On the North Quay in Padstow there is a tumbledown looking building known as Abbey House. Built sometime in the 15th century, with origins possibly even older than that, it is widely considered the oldest building in Padstow, and perhaps even one of the oldest in Cornwall.
Abbey House was originally occupied by the ‘Guild of St Petroc’. Named after the saint said to have founded Padstow the Guild of St Petroc was a group of local traders who were noted as ‘skinners and glovers’, men who manufactured leather and produced leather gloves and other items. The guild was active in the community until the 16th century and then the house seems to have been purchased and then rented out by the Prideaux family.
The house is constructed of slate stone rubble with some timber frames and there is also an ancient Cataclew stone archway on the first floor, overlooking the harbour. Cataclew is the name of a quarry near Harlyn Bay which produced fine volcanic rock which was often used for fine decorative architectural stonework. The main domestic accommodation was on the upper floors with store rooms below and interestingly legend has it that there was once a tunnel leading from the cellar of Abbey House to the monastery of the hill above, though this has now been lost.
In 1938 Abbey House was sold at auction to Harry and Annie Simpson, a wealthy couple from London, for £600. Sadly just a few years after the sale in 1947 Harry was killed in a car crash and following his death his widow became something of a recluse.
Annie became increasingly eccentric in her old age and could often be seen standing in the arched window watching the world go by, sometimes making comments on it all to no one in particular. She became something of a celebrity, though local people did try to protect her from the curious onlookers as much as possible. Annie lived alone in the house until her death in 1981.
The ghost of Abbey House
Another famous occupant of Abbey House is its ghost. The ghost of a lady in Elizabethan dress, said to be a sad and rather lonely figure, has been seen climbing the granite stairs from the cellar and then making her way along the passage in the oldest part of the building. There are no clues as to the identity of this apparition however and since Annie Simpson’s death no one has actually lived in Abbey House for any length of time.
Thank you to Padstow Museum for some of these images, if you’re interested in reading more about Abbey House visit The Padstow Museum.