The writer John le Carré’s impossibly romantic house has come to the market, set in a position as dramatic as anything to be seen in fiction.
In the late 1960s, the author John le Carré (born David Cornwell, but forbidden from writing under his own name when employed by MI5 and MI6) was staying with an old friend, the Cornish artist John Miller. Miller lived in a house in West Penwith in Cornwall’s far west, on a sparsely populated peninsula ringed by high cliffs and surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic Ocean.
One day, when walking along the cliffs at Tregiffian, near the village of St Buryan, le Carré passed three derelict fisherman’s cottages and a barn overlooking the coast between St Loy and Lamorna. He fell in love with the place.
Armed with the proceeds of The Spy Who Came in From The Cold (1963), the second of his bestselling espionage novels set against the backdrop of the Cold War, le Carré tracked down the owner of the property, a local farmer, and bought the cottages, together with 27 acres of land, including a mile of coastline, much of which he later donated to the National Trust.
Over the years, le Carré and his wife, Jane, restored and adapted the cottages and outbuildings into the comfortable, but unpretentious coastal retreat that was to be their family home for more than 40 years, until his death, from pneumonia, in December 2020. Jane died from cancer two months later, in February 2021.
Tregiffian Cottage, where, according to one obituary, ‘Mr le Carré charmed the armies of interviewers who came to his cliff-top home’, is now for sale, on behalf of the Cornwell family, through Chris Clifford of Savills in Exeter.
Mr Clifford quotes a guide price of £3 million for the 5,071sq ft main house, its detached annexe, studio, offices and outbuildings, the whole set in just under 3½ acres of gardens and grounds, with direct access to the South West Coast Path.
Tregiffian Cottage faces south and looks directly out to sea, with views to the Isles of Scilly on a clear day. The village of Lamorna, 2½ miles away by road or on foot via the coastal path, boasts a strong artistic community and a traditional Cornish pub, The Wink — a reminder of a time when that gesture was the sign that illegal contraband was available.
The vibrant harbour town of Newlyn, five miles distant, is a busy fishing port, famous for its association with the Newlyn School of Artists of the late 1800s, whereas the historic town of Penzance, six miles away, provides good shopping, schools and direct trains to London Paddington.
Inside, the house offers an adaptable layout that incorporates a self-contained guest wing. The main reception rooms include a large drawing room with an open fireplace, oak-panelled walls and a splendid west-facing bay window with a door to the garden; the library is a work of art, with bespoke joinery and a window at one end, glazed with what is said to be part of the canopy from a Second World War Spitfire; a seaward-facing conservatory has mesmerising views out to sea.
Three upstairs bedrooms include a principal bedroom suite with a barrelled ceiling, an en-suite bathroom and a semi-circular bay window with far-reaching coastal views to the west.
Outside, the neat, detached annexe/studio building has reception and office space on the ground floor, with stairs leading to the inner sanctum, le Carré’s writing room.
Recommended videos for you Here he penned, among many other works, not only the sequels to The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, including the ‘Karla’ trilogy of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974), The Honourable Schoolboy (1977) and Smiley’s People (1979), but, more recently, The Night Manager (1993); The Constant Gardener (2001); Our Kind of Traitor (2010), and, posthumously, Silverview, edited by his son, Nicholas, a successful novelist in his own right under the pen-name of Nick Harkaway.
Tregiffian Cottage is for sale through Savills in Exeter — see more pictures and details
Fig 1: The south front of Cornwell Manor, photographed by Paul Highnam for Country Life. The house as it stands now is a mid-Georgian refacing of a 17th-century and earlier house. Credit: Paul Highnam for Country Life Cornwell Manor, Oxfordshire — the family home of Alexander Ward — is a medieval house, developed in the 18th century
Credit: Strutt & Parker Escape to the country via Coxley House — a lovely property situated on the edge of the Mendip Hills Area
Cold War agent George Smiley is back after 25 years. To celebrate John le Carré’s new novel, Katy Birchall presents
Aerial view of Stonehenge, Wiltshire. Credit: Alamy Stock Photo Jason Goodwin muses on economics, Stonehenge and social media.