WHO IS MERIEL?
I was right about the weather. You don’t get that green velvet undergrowth without regular supplies of every type of rain - soft and gentle (so good for the skin) and torrential downpours. Long after the rain has stopped the trees will shake their skirts and give you a gentle reminder. The two bridle paths at the end of our lane were completely flooded all week. However, passing through the little blue gate of Lew Quarry cottage was like stepping into a Beatrix Potter storybook. There were colour co-ordinated teddies on the beds and real live baby Peter Rabbits in the field with Squirrel Nutkins on the lawn.
The cottage was comfy and cosy with lots of pictures, one of which was of Sabine Baring-Gould 1834-1924 who had been the Squire of the Lewtrenchard Estate which consists of a manor house and gardens, a lake where the quarry had been and some cottages, one of which was ours. Something about his face made me want to find out more so I did a bit of sleuthing.
The Reverend Sabine Baring – Gould is best remembered for the hymns he wrote: ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ and ‘Now the Day is done’ but there was more to him than that. He didn’t have much schooling as he travelled with his father, but at fifteen he could speak a number of languages. He was ordained as an Anglican priest and worked in the north of England. In 1881 he inherited Lewtrenchard and was Squire and Parson till his death.
When he was in Yorkshire he met Grace – a simple Yorkshire lass, fell in love with her and sent her away to be educated before marrying her. One wonders what was of most use to her in later life – her natural northern nous or her imposed gentrification. Most of her life was taken up with the begetting and nurturing of fifteen children and I like to think that her Yorkshire pudding and parkin would be second to none.
Sabine and Grace’s story inspired George Bernard Shaw to write ‘Pygmalion’ which later morphed into ’My Fair Lady’. Sabine was one of life’s eccentrics and caused John Betjeman – himself a ‘character’ to say:
“What curate in an industrial parish in the North today would dare to single out a mill girl and have her sent to a place where she could learn to speak in an educated style and then marry her? "
He was said to have purloined ancient stones from other churches and placed them in his own and at one stage in his long life he was a teacher at Hurst Pierpont and taught with his pet bat on his shoulder.
Sabine's work as a rector enabled him to continue his love of travelling and he wrote many novels following his stay in a particular area. He published over 400 books and articles on subjects so diverse as Icelandic folk lore and candle snuffers. His passion was the collecting of traditional folk songs of Devon and Cornwall and there was a CD in the cottage illustrating this.
The Manor is now a swish hotel and as I knew there was a portrait of Grace in the dining room we arranged to have dinner there. When we booked, the receptionist said,
‘Oh you’re in Meriel’s cottage!’
I had already noticed a seat in the garden inscribed, in gratitude to Meriel from her four children. I had to discover who she was.
Dinner at Lewtrenchard was excellent – with a very attentive staff, and Grace’s portrait did not disappoint. She was simplicity itself in a plain black dress flanked by portraits of two Reynolds type beauties who highlighted her lack of artifice. The grounds and parkland were beautiful but work was afoot and I couldn't find the lake.
On our last day the sun shone and Helen – the friendly caretaker - invited me to walk up her long drive (next door) and follow a path which would take me to see the lake. Sabine – she told me - designed her ‘Hansel and Gretel’ type house over breakfast. Unfortunately my camera was recharging so I missed recording that and the opaline beauty of the lake, glimpsed way below through the trees.
And Merisl? Meriel is alive and well and living in America. She is American – her father settled there and she is the great granddaughter of Sabine and Grace. She is the owner of the estate which is leased to the hotel people and she owns our cottage. Twice a year she comes to stay which is one of the reasons it feel such a loving home. Thank you Meriel for letting us share your enchanted cottage.
PS We enjoyed the Lydford Gorge and the best value eating place was the Harris Arms at Portgate.