Daphne du Maurier (1907 – 1989) and her Cornish properties.
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 parents. The family had taken many 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 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 dreamt of. Seconds later the family arrived at the bottom of the hill and parked alongside the inn. Gerald and Muriel du Maurier noticed a house to their left which had previously been part of the old boatyard was now for sale.
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 up and downstairs which were linked by narrow staircases and corridors. It was not until 1926 when the alterations were completed that the family spent 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 at Ferryside while they travelled 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 evolve her first successful novel, ‘The Loving Spirit.’
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 opposite their home. 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 7pm and returned to the care of Miss Roberts. There she chatted, read and went to bed early, listening to the sound of the water.
Daphne had further researched the stories she had heard from Adams. She had written notes on the history of the schooner and Fowey and Bodinnick during the years since her sailing lessons and now she was free to set about writing ‘The Loving Spirit.’ She wrote diligently and had only a couple of breaks back to London after leaving her unfinished manuscript and Bingo in the safe care of Miss Roberts. A few months later, Daphne completed the novel.
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 fears.
The Haven, Fowey
The Haven had 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 every Sunday.
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 bestsellers.
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. Daphne and her sister had first seen the beautiful house on their 1926 walks when they had investigated several routes in order to find the 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’ and ‘Rebecca’, amongst others, were based there.
By 1958 as the lease was nearing its end and she was 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 another novel.
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 left 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 and began 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 lovely views and privacy, a state 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 and 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 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 Monday visits to the Rashleighs at Menabilly.
As she settled at Kilmarth, she began writing yet another novel, ‘The House on the Strand,’ based on her research of her new property and mixed by 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 got down to six stone. On the 16th April she asked her friend to drive her down to Pridmouth beach where Rebecca died and then she visited Menabilly and lastly, her sister at Ferryside.
She 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 Menabilly gates. The chapel was filled with her favourite camellias.
Her ashes were scattered at Kilmarth.