Rescued and Restored

PUBLISHED: 16:30 06 September 2011 | UPDATED: 19:56 20 February 2013

The drawing room is the most impressive ground-floor room

The drawing room is the most impressive ground-floor room

Porthcothan House is a beautifully restored farmhouse on the north Cornish coast that had suffered nearly 70 years of neglect

Porthcothan House is a beautifully restored farmhouse on the north Cornish coast that had suffered nearly 70 years of neglect


The tiny hamlet of Porthcothan lies between Padstow and Newquay on a particularly beautiful stretch of the north Cornish coast. There isnt much here a car park, a shop, a few houses, a decent pub and it has remained largely untouched by the excesses of tourism. It does, however, have a very fine beach used mainly by locals and visitors with young families the surf can be good but it is variable and is not overly popular with Cornwalls burgeoning young surf population.


In the past, this small community was sustained by agriculture and inshore fishing and it is perhaps surprising that Porthcothan House, the most prominent and architecturally important residence in the area, should be on such a grand scale.


Little of the early history of the house is known and while there may have been earlier dwellings on the site, the current house was almost certainly built in the 18th century. DH Lawrence rented the house from his friend and writer JD Beresford between 30 December 1915 and 29 February 1916, and wrote a series of personal letters concerning his feelings for the house and for Cornwall. To John Middleton Murry and Katherine Mansfield he wrote: The house is a big low grey well-to-do farm place with all the windows looking over a round of grass and between the stone gate pillars down a little tamarisky lane at a cove of the sea, where the waves are always coming in past jutty black rocks. It is a cove like Tristan sailed into from Lyoness just the same. It belongs to two thousand years back.


It is interesting that Lawrence described the house as a farm place because the architecture is unmistakably Georgian, quite unlike a traditional Cornish farmhouse and built more in the style of a small manor. The property gradually fell into disrepair and by the end of the 20th century it was in a very sorry state. It had been untouched for almost 70 years and was damp with a leaking roof, collapsed ceilings, rotting windows and only basic facilities. The large garden was completely overgrown and part of the boundary wall had collapsed.


The current owners bought the house in 1999 and set about restoring it to its former glory not an easy task! A series of architects and builders came and went as problems with delays, budget, materials, and quality of work mounted up. Eventually, the owners took the decision to design the layout of the house and manage the works themselves and after six years of hard work, the project was complete. The result is a house with a lovely atmosphere, space and light that makes the most of its prominent position.


Every effort was made to restore and renew the house using traditional materials to preserve and enhance its historic character. Doors, cornices, dado rails, windows and window reveals reflected what was there originally; roof slates and floor flagstones were sourced locally and odd angles and levels were kept. Similarly, the external render on the front of the house is traditional lime plaster the original had been plastered over with a hard cement render, with an inappropriate paint that prevented the walls from breathing, which meant the house was damp and suffered from wet and dry rot. Modern luxuries such as double glazing and central heating were installed with great sensitivity to preserve its period character.


The gothic arch design of the glazing bars in the conservatory (and the adjoining dining room) in the new two-storey extension was taken from an original window in an outhouse and the floor tiles and hand-painted tile wall panel create a rich introduction to the stylish interior. The dining room has a new oak refectory table and chairs made by Pew Corner, a firm that specialises in renovating and reclaiming old church furniture. Moving into the original part of the house, the back hall has a number of interesting features including a 30ft well that was discovered during the renovation works. The slate floor has been relaid using original slabs from various ground-floor rooms including a huge slab from the roof of the old porch.


The large, traditional kitchen has many original features and a rather mysterious semi-circular mini alcove (use at present unknown) set into the exterior wall. A traditional Aga surrounded by massive green oak beams dominates one wall and an original cloam oven has been converted into a larder. The floor is Delabole slate and an island unit houses a sink at one end and creates a breakfast bar at the other.
The original main entrance door opens onto the front hall, which is light and airy and has a new Exmoor oak floor and a new handcrafted stone fireplace surround. On one side of the hall is the sitting room with a splendid inglenook fireplace another unexpected find during renovation. On the other side of the hall is the drawing room, the largest and most impressive of the ground-floor rooms. Again, Exmoor oak has been used for the flooring and a beautifully crafted black walnut fire surround, made to the design of an original found in one of the bedrooms, dominates the end wall. The room is comfortably furnished with substantial sofas and upholstered chairs and features an unusual coffee table with an intricate marquetry inlay of fish in water made from veneers of burr walnut, makore, sapele and cherry. Jane Lampard paintings adorn the walls that, in common with the rest of the property, have been painted in a period colour that respects the houses Georgian origins.


An oak staircase made by local craftsmen leads to the first floor from the back hall. All six bedrooms are decorated and furnished to a high standard and most have sea views. As many as possible of the original features in these rooms have been retained and the four adjoining bathrooms are luxurious and well-appointed.


DH Lawrence sums up Porthcothans charm in a letter he wrote to his friend Dollie Radford in December 1915: ... an old farmhouse with space and largeness and a sort of immemorial peace, a calm that belongs to the earth. It does one good. We can see the sea and hear the sound of it ... all at last is well.


Porthcothan House is available to let: 01841 533331, www.cornishhorizons.co.uk

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