Nathan and Vicky Harvey bring the 17th century back to life as holidaymakers can discover for themselves.
With a history dating back at least 650 years, Cornish manor, Penwarne Manor, isn’t short of intrigue. Holidaying visitors intending to stay in the newly-converted barns may think they are simply no more than luxury holiday lets, but today you can delve a little deeper to find a story which reads like a period drama. This is all thanks to ambitious couple Nathan and Vicky Harvey who, in 2007, saw through the dilapidated stonework. “The buildings immediately struck us as something to be saved,” says Nathan. “We simply fell in love with the place”.
Cue a lengthy and ongoing road to restoration, which they say, resembled an episode of Grand Designs. With friends and family thinking they were mad, the couple were passionate about preserving a rich history and saving the heritage which was at risk of fading away. “We wanted to bring the place back to its original state, working closely with conservation officials and using original materials wherever possible.”
The Manor’s origins can be traced as far back as the 14th century to the ancient family of the Penwarnes whose lands formed a large part of Mevagissey. This dynasty ended however when Vivian Penwarne, the last male heir of the Penwarne family, died in 1490. His great-grandson, Otwell Hill, is credited with restoring much of Penwarne during the early 1600s and his efforts can still be seen today.
After this came John Carew – one of the most intriguing characters in Penwarne’s illustrious past. Nephew of Otwell Hill and son of Richard Carew (Cornish translator and author of A Survey of Cornwall), John is reputed to have been a brave and heroic soldier who lost his hand from cannon fire at the siege of Ostend in 1601. As such, John is one of the first known people to have had a wooden prosthesis.
Over the next few hundred years, the estate was auctioned off and for three decades the barns were left at the mercy of the elements. The en-suite bedrooms and open planned dining areas of the four Grade II listed barns seem a long way from the days of the original owners. Yet, they all retain a sense of the past thanks to a fine attention to detail. For those who like a little history in their holiday, this will no doubt be of great appeal.
With the family-friendly beaches of Gorran Haven, Portmellon and Caerhays nearby and the Eden Project a mere twenty minute drive away, Penwarne is proving popular with couples and families alike. At nearby Mevagissey you can take a trip to the local church and still see a monument commemorating Otwell Hill’s life. There are even rumours that a secret smugglers tunnel lies between Penwarne and the nearby coast. “Of course, I’ve looked,” says Nathan, “but I’m yet to find it!” Little evidence remains too, of the barn’s blocked-up windows which were once filled in to avoid an infamous ‘window tax’ imposed by Prime Minister William Pitt.
It seems at every corner of Penwarne there is a story to tell, and this is why Nathan and Vicky continue in their tireless labour of love to develop the barns and surrounding land. “The buildings haven’t changed much structurally, but it’s a work in progress,” explains Nathan. Not only have they shed light on the ancient stonework, but they’ve enabled families and friends to experience an almost forgotten history for themselves.
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‘To The Manor Re-Born: Penwarne Manor’ is taken from our December/January 2012, Vol.2 Issue 9. Subscribe to myCornwall magazine for more stories like this one.