This ancient building has to be one of the oldest houses in Cornwall and is certainly one of the most distinctive. Its delightfully ramshackle appearance with a marvellously undulating slate roof makes it seem like something out of a Grimm’s fairy tale! But what is the history of this wonderful Cornish building?
The cottage originally stood in a hamlet known as Trevena which eventually grew into the Tintagel village that we all know today. It was first built some 600 years ago in c1380 as a small single storey farmhouse with a central hearth that was open to a thatch roof where a hole let the smoke escape.
This medieval building has then been added to and modified over the centuries. During the 16th and 17th centuries a brown slate replaced the thatch, timber panelling was installed instead of plain stone walls and a fireplace and central chimney stack were added. It was eventually considered to be a small manor house or perhaps grand home for a steward to a local manor.
In March 1896 the Devon & Cornwall Post romantically claimed that it was the home of notorious wreckers who preyed on the coast near Tintagel, bringing back their bounty to the house in the dead of night. How much truth there is in this story isn’t clear. More recently the house has become known as the ‘Old Post Office’ as up until the end of the 19th century it functioned as one as well as a little shop which was laterly run by a man called William Cobbledick Balkwill.
Around this time however the Old Post Office had fallen in serious disrepair. And there were rumours that it would be demolished and the plot used for building. Fortunately a local woman, Miss Catherine Johns, was determined to see the house preserved, she managed to buy the Old Post Office at auction in 1895, apparently paying well beyond her means for it. She set about trying to save the old building and a number of local artists, who often used the characterful cottage as a subject for paintings, sold their work to raise money to help pay for essential repairs.
National Trust supports Tintagel’s Old Post Office
In around 1900 Miss Johns decided to offer the Old Post Office to the National Trust for £200. This was far less than she had paid for it, with the stipulation that she could continue to live there on a lifetime lease at a nominal rent. The Trust set about raising the funds by donation and eventually took over the property in 1903. Since then it has become one of the most popular places to visit in the area, as well as Tintagel castle of course.
The repairs, including taking the roof apart and numbering each and every tile so that they could be replaced in exactly the right order, have been made since the Trust took over to ensure that this wonderful building will still be here in another 600 years time!