, aged 110
The Reverend Thomas Cole. Minister of Landewednack, who died and was buried there in 1683 is said, in the register, to have been 120 years of age.
… relates an anecdote of his walking to Penryn and back, a distance of thirty miles, not long before his death, on the authority of Mr. Erisey, who met him on the road. Michael George, sexton of the same parish, was buried March 20, 1683, aged, as is said in the register, upwards of 100 years.
Borlase speaks also of an old man of the name of Collins, upwards of 100, whom he saw on a tour to the Lizard: this man (Sampson Collins) was buried at Ruan-Major in 1754, aged 104.
Borlase tells us also, on the authority of Mr. Scawen, of Molineck, of a woman who died at Gwithian, in 1676, at the age of 164. There is no entry of this woman’s burial in the register, but by an inquiry, obligingly instituted by the present rector, Mr. Hockin, we find she is well known by tradition among the oldest inhabitants. Her name was Cheston Marchant. The tradition of the place is, that she had a new set of teeth and new hair in her old age, and that travellers, who came to see her out of curiosity, frequently took with them a lock of her hair: it is said also, that she spoke only the Cornish language, and that she was many years bedridden. (The name of Cheſton occurs more than once as a female name in the pedigree of the Nansperians, a family who lived in the neighbouring parish of St. Erth)
Mrs Trevanion, who died at Bodmin in 1769, aged 102
Mr Richardson of Tregony, who died in 1770, aged 102
Mrs Blanch Littleton of Lanlivery, aged 101 (the three last on the authority of the Annual Register)
A lady at Egloshayle, aged 112
Maurice Bingham, a fisherman at St Just, who died in 1780, aged 116.
Elizabeth Kempe, of Wendron, who died in 1791, aged 104.
Catherine Freeman, a Scotch woman who died at Falmouth in 1793, aged 118.
John Roberts, of St Keverne, aged 107
Priscilla Rouse, aged 101 of Manaccan
Edward Roberts, aged 102 of Manaccan
Mary Sarah aged 102 buried in 1803 at Gluvias
Jane Studiford aged 102 buried in 1803 at Gluvias
Mary Jenkins of Crantock, deceased aged 102 in 1806
Mary Jenkins father aged 101
Mary Jenkins mother aged 103
Elizabeth Woolock, of Nantallan near Bodmin in 1806, then aged 102 and able to ride single to church at the distance of three miles
Mrs Zenobia Stevens, of Skilly-Waddon, in the parish of Towednack, who was buried at Zennor in 1763, at the age of 102, was tenant for 99 years of the tenement of Trevidgia-Warra, held under the Duke of Bolton’s manor of Ludgvan-Lees, and we are informed from good authority, that when she went, on the expiration of the term, being of course in her 100th year, to the Duke’s court at St Ives, she excused herself from drinking a second glass of wine, because it was growing late and she had some way to ride home upon a young colt. Her daughter, Mrs Zenobia Baragwanath, lived to the age of 98 or 99.
Elizabeth Fradd, aged 103, was buried at St Kew in 1803
Henry Martin, aged 101, was buried at Stithian in 1812
The Reverend Frederick William Densham (BA ACA) died aged 83 in 1953 after a strange and enigmatic life. A life which has left unanswered questions even though his story has been discussed world- wide. He was seen in the mid 1930’s by Daphne du Maurier and reputedly inspired her vicar in Jamaica Inn. It is also believed that Densham’s spirit still haunts the church in which he was vicar for 22 years prior to his strange death.
The Reverend Frederick W Densham was born in 1870 in London to a Methodist Minister and his wife. It is likely that this upbringing laid the foundations of his intransigent non-acceptance of the ‘High Church’ congregation he was to meet later in his life at Warleggan. He was a clever man , graduating from London University and the Divinity School at Oxford. It is not known why Densham ordained in the Church of England while he held these at odds beliefs. Perhaps, as with many people, Densham initially wished to shake off the views of his parents and as he aged, found himself becoming the same man as his father.
A tall strong man, standing over six feet, Densham was also pompous, pious and sure of himself and certain that his beliefs were the only correct ones. He was at his best when working with the needy and found positions working in a Boys’ Home in Whitechapel and at a Home for Inebriates.
By 1921, Densham decided to enlighten foreigners and travelled to Natal in Africa as a missionary. He was unsuccessful and after learning of the teachings of Gandhi, applied to work in India but was turned down. It was this temporarily demoralised man who turned up to minister at St Bartholomew’s Church in Warleggan in Cornwall in 1931.
There he found 168 parishioners, Cornishmen born and bred, distrustful of strangers and unwilling to change their patterns of worship. It seems that they may have been against Densham from the beginning as even early in his residency there, the congregation averaged only between 4 and 9 people. On very rare occasions there were as many as 15 or 20 worshippers. Equally, there were many days when he would preach to an empty church. As the church emptied, it became Densham’s practice to place small cards in the first six pews inscribed with the names of prior vicars and so preached in his imagination to his peers.
It may have been a result of this habit, from which grew the legend of him preaching to the cardboard cut outs of parishioners, a story which some say originated from Daphne du Maurier in her book Vanishing Cornwall. However, Miss du Maurier did not write this legend until 1967 and heard about it around 1932.
Daphne visited the church with her friend Foy Quiller Couch
a short time after Reverend Densham had arrived. He had been invited to tea at
The Haven along with another clergyman, by the Quiller Couch family. They found
him to be amiable and loquacious, although a little odd. Daphne du Maurier wrote
about her conversation with Foy following this encounter,
“In what way?” I enquired. “He asked me,” she said, “to recommend a gardener to live in.” He was a bachelor, and whomever he employed would receive for his services a penny a year and all his potatoes free. “I told him,” said my friend (Foy), the most courteous of persons, “that gardeners are rather hard to find, and possibly the wages he suggested were a little low.”
Vanishing Cornwall by Daphne du Maurier
It was from Foy and her father, the highly respected Arthur Quiller Couch, that Daphne heard of the cardboard cut-out congregation. Other writers have disputed the story, stating that Densham only preached to hand written cards left in the pews.
It wasn’t long before Densham and his parishioners fell out.
He wished to change the services and had various ideas to update the services but
soon fell foul of the Parish Council. He responded by removing the complainants
from the parish electoral rolls. He could find no staff, as he wanted them to
live in on little or no wages. It was highly likely that he was lonely and
could not understand why it was his own actions clashing with a long-established
community belief that were to blame. It was his job to work with his congregation
and not against them.
It has also been reported that he kept strange books in his library, possibly to do with witchcraft and devil worship. It seems more likely that his academic books on Eastern religions and folk and pagan beliefs were causing the trouble. He was however, preaching the merits of vegetarianism and had banned whist drives and concerts, declaring them ‘amusements from hell.’
Densham then took it upon himself to purchase an entire litter of Alsatian puppies, cute at first, but which soon ran wild killing sheep belonging to local farmers. This caused more antagonism and there were loud demands for the destruction of the dogs. Instead of this, Densham had his entire property at The Rectory fenced with eight-foot-high barbed wire as a compromise, while he insisted that his dogs, including his favourite Gandhi, were not to blame.
Now, there was a twelve-foot-high gate as an entrance to The Rectory, outside of which Densham left a box where his meagre shopping requirements could be left. Appointments to visit him had to be in writing and Densham would wait for them inside the gate. Any visitors without an appointment would have to bang loudly on an old oil drum left there for the purpose.
Mindful of his tiny congregation, and wanting to please them, Densham decided to repaint the church, choosing to do it at night and using colours of deep red, blue and yellow. Horrified, his small congregation walked out of the church upon seeing his work, fearful of Densham’s clear pagan beliefs. Densham responded by painting over the church windows and bringing in only one candle when a meeting was held to object.
In 1933 Densham had closed the Sunday School and the shocked congregation called on their Bishop, Walter Frere, hoping he would remove Densham, but he could find no ecclesiastical reason so to do. It appears that the Bishop was alarmed by some of the accusations, such as the threat to sell the church organ, a World War 1 memorial, and Densham telling one parishioner that he would kill him by ‘Holy Magic’. But Bishop Frere in response asked for peace and reconciliation.
Densham remained in his place at St Bartholomew’s.
It was around this time, that Daphne and Foy visited. They
stayed at Jamaica Inn and trudged to Warleggan early one morning. A journey of
over two hours.
Daphne wrote in Vanishing
The trek was long, the day was hot-surprisingly, for mid-May – and Warleggan was not easy to find. We arrived weary and already rather scared, having eaten a pasty lunch unwittingly upon a nest of adders, the strange hissing noise beneath warning us, just before they uncoiled and rose, that the stone was occupied. Warleggan church already had an air of desolation, the small churchyard tall with unkempt grass, the silence profound. No one, save the pastor, had said a prayer within for many years. Our courage waned. We left the church and approached the rectory, which was screened by tall trees nested in by colonies of rooks whose restless cawing held a baleful note. We found the entrance gate barred and wired, with the box upon it for provisions empty. Daringly we sounded the bell. Hardly had it clanged than eight – my companion afterwards said ten – enormous dogs, wolf-hounds and Alsatians, sprang from nowhere upon the fence above us, leaping, snarling, yellow fangs bared in rage. Like the organist, we fled in terror to the moor, preferring the nest of adders to this pack of hungry dogs, and there consulted as to our next move.
Vanishing Cornwall by Daphne du Maurier
A year or so later, Daphne and Foy were joined by their
friend Lady Clara Vyvyan in her car. Clara was determined that they should all gain
entry, although she disliked dogs and they hoped to avoid them.
They hid the car by parking in a nearby lane and crept by
the rectory garden, disturbing the rooks. But there were no dogs, they mused,
Possibly they had starved to death.
Vanishing Cornwall by Daphne du Maurier
They climbed the far hedge, hoping to see the vicar. As they struggled up the bank through the ubiquitous brambles and nettles and ignoring the barbed wire, they saw the Reverend Densham.
There was the vicar, scarcely twenty yards away, pacing up and down his little plot of ground, a strange, unbelievable figure in a dark frockcoat green with age, a black shovel hat upon his head. We stared. He did not see us. Up and down he walked, with heaven knows what melancholy thoughts, what lonely speculations. Suddenly the explorer (Clara Vyvyan) did a crazy thing. She took her handkerchief from her pocket and began to wave it wildly in the air. “Cooee!” she shouted. “Cooee!” (her Australian roots showing here.) The vicar paused. He lifted his head a moment to right and left and walked away, his hands behind his back. Scarlet with shame, I plucked the explorer from the hedge. The last of the trio (Foy) was already running for the car. This expedition, like the first, had proved ignominious. We retreated, cowed.
Vanishing Cornwall by Daphne du Maurier
The three ladies learnt later that the dogs had already
gone, although it is not clear where. This was only a few years after he had
Densham had now fixed up speakers at the church and preached
his echoing sermons so that passers-by could hear him even though they refused
to enter. He built a playground for children and set up a little theatre in one
of his buildings which would show films. He advertised a date and yet again, no
one showed up. He cleared his house and stockpiled food during the war and
applied to the authorities to house evacuees, but none were allocated to him,
Densham, not surprisingly, being designated an unsuitable host for children.
He responded by raising the height of the barbed wire fence
to 12 feet.
He had now painted the doors inside his Rectory with red
crosses and drawn religious names thereon. He wrote new sermons, journals and
continued to preach to empty pews.
Growing ever more insular, Densham did not clean either
himself or his house and began to rip up floorboards for his fire.
After 1951, his story had travelled around the world and
often journalists would turn up to interview him. He was photographed several
times shouting at the local Methodists, but eventually even the journalists
lost interest. Densham was now
spiralling into self-absorption.
One morning in 1953, locals noticed that for several days, there had been no chimney smoke and no sightings of Densham. They bashed the oil drum at the gate, but to no avail. Further investigations revealed the Reverend Densham had died partway up the stairs several days previously and lay there in his final sleep.
His funeral service was attended by no one, save his
solicitor and his ashes were not scattered on his own Garden of Remembrance as
he had requested, but in a Plymouth cemetery.
This sad, possibly misunderstood old man, died alone and lonely and yet his story still circulates as a mystery. It is rumoured that his spirit even now, paces the Rectory Garden and he has been seen walking the lanes with his favourite dog, Gandhi. Densham has been immortalised in several books and most recently in a film called, A Congregation of Ghosts
There has never been another Rector of Warleggan after Densham.
The Rectory was sold, and his paltry possessions taken by his brother or sold
off. The church was soon whitewashed and cleared of any trace of the Reverend
It is worth mentioning that not everyone believed Densham to
be a strange man. As he had often attended the local Methodist Church, some of
their congregation remember him as a misunderstood and kind man, who would
attend the bedsides of sick parishioners and bring them flowers in addition to
his prayers. These fond memories, however, are few and far between.
Following my original article on Lady Clara, I came into further information which I shall detail here. I also have been given permission to share some memories from her surviving great nephews. Hopefully these new stories will help to illustrate Clara’s character and relationships with her family. You may care to read the original article in order to obtain more background and dates, which I do not feel necessary to repeat here.
Incidentally, although the author of several books and writer of many articles, Clara rarely spoke to her family about her successes.
Clara recalled in a letter she wrote in 1972,
‘My mother on reading my first book Cornish Silhouettes in 1924 (forty-seven years ago) opened it and found the word ‘Damn!’ on the first page that she read and remarked drily, “Pray, is all the rest of the book like this? The other exception was my brother Michael; who said he liked best something that I wrote about foxgloves.’
Charlotte Rogers nee Williams born 6th May 1854
Clara married Sir Courtenay Vyvyan after being friends with him and his wife for many years. They were near neighbours and social equals. Clara and the baronet had spent time working together at Rouen during WW1. They did not marry until 1929, 18 months after Sir Courtenay’s first wife died. Clara always referred to her short marriage, which only lasted 11 years until her husband’s death, as her happiest time. The couple were in love and shared a common passion for flora, fauna and Trelowarren. Clara lived at Trelowarren for almost fifty years.
And died there.
The Daily Standard Brisbane
Monday 23rd September 1929,
QUEENSLAND GIRL ENGAGED TO CORNISH BARONET.
The engagement is announced of
Colonel Sir Courtenay Bourchier
Vyvyan to Miss Clara Coltman Rogers,
second daughter of the late Edward
Powys Rogers, of Toorilla Plains,
Colonel Sir Courtenay Bourchier
Vyvyan, 10th baronet, Is the eldest
son of the late Rev. Sir V. Vyvyan,
and was born on June 5th, 1858. He
took an active part in every war in
which Britain has been engaged since
he entered the army in 1878, and
frequently was mentioned in dispatches.
Almost immediately after her husband died, Trelowarren was requisitioned by the Army. They had been taking in evacuee children since the beginning of the war and it had then been used to house W.A.A.F.’s and then by 2,000 (sometimes destructive) troops. So, Clara went to do her ‘War Work’ in Bristol. She worked through the war years based in a dingy office next to a bombed-out house. She was responsible for the maintenance of clothes and household goods collected for the bombed and needy in the South West and the Cotswolds. From this office, she would walk down the concrete steps, across a flooded floor, which had once belonged to the kitchen of the shattered house and walk to her tiny rented flat. Clara said that she had never been so lonely as she was at that time. Homeless, widowed and alone. She remembered taking great delight in noticing one day in 1944, a tiny coltsfoot plant which had snuck under the dividing wall to brighten the grey, damp, drab yard outside her office.
Clara soon settled in however and expanded her ‘War Work’ to accompanying refugee children and bombed out elderly people from London to various destinations around Britain. Clara often visited new friends and helped some on their farms and continued to enjoy where possible, the country experience she was missing so dreadfully. She made every day count.
We should move sideways in Clara’s story and bring in her familial relationships in more detail. In these accounts, ‘Granny’ refers to Charlotte Harriet, elder sister of Clara. ‘Aunt Kay’ refers to Clara, it being a pet name of her nephews and nieces. No one quite remembers the origin of Clara becoming Aunt Kay and I have yet to discover anyone outside of the family who used that name.
Their father Edward Powys Rogers, who was the second son of Rev J Rogers of Stanage Park, Hertfordshire shipped out to Australia in 1873 and took over Toorilla Plains, Rockhampton, Queensland from his uncle, Frank Newbold (brother of Edward’s mother). Frank had taken up Toorilla Plains in 1859 and turned it into a huge and successful cattle station. Edward travelled from England with his first cousin Edmund de Norbury Rogers who settled in central Queensland and eventually created a large fruit farm.
A nephew says,
‘It was a huge acreage I remember Granny saying. Edward managed Toorilla until the end of the 1880’s, introducing Herefords successfully. When he returned to England to live at Burncoose, he kept a close interest in Toorilla, visiting frequently. It was eventually taken on by his second child, Charles Michael Rogers (born 1st March 1884) and who was still managing it when his father died in 1920. Aunt Kay eventually married Sir Courtenay Vyvyan of Trelowarren, Cornwall and was a well-known travel writer. Granny and Aunt Kay had a wonderful relationship.’
Clara wrote in Roots and Stars,
‘many a time when we were children, we would persuade my father to repeat to us the tale of his Uncle Frank Newbold who was forced to eat his boots after being shipwrecked on his way to Australia and of Uncle Willie Newbold who met his violent death on the Queensland plain. My mother would never speak of those great uncles by marriage, she did not think they adorned the family pedigree but we children all felt it was a fine distinction to have such people amongst our ancestors.’
Willie had been killed by Aboriginal Australians.
There was a great deal of travelling between the Cornish properties and the Queensland ranch. Ship passenger lists show regular travel for the entire family to Plymouth and back. The family always travelled First Class. I don’t know why, but were listed as Irish on those sea crossings, perhaps Cornish was mis-transcribed.
Edward had a couple of dealings with the Rockhampton Police Court and the law while there.
In 1887 he was tried in his absence for non-payment of a fine to the Gogango Marsupial Board. At this point there were 10,500 head of cattle on the ranch and 100 horses. The Board stated that there were also sheep on the ranch. Edward did not attend the hearing and refused to pay the fine as the State had not pursued him until more than six months following the fine application date. The fine was £26.10 with a 10% penalty, plus costs. The original fine was dated 17th April 1886 and the case was heard on the 7th September 1887. There was a possibility that they would remove his grazing rights. In the end, the case was adjourned for a fortnight. At the second hearing which Edward did not attend either pleading innocence, he was fined £20.10 plus 10% including costs. It didn’t affect his future however, as he was already a magistrate, a JP and soon became a member of the Gogango Marsupial Board, as did his son Charles Michael in turn.
In 1901 Edward inherited £14,100 following the death of his cousin George Frank Rogers, who had spent his life in London as a lawyer and his final years living at Toorilla.
Edward died in 1920 and the following was published locally,
The Capricornian Rockhampton
The seal of probate has
been granted of the will of Edward Powys
Rogers, formerly of Burncoose, Gwennap,
in the county of Cornwall, England,
but late of Tregye, Perranwell,
gentleman deceased to Robert Cecil Boland.
the lawfully appointed attorney of Charlotte Rogers,
of Tregye, Perranwell, the
sole executrix. Mr. P. T. Read Jones,
solicitor for the attorney, appeared in the
Edward left to his wife, Charlotte. £35,787.
The Capricornian Rockhampton, March 12th 1920.
Another old pioneer of our grazing
industry, Mr. Edward Powys Rogers, of
Toorilla Station has passed away. Mr.
Rogers was born in 1855. He was
educated at Wellington College, England, and,
at the age of seventeen years, in 1873,
on the death of his uncle, Mr. Frank
Newbold, of Toorilla, came out from England
to that station, where he gained his
colonial experience under the management of
the late Mr. J. C. Collins. In 1879 he took
full charge of the station, and in 1879 he
was married to Miss Charlotte Williams,
daughter of Mr. John Michael Williams,
of Caerhays Castle, Cornwall. About
1906 he returned to England, where,
except for occasional trips to Queensland,
he afterwards resided. For the last six
months his health had been failing. Mr.
Rogers was a keen sportsman both on land
and sea. He took special interest in
horse racing. He was a keen student of
stock matters. He was a great believer
in the Hereford breed of cattle, in fact,
the herd of Herefords that he founded on
Toorilla may claim to be one of the best in
Queensland. Mr. Rogers was for some
time a member of the Gogango Divisional
Board and the Gogango Marsupial Board.
He always took much interest in the
welfare of the country. There were five
children of the marriage — two sons and
three daughters — of whom one son, Mr.
C. M. Rogers, of Toorilla, and two
daughters, Mrs. MacLaren and Miss C. Rogers,
are living, the second son, Lieutenant H.
P. Rogers, R.N, being been lost in the
ill-fated Monmouth off the coast of Chile.
In the early days of the war Mr. C. M.
Rogers joined the British Army, the
Dorset Yeomanry, and obtained his discharge
in February 1919. Mr. Rogers is also
survived by Mrs. Rogers and five
grandchildren, for whom as well as the rest of
the bereaved family, deep sympathy
will be felt by a large circle of friends
and acquaintances both in Australia and
Clara was a very fit woman despite chain smoking Turkish cigarettes known as Balkan Sobranie and Egyptian Abdullas, She travelled the world, often alone and just as often with her friends or brother Michael (Michael suffered from depression) or sister Harriet. Michael would travel to meet Clara either from the ranch in Queensland or from Burncoose. He would leave his wife and son (also Michael) and join his sister for another adventure. They both liked a drink too, although Michael liked it more than most.
The Queensland ranch was sold during the 1930’s and Michael remained in Cornwall with his family. He often visited Clara at Trelowarren and would take the largest box of market garden produce home, when offered. Clara said that he did it without thought. They went to Austria in 1938 to visit castles and stayed at a beautiful hotel there. Clara remembered the patron worrying about the letters he was receiving from the authorities, asking if he or his family had any Jewish blood.
Clara trained as a social worker in London. She graduated with distinction from the London School of Economics with a degree in Social Science in 1913. Then she worked in the London slums for the Charity Organization Society. Her sister Harriet was one of the founding members of St Loyes School in Exeter and regularly attended meetings there. The family had an affinity with those less fortunate than themselves. They were aware that they were privileged but felt no guilt for that fact. They simply liked to help others.
Kalgoorlie Western Argus
A marriage of interest to many
folk in Kalgoorlie is thus described
by the “Royal Cornwall Gazette”
The marriage of Miss Charlotte
Harriett Powys Rogers, eldest daughter
of Mr. E. Powys Rogers, of
Toorilla, Queensland residing at
Burncoose, Perranwall. To Mr. J
Malcolm Maclaren, younger son of
Mr. J. M. Maclaren, of Thames (N.Z.),
was solemnised at Gwennap Parish
Church on Tuesday. Much local
interest was manifested in the
wedding, and the church was crowded
some time before the bridal party
arrived. The bride, who looked
very charming in her trousseau of
deep ivory charmeuse and crepe
chiffon. with a Court train, lined
with silver throughout and trimmed
with silver roses and Brussels lace,
(the gift of Mrs Pocklington
Coltman), was given away by her father.
She carried a beautiful bouquet of
carnations, white heather and fern,
tied with Maclaren tartan ribbon.
The bridesmaids were Misses Clara
and Naomi Powys Rogers (sisters of
the bride), Gwladys Rogers, May
Williams and Mary Arnott
(cousins), and Miss Davies Gilbert,
who wore dresses of deep ivory satin
and tinted lace, with waist belts of
deep rose. chiffon, old gold plait and
posy of small Banksia roses, with
head-dress of small Banksia, roses
and gold tinsel net. They also wore
pendants of New Zealand green
stone, Queensland pearl and
Cornish diamonds, the gift of the bride
groom. The charming group were
provided, with bouquets of white
chrysanthemums and fern tied with
broad ribbon of the. Maclaren tartan,
Mr. Edward Loring, London, was
groomsman. Mrs. Powys Rogers
was attired in a charming dress
of violet chiffon velours and toque
to match, and carried a bouquet of
purple orchids. The service, which
was choral, was conducted by the
Bishop of St. Germans assisted by
the Rev. J. L. Parker, MI.A., vicar
of Gwennap. The church had been
beautifully decorated and presented
a pleasing appearance with its
adornments of plants and flowers,
mostly chrysanthemum ferns and palms.
An awning was erected from the
entrance to the south porch, while a
crimson carpet was laid to the altar
steps. Mr. McLaggan, the organist
played as voluntaries Wagner’s
Bridal Chorus and Mendelssohn’s
Wedding March and the hymns
‘The voice that breathed o’er Eden’
and ‘O Perfect Love,’ were sung.
After signing the register
Mr and Mrs. Maclaren returned by
motor car for Burncoose, entering
the ground ‘under a triumphal arch
of evergreens intertwined with the
national colours. A crowd of well
wishers gave them a hearty send-off
from the church. Mrs. Maclaren is
very popular in the district by reason
of her good works. among the sick
and poor and she has also been
great help at Gwennap Sunday
School. The reception at
Burncoose was largely attended. A
splendid scheme of decorations had
been carried out in the house and
the conservatory was fitted up with
fairy lamps which when lighted in
the evening made a charming display.
During the afternoon the happy couple left
for honeymoon and will leave England
for Burma about the middle of
January. The bride’s travelling dress
was a coat and skirt of dark red
cloth with a black and white
Harriet Maclaren in her 20’s
Harriet MacLaren later in her life
Clara’s sister Charlotte Harriet, was born on the 26th August 1882 at Rockhampton. Clara loved Harriet as she did all her siblings and the girls were as independent as each other. They looked very similar too and as they aged, the similarity did not alter much. Indeed, her great nephews have remembered from their visits to Trelowarren when they were children, that the pair looked so much alike, it was uncanny.
Clara in her 20’s
Clara later in her life
One told me,
‘Aunt Kay, as she was always known in our family, was an inspiring character and although I only knew her late in her life, I saw her quite often in the late 60’s and very early 70’s, while I was in the UK at University. We had a good relationship and enjoyed each other’s company. She was my maternal grandmother’s sister, Charlotte Harriet Maclaren. I had been very close to Granny and had only recently lost her when I first met Aunt Kay. Their similarities, both physically and in character, created a warm link, which Aunt Kay enjoyed knowing.’
‘I was born and brought up in Northern Rhodesia/Zambia and Harriet lived with us from when I was born until her death in 1964. Harriet never travelled back to England in that time and thus the two sisters never saw each other in their later years. They did keep up a regular correspondence however, through weekly letters, so were obviously close. CCV was often talked about and all her books, published articles, etc., were proudly read. CHM would talk about their early life on the station in Queensland.’
Charlotte Harriet died at the family farm, Muckleneuk, Zambia in August 1964. She was buried in the family graveyard beside members of her family including her son Peter, her daughter, Margaret (Peter’s twin) and Paddy, Margaret’s husband.
Peter was the father of three boys.
I was told,
‘Poor Granny Maclaren (Harriet) lost all three sons early, one at school of an appendix, one killed in WW2, by an English drunk driver, or perhaps in a tank accident (varies from story to story) in North Yorkshire and my father by crocodile in 1956.My father worked with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fish in what was then the colonial service in Nigeria and North and South Rhodesia. He taught the locals how to make and use fishing nets (give a man a fish and you feed for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for life). I was just 4 when a crocodile got the better of him. ‘Uncle Michael, (son of Charles Michael, nephew of Clara and Harriet), felt so sorry for my widowed mum with 3 small boys, he set up a trust to pay for our schooling at Stowe where my father had gone.’
‘We would visit Aunt Kay a couple times a year either camping with my two brothers, or while staying at Burncoose with P M Williams. My brother kept up writing to her until her death. Aunt Kay was a lovely lady, quite eccentric, wore old coats tied up with string, drank lemon verbena tea. Oh, and made the most fantastic saffron cake. That is the sort of thing a ten-year-old remembers.
My mum had the task of cataloguing Kay’s huge library and dispersing the books around – many first editions and signed copies.’
‘My grandmother, Clara’s sister, travelled with her husband by every form of transport there was, boat, train, bicycle, horse and camel. She and Aunt Kay looked very alike and probably were made of the same stuff – i.e. no wimps.’
‘I visited Clara (or Aunt Kay as we called her) several times in her Trelowarren house. Once she took me down a maze of corridors to visit Foy Quiller-Couch who lived at the far end of the mansion. There was something very strange, mystical, fairy-tale, about these two old ladies each living in a tiny section of this great mansion and seeing each other only a couple of times a month. I liked Kay a lot. She was a few generations ahead of her time in some ways but a few behind in others.’
Foy lived with Clara in her wing at Trelowarren for many years. The women had been friends for almost all their lives and spoke highly of each other. Clara found her company comforting when she felt particularly vulnerable as she gradually lost her hearing, sight and strength. Foy eventually became ill and moved from damp and cold Trelowarren in 1971 to a flat in Lanhydrock before her final rest at Bodmin. This was the same time that the heir John Vyvyan, was having Sir Courtenay and Lady Clara’s precious gardens, orchards and beech grove, where Sir Courtenay’s ashes had been spread in 1941, bulldozed to make way for caravan pitches.
Clara it seems was ruggedly independent and not the slightest interested in ideas of male superiority. She loved natural history and books as any reader of her work will testify.
A great nephew,
‘One thing I will say, when Aunt Kay died, we were all asked what we wanted from her estate. Her valuable book collection – full of signed first editions. She had left all her possessions to a relative and he didn’t invite her to his mother’s funeral because “it’s just for close family”. Kay was dressed and ready to go to the funeral when she was told this. Then she went out one day for a walk and arrived back to see a removal van in her yard. What are you doing? They were carting away some of her precious books without her knowledge, because she had already left them to her “nephew” in advance of her death, probably to escape death duties. Sad way to spend your last few years.’
‘When my wife and I were married, we asked Aunt Kay to the wedding, but she decided she’d rather not attend the event, preferring instead a quiet weekend with us both beforehand. Thus, about a month before the wedding in March 1970, I drove down to Trelowarren from Somerset and fetched her for the weekend. She had a lovely time with us and surprised us by producing for my fiancée’s wedding present a shabby recycled envelope from her artist’s smock pocket; this had an equally shabby jewel case in it and inside that was an exquisite Victorian diamond and pearl pendant on a silver chain. We were gobsmacked – it wasn’t paste as we first thought, but the real thing, mounted on platinum and worth then a small fortune. (Heaven alone knows what the piece is worth now.) My wife wore it at our wedding and it’s been one of our prize possessions ever since, as you might imagine. Kay gave me a cheque for £25 as my wedding present, in itself a very nice gift! ‘
In, The Helford River, Clara told many tales of her adventures on the river and the banks bordering the Trelowarren lands. There were tales of picnics, boating and fishing. One of her great nephews remembers shrimping with her.
‘I was staying with Kay at Trelowarren, when she suggested going out to catch shrimp for our supper. We went down to her favourite spot on the Helford Estuary, armed with her trusty shrimping nets. It was a new venture for me but being 90% blind didn’t deter her showing her colonial nephew how to do it and we soon had our supper in the bag. I treasure a lovely memory of Kay, her long skirt tucked up into her voluminous pantaloons leading the way in what I thought were very chilly waters. She wore a set of yellowing, unmatched pearls in a long rope around her neck and when I enquired why she wore them out shrimping, she promptly told me that the blessed things needed airing she’d been told and she only wore them out shrimping, hoping the string might break so she could lose them! They had been in the Vyvyan family for hundreds of years, given by one of the Kings Henry (I forget which) as a gift when he and his Queen had had to call off their planned visit due to some crisis in the Royal Court. The pearls were known, by Kay at any rate, as the Henrietta Pearls. She always wore her favourite red artist’s smock, tied at the waist with binder twine, long skirts, sensible brogues and a bedraggled black beret. On leaving for a walk or ‘an excursion’ as she called them, she habitually patted her pockets, muttering her checklist of “knife, baccy and matches”. When I knew her, she was still smoking occasionally and always the oval Egyptian ‘Abdullas’, sent to her in neatly packaged boxes of 500 by Harrods.’
‘I am guessing she was anti-American (as most English people were of that age and class) because of the cultural and educational differences and resented the need to make Trelowarren available for the soldiers. Although of course she would have been greatly behind their invaluable contribution to the war effort. Two books cast light on her attitude to Americans, other than the works you mention. One was Kay’s insight from her visit to the States (Nothing Venture) I can also recall when she told me she was appalled by the way her American host treated his wife. Another was a book by Daphne du Maurier where she doesn’t mention Kay by name but is clearly referring to her and was based on the American “occupation” of Cornwall during the war, and Kay’s resistance to it. (Rule Britannia.)
Kay showed me the wooden strips that “the Americans” had nailed on her staircases to avoid damage by the hob-nailed boots of the soldiers. This did not strike me as “utter carnage” (although I don’t know what was happening outside the house). On the contrary, I was impressed that the troops had bothered to go to so much trouble.’
Clara wrote about the carnage in the garden and grounds in her many articles and her book The Old Place.
‘I remember hearing that she had a car accident while driving just outside the gates of her home. She ran over and killed a pedestrian. She was so upset by this she never drove again, although I do remember going into “town” on a horse and trap with her. I thought that was fun, although I now realise it’s because we couldn’t go by car.’
‘One memory that casts some light on her attitudes. She had no time at all for my godfather, Peter Michael Williams (cousin PM) who lived at Burncoose. My father has been born there and I visited Burncoose quite a number of times. Presumably, Kay was a first cousin to PM, who was a bachelor and a businessman. PM was a millionaire. “Do you know what his ambition is?” Kay asked me once. “To double his money before he dies! Can you imagine that? What an awful man!” Or something like that. In other words, money was not a big part of Kay’s life and was not a motivator. I came to feel a bit sorry for her, because she was obviously a very capable person, with a good education but a career was not a possibility for a woman of her class and generation. She was allowed only to do good works, for free. So, she filled in her life by gardening, by travel and by writing. From my generation’s perspective, I think she would have got more out of life if circumstances had allowed her to make a more meaty contribution to her community. That is not to disparage her considerable writing talent.’
Clara had changing views about Peter Williams. They met constantly as cousins and often travelled together in Peter’s chauffeur driven Rolls Royce. Several times Peter arranged for a joint birthday party with Clara, where there would be a cake each at opposite ends of the table – often from Fortnum and Mason – and they would each eat a slice and then Clara would be taken back to Trelowarren. Clara worried about him when he was ill later in his life. He suffered with his gall bladder but could not have an operation because of his weight and his weak heart. It killed him eventually. Following his death Clara noted that everyone she knew was either ill or dead. She wrote in a letter after she had attended Peter’s funeral,
‘Yes, I do agree with you about P.M.’s death. There is always so much humbug about death and people say only nice things about the victims and give them only appreciation which might have been welcome when they were living. As a matter of fact, the Cathedral service was rather moving and made me realise that he had done more good with his life than most of us. Cathedral was full, 22 relations and tribute from the Dean about his austere personality. There was also beautiful music. I felt like a ghost, too blind to recognise faces and too deaf to hear words. There was a strange scene, comic I thought, when P.M.’s sister May, guarded by the Mother Superior of the Epiphany, held court from the bath chair, to all the relations, one by one. She was enjoying her self enormously. “Yes, he was the loveliest man I ever knew, but what could you expect with that money and that spoiling?”’
And from a nephew,
‘My memory is very selective and is made up of snapshots but with often gaps in between. My brother’s aged about 13 and 11, set off from Salisbury on bikes to ride to Trelowarren, Mum and I left a few days later in the Ford Escort van to meet them at Aunt Kay’s. I can’t remember putting up the tent. I remember Mum had a terrible night as Aunt Kay had given her silk sheets and she kept on sliding off the bed! ‘
Clara first visited Ireland in 1907 and stayed at the same friend’s house that her sister Harriet had been staying in for several years at Kilkenny. Harriet would catch the ‘Pig-Boat’ from Falmouth and was always careful not to buy a ticket which included meals. At Kilkenny they drove to another friend’s house at Malahide and would visit Dublin. They were at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre to watch The Playboy of the Western World when they saw a tall, dark figure with a flowing bow tie. It was W.B. Yeats.
She next visited Ireland during the summer of 1929, while she decided on the proposal received from Sir Courtenay and whom she married later that year. She referred often to ‘the troubles’ in that narrative. Clara travelled to Ireland again in 1935 with several travelling companions, all of whom were lifelong friends, including Betty Bolitho.
Betty Bolitho was a cousin from her mother’s side of the family (Williams.)
They visited and stayed in the beautiful Aran Islands the year following the filming of the Gainsborough picture called the Man of Aran
She wrote about it in her book On Timeless Shores, which you must read if you want to discover more about the local people who appeared in the film and who became friends with Clara. She made friends wherever she travelled.
Clara found Ireland to be magical and heard many tales of the supernatural with myths and legends seemingly being lived out in the villages and settlements she visited
On Aran she had a meeting with a woman, who told Clara of her difficult life. The woman asked Clara about hers and I feel that the words are worth transcribing here.
‘Then she questioned me about myself. What would I tell her? All the troubles of my broody, introspective nature through youth and middle age had paled into insignificance before the simplicity of this island woman. I had just shared a meal with her and Dara, potatoes, eaten with our fingers, straight from the cooking pot. I would not tell her that at home we were never hungry, that servants waited on us at our meals, that we never cooked our own food nor washed our own clothes. It was only with birth and death and loneliness and hunger that she was concerned; she would not understand the things that made up our everyday life in England. So I told her, at full length, how my younger brother went down fighting in HMS Monmouth, together with her sister ship, and whether they were drowned or burned alive we shall never know: we only know that of all those fifteen hundred souls not a single one was saved. Then I told her how he was the best of the family and how that same thing had happened to all our friends and relations; the one who was killed in the war would always be the best one in the family.’
The medals are now in the possession of his great-great nephews who wear them proudly on Anzac Day.
‘On the day of the first man landing on the moon in 1969, My wife and I were staying with Kay at Trelowarren and we wanted to watch it on TV. Kay didn’t have a TV (…” not much use to a blind person!”), but her retired gardener who lived in a comfortable cottage by Trelowarren’s main entrance, had his TV and he welcomed us in to watch it there. Kay wasn’t going to miss this chance and we installed her close to the old B&W TV. She was deeply impressed. When we returned home late that evening, we had a cup of tea together and she then bid us goodnight, saying she was going to do some writing. We could her tap-tapping on her old portable typewriter until quite late – she’ll have known her typewriter keys well enough to use it fast and accurately, despite being so blind that she needed a magnifying glass to proof-read what she had typed. In the morning, she gave me a letter (in one of her recycled, brown envelopes) for posting. I noticed it was addressed to the Editor of ‘The Lady’ and a week later they published a full page of her thoughts about the changes she’d seen in her life, from motor cars, to steam ships, then air travel and now a man on the moon!’
That gardener was Ernest Rowe who had been with the family man and boy since 1911.
‘I spent about a week with Great Aunt Kay (Clara) I think it must have been 1964 when visiting the UK with my mother and brother, I was left with poor Aunt Kay, she must have been about 78 then, a big ask of Kay by my mother! My Mum and brother then went on a trip. I would have been ten at the time and poor Kay did a great job of looking after me, I have very fond memories of Trelowarren and of Kay picking flowers and cape gooseberries to be sent to Covent Garden in London and me exploring the house & grounds which I thought were far more jungly than the Africa I came from. In my mind I mix my grandmother and Aunt Kay up, I think they both looked very similar. Oh! and sleeping in an enormous bedroom overlooking the house chapel. The old house creaked and acted like an old Cornish house should, but it must have accepted me as I wasn’t spooked at all.’
This chapel is now a luxury Christian retreat, assigned to them in 1973 when Lady Clara still lived at Trelowarren.
Trelowarren Chapel from Library 1951
Another great nephew.
‘My grandmother, Harriet Maclaren, looked very like Aunt Kay and I was brought up short when I first met Aunt Kay as she could have been a double. The description of shrewd, bird-like eyes comes to mind as echoed in your article. I do think she would have hated the word blog but would have embraced the communication technology of today with wonderment and delight.
Both Granny Maclaren (Our reference to Harriet) and Aunt Kay had a deep love of all things green and both were talented gardeners and landscapers with green fingers. Trelowarren and our garden here in Zambia testify to this long after their passing. I am surrounded by large stately Blue gums, Indigenous fig trees and a landscaped array of beds of colour. Aunt Kay never visited here but would have enjoyed it as she never tired of new ideas, places and thoughts. I made quite a few visits to Trelowarren and whenever I got there and later when my wife joined me in my visits to Cornwall, we would be put to work trimming Rhododendrons, Camellias and Azaleas that had grown out of bounds. Every cut we made with a bill-hook or saw was supervised by Aunt Kay with her walking stick. We would retire at midday leaving a burning bonfire and take her to her pub of choice for a ploughman’s lunch and wherever we went she seemed to be known and greeted with delighted smiles. Quite a few times the owners would not hear of her paying for a drink and meal. In the afternoon we would cram into my Mini Countryman and she would direct us to out of the way scenes and views we would never have otherwise found. It delighted both of us to be with her as her enthusiasm was infectious.
I never met Daphne du Maurier, but I do know Aunt Kay held her in very high esteem. She was great friends with another lady called Betty Bolitho, whose brother was a well-known ballet critic. We took her there to tea twice that I recall.
I found the gardens at Trelowarren uplifting, even though they were over-grown and neglected which caused Aunt Kay grief. The house was in a state and there was little love lost between the Vyvyan who inherited and Aunt Kay. Basically, he wanted her out so he could save what was left. I gathered from Aunt Kay that she had left him the Estate some years earlier to get around an Inheritance Tax law. Provided she lived for five years after bequeathing it he would not be liable to this tax. All well and good but Aunt Kay lived much longer than expected! I met the relevant Vyvyan cousin once and remember little of him except a sense of aloofness and definite ill-feeling between them both.
Her last few years were lonely I think. She phoned a few times and I phoned her occasionally. Two of her phone calls were memorable. One was when man first landed on the moon and she was so excited by that accomplishment and the fact that she had lived long enough to experience that! She had been determined to live for that occasion and glued herself to the wireless for all the reports! Another call was to instruct me to listen to the BBC at a set time, as she had taught “that whipper-snapper of a reporter a lesson he needed to remember”! The man had made the grave mistake of asking, in opening, how old Aunt Kay was! This was very impolite in her view of the world! Gentlemen did not ask ladies their age. She noted that he only had a few questions listed so answered each one with a “yes” or “no” and the man was soon floundering with time to spare! She used that time to explain to him why she thought he was so bad mannered. Her fire in her well-lived in sitting room was always weak and the room was cold. The stairs up to her bedroom were very steep and small. After her death I did hear that the people attending had a real problem getting her down the steps. She would have laughed! She always wore a black beret and mittens that needed repairs and always spurned the new mittens we tried giving her! She always pressed apples on us and was very proud of their keeping ability, and even though small and wrinkled by the end of winter they were tasty.’
Betty Bolitho had never married and lived most of the time on Cornwall’s Hayle Estuary. She was part of the Bolitho banking family, who were I think taken over by Lloyd’s Bank.
Clara was an expert (she would not admit that she was) on plants and birds. Her friend Gwen Dorrien Smith, an excellent artist and companion on several of her world adventures and who had predeceased her, was also an expert on birds. When they travelled through Canada to Alaska (An Arctic Adventure) and on her trips around the Scilly Isles (The Scilly Isles), staying at Gwen and her parent’s home, Clara would hungrily collect the names and pictures of the local bird and plant life. Gwen would paint the same and her pictures still fetch a decent price if they come up for auction – a very rare occurrence. Clara valued her friends but valued her solitude more and often said that the true meaning of life could be found in those moments of oneness with the natural world. I hope that in her latter years, with failing eyesight and inability to travel, she was able to retreat further into her own mind and find peace and contentment there.
A story of Clara’s passing.
‘Years after she died, we met the kind person who sat with her after her fateful fall out of bed, breaking her hip. She apparently refused to be moved out of her bedroom for hospital treatment and died peacefully in the presence of this kind person, John Simpson, then a R.N. Padre from Culdrose. He subsequently left the Navy and became the Vicar at Curry Rivel in Somerset, my wife’s home village, where we met. He became a family friend and related to me how proud he had been to conduct Kay’s funeral, something he did for both of my wife’s parents. Sadly, my wife and I were working in a remote corner of the Congo when Kay died and it was weeks after her death that we eventually heard that she had died. It was the passing of one of life’s leading characters and we were immensely heartened that we had had the privilege to have known and loved her.’
Clara wrote the following in closing her book Journey Up The Years.
‘To return, however, to the question of my own old age.
All through life I have longed for adventures, sought them and pursued them to the end. Now I am moving upward to the last adventure.
Fruit hangs upon the tree and ripens slowly in the open or it may hang against a wall and ripen quickly with comforting support and warmth, but in any case autumn’s mellow sunshine may be a token that life can sometimes hold a blessing to the end. As for the last adventure, perhaps it may prove to be the greatest one of all.
I watch the falling leaves of autumn and reflect that each one of us will be absorbed back into the earth; it is our common destiny that our bodies help to create new life. And my spirit? Perhaps it will linger on in the memory of those whom I have loved.’
In her book Coloured Pebbles, Clara talked about her own aunts and her reaction and relationship to them. She then compared her new role as an aunt and how she hoped her own nephews and nieces felt about her.
‘Nowadays as an aunt, I ride somewhat uneasily in the saddle and find that having aunts and being an aunt are widely different experiences. There is no question now of expecting subservience from the younger generation. In fact, the old must curry favour with the young to gain mere toleration.
Yet strangely enough, just as I credited my own aunts with a fixed personality, so my nephews and nieces relegate me, with certain parts of my life, to a permanent niche, after investing me with an unchanging and unchangeable personality. When they introduce me to their friends, they make a point of mentioning, as if to justify their aged aunt’s existence, journeys I have made and books I have written. Then the journeys and the books are put back into their niche and I am left to feel that my contemporary existence is that of a shadow. From my watchtower in old age, I look out on memories of their birth, infancy, adolescence and maturity, but they know nothing about my formative years, my dearest associations, my unfulfilled daydreams, that are still directive.’
I hope I have put that to rights – a little.
I could not have written this article without the unselfish and very kind assistance of her surviving great nephews. All have been wonderful in sharing their memories with me and subsequently with you – the reader.
It only took opening and beginning to read the first chapter of The Old Place by C C Vyvyan before I was hooked. I have read everything of hers that I can get my hands on – several times and never tire of her words.
Clara Vyvyan can take the reader into her circle and experience her life alongside her. One feels as though one knows her friends and associates and could enter into a conversation with them quite comfortably upon first meeting.
She was born into a family with great social standing and should, by rights have entered into an early marriage and produced children and good works. But she didn’t.
I have never seen her name and character bandied about as an example of female empowerment and it may be that Clara, like many similar women just got on with her adventures and challenges and travels.
She was a social worker in the East End of London, a writer, a market gardener and fearless explorer.
I have seen no detailed biography of Clara. A blog by a woman who chooses to embrace spinsterhood (nothing wrong with that) informs us of some of the travels of C C Rogers and how she never married. I took away from that article that she was possibly a lesbian. She was not and neither was Daphne du Maurier, Clara’s friend and often travelling companion, although popular reports still infer this.
Clara Coltman Rogers was born in 1885 at the family’s cattle ranch in Stanage, Queensland. Clara, her elder brother Michael and elder sister Harriet were also born there. The ranch is on a peninsula, which at the time was extremely remote, ranchers there going months without seeing another human. The nearest town was 120 miles away and the nearest ranch 100 miles away. They lived by the sea, overlooking the Great Barrier Reef. This ranch provided the family with their principal source of income and that was substantial.
Her mother Charlotte Williams was a member of the Williams family of Caerhays, Burncoose and Scorrier of Cornwall. Her father, John Michael Williams, had been High Sheriff of Cornwall. The family made a fortune from mining and were also famous for their gardens and horticultural expertise. Charlotte was very aware of and proud of her social roots. It was to Gwennap and in 1916 to Burncoose that the Rogers family moved after leaving the Australian ranch in the hands of managers and later to their eldest son, Michael. The family regularly travelled back to Queensland and Michael often came back to England.
Her father, Edward Powys Rogers was a member of the Coltman Rogers family of Stanage Park in Powys. Clara spent a great deal of her time with her relatives. She holidayed during several summers in the 1920’s exploring Wales, particularly from Stanage Park to Snowdon in a horse drawn caravan with her Coltman Rogers cousins. She described one night out on the lakeside at Bala, when they awoke, surrounded by cattle.
A great aunt and godmother, Mrs Pocklington Coltman owned Hagnaby Priory in Lincolnshire and Clara and her siblings went there as often as they could and loved every minute. Clara need only use the proverb, ‘the peace of Hagnaby’ and her family understood immediately. This was the phrase she used to let her brother Michael know exactly what Trelowarren meant to her.
Two further children, Harry Powys and Elizabeth Naomi arrived on the family’s return to Gwennap in 1887. Naomi was a weak child who suffered from debilitating asthma and was babied by the family. She was not taken on the family travels around Europe or on the six month stays at the ranch in Queensland.
The girls had governesses until they were sixteen and then Clara chose a school in London. She loved learning and eventually studied for a Science Degree at the Women’s University Settlement in London and trained to be a social worker. She had a job working amongst the very poor and used her salary to help pay for her education and accommodation. Clara was enjoying her life of freedom and independence.
Then the news came that her sister Harriet was to marry James Malcolm MacLaren, a geologist. Charlotte didn’t really approve, thinking he was not the ‘right sort,’ but their marriage was happy and produced five children and seven grandchildren. This meant that Clara must return home to Gwennap as Naomi was under 20 and considered too young to be the ‘Home Daughter’. Clara fought this and managed to remain fairly independent in London until 1914.
Then horror struck.
Naomi had been getting much better and was able to travel to Brittany with trusted friends who had stayed with her in the past on several of her ‘cures’ in Switzerland. They all returned happily to their Surrey home, where Naomi caught a cold, developed pneumonia, heart trouble and asthma. She was dead soon after on 8th May 1914 and was brought back to Gwennap by Clara and Harry. Her parents had managed to race to Surrey following an urgent message and Naomi died in their arms, but they returned alone to prepare for the funeral.
Clara left her work and studies in London following the funeral. The family then went on a European tour during which war broke out and they struggled to make it back to England safely. Harry, now a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, was killed in action on November 1st, 1914 at the battle of Coronel off the coast of Chile when his ship HMS Monmouth was sunk. Harry was 27 years old. Their parents had a memorial stone erected in the church to Harry and Naomi. Two children dead in under six months.
Clara travelled to Hagnaby Priory to find some peace.
There she pulled herself together and began war nursing as many women did at that time. She went to Rouen and here was introduced to the 56-year-old, (born 5th June 1858) Sir Courtenay Bourchier Vyvyan, 10th Baronet, whose stately home was Trelowarren, Cornwall where he lived with his wife. His son and heir Vyell, had died in 1898 and the property would eventually go to cousins. Clara and Sir Courtenay got on very well and remained friends.
After the end of the war, Clara began her adventures in earnest. She returned to be at home during her father’s final illness when he died following an operation on his cancer of the oesophagus. Clara had not approved of the operation, feeling that although his life was extended by a few weeks, it was a terrible life. The family had moved into Burncoose in 1916 and this was where Edward spent his final years before joining his daughter and the memorial stone to his drowned son in Gwennap Church.
Clara soon left home again and with her friend Gwen Dorrien Smith successfully travelled across Canada and back at great cost and with great bravery, details of which she wrote about in An Arctic Adventure later in her life.
She was now getting some articles published and making a name for herself with her writing.
On the 3rd January 1928, the wife of Sir Courtenay died, and the couple began to see a lot more of each other. Clara stopped travelling and bought a car so that she could visit him at Trelowarren often. They married on the 21st November 1929 despite dire warnings from all members of the families that this was bad match, due to the age difference.
They however, remained happily married and content until his death on 15th November 1941, prior to which Sir Courtenay had signed Trelowarren over o Clara. His ashes were scattered at his request over the bluebells in the beech grove. Clara was adamant that the soldiers who stayed there during the war years and did so much damage to the house and grounds should leave this sacred spot alone.
Her friend Daphne du Maurier, wrote the foreword in Clara’s book, Letters from a Cornish Garden. It was in 1932, just before Daphne’s marriage when Daphne and Foy Quiller Couch, daugher of Arthur Quiller Couch, rode to the Lizard where they explored before spending time with the Vyvyans in their home. Daphne loved Trelowarren and never forgot her first journey there.
‘Foy’s friend Clara, and her husband Sir Courtenay, were standing waiting on the steps to greet us. My diary says nothing of their appearance, but memory tells me that he was smiling, silver-haired, leaning on two sticks and her eyes were penetrating, curious and interested, like those of a very perceptive bird. All that my diary says is this: “This evening we came to Trelowarren, the most beautiful place imaginable. I just can’t believe it is true. The strength, the peace, the kindliness of these people and this place.”’
Daphne talked of the library full of books and a housemaid and the striking of the stable clock. Clara cut flowers from the Lady’s garden as Sir Courtenay leaned on a stick as a robin flew on to his hand. Daphne felt moved by the place and thought that this place was the last of old England as she would ever know it.
She wrote in her diary,
‘I simply hated leaving Trelowarren. Few places have made such a profound impression on me.’
Daphne set her book Frenchmans Creek at Trelowarren and the surrounding lands.
Incidentally, Daphne du Maurier used the house and setting of Trelowarren in her novel Frenchman’s Creek. She also used the gardens in Rebecca.
Friends and Contemporaries by A L Rowse
(on Frenchman’s Creek) The book is very atmospherical, the inspiration, I noted, nostalgia. The action concentrates on the Helford Rover, below her friend Clara Vyvyan’s 17th century Trelowarren. (The colonnade of trees in Rebecca, by the way, is the avenue of over-arching ilexes there, like a cathedral aisle)
She also wrote to Oriel Malet in 1953 that Sir Courtenay had said once, “If the line isn’t drawn somewhere, there would be no line at all!”
Lady Clara was used as a hopefully persuasive tool against Daphne after she had written I’ll never be young again by Arthur Quiller Couch.
Friends and Contemporaries by A L Rowse
He carpeted her at The Haven: ‘My dear Daphne, people don’t say such things,’ the old innocent reproved her. The young lady, who knew, replied, ‘But, Sir Arthur, they do.’ The dear old boy couldn’t face the thought, especially with his old fashioned gallantry about women, and wondered whether this made suitable company for daughter Foy and her friend Lady Vyvyan of Trelowarren.
Trelowarren was requisitioned by the Army during World War 2 and Clara did her ‘war work’ in Bristol. She returned to Cornwall to supervise Trelowarren at various times, although a bailiff and her Head Gardener George Bryant were overseeing the property. She had one meeting with the Army where she let them know in a dignified way, the utter carnage they were doing to the property. She wrote about it movingly in ‘Requisition’ which featured in the periodical My Garden and her book The Old Place.
It was Theo Stephens and Malcolm Saville, editors of My Garden who printed many articles of Clara’s and along with other publications such as the Manchester Guardian and the Western Independent.
Clara was summoned at the West Kerrier Petty Sessions on the 26th February 1940 for driving a motor car without a licence.
Following the war, Lady Clara needed money to maintain and run Trelowarren. Her inheritance was subsidised by her writing and the income they made from running a market garden, producing, fruit, vegetables and flowers. She writes about these times in Letters from a Cornish Garden and The Old Place, much better than I can paraphrase. I was particularly moved by the death of her great friend and employee George Bryant and the tribute to him in the West Briton, a paper he used to read cover to cover.
She also returned to see her mother during her final days until her death on 17th April 1944 and see her buried at Gwennap alongside the rest of the family.
Clara still adventured around the world often alone and sometimes accompanied by friends such as Daphne du Maurier and Foy Quiller Couch. She would trudge around the lanes of Cornwall even in great age. Her brother Michael would come and visit when he was able.
Oriel Malet, another friend of Daphne du Maurier remembers one stormy afternoon when Clara hammered at the window of the Long Room at Menabilly. Clara was clad all in black oilskins and soaking wet. Staying a few days at The Haven with Foy she had decided to tramp over to visit her old friend at Menabilly and go through maps and atlases to discuss her latest adventure.
Clara wrote over 20 books and many articles. Her books are still available.
Clara’s latter years were sad. She went blind and had made over Trelowarren to the next heir, a distant cousin of her late husband’s. She lived in a wing there and eventually had to confine herself to one room. She had few visitors, although her old friend Foy visited her very often. Then Foy became older and sicker and was unable to visit. Foy went into a home in 1982 and then to Bodmin Asylum where she died in March 1986 of senile dementia.
Daphne du Maurier died at home at Kilmarth of old age on the 19th April 1989 and her ashes were scattered on her favourite beach.
Another author friend of hers A L Rowse, lasted until 1997.
Lady Clara Vyvyan of Trelowarren died in her room on March 1st, 1976 aged 90, having lived a full life. Her funeral service was held in Trelowarren Chapel at 2.30pm on March 4th and she was cremated, and her ashes scattered at Trelowarren.
I found a cut out copy of her obituary from The Times hidden in a second-hand book I bought a few years ago and then another cut out copy of a death entry of a local Western paper in another second-hand book. That was when I decided to write this article. I would have submitted it to my friend Dr James Whetter for An Baner Kernewek, but of course he has now left us.
One could become nostalgic if one thought about it all too much.
I learned recently of the death of my friend Dr. James Whetter following a short illness.
A clever man, James wrote many books and articles and was the Editor of An Baner Kernewek where several of my own articles have been printed over the years, including the last edition.
His website The Roseland Institutelists his works and achievements. It is worth obtaining his books as I feel he has been a vastly underestimated author and collector of our precious Cornish history. He has helped me a good deal over the years with my research. He was a great friend of his neighbour A L Rowse and wrote a memoir about their friendship.
Reproduced by kind permission of Ute Sen
He was also a very nice man who will be missed by his family and friends.
Daphne du Maurier (1907 – 1989) and her Cornish homes.
Dame Daphne du Maurier, Lady Browning, DBE, first saw Fowey in 1923 while descending Bodinnick Hill during a search for a holiday home with her mother and sisters. The family had taken several holidays in Cornwall and Daphne had always enjoyed them but secretly hoped that if a holiday home were to be bought, it would be in France. Upon seeing the town of Fowey across the harbour, seemingly painted against a backdrop of woods and with the business of a working port in the foreground, Daphne knew that this was the place she had often seen in her dreams. The family arrived at the bottom of Bodinnick hill and parked alongside the inn there. Gerald and Muriel du Maurier noticed a house to their left, which had previously been part of the old boatyard, was now for sale. Daphne and her sisters immediately trespassed, as was their habit.
The small property occupied a delicious spot overlooking the estuary
where the water rushed past the wall. The tiny lawn was often under water and
only a few lilac bushes managed to straggle by the edge of the property.
The house emerged from the side of the hill and was built using old timbers.
It had been designed with small rooms upstairs and down, linked by narrow
staircases and corridors. It was not until 1926 when the alterations were
finally completed that the family could spend more time at Ferryside.
Nineteen year old Daphne would walk her dog Bingo to Lanteglos Church and the
other-worldly quiet valley in which it sits. She did not know then that she
would marry at that church. On other days she would catch the ferry from
outside Ferryside to Fowey from where she trudged to Readymoney Cove and
Polridmouth past Gribben, Polkerris and Par. On these adventures she walked in
her future footsteps, passing her homes and final resting place.
Daphne was 20 on the 12th May 1927 and celebrated the
event with her mother Muriel and sisters, Jeanne and Angela at Ferryside. The
following day the family left Daphne alone at Ferryside while they travelled
home to London. During her short solitary stay, Daphne learnt to sail with a
local man called Adams and listened to tales of his family and the
schooner Jane Slade and she began to
mentally ‘brew’ her first successful novel, ‘The
The Nook, Bodinnick
On 3rd October 1929, Daphne was given permission to stay at Ferryside for
the winter and write. She was however, to lodge with Miss Roberts at The Nook,
across the lane from Ferryside. This tiny cottage had no bathroom and the ‘lav’
sat at the bottom of the small garden. Miss Roberts cooked for Daphne and
washed her clothes and trotted upstairs with her washing water. Miss Roberts
gossiped and comforted Daphne while allowing her freedom. Daphne slept and ate
her meals at The Nook and then wrote at Ferryside and later walked or sailed
before she locked up Ferryside at 7 pm and returned to the care of Miss
Roberts. There she chatted, read and went to bed early, listening to the
comforting sound of the water.
Daphne further researched the stories she had heard from Adams. She had
written many notes on the history of the schooner, Jane
Slade , Fowey and Bodinnick from information gathered during her sailing
lessons. Now she was free to set about writing ‘The
Loving Spirit.’ She wrote diligently and had only a couple of breaks from her work,
travelling back to Cannon Hall in London to
be with her family. She left her unfinished manuscript and dog Bingo in the
safe care of Miss Roberts. It took only a few months for Daphne to complete her
novel and The Loving Spirit was soon on the
journey which would ultimately bring Daphne fame, fortune and a husband.
The artist Frances Hodgkins enjoyed similar hospitality with Miss Roberts
during 1931 when she painted ‘Wings over Water,’which imitated the
view from The Nook across the river and featured Miss Roberts’s large red
parrot with which Daphne had enjoyed many conversations.
Daphne kept in touch with Miss Roberts in the following years and visited her
in hospital in the autumn of 1938 where she lay stricken with cancer of the
bowel. Miss Roberts still chattered and gossiped and told Daphne not to worry
about the possibility of an upcoming war, bringing Daphne to shame for her own
The Haven, Fowey
The Haven has been owned by Sir Arthur Quiller Couch since 1892 and
occupied by him for half of every year when he was not at Cambridge where he
held the chair in English. J M Barrie had introduced him to the du Mauriers
when he discovered that they were to live at Ferryside. Daphne greatly admired
Q and his work and reputation and it was his influence in her writing which
helped her to mature and hone her craft.
During Daphne’s Winter of 1929, she would take supper with the Quiller Couches
Q’s daughter, Foy Quiller Couch became great friends with Daphne and they spent
a good deal of their time in each other’s company. They walked and rode
together, one of their rides being across Bodmin Moor where Daphne was
introduced to Jamaica Inn, sowing seeds of an idea for one of her future
The Haven is a Grade II listed building, making the list on the 11th March 1974,
C19 house of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. Stucco and brick with slate hipped roof. Front to harbour has 2-storey bay flanked by 2 sash windows, without glazing bars, on each side. Quoins. Facade to road has verandah on left.
Listing NGR: SX1233251462
Q died in 1944 and in the following years, Foy persuaded Daphne to complete his final work, ‘Castle Dor’, which she did eventually publish in 1962. Daphne, such an admirer of Q’s, was terrified that she had not done his work justice, but reviews and sales proved the contrary.
8 Readymoney Cove (Readymoney Cottage)
In late 1942, Daphne now married to Tommy (Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Arthur Montague “Boy” Browning, GCVO, KBE, CB, DSO) for ten years and the mother of three children, left the Puxleys at Langley End and moved to Fowey. Tommy was living his war and Daphne being unable to move to the family home at Ferryside which had been requisitioned by the Navy, instead rented 8 Readymoney Cove. The property had originally been the old stables and coach house for Point Neptune House, which had been built for the Rashleighs of Menabilly. It was a nice house, albeit small but with a garden leading directly to the beach. She was writing ‘Hungry Hill’ based heavily on the life story of Christopher Puxley’s family. He and Daphne had had a dalliance at Langley End and writing this new novel meant that he must visit her at Fowey. He stayed at The Fowey Hotel where Daphne would meet him surreptitiously.
The Watch House
This stone and slate twelve foot square building sits above Watch House Cove between Polruan and Polperro and during the war was in a restricted zone. It had been a coastguard’s hut from where stone steps led to the beach. Daphne rented it for £5 per year and she and Puxley would go there for their trysts aka information-gathering meetings for the new novel. They felt safe from nosy neighbours and gossips and believed their visits to be secret, although anyone who had lived in a small community knows that it was highly unlikely that they were not seen.
As the lease for Readymoney Cove was nearing its end, Daphne heard that
Dr. Rashleigh may consider leasing Menabilly to her. Daphne and her sister had
first seen the beautiful house on one of their 1926 walks when they had
investigated several routes in order to find this mystical place. Daphne fell
in love with the unoccupied house immediately upon seeing it and would
‘trespass’ many times during the following years, imagining that she lived
there. Latterly Dr Rashleigh had allowed her to walk through the woods anytime
she wanted to.
Dr Rashleigh was 71 and had no heir, so the estate was to go to his cousin. He
decided that he would sell the contents of Menabilly and lease it at a very low
rent until his own death. The tenant would however be responsible for the
upkeep and repair of Menabilly. The first job would be a new roof, a huge
outlay of £30,000 as it turned out.
In 1943, Daphne agreed to a 20 year lease in spite of advice to the contrary.
She intended to plug the financial gap by writing more books and this she did.
Several of her best sellers such as, ‘The
Kings General, ‘My Cousin Rachel’, ‘The
Birds’ ‘Rule Britannia and ‘Rebecca’, amongst others,
were based there.
Careful reading of the first chapter of Rebecca reveal her memory
narrative of searching for Menabilly with her sister and the difficulty
of traversing the overgrown pathways through the woods.
By 1958 as the lease was nearing its end and Daphne began trying to persuade
Dr. Rashleigh to give her another lease. His cousin’s son Philip was now the
heir and he intended to live at Menabilly as soon as he inherited. They
negotiated for two more years until in 1960 Dr Rashleigh agreed a further 23
year lease so long as Daphne took responsibility for the care of all the
woodlands on the estate. She readily accepted and looked forward to the future
again. She also began negotiations for the lease of Kilmarth, the Menabilly
dower house further along the coastline towards Par.
Dr Rashleigh died shortly afterwards and Daphne learned that her highly paid
lawyer had omitted to have the agreed lease signed and her 23 year future at
Menabilly was vanishing before her eyes.
However, further negotiation with Philip Rashleigh gave her a seven year
extension to the 1943 twenty year lease and Daphne felt safe enough to write
It also meant that she was also able to entertain The Queen and Prince Philip
there in July 1962.
Tommy died in 1965 and Daphne was now living alone at Menabilly when Philip
Rashleigh began pushing for her early departure. She had four years left on the
Menabilly lease and had been negotiating for a further fifteen years, although
she had also paid a deposit on the Kilmarth property. The two parties
negotiated quite keenly, even having a serious talk at Menabilly where Philip
Rashleigh told her he may extend the lease for seven years if she paid for the
demolition of a decaying wing at the property.
Daphne was always willing to fight for her dreams but was still feeling fragile
from her so recent widowhood.
Eventually Rashleigh decided that he would not renew Menabilly when the current
lease expired and he intended to move there with his family. He would however allow
her to have Kilmarth for her lifetime.
Daphne signed the lease for Kilmarth in 1968 and began more renovations
and repairs there which she complained were draining her finances. She had
spent so much of her own money on Menabilly that it is of no surprise that she
complained. But the house was beautiful and had the lovely views and privacy
she craved. She could walk down to the beach and along the coast path with her
West Highland Terrier, Moray at least once a day.
She had the builders convert a small basement room into a chapel. She kept in
the orchard, what was left of Ygdrasil, the boat in which
Tommy had first chugged past Ferryside all those years ago under the eyes of
Daphne and her sisters and in which they had honeymooned at Helford.
Daphne soon realised that Kilmarth had a wonderful atmosphere and the epic
views from the house of St Austell Bay, she wished Tommy could have seen.
She finally moved to Kilmarth in June 1969 and began her new routine. She
initially often walked over to Menabilly but soon stopped because it distressed
her so much. Instead she took her walks around the fields at Kilmarth and down
to the beach there. It was several years before she began her regular Monday
visits to the Rashleighs at Menabilly.
As Daphne settled at Kilmarth, she began writing yet another novel, ‘The
House on the Strand.’ It was based on her research of her new property and then merged
with her own incredible imagination.
In 1989 Daphne was 81. Most of her friends were dead and she had decided she
wanted to die too. She stopped eating and dropped down to six stone. On the 16th April she
asked her friend to drive her down to Pridmouth beach where Rebecca had died,
followed by a visit to Menabilly and lastly, to her sister at Ferryside.
Daphne went to bed on the 18th April and
died in her sleep.
Her funeral was on the 26th April with a thanksgiving
service at Tregaminion Chapel by the famous gates at Menabilly. The chapel was
filled with her favourite camellias.
Her ashes were scattered on the beach below Kilmarth, where she had walked
almost every day of her life there.
A friend brought this video to my attention shortly after he uploaded it to YouTube.
My father and brother (both black belts) are on this clip which was broadcast on the local news back in 1991. They ran the karate club along with a couple of others. Dad appears initially at 1.06 walking behind Ron Davies and Mark shows up at various points in the clip. Mark can be seen best at 1.32 fighting with Ron during his grading.
Sad thing is, several of those who appeared are now dead. Dad died shortly after the filming, then Mark (both at a ridiculously young age), then Ron, then…
The moral of this story may be,
Don’t appear on local TV.
BTW. Mark (as was I) was a Special Constable and our colleagues had to attend his death. When they asked for volunteers from the force for his full police funeral, the list went on and on. He had a motor cycle escort and police cars and a guard of honour. The escort took us on a tour of the town which lasted 10 minutes instead of taking the hearse the 1 minute drive to the church. People stopped in the street. We were all too traumatised to record it but I did take this snap. He would have loved it – had he been alive…
The Prideaux/Pridias family had a manor house at the base of the Prideaux hill fort since prior to the Norman invasion. The dwelling was knocked down and rebuilt in an improved style many times.
The ancient manor originally comprised Great and Little Prideaux, Lestoon, Levrean, Rosemullen, Trevanney, Trenince, and Ponts Mill in Luxulyan. Stenalees in St Austell, Grediow in Lanlivery, Biscovay in St Blazey, Carroget, Kilhalland, Rosegarth and Penpillick in Tywardreath. Gubbavean in St Issey, Nanscowe in St Breaock, and moieties in Golant, one of which was called Bakers.
During the time that the Herles became named owners of the property and lands due to the male Prideaux line here dying out, the house and land was known as Prideaux Herle. Wood, Drew and Reid are among many who have recorded that the Reverend Charles Herle Prideaux who matriculated at Exeter College, Oxford was born of honourable parents at Prideaux Herle, near Lystwithyel, Cornwall in 1598. (This branch of the family are to feature in my next Bishop John Prideaux book.)
I have a description of the manor house in some of my documents.
Of the ancient seat of the Herles, which within memory formed a complete quadrangle, the eastern side only remains. This portion was built early in the fourteenth century by Thomas Herle, who was one of the stannators of the stannary of Blackmore, 22 James 1. 1624 and 12 Charles 1, 1636. It comprised a large and handsome hall, with a carved roof and armorial bosses shewing the marriage connexiots of the family and one or two inferior apartments. Over the chimney of one of the upper rooms the story of Perseus and Andromeda was represented in plaster, this with the stone stairs that led to the sleeping apartments have been removed. Over the chief entrance is a shield of twelve quarterings, surmounted with the crest of the Herles.
As the house originally stood intact, it was a venerable and interesting structure. Within the quadrangle was a well of excellent water and the only entrance which led direct to the north was from the north, which was so constructed as to appear to pass through a wall ten or twelve feet in thickness. The south and the west portions of the house were the most ancient, two of the upper rooms of which contained the arms of Prideaux, with quarterings and the family motto – In God is All.
From the Historical Survey of the County of Cornwall of 1820.
Luxulian, although wild and desolate in its general aspect, affords considerable matter for the entertainment of the tourist, namely its ancient church, two moveable stones called Logan Rocks, the venerable mansion, and decayed fortification called Prideaux Castle, and the singularly rocky valley, which opens and folds itself with astonishing grandeur through the country below.
The church is seated in moderate eminence, and with its tower, is built of wrought granite. The Gothic walls of the porch are embattled, and the ceiling very curiously ornamented. On the front over the arch, are the ancient arms of Prideaux……..
Prideaux Castle, the original seat of the Prideaux family, is supposed to have stood on an elevated spot, which has now the appearance of an ancient encampment. At a small distance on the northern side of these remains, is seated Prideaux House, which seems to have been built by the Herles, and their arms are still over the entrance. It is a rude quadrangular building, the apartments low and gloomy, and the stairs throughout are formed of moorstone. The hall, which is now used as a stable, is ornamented with shields of armorial bearings, cut in oak, and shew the marriage connexions of the Herles, during their residence at this place. The upper apartments exhibit some curious plasterwork, and on one of the chimney pieces is represented Perseus riding to the relief of Andromeda, who is represented chained to a rack, with a sea monster swimming towards her.
Medrose present house was built by the Kendalls. The hall is lined with oak, and has very curiously carved chimney piece, adorned with large human figures, and a variety of armorial bearings.
A little to the east of Prideaux Castle, stands the handsome modern mansion of John Coleman Rashleigh, esq. The best front has a southern prospect, and a coach road is carried through the grounds by an easy descent, into a small valley, which enters the great western road, at St. Blazey church town.
The Bishop and The Witch and Shudder are very different stories, but this film by Pudding Lane Productions illustrates both very well. Early 17th Century England was a fantastical place.
I had similar images in my mind when writing both books. Although this film, created by six De Montfort students taking part in the Crytek Off the Map project is of 17th century London, the model fits perfectly for early 17th century Oxford of The Bishop and The Witch and mystery century Shudder.
I wrote a narrative about a Corpse Candle in The Specials, when the character Edith Prentice nee Trewen tells a psychiatrist about her encounter with one. I based that episode on one which happened to me over a decade ago.
I was driving late from Wrenbury to Whitchurch on the back roads. It was a journey I had taken several times and never had a problem, but this night I felt lost. The narrow roads I usually took didn’t seem to be there and I turned right and left where I thought I should go, but didn’t seem to be getting nearer home. There was no phone signal, so I could call no one and I was feeling very anxious. There seemed to be a lot of electricity in the air and all the time I was trying to keep a lid on my panic, I was noticing that I could see no houses, car lights or hear any sounds. I couldn’t work out where I was and it was not until later when I went through the experience in my mind and checked on Google Maps that I worked out that it was somewhere between Marbury, Marley Green and Hollyhurst in a triangle between the meres.
I drove (unusually) slowly and suddenly there it was.
A yellow flame in the middle of the road in front of me.
I stopped the car and just held on to the steering wheel. I am not a scaredy cat type of person and always confront my fears, rather than hide from them, but this time I didn’t know what to do. The flame looked exactly like a candle flame, the same shape and the same kind of flickering. The base did not reach the ground and I estimated it to be about one metre tall and in 3D. I looked around but could not see any lights anywhere and no people. That was not unusual in itself, as you can see when you look at the map above. And it was almost midnight. I had no clue where I was. No clue.
I just stared at it for about two minutes, although to be honest I did not time myself. My mind could not compute what I was looking at. I drove a little closer and began to get out of the car to have a look. But, then I thought how stupid that would be. I was in the middle of nowhere and leaving the safety of the car might mean a criminal, a ghost or an alien could grab me, or take the car or… Think about the possibilities your frightened mind would come up with during an event like that. I thought of those and more. I have absolutely no idea why I did not take a photo, I didn’t think about that until much later.
So, I climbed back into my car, locked the doors and crept towards the flame. I did not reverse away, as I already didn’t know where I was and there was no way I could do a U turn . The flame did not move in front of me nor go out. I went on to the grass verge and went past it very slowly. The flame was hovering above the road, there was nothing igniting it, unless bare tarmac can magically produce this phenomena. I stopped next to it and checked that there was nothing on this lonely lane, bordered by narrow grass verges and hedgerows, except for this metre high flame and me. There was not.
By now, I wasn’t as scared, but still did not want to get out of the car. I felt as though I was electrified and I considered the possibility that I had died and should perhaps drive towards the light rather than around it.
But, I had a lot to do at home, so I drove quietly away instead of remaining. That was quite difficult to do though and I felt almost magnetised to the flame and wanted to stay there. Even as I drove away, I considered driving back and staying by it. I didn’t however and drove on, noticing in my rear view mirror that the flame was still there. I don’t remember much of the journey back until I arrived at the street lights of Whitchurch. Then the experience went round and round my mind, while I tried to make sense of it.
I couldn’t and although I mentioned it to a couple of people, I soon stopped when their response was, ‘Oh, it was probably just something alight which had been thrown from a car, ‘or more usually, ‘been drinking had you?’ Neither of those explanations applied.
I have thought about the phenomena on and off ever since. When I researched similar happenings, the corpse candle explanation fitted better than any other.
The only event which occurred a few weeks later and completely out of the blue, was the sudden and unexpected death of my dear brother Mark. I cannot say whether the two events are related and I have never seen a candle flame since.
Below is a copy of the Last Will and Testament of Bishop John Prideaux.
It was proved on the 20th September 1650 and the original copy of this will has been lost in the Public Records Office.
The will was written on the 20th June 1650, a month before his death. It seems he was aware that his time was coming.
Bishop John Prideaux – His Will
In the name of God. Amen
The twentith Daie of June iun the year our of Lord God one Thousand six hundred and fiftie I John Prideaux Doctor in Divinitie Sometyme Regius Professor in the Universitie of Oxford and Bishopp of Worcester, being at present in perfect sence and memory praised bee God, Doe make this my last Will and Testament as followeth. I doe first commend my Soule to God And my bodie to be buryed in the Chancell of the parish Church of Breedon according to the discretion of my Executors. Item I doe protest that I dye in the true Christian Faith firmely beleevinge and houldinge the Doctrine Worshipp and Discipline established and professed in the Church of England, in the reigne of Queene Elizabeth King James and the beginninge of the raigne of the late Kinge Charles as I have alwayes professed mayneteyned and defended the same in my severall places and callings. Item I doe give and bequeath to Mary Prideaux my beloved wife my great guilt Bible and booke of common prayer bound upp with the Homilies of the Church of England. Item to my said deare wife I give my Episcopall Seale. Item to my said deare wife I give two bonds or obligacons of the summe of One Thousand poundes for the payment of five hundred poundes due from Thomas Reynell of Ogwell in the Countie of Devon Esquire. Item to her my said deare wife I give and bequeath one hundred poundes in gould. which she knoweth of, and already hath in her own possession. Item to her my said deare wife I give my best bedd with the furniture thereunto belonginge. Item to her my said deare wife I give two Bedds for her Servaunts. Item to her my said deare wife I give All my plate,my great Cedar Chest. Item all my Lynnen I give and bequeath to my said deare wife and my Two Daughters Sara Hodges and Elizabeth Sutton to bee equally devided betweene them. Item I doe give and bequeath to my Sonne in Lawe Henry Sutton Clarke All that me Messuage or Tenement acituate and beings neare unto Exeter Colledge in the Cittie of Oxford with all tenements and hereditaments thereunto belonging. To have and to hould to him the said Henry Sutton his Executots and assignes unto the End and terme of all the yeares which I have or ought to have therein, Together with all much Indentures of lease whereby I hold the same. Item I give and bequeath to my Two Sonnes in Lawe William Hodges and trhe aforesaid Henry Sutton Al;l my Bookes to be equally devyded betweene them. All the rest og my goods and Chattells unbequeathed I give to my said Two Sonnes in Lawe William Hodges and Henry Sutton whom I nomynate and appointe joynt Executors of this my Last Will and Testament. Jo: Prideaux, Sealed and subscribed in the presence of Ric. Goslinge Elizabeth Pope Elizabeth Stock
There rose a rumour, seemingley begun by a Later Bishop of Worcester, John Gauden, that John Prideaux was living in poverty. This myth has been perpetuated in writings.John had certainly lost a great deal following his removal of his Bishopric and his livings by the Rebels, but this Will shows that he still had much to leave.
Gauden and others had taken on face value John’s joke when asked
How doth your Lordship do?
Never better in my Life, only I have too great a Stomach; for I have eaten that little Plate which the Sequestrators left me, I have eaten a great Library of excellent Books, I have eaten a great deal of Linen, much of my Brass, some of my Pewter, and now I am come to eat Iron, and what will come next I know not.
Tristram Risdon (1580-1640) was the renowned author of ‘Risdon’s Survey of Devon’ a tome he worked on solidly between 1605 and 1630. Risdon travelled every inch of Devon documenting the families, houses and towns there. Although he borrowed from Sir William Pole’s ‘Collections towards the Description of the Country of Devon’, his work was largely first hand.
The work was first published in a heavily edited serial form by Edmund Curll in 1714 and then in it’s full form in 1810, a copy of which I possess.
It is a thorough and delightful description and easily readable. There are so many nuggets of information within, many of which would be very useful to the family historian, if only they knew. I used it during my research as the Prideaux family and their holdings are mentioned many times.
There was one entry which attracted my attention, when referring to the Stretchleigh manor, situated in the middle of Prideaux properties in south west Devon, a little south of Ivybridge.
In this signiory A.D. 1623, there fell from above a stone of twenty three pounds weight, which in falling made a fearful noise, first like a rumbling of a piece of ordinance, which in descending lower, lessened, and ended when upon the ground no louder than the report of a petronel; it was composed of matter like a stone singed or half burnt for lime.
A signiory is the land or manor owned and controlled by a seignior or feudal lord. Seignior is also a derivative of senior, monseigneur, monsieur etc.
A petronel was a firearm of the time.
A culverin was an old musket.
An aerolite is another term for meteorite.
This Stretchleigh Meteorite has been recorded in several pamphlets and books.
In ‘A View of Devonshire’ written in 1630 by Thomas Westcote, gent. stated in very similar terms, the following.
“In some part of this manor (Strechley) there fell from above, 1625*[a probable misprint for 1623]–I cannot say from heaven–a stone of twenty-three pounds weight, with a great and fearful noise in falling, first it was heard like unto thunder, or rather to be thought the report of some great ordnance, cannon, or culverin; and as it descended so did the noise lessen, at last, when it came to the earth, to the height of the report of a peternel, or pistol. It was for matter like unto a stone singed, or half burnt for lime; but being larger described by a richer wit, I will forbear to enlarge on it.”
This “richer wit” had been the author of a pamphlet published at the time.
this aerolite as having fallen on January 10th, 1623, in an orchard, near some men who were planting trees. It was buried in the ground three feet deep, and its dimensions were three feet and a half in length, two feet and a half in breadth, and one foot and a half in thickness. The pieces broken from off it were in the possession of many of the neighbouring gentry.
The Stretchleigh Meteorite has been recorded in a couple of pamphlets and books. In ‘A View of Devonshire’ written in 1630 via Thomas Westcote, gent. said: “I can not say from heaven–a stone of twenty-three pounds weight, with a super and anxious noise in falling, first it used to be heard like unto thunder…”
[Lysons’ Magna Britannia. vol. vi, pt. 2; Devon, pp. 175, 176.] notes that this pamphlet also describes,
three suns seen at Tregony, in Cornwall, in 1622.
This phenomena likely refers to the optical illusion parhelion, when light interacts with ice crystals in the atmosphere. A halo effect is created, bringing the image of the sun to the right and left of the actual sun. It occurs mainly when the sun is near the horizon. When this phenomena occurred prior to the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross, Edward VI used it in order to rally his troops.
In ‘Contributions towards a History of British Meteorites’, by T.M. Hall. Mineralogical Magazine, volume 3, April, 1879 the author states in reference to the Stretchleigh Meteor and the three suns of Tregony.
In 1869 I called especial attention to the Ermington meteorite in the Transactions of the Devonshire Association*[vol. III, pp. 75, 78.] in the hope of obtaining some clue as to the subsequent history of any of these portions, but so far, my enquiries have been unsuccessful. From the description it is highly improbable that it could have been an iron meteorite, and from comparing the weight with the size it would appear that either the latter must have been very much exaggerated by the writer of the pamphlet, or that Risdon and Westcote must have been mistaken in the weight.
As it is, there appears to be no trace of this meteorite around now. How wonderful to think that there are some stones lying about a garden or a field, with such a history.
The Meteoritical Society has listed the Stretchleigh meteor here. The site of the meteor fall is 50° 23’N, 3° 57’W.
Bishop John Prideaux is the star of A A Prideaux’s novel, The Bishop and The Witch.
As such, his life and history is dramatised in that novel and subsequent novels in the series. Here I attach the Authors Epilogue to the book and the Bibliography.
I began researching my family history many years ago. During that research I came across John Prideaux, a Stowford blood ancestor who ultimately became the Bishop of Worcester. He was involved in so many significant events during his busy life that he was easy to find in many articles, books and archives. Apart from the biography list, there is no central point where his life and achievements are described in any detail. I eventually managed to collect together all the references, facts and figures that I found. Initially, I wanted to write a factual and historical book, but found it to be dry and unemotional. I wish I could write about history in the style of one of my heroes. A. L. Rowse, but sadly I cannot. So my plans changed and I decided to put my spin on the life John may have had between the known facts, in an effort to bring him to life. I have so much research on JPx (as I refer to him in my notes) that I now intend to write a series of books about him and hopefully each one will not take the eight years it has taken to bring this one together. I have enough research for two or three further books and so that could take me…. a while.
I researched the history of Oxford, Exeter College, North Moreton and all of the characters featured in the story. I tried to ensure that each person could have been in the right place at the right time. And I think generally that they were. I am sure you will tell me if I am wrong. I really don’t mind if you do.
I visited Worcester Cathedral, Bredon, Harford, Stowford, Salisbury and Oxford while I was tracking him down. I stayed at the home of the Gunter family at The Rectory at North Moreton and visited the church and ate at the Bear Inn and walked the lanes and tracks there. I was allowed in the Worcester Cathedral Library to go through John’s own books and walked in his footsteps in his childhood village, church and school. I can only guess what he was really like, but I have been following him for so long that he became my friend along the way and gave me glimpses of his personality. His framed picture looks at me from four rooms in this house alone and his eyes follow me everywhere. I feel so many times that his ghost is tailing me. I feel it now. I believe he approves of my personification of him, but perhaps I am delusional.
I have checked and checked the facts of his life and his contemporaries, but there may be errors and for that I apologise. What I don’t apologise for, is my linking those facts together and putting my interpretation on what propelled him from one fact to another. I can’t prove that he did this or that and equally you cannot prove that he didn’t.
Most of the people involved in this story actually lived and were contemporaries of his. Many of the places still exist, although they have been modernised and added to many times. His likeness can be viewed in several places and after I collected all the information together, his personality and style shone out. The bullet points of his life are available online, but that is not the same as marrying it all together. I hope I make you understand how he matured and I hope you get to like him.
I have a copy of his Will and that is very interesting reading. He wrote several books and pamphlets and owned lots more. Many of his owned books are at Worcester Cathedral Library and John has written in many of them. He seemed to be trying to find his peace with God. He wrote ‘Euchologia’ for his daughters, giving them instructions on how to live a good life through prayer and join him in Heaven. His scribblings though, did give a clue to his worries about whether he would end up there.
He enjoyed a lifetime of debating the Bible teachings and had been involved in the translation of the King James Bible along with his fellow worthy contemporaries. Following his involvement with the Gunters, he became tutor to Prince Henry and Prince Charles because King James valued his loyalty and knowledge. JPx continued during his long and successful involvement with Exeter College with the friendship and ear of Charles I.
It was King Charles who made him Bishop of Worcester during the Civil War. The bishopric was taken from him when Worcester fell. JPx was almost a broken man once he was stripped of his roles and livings and was incredibly lucky to escape with his life. Many of his contemporaries did not.
It was written somewhere following his death and then widely copied, that after his downfall, he was poverty stricken. His Will however, does not show that. He had lost much following the arrest of Charles, his livings, his positions, his titles and many of his friends. But he still managed to leave several valuable items to his family. Further checking shows that these possessions such as King Henry’s staffe, his large collection of rare books and silver plate, were sold off by his grandchildren. These have been scattered around the world.
This book is called ‘The Bishop and the Witch’ and although JPx was not a bishop during this time, each book in the series will be called ‘The Bishop and….’
While writing I have tried to keep facts as accurate as possible, but sometimes found anomalies which are difficult to overcome. As an example, I searched for the day of the week for 30th October 1605 on an established website to be informed that it was a Sunday. But the letter in the archives of the papers of Robert Cecil record, that the letter from Richard Neile about not being able to send Anne for examination on that day, was apparently a Wednesday. Now I know that this could have been recorded incorrectly and so I tried to establish facts elsewhere. Instead I chose not to mention the day, merely the date. You see why it has taken me eight years? Don’t get me started on the twirling gate…
Several people mention JPx in their books and research and I shall try and list all the ones I know of in the Bibliography at the end of this book.
Below is a list the facts known which I joined together for the fictional/factual tale you have already read. Perhaps you have turned directly to this page and for that I shall punish you by giving you few dramatic details.
John Prideaux did walk the 170 miles from Stowford to Oxford in the clothes he kept in his closets until the end of his life, so that he could never forget his beginnings. The dates I gave are approximate, but I don’t think I can be far out.
The prayer was a Prideaux prayer handed down through his family and used as a means of warding off illness, bad luck and perhaps, demons. I mention it in many of the Prideaux stories. JPx talked about the prayer regularly and taught it to his daughters in his latter years.
He signed himself as John Worcester once he became Bishop.
The first born son of his parent’s was called John, but he died almost immediately. It was said that the son born praying would become a great man. This child was our Bishop John.
The Gunters were living in North Moreton in 1596 and John’s walk would have taken him within a couple of miles of their village. Anne was a young girl at the time.
Brian Gunter was known to assault Anne, it was reported in Star Chamber records.
The football match of 1598 took place and the two Gregory men were killed by Brian Gunter. The story is written in many records both parish and courts of the time. There was a great deal of ill feeling between the families.
Anne Gunter had terrible fits and body movements as described throughout this story. She also constantly vomited or found pins. Her body swelled and her head turned and her ankles twisted. Not all of the fits could be put down to fakery.
Elizabeth Gregory gave birth around the time of Anne’s fits and complained that Anne’s spirit was harassing her during childbirth.
Once released from prison, Brian Gunter continued to live in his usual stroppy and vindictive manner until 1628 when he died in Oxford. He is buried there, he survived his wife by 11 years. She died at North Moreton and was buried in the church.
There is no record of Anne either returning or contacting her family after 1606 and she is not mentioned in any wills or documents that I have found. She did tell the King that she had fallen for a servant of Bancroft named Ashley and the King agreed to give her a dowry.
Anne Gunter eventually confessed all to King James during an examination.
Gilbert Bradshawe suffered several assaults in the years following the trial. These attacks were from Brian and his family and included Susan Holland who became prone to violence once her husband was dead. Apparently the Gunters wanted him out of the church. Gilbert took his case to the Star Chamber in 1620.
Thomas Holland, the Regius Professor of Divinity and Rector of Exeter College lived (1539 – 1612. ) was 40 years older than his wife Susan Gunter, but they managed to have 6 children. John Prideaux succeeded him as Rector upon his death and as Regius Professor in 1615. He was one of the translators of the Bible.
Dr Richard Neile (1562 – 1640) was chaplain to Robert Cecil and became Dean of Westminster on 5th November 1605, the day Parliament was to reconvene. He could have been blown up had the treasonous plot been successful, but he wasn’t. He became Bishop of Rochester, Lichfield and Coventry, Lincoln, Durham and Winchester. He often sat at the Star Chamber, the Gunter trial being one of the cases.
Samuel Harsnett (1561-1631) was another man with a heady career. He was chaplain to the Archbishop Bancroft. He later became Bishop of Norwich and Bishop of Chichester. At the time of this story he was a resident at Chigwell, where he later established a school and he also had the living at Shenfield.
Richard Bancroft (1544 – 1610) was a great favourite of King James and became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1604 and oversaw the translation of the King James Bible. He was with Queen Elizabeth when she died, but he didn’t kill her… He was also Bishop of London. Although a Cambridge man he became Chancellor of the University of Oxford from 1608 until his death.
William Laud (1573 – 1645) was John Prideaux’s nemesis for much of their parallel careers. He was a homosexual, a fact which matters not a jot these days quite rightly, but back then he needed to hide his feelings. He was chaplain to Richard Neile and became Dean of Gloucester and Bishop of St Davids. He later became Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury during Charles 1 reign, but he made many enemies. Once he established a religious point of view he would force it through with little regard for other opinions. In 1640 he was accused of treason, but at his trial there were only a few who could agree a treasonable charge. Personal vendettas came into play and Laud was sentenced to death, although on no specific charge. In spite of a Royal pardon he was beheaded and died with dignity at 72 years old. Although John Prideaux had argued with him for much of his life, it seems likely that he would miss him once he was gone.
William Helme was tutor to John in his early Oxford years. He was a fellow of the college until 1615 when he left to become a vicar until his death in 1639.
The map of Oxford drawn by John Speed and reproduced in this book was drawn in 1605 and shows the layout of Oxford and the colleges and streets at the time of this story.
Turl Street which runs along the western perimeter of Exeter College was so named as it led from the turnstile in the north wall. The turnstile also known as the ‘twirl’ or ‘twirling gate’ was to keep cows and other animals out of the city.
John Prideaux assisted with the translation of The King James Bible.
The story of Dr Rowland Taylor is a true one. He was one of the martyrs during Queen Mary’s reign. Miss Goodwin eventually became John’s first wife and mother of his children. He wrote about her in books and letters to his daughters near the end of his life.
John Prideaux surveyed the college during his tenure and oversaw many changes. Excellent details and maps can be found here.
On the NW corner of the college fronting Turl Street between the chapel and the more modern looking building on the corner with Broad Street is known as Prideaux buildings and the front is all that remains of the house he built.
On either side of the wall to which parts of the college abutted, were ditches and small ponds full of black mud which often flooded into the college.
Elizabeth Gregory, Mary and Anne Pepwell were the three North Moreton women accused of witchcraft. They were found innocent of bewitchment at their trial in 1604.
He buried his wife and children either at St Michael at the North Gate or at Exeter College Chapel. His son Mathias was the first buried at Exeter following its foundation and the inscription reads ‘Are you trying to make out what the little child is saying? Read, you will die as did Mathias Prideaux, the Rector’s son, who was the first one to be buried in this chapel after its foundation.
There were poems written about each child as he/she died young and are still available here.
From his nine born children, only two daughters survived John.
John Cleveland wrote a long poem about JPx upon his death. It can be read in John Cleveland’s Poems.
The words and pictures in following books, pamphlets and links have not been copied, or quoted, but I thought it would be helpful to researchers to have an idea where to look for more information on Cornwall, Devon, the Prideaux family and the Gunter family. I have many books which may also help in research, but have not listed them all here.
An Obscure Place by Louise Ryan.
A West Country Clan by R M Prideaux
A Devon Family. The Story of the Aclands by Anne Acland
Survey of Cornwall 1602 by Richard Carew
Sir Bevill Grenville and his times by John Stucley
Highways and Byways in Devon and Cornwall by Joseph Pennell and Hugh Thomson
Devon Its Moorlands, Streams and Coasts by Lady Rosalind Northcote
Survey of the County of Devon by Tristram Risdon
The Cornish Witch-finder by William Henry Paynter
Catholic and Reformed by Anthony Milton
The Hammer of Witches (Malleus Maleficarum) by Christopher S Mackay
When Rob was a baby, I started calling him Bobby Chariot.
I have no idea why.
He has taken it in good part as an accepted form of address from his silly old Aunt.
Now that I have given a character in `Shudder’ the same name, I feel it is time to refer to Rob properly.
Rob is going places in this life, of that I have no doubt.
So henceforth, I shall be addressing him as Sir Robert…