(Pre restoration work in 2000)
A few weeks ago I decided my house was in need of a spruce up. As I began sanding and painting, I also looked again at the history of our house and discovered a few surprises. But before I get into that, here’s how we came to be living in one of the oldest houses in Bodmin…
Before we bought it, I used to walk past our house on my way into town thinking that one day I’d love to live there. The house was on the market for three years, the lack of parking, garden and headroom putting all potential buyers off. The asking price dropped, and dropped and dropped until it was finally within our reach. Unfortunately, just as we were ready to sign on the dotted line, the house of our dreams was rented out for six months and we found ourselves technically homeless. With all our finances tied up in the house purchase, we moved with our two very small children into a tent with a tiny caravan next door for us to cook in. I’ll save our camping adventures for another day, but needless to say, by the time six months were up and our November moving date rolled around, we were very happy to be back among solid walls with a proper bathroom!
Ten years before we bought our house it had been derelict, with a tree growing out of the roof. The Cornwall Heritage Trust bought what they thought was a Victorian cottage and began the painstaking work of restoring it. It was only when they knocked down a brick fireplace that the true age of the house was revealed. As a newspaper at the time put it- ‘Shakespeare Alive When Home Built’! Archaeological and historical surveys were done on the house, providing detailed records that are a historical fiction author’s dream! I have a folder of information detailing everything from the material make-up of the walls, to every owner and tenant since 1577.
Over the years, our house has been home to a hatter, a painter, a brasier, a cordwainer, a soldier, a marine store dealer, a charwoman and a ‘fancy dealer’. One tenant ran a coffee house from a downstairs room, and before we moved in the house was a BnB. We can now add ambulance driver (my husband), teacher (Mum) and author to the list!
Our house looks fairly large from the outside, but the best way to think of it is a three up, two down terraced house turned on its side. It’s only one room deep, but at some point was extended into the attic to make an extra bedroom and bathroom, and during its restoration, a galley kitchen was added to the back. The ceilings are low, the floor sloping, and there isn’t a single 90 degree angle to be found.
One of my favourite discoveries is a series of plans showing how the downstairs layout has changed over the years. I love the thought that my son’s bedroom was once a workshop for making hats! His built-in bookshelves which we’d never given a second thought, were once a front door to the workshop, the blocked up doorway behind his bed a door leading outside.
I then discovered several places around the house which used to lead through to the house next door. My teenage son has a wardrobe in his room which, it turns out, was once a door leading through the wall. If I ever win the lottery, I’d love to buy the house next door and open the wardrobe up again, for now though, I don’t think our neighbours would appreciate me knocking through!
I also discovered that behind our house, in an area we’ve just about been able to squeeze a picnic bench, a cottage once stood. Presumably there was also a privy, most likely shared by all the homes squeezed in to the small space.
Living in such an interesting house is great inspiration for an author. These days, we share the house with my mum, but before she moved in we ran an Airbnb, welcoming guests to our attic room, and moving out each summer to rent the whole house. These experiences inspired The House of Many Lives, although the house in the book is actually the house next door to ours! My house was also my starting point for The Wives Left Behind. I wanted to explore some of the local history the house had lived through, which is how I stumbled on the case of the Lightfoot brothers. When Maria and Gershom come to Bodmin for the trial, the house they stay in is mine. Whilst this is unlikely to have happened in real life, Peter and Honor who welcomed them were very real, and living in the house at the time.
If walls could speak, who knows what stories my house could tell? Judging by the thickness of the walls and the fact the house has stood for over 500 years, it’s likely to witness a lot more life yet!