A Wildly Dramatic Clifftop Home Built By The Man Who Escaped The Cornish Tin Mines To Become An International Diamond Trader

The beautiful home of Porthledden is a classic tale of local boy made good — but Francis Oats didn’t get to enjoy it for long.

When young Cornishman Francis Oats left school in the early 1860s, he became a miner, as did many of his classmates in west Cornwall. Yet, with an eye on a bigger prize, he would walk the seven miles from his home in St Just across the fields to Penzance, in order to attend evening classes in mining engineering.

His efforts paid off, and years later he would return to the area to build a grand house which is currently up or sale at £5m.

After excelling in exams, he was offered free tuition at the London School of Mines and was made a local mining captain at the age of 20.

Moving to South Africa, he became chairman of De Beers and a close ally of Cecil Rhodes, accruing a significant fortune in the diamond mines and gold fields along the way.

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In a real-life echo of Winston Graham’s ‘Poldark’ saga, he championed the welfare of the Cornish tin miners who had followed in his footsteps to South Africa and convinced De Beers to pay annual leave for every expat miner.

Cape Cornwall is a headland about a mile east of St Just, which juts into the point where the Irish Sea and Atlantic Ocean meet. At the height of the mining industry, it was heavily industrialised, but, today, it’s a rugged and wild piece of coastline.

When it came up for sale at the beginning of the 20th century, Oats snapped it up and commissioned the building of his family house, Porthledden. Constructed between 1907 and 1910, the large Arts-and-Crafts house occupies an elevated position looking down on the Cape.

Having only spent a very short time at Porthledden, Oats died in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. The house was converted into a hotel in the 1920s and, later, an evacuee girls’ school, before eventually being used as a wedding venue. It lay empty for a while, until a concerned group of locals campaigned for it to be listed and, in 2004, a new owner stepped forward and renovations began.

The house was stripped back to its shell and restored, retaining many original features alongside upgrades, including more bathrooms, a large eat-in kitchen and the installation of marine-grade stainless steel and non-ferrous metals to protect it from the coastal elements.

Approached down an immaculate gravel drive, there are mesmerising views from nearly all the rooms; on a clear day, it’s possible to see out to the Isles of Scilly.

Now on the market with Savills at £5 million, selling agent George Hill describes Porthledden as ‘one of Cornwall’s premier coastal residences’.

An ideal home for a large family or those who enjoy entertaining, there are 10 bedrooms, nine bathrooms and four reception rooms in the main house, with a separate three-bedroom guest apartment.

Following further improvements by the current owners, Porthledden now has a highly efficient biomass heating system to work alongside a geothermal one.

The 7¼ acres of grounds include a walled garden — a handy shelter for when the wind picks up — and a productive kitchen garden. There are also equestrian facilities, including a stable block and tack room.

As for the remote location, almost on the western tip of Britain? ‘For some, it’s almost at the end of the earth,’ says Mr Hill, ‘but others find the adventure, and perhaps particularly the contrast from London, exciting. Plus, it’s almost unheard of to find a house this size and in this condition with land and outbuildings overlooking the sea.’

Porthledden is for sale via Savills at £5m — see more details and pictures.

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