Posts Tagged ‘St. Ives’

Since I am currently studying in Canterbury, it would be unthinkable for me, Virginia Woolf’s admirer and scholar, not to visit St. Ives, the mythic place that inspired the most of Virginia Woolf’s novels, but particularly Jacob’s Room, To the Lighthouse and The Waves.

Talland House

My own exploration of the site has been inspired by Ratha Tep’s Back to the lighthouse: In search of Virginia Woolf’s lost Eden in Cornwall” that appeared in The New York Times on Feb. 26, 2018.

However, as I and my husband chose to visit St. Ives at the very beginning of November, the weather conditions did not permit us to see all the places we had longed to see.

From London to St. Erth

We started our journey to St. Ives early on Friday morning and after we had arrived in London, we boarded the Great Western Service from London to St. Erth.

Surprisingly, the five-hour journey turned out to be quite tolerable, thanks to the comfortable service and a good read (Woolf’s Orlando). How different, longer and more uncomfortable the Stephens’ journey must have been at the turn of the 20th century, with all the luggage and servants packed for their summer stay in Talland House!

In St. Erth we had to change for a local service running to St. Ives, a beautiful scenic ride alongside the Cornish coast.

In St. Ives

We arrived in St. Ives around 6 p.m. and made our way up the hill to our B&B that I had chosen due to its location with a view of The Island with St. Nicholas Chapel and Godrevy Lighthouse – the lighthouse!

Although we found a lot of useful information about tourist attractions in St. Ives and its surroundings in a folder in our room, the official guide booklet did not mention Virginia Woolf and the Stephens as famous residents of the town.

The view from our window – Godrevy Lighthouse in the distance
The view of the Island and St. Nicholas Chapel

Exploring the town

The following day, which was extremely windy, we started our exploration of the town. In spite of the construction of modern buildings, numerous hotels and other vacation accommodation, the spirit of the old town from the Stephens’ days was still noticeable – crooked hilly streets in the centre, several churches and the incessant sound of breaking waves.

After hiking up to St. Nicholas Chapel, we visited Talland House, which is located right above the local railway station and which is nowadays, unfortunately, encircled by quite ugly blocks of summer apartments. Luckily, the house is now in the hands of Chris and Angela Roberts who try to renovate the house and re-create the garden in its original spirit. You can read about their praiseworthy effort on a sign attached to the wall of the house.

Woolf talks about her father’s discovery of the house in “A Sketch of the Past” as follows:

Father on one of his walking tours, it must have been in 1881, I think – discovered St. Ives. He must have stayed there, and seen Talland House to let. He must have seen the town almost as it had been in the sixteenth century, without hotels, or villas; and the Bay as it had been since time began. It was the first year, I think, that the line was made from St Erth to St Ives – before that, St Ives was eight miles from a railway. Munching his sandwiches up at Trengenna perhaps, he must have been impressed, in his silent way, by the beauty of the Bay; and thought: this might do for your summer holiday, and worked out with his usual caution ways and means.

Main shopping street in the town centre
Talland House – the steps below the left French window are those where the Stephens used to take their family photo
Sign about the current owners’ aim for Talland House garden
Talland House garden

View from the garden

Even though the house is not opened to the public to admire its Victorian beauties, we were still able to appreciate the view from the garden – Godrevy Lighthouse in the distance, which made Leslie Stephen move his London household to St. Ives every summer until 1894. We visited the garden in an inappropriate season so we could not see its blooming flowers.

However, we were able to see the steps below the left French window of the house where the family used to sit and have their family pictures taken. Moreover, the window directly makes you think of the window from the novel To the Lighthouse which symbolised the distance and seemingly impassable boundary between the house and the lighthouse, or the private life of the family and the outside.

Quite surprisingly, despite the distance from the ocean, the breaking of waves was still audible from the garden of Talland House, as well as from our hotel room, with the same intensity as Woolf describes in the following quotation from “A Sketch of the Past”:

If life has a base that it stands upon, if it is a bowl that one fills and fills and fills – then my bowl without a doubt stands upon this memory. It is of lying asleep, half awake, in bed in the nursery at St Ives. It is of hearing the waves breaking, one, two, one, two, and sending a splash of water over the beach; and then breaking, one, two, one, two, behind a yellow blind.

The view of the Lighthouse from Talland House garden

The fact that Woolf places this memory of St Ives and at the base of her life-experience bowl reveals how much she was influenced by the place. As she mentions later in the same memoir, “In retrospect nothing that we had as children made as much difference, was quite so important to us, as our summers in Cornwall”, by which she admits the formative effect of the Stephens’ holidays on the Cornish coast. It was so overwhelming to stand in front of the house to which Woolf pays tribute in To the Lighthouse, but sadly, without being able to talk to the Stephens.

To the lighthouse . . . sort of

The following day we decided to pursue James’s childish wish to visit the lighthouse. Owing to windy weather conditions and rough sea we were forced to abandon the idea of making a boat trip and we went by bus to Upton Towans (line T2 for those who would like to do the same) and from there we followed the Coastal Path to Godrevy Beach and the headland providing the best view of Godrevy Lighthouse.

The scenery along the path was astonishing and it was exciting to approach closer and closer the lighthouse which is the main source of the novel’s symbolism. The inner voice in my head was repeating Mr. Ramsay’s excuse “It won’t be fine” and Nancy’s and Lily’s concern about “What does one send to the Lighthouse?”

When we got to the closest viewpoint on the mainland, we sat on a bench and observed waves breaking on the little island’s shore. It is a pity that today you cannot see the lighthouse’s rotating “yellow eye” because it has been replaced by LED light mounted on a platform nearby the original lighthouse.

I must frankly admit that after two days of harsh wind and rain, after getting soaked while watching seals in a cove, I started to be more sympathetic to Mr. Ramsay’s scathing sentence “It won’t be fine” – was he just the more rational one? Did my own journey to the lighthouse reconcile me with the man?

Coastal path to Godrevy Lighthouse
Godrevy Lighthouse

I would recommend visiting St. Ives to all those who are deeply in love with Virginia Woolf and her writing because it is great to get a sense of the place that I had been imagining in my head for at least a decade.

More Cornish coast magic to explore

Unfortunately, we did not have time to visit surrounding villages such as Zennor where Woolf lived when she returned to the town as an adult woman. I am convinced that this visit to St. Ives is not our last one and that we will continue exploring the magic of the Cornish coast and landscape. We definitely need to make a boat trip from St. Ives to the lighthouse, which must be really enjoyable in the summer.


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Virginia Woolf common reader Nell Toemen was visiting St. Ives this week and sent Blogging Woolf the accompanying photo of Talland House, where local residents Chris and Angela Roberts are sprucing up the garden.

For more on visiting St. Ives, see In Her Steps.

Talland House, St. Ives, Cornwall

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View of Porthminster Beach while walking to Talland House, June 2004

Last September Ratha Tep, a contributing writer for the New York Times Footsteps column, emailed me. She was looking for answers to questions and names of people to contact concerning Virginia Woolf and St. Ives.

Her piece, “In Search of Virginia Woolf’s Lost Eden in Cornwall,” appeared online today and will be in the March 4 print edition. It is marvelous, full of history, love for Woolf as a literary and feminist pioneer, and touring tips for St. Ives and Cornwall that connect us to Virginia’s experiences there.

It also provides an optimistic update about the apartment complex to be built below Talland House that threatened the view and elicited protests from Woolfians around the globe nearly three years ago.

Connecting to the Tate exhibit

Tep’s travelogue is quite timely as well, connecting to the Tate St. Ives exhibit, “Virginia Woolf: An Exhibition Inspired by Her Writings.” Sadly, that show ends April 29, nearly two months before many of us will be in England for the 28th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf.

I visited St. Ives in 2004, taking the six-hour train ride on the Great Western Railway, visiting Talland House — where we were invited in by the woman who occupied the first floor flat — and traipsing around the charming town.

I have not been back since then. After reading Tepp’s piece, my desire to return is stronger than ever.

Long an admirer of this modernist literary pioneer, not only for how Woolf redefined the possibilities of the novel but, for the simple reason that no other writer has given me, sentence for sentence, such pleasure, I decided to go in search of Woolf in her early years. – Ratha Tep, NYT

Porthminster Beach, June 2004

St. Ives Bay, with Godrevy Island and lighthouse in the distance, June 2004

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Woolfians who can travel to Cornwall in September may be interested in these two events with Sarah Latham Phillips, author of Virginia Woolf as a ‘Cubist’ Writer, available from Cecil Woolf Publishers.


St. Ives September Festival, Virginia Woolf & Vanessa Bell

When: Friday 15 September 2017, 10:30 a.m.
Where: Porthmeor Studio, Back Road West, St Ives, Cornwall, TR26 1NG

What: Two artistic sisters: Virginia Woolf & Vanessa Bell, who spent part of their childhood in St Ives. Sarah will discuss its influence on their art and writing and their own relationship and ambitions.

Cost: Tickets £5.50
Reservations: at http://www.crbo.co.uk/events.php?evGrp=195

Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse

Godrevy Lighthouse, St. Ives, Cornwall

When: Monday 18 September 2017, 10:30 a.m. – 4:15 p.m.
Where: Red Store, Riverside, Lerryn, Nr Lostwithiel, Cornwall,

What: Study day on To the Lighthouse
Cost: Tickets are £25 for the day and include coffee, tea and biscuits. Bring your
own lunch.
Reservations: Please contact Sarah at phillipsfamily1234@yahoo.co.uk for further details.

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Encouraging news has arrived from the UK. The proposed development that threatened to destroy Virginia Woolf’s view Godrevy Lighthouseof Godrevy Lighthouse from Talland House, has stalled.

The move comes after Woolf scholars and common readers from around the globe raised an outcry using email, social media and the Web. Their efforts generated media coverage that included the BBC and resulted in the Cornwall Council Planning Committee postponing its decision on the project.

Now a helpful source from Cornwall Council emailed this news to Woolf scholar Maggie Humm:  “The application has been affected by the affordable housing changes…at this stage the application is not likely to go to the planning committee.”

Here’s what this means. In November 2014, the Conservative (Tory) Party ruled that developments of 10 or less could avoid paying an affordable-housing levy or offering any such housing in their development.  Humm said this provision offered licence for any developer.

In early August, the High Court threw out this legislation, so the developer of the St. Ives project, which included a six-story block of six flats and a car park to be constructed in front of Talland House, must rethink the economic viability of the project and resubmit it.

In addition, a local resident forwarded Blogging Woolf an email from English Heritage saying legislation includes a provision to “avoid harm to the setting of a listed building if it contributes to the significance of the building.” Talland House is considered Grade II, which means it is “nationally important and of special interest.  The St. Ives resident cited National Planning Framework Section 12 paras. 128,9,132 and noted that he would add this information to the planning comments page for the project, PA15/04337.

Woolf and her family summered at Talland House for the first 12 years of her life. The lighthouse she could see from her summer home plays an integral role in her famous novel To the Lighthouse (1927).

Plus here is more good news that indicates the St. Ives Town Council may be taking the preservation of local history more seriously: The Council recently voted down a different application to build on an ancient site.

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Godrevy Lighthouse

Photo: Blogging Woolf

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.

Screenshot of St. Ives Deputy Mayor Tamsyn Williams's email regarding the vote by St. Ives Town Council on the proposed plan

Screenshot of St. Ives Deputy Mayor Tamsyn Williams’s first 7/14/15email regarding the vote by St. Ives Town Council on the proposed plan

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.)

Screenshot of St. Ives Deputy Mayor Tamsyn Williams’s second email regarding the vote by St. Ives Town Council on the proposed plan

Screenshot of St. Ives Deputy Mayor Tamsyn Williams’s second 7/14/15 email regarding the vote by St. Ives Town Council on the proposed plan

Residents protest

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 six-flat construction project is outlines in green on this map, which is part of application PA15/04337. Talland House is located behind it to the left and is labeled as such.

The six-flat construction project is outlined in green on this map, which is part of application PA15/04337. Talland House is located behind it to the left and is labeled as such.

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.

Front view of the proposed project

Cutaway view of the proposed construction project that will block the view from Talland House. It will apparently have five levels above ground.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.

Bank with a wall and vegetation

Bank with a wall and vegetation

Construction yard

Construction yard

Woolfians worldwide raise their voices in protest

Talland HouseEarlier 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.

Other Woolf scholars and readers who have sent protest letters include Vara Neverow and Maggie Humm. You can read their letters by clicking on their names above.

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.

Facebook post from St. Ives resident

Facebook post from St. Ives resident

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 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 planning@cornwall.gov.uk. 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: derek.thomas.mp@parliament.uk 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.

Architect's drawings of the existing floor plans and elevations for the proposed development.

Architect’s drawings of the existing floor plans and elevations for the proposed development.

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: townclerk@stivestowncouncil.co.uk.

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: timandrewes@stivestowncouncil.co.uk
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: tamsynwilliams@stivestowncouncil.co.uk
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:

Updated: July 10, July 11, July 12, July 13, July 14, July 15, July 16, July 17, and July 22, 2015

Links to past news from Woolf’s Cornwall

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The London SceneBeginning in 1924, cinematographer Claude Friese-Greene borrowed a flash convertible and traveled across the UK with his new color film camera, filming the sights.

He ended his 840-mile road trip in London, the subject of Virginia Woolf’s six essays included in The London Scene, originally published in Good Housekeeping magazine beginning in December 1931 and published as a collection in 1981.

In the capitol city, Claude Friese-Greene filmed some stunning images using a unique experimental color process developed with his father. His plan was to produce a series of 26 ten-minute British travelogues, to be shown before the feature film at cinemas. After just a few screenings at trade fairs, though, Friese-Greene abandoned the project.

After his death in 1943, his footage for The Open Road, shot between 1924 and 1926, was donated to the National Film and Television Archive. It was later revived and restored by the BFI. The BBC then used it to produce a three-part documentary with the BFI titled The Lost World of Friese-GreeneNews of Friese-Greene’s beautiful footage went viral early last year.

Now videographer Simon Smith has attempted to capture all of Friese-Green’s London shots by standing in his footsteps and using modern equipment. His personal study reveals how little London has changed. Special thanks to @sideshow_val for sending Blogging Woolf the tip about the 2013 version of the London footage.

And here is a 19-second clip of Friese-Greene’s footage filmed in Woolf’s beloved St. Ives, Cornwall.

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