The perfect example of an historic rectory
A recent study found that, given completely free rein and regardless of the price, a former rectory – preferably Georgian – is the most sought-after style of country house in the UK.
Small wonder then, that there is so much excitement about Penhallow Manor in Altarnun coming onto the market. Possibly the finest former rectory in the South West, it boasts all the beautiful proportions and comfortable grandeur that a prosperous man of the cloth could expect back in the 1840s, when it was designed and built for the Reverend Robert Tripp.
"The house is just on the cusp of the time when Georgian architecture made way for Victorian," says its owner Frank Green. "So you have the elegant proportions of the Georgian classical style, combined with the size and comfort of the later Victorian influence."
With five generous-size bedrooms, each with its own spacious en-suite bathroom and walk-in wardrobe, it is no surprise that Penhallow Manor was, for many years, a country house hotel. But Frank and his family have enjoyed it simply as a family home, not to mention an all-absorbing restoration project.
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"We have restored just about everything here over the years," says Frank. "It's been a labour of love for us to bring the house back to its former glory."
The house is now quite simply a perfect example of its type, with a stunning cantilevered staircase rising up through the centre of the house and elegant well proportioned rooms leading off it.
"The kitchen took us the longest to design and source," says Frank. "We had the cabinets made to reflect the design of the original room doors.
"The fridge, freezer and dishwasher are all behind cupboard doors so that it looks completely original, yet is extremely convenient and easy to cook in."
In many of the rooms, the furniture has been painstakingly sourced from all over the country. "We bought the bookcase in our drawing room from an old rectory in Ireland," says Frank. "It looks perfect in the room as it has all the right proportions."
When Frank and his family took on the house, it had not been renovated for several decades and was in sore need of some TLC, Frank remembers. "All the bathrooms were poor quality, the carpets were awful and the place was thoroughly run down," he says. Since then, he and his wife have spared no effort, or expense, to right the wrongs perpetrated on this lovely house over the years.
An example of their painstaking attitude to restoration is in the little brass handles of the restored shutters on the windows.
"We had the shutters renovated to be exactly as they were in 1842, but I could not find the right brass handles to suit them anywhere," says Frank.
"It may sound mad but in the end I had a cast made and got all the shutter handles newly cast, using historic Victorian brass. I'm an absolute stickler – it's got to be right."
This attention to detail even extended to repaving the area outside the house with original granite cobbles bought as salvage. The effect is stunning. "The cobbles are early 19th century and very appropriate for the house. Tarmac or concrete would be utterly out of keeping with the property," says Frank.
The couple's exquisite taste means that the house is painted throughout in lovely Farrow and Ball colours, with carefully-sourced furniture to suit the house's Grade II listed status.
There are also so many convenient touches to make everyday life easy, such as a large, slate-flagged boot room. This has with marble-topped work surfaces and a huge built-in cupboard just for shoes and coats. Indeed, storage is certainly no problem at all in the house. As well as generous-size cupboards throughout, there is also a large laundry room. And downstairs in the basement there are two storage rooms and a gym, too.
"One of the storage rooms still has the original slate shelves," says Frank. "We've kept them and use it as a wine cellar."
And throughout the house, all the restoration has been carried out in sympathy with the house's history. The back stairs, once used by the 10 servants who worked here in the 1840s, have a newel post at the top that still bears a slight thumb imprint worn into the wood.
"Can you imagine, this was created over years by the hard-working folk who came up the stairs carrying water, trays and heavy coal scuttles to the fireplaces," says Frank. "I couldn't dream of replacing it, it is so evocative of the way people lived here 150 years ago."
But despite its history and status, the house is very much a family home, and can be lived in with comfort in the 21st just as much as the 19th century. Because the house stands in the centre of its 3/4 acre grounds, the sun moves around the house all day, flooding it with light through the original Georgian windows. There is even a morning room designed especially to catch the best of the sunshine in the morning.
"We think the vicar used to receive his visitors here," says Frank.
By all accounts, the house's original owner, Mr Tripp, enjoyed both great wealth and influence. He also had the world's prettiest commute to work – just a few steps on foot across his garden and through his own private wrought iron gate to Altarnun's church door.
One of the largest and most architecturally interesting churches in Cornwall, it is often known as "The Cathedral of the Moor" because is serves such a large parish across the wilds of Bodmin Moor.
Indeed, the famous novelist Daphne du Maurier visited Penhallow Manor and used it as inspiration for her world-renowned story Jamaica Inn. Without giving away too much of the plot of this tale of murder and derring do, one of du Maurier's lead characters, Francis Davey, was the "Vicar of Altarnun" and a pretty colourful character, to say the least. The Reverend Tripp, by contrast, lived here peacefully for many years with his wife Elizabeth – and not a smuggler or shipwreck in sight.
Intriguingly, the current owners still have Rev Tripp's original architectural drawings for the house framed on the wall. They make a fascinating talking point and will, they say, stay with the house and its new owners.
Altarnun these days is still a gloriously unspoilt and peaceful place, and must be one of the most picturesque villages in Cornwall. It has a renowned gastro pub, The Rising Sun, and a wealth of original stone cottages clustering around the historic church.
"It seems so rural here but we are also extremely well connected," says Frank. "You can be on the A30 in no time. It's less than an hour from here to Truro, Exeter and Plymouth."
There is, however, fantastic countryside right on the doorstep of this house, with the wilds of Bodmin Moor nearby and the house itself bordered by fields and trees. So it's no surprise that the manor's three-bedroomed former coach house, now run as a holiday let, is so popular with visitors.
"We have people coming back year after year," says Frank. "They love the area. The coach house is so well suited to a family, as it has two double bedrooms upstairs and another bedroom downstairs, all with en-suite bathrooms."
The house also has an annexe beside the coach house that could easily be turned into a two-bedroomed holiday let, offering the potential to add value and another income stream to this property.
All in all, this is the perfect example of the house of so many people's dreams, offering beauty, comfort and stunning architecture. "We wish the new owners every happiness here," says Frank. "We've certainly enjoyed every moment of our time at Penhallow Manor."