Editor’s Note: See July 22, 2015, update, Virginia Woolf fans save the view — for now
The view Virginia Woolf had of the Cornish coast is under threat by the proposed construction of a six-story block of six flats and a car park.
As a member of the Stephen family, Woolf summered in St. Ives for the first 12 years of her life, staying at Talland House. Her visits there — and the view of Godrevy Lighthouse from their summer home — formed the backdrop as well as the inspiration for her famous novel To the Lighthouse (1927).
Now that view, as well as a piece of important literary history, may be wiped out if construction plans proposed by developer Porthminster Beach View Ltd. are approved by Cornwall Council. The property in question is located south of Chy An Porth The Terrace St Ives Cornwall TR26 2BP in the East Ward of St. Ives Parish.
Cecil Woolf, Leonard’s nephew and owner of Cecil Woolf Publishers of London, weighed in on the subject via email. In his July 15 message, he wrote:
About the proposal to build a block of six flats and a car park in front of Talland House, which should, of course, be protected by English Heritage — I am appalled. This is sheer vandalism and should be stopped now.
Background and history of the proposal
St. Ives Town Council approved the proposed construction plan by a vote of 6-5 when it came up for consideration on May 25, 2015, according to an email Tamsyn Williams, Councillor and former St. Ives Deputy Mayor, sent to Blogging Woolf on July 13 in response to our protest email.
In a follow-up email she sent at 2:48 a.m. EST on July 14, she said the Council was not informed that the new building would interfere with the view from Talland House. If she had known, she said, she would have voted against it. Here is what Williams said in that email:
I wish that I had been alerted to the loss of the view when the application came before us, the town council, back in May so that I could have voted against it on that basis. But it was not raised as a concern or a possibility. – Tamsyn Williams, Councillor and former St. Ives Deputy Mayor, 14 July 2015 email to Paula Maggio, Blogging Woolf editor
I am including a screenshot of the email within this post because at 12:03 p.m. EST on July 14, Williams emailed me a denial that she made the statement and asked that I remove it from this post. A screenshot of that email is posted below as well.
Since then, in a June 16 email, Williams asserted via email that she voted against the project when it came before St. Ives Town Council in May.
Here is what she wrote in that email:
“I have been talking with fellow town councillors and I just wanted you to know that I did vote against this application which is what I felt sure was the case . . .
I do need to point out that loss of view is not a planning consideration in the strictest of terms, albeit so important in this case. If Talland House is listed – and I am not sure whether it is – then it could be argued that the new development would affect the setting of the house, which is slightly different but similar to loss of view, but even then there is so much modern development gone up in that area sadly that even that argument may be dubious.
There was planning permission given for that site a few years ago for an even higher building which is basically why the town council went for this option because it seemed a better alternative. But I did not vote for it.”
Note: Talland House is listed as Grade II. See details below.
Porthminster Beach View Ltd. submitted the planning application to the Cornwall Council on May 8. The Council was expected to make a decision on July 14. However, that decision appears to be delayed, according to this July 15 story in the Western Morning News.
Planning documents are available at this link. They include the application, floor plans, architectural drawings, maps and reports. (Note: The planning website was down from July 14-15, an unfortunate coincidence.)
Local residents, many of whom are aware of the area’s literary importance, have lodged complaints against the plans, according to the Western Morning News.
The newspaper reported that St. Ives resident Chris Roberts, who has already written to the council in opposition, said: “It will be an eyesore for one of the few places that is still available to residents of St Ives to be still affordable to live. The building behind is listed* and the view from it was the basis for Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse book.
“The building in front has already damaged this view. People living nearby have to suffer due to the bad road system in the summer, so building works throughout the winter will remove the only bit of calm.”
What the project looks like
As these two screenshots show, the proposed project will have multiple stories that will block the view from Talland House. The multi-story building will have three levels of flats above ground and two levels of parking above ground on one side of the structure. A third parking level will be below ground.
I took these screenshots from the document titled “2014/2472/D01 Location Plan, Proposed Block Plan, Floor Plans and Streetscape,” one of the planning documents that are part of the application posted on the Cornwall Council planning page of the website.
Here is what the area looks like now, according to screenshots of photos included in an environmental impact report posted with the application. It is apparent that nothing currently exists on this site that would block the view.
Woolfians worldwide raise their voices in protest
Earlier plans for the construction of $3 million worth of flats near Talland House in 2003, sparked protests from Woolfians around the world, who wrote to object. Let’s hope we can have the same impact this time.
The International Virginia Woolf Society has spread word of the ill-advised project through its listserv and through the VWoolf Listserv. The IVWS sent a letter of objection to the plan to the Cornwall Council and the St. Ives Town Council. Scroll down for those email addresses.
The Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain has been contacted, and that organization has sent an official letter of protest. They are also urging their members to write and have posted a series of updates about the issue on their Facebook page, including images from this blog post.
Woolf readers and scholars are also posting comments objecting to the plan on the Cornwall Council’s comments page for PA15/04337. Those objecting include Virginia Nicholson, Woolf’s great-niece; Gill Lowe; Judith Allen; Jeanette McVicker; Vara Neverow; Erin Kingsley; Patrizia Muscogiuri; Maggie Humm, Andre Gerard; Kristin Czarnecki, president of the International Virginia Woolf Society; and Stephen Barkway and Sheila Wilkinson, board members of the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain.
At 8 a.m. on July 13, there were 13 public comments posted on the site. Twelve hours later, that number had grown to 38. By July 17 there were 62, all objecting to the plan.
A St. Ives resident posted the photo at right on Facebook. In it, the red line shows the height of the neighboring buildings. The submitted plan says the new building will obliterate the view up to the red line. This photo was included in David Wells’s July 15 Western Morning News story mentioned below.
Writers chime in
Western Morning News:stories by David Wells:
- The original July 9 article on the planned construction project that would eradicate Woolf’s view from Talland House: “Virginia Woolf’s view of Cornish coast – the inspiration for her novel To The Lighthouse– under threat from flats plan“
- July 10: “Virginia Woolf’s legion of fans – Woolfians – unite to halt plans that threaten ‘To The Lighthouse’ view of Cornish coast,” a follow-up story reporting on the worldwide response to the view-destroying plan after asking Woolfians to send him their thoughts about Woolf’s importance as a writer and the plan itself. His plea was shared by the IVWS through the VWoolf Listserv.
- July 14: “11 landscapes and locations that inspired great literary works,” which mentions the current dispute.
- July 15: “Image reveals how Virginia Woolf’s view of Godrevy Lighthouse ‘could be lost forever’
The Cornishman published two stories as well: “St Ives view that inspired Virginia Woolf to write To the Lighthouse could be ruined by flats” on July 9 and “’Woolfians’ bark their opposition to flats plan that will ruin lighthouse view” on July 11.
Christopher Frizzelle, editor-in-chief of The Stranger, wrote this article, published July 13: “Virginia Woolf Fans Versus the Developer Who Wants to Block the To the Lighthouse View.”
And The Telegraph picked up on the story, publishing Wells’s piece on July 14: “Iconic view that inspired Virginia Woolf threatened by plan to build flats.”
Add your voice to protect the historic view: Use email, social media, the Web
To submit your objections to the plan, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include the planning application number: PA15/04337 in your message.
You can also post a message on the Cornwall Council Facebook page or tweet a message to Cornwall Council @CornwallCouncil.
You can post a comment on the planning application at this link, but you must register first. To do so, you are required to have a UK postal code. One Woolfian suggested using the Talland House postal code, which is TR26 2EH. I did that and was able to register successfully.
A St. Ives local suggests we tweet Derek Thomas, West Cornwall’s representative in Parliament, asking him to intervene against this ill-advised plan. His contact details are: House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA, Tel: 020 7219 4435, email: email@example.com You can also post a comment on his Facebook page or tweet to him @DerekThomasMP. Cecil Woolf also suggested we contact the MPs for the area and advised that we contact English Heritage as well.
Note about Talland House’s historical importance
*Talland House was included on the UK’s Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest on 22 December 1972. This means it “may not be demolished, extended or altered without special permission from the local planning authority,” according to the British Listed Buildings website. Only about 500,000 buildings in the UK are on the list. Talland House is considered Grade II, which means it is “nationally important and of special interest. Ninety-two percent of all listed buildings are in this class.
Email St. Ives Council
From Patrizia Muscogiuri: I think it may be a good idea to send emails to St Ives Town Council as well. They may have little saying in terms of granting or denying construction permits on that site but they need to be aware of the fact that there is a whole community of people travelling to their town because of that seascape and heritage connection with Virginia Woolf who are opposing this project. If they are also against it, by letting them know we’ll give them more power if they complain to the Cornwall Council. You can email St Ives Town Council at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Talland House is part of St Ives East Ward 1. I suggest emailing Tim Andrewes and Tamsyn Williams. Williams also has connections with Tate.
Councillor Tim Andrewes: email@example.com
Councillor Tim Andrewes represents St Ives East Ward at Town level and St Ives East Ward at Cornwall Council. At the town council, Councillor Andrewes serves on a number of committees including the Planning Committee and the Community & Environment Committee.
Councillor Tamsyn Williams: firstname.lastname@example.org
Councillor Wiliams is the town council’s Deputy Mayor, representing St Ives East Ward and serves on a number of committees including the Planning Committee and the Community & Environment Committee.
Other councillors representing the East Ward:
Councillor Ron Tulley (Community & Environment Committee)
Councillor Christine Chard (no email address)
Councillor Andrea Parsons (no email address)
Postal addresses and telephone numbers can be found here:
— David Wells (@WellsWMN) July 11, 2015
— Sarah M Hall (@sarahmhall) July 13, 2015
— Blogging Woolf (@woolfwriter) July 13, 2015
— Maria Popova (@brainpicker) July 13, 2015
Hi @cerysmatthews – any chance of speaking with you about the development plans that would spoil Virginia Woolf’s view to The Lighthouse?
— Miles Davis (@milesodavis) July 13, 2015
— The Stranger (@strangerslog) July 14, 2015
— ranvir singh (@ranvir01) July 15, 2015