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News Archive > Sport > The castaways of Towan Island

The castaways of Towan Island

By Warren Wilkins 17th December 2003

THE ISLAND at Newquay, which is frequently painted and photographed, is one of the most famous landmarks in Cornwall.

It recently hit the national headlines when the present owners Lord and Lady Long threatened to take the council to court for not doing enough to stop late night parties on Towan Beach.

But as you will see The Island has a long and colourful history.

The momentous event when the Island was sold was at an auction at the Red Lion Hotel in Truro on October 25, 1838 at 3pm. The auctioneer was a Mr Tippett.

The sale was mentioned in Miss S Teague Husband’s book ‘Old Newquay.’

It said: "Richard Billing in 1838 was granted a lease for 99 years on Rose Cellars.

"At the same time his brother William had a lease for 99 years granted to him on the Island on the Town Beach.

"It would be interesting to know how the Island passed out of the hands of the Billings, seeing their lease does not expire till 1937.

"I have often seen the Billing brothers at work in their gardens on the Island, and I also have a dim recollection of a controversy going on in the Town respect-ing the Island property, and some other folks than the Billings laying claim to it."

The Billings appear to have been an enterprising family who acquired land at every opportunity.

John Hocking wrote an article on the history of the Island in the Cornish Magazine in 1963.

It says the Island was remembered as a potato patch before 1900.

It is said that chickens were also kept on the Island.

Also around that time religious services for children were held there on Sunday afternoons.

They must have got on top of the island via the curving pathways cut in the rock face, which superseded the rope usage.

The suspension bridge was constructed in 1902, but by whom remains something of a mystery.

During renovations some years ago, a brass plate bearing the name of the contractors was inadvertently plastered over. It will presumably remain entombed forever.

It has however been mentioned that a local two man firm, known as Cocking and Jenkin, was associated with the project.

It is remembered that they had a builders’ yard at the back of Broad Street. One was a carpenter and the other a mason.

Before the suspension bridge was in place two 12-year-old boys, both first cousins, went across in a bucket each on the end of a rope.

One was Percy Williams, eldest son of a local butcher, Albert Williams.

The other was Claud Jenkin, son of local tailor, outfitter and draper Thomas Jenkin, grandfather of local historian Roger Jenkin.

The house was built in 1910 and was occupied by a Dr O’Flaherty, a wealthy Irish Canadian.

He was reputed to be a rather eccentric recluse with a tendency to play the organ in the middle of the night.

The next occupant was Alexander Lodge. He too was a bachelor and was the inventor of the Lodge sparking plug.

His famous father, the physicist Sir Oliver Joseph Lodge was a frequent visitor to the Island.

Seeing that he was a more famous figure many residents in Newquay believed him to be the Island’s owner, not just a visitor.

Incidentally, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Holmes, a fellow spiritualist and contemporary of Lodge occasionally visited the Island.

The next owner of the Island was a WM Cocks. Together with his wife they had run the Min-Y-Don, a hotel in Island Crescent.

Their son Peter Cocks, a well-known solicitor and councillor took over the ownership of the Island.

He was the youngest chairman of the old Newquay Urban District Council.

Peter’s mother remarried to artist Norman Hall after her husband passed away.

Mr Hocking writes in his article in 1963: "With his stepfather, Mr Norman Hall, has recently opened the island house as an art gallery."

The art gallery remained there until at least 1973. The next owners were Patrick Dormuell and his partner Alison Richards.

They opened the place for teas, a throwback to ninety-odd years previously for in his article Mr Hocking states: "There was a tea house there run by a Mrs Hocking, widow of a captain in the Mercantile Marine."

It is understood that a charge of 2d was made to cross the bridge and that tea could be purchased for 6d.

The present owners Lord and Lady Long bought the house on the Island in 2001.

Lord Long was a whip in the House of Lords for 20 years, the longest serving ever.

The couple fell in love with the house on the Island during a visit to the resort.

They jumped at the chance of buying the property when it was advertised for sale in Country Life magazine.

Their time living on the Island has been less tranquil than they thought it would be.

Beach parties that used to be held on Fistral Beach during the summer months moved over to Towan Beach.

Hundreds of revellers pour out of pubs and clubs descending onto the beach partying, which inevitably attracts trouble.

Fires have been lit at the bottom of the Island and people have tried to break into the house.

Instead of selling up Lord and Lady Long decided to tackle the problem head on.

The authorities had done little to stop the nightly gatherings before the couple became involved.

Resident’s complaints seemed to fall on deaf ears until a letter sent by Lord and Lady Long threatening to sue the council hit the headlines.

The story, exclusively revealed in the Newquay Voice, was picked up by the national media and led to a whirlwind of bad publicity for the town, the formation of a residents’ pressure group and the first signs of action from the borough council.

The house is still open to visit. It is registered with Unique Home Stays, which arranges special stays for people at some of the most exclusive properties in the country.

Words taken from research written by local historian Roger Jenkin.

By Warren Wilkins 17th December 2003

sue 8th July 2012 20:50
mr jenkin was the builder and architect for the island bridge

i am theyoungest grandaughter
Debi 27th April 2013 07:02
Norman Hall was the artist we leased a house from 1977 or 1978. We would cross the bridge each month to pay our rent..
They had a most extensive collection of blue and white porcelains. Mrs Hall would serve tea and we would listen to his stories of adventure. Riding in La Tour de France, navigating for a driver in Paris to Dakar, and sometimes we would just watch him paint.
audrey gibney 27th May 2013 02:58
dear roger, I am intruiged and curiuos about some artwork I have recently discovered. One is definitely of the beach you write about. Its of an adult and child and is dated aug 24-5 1885. I would appreciate any help you give me, the artists name is fc or f david cook. hope you can help.

Jo 4th June 2013 20:53
I have recently purchased the Island and would love to be in touch with you Sue to see if you have any information re your grandfather, Mr Jenkin.
T Witchell 7th May 2015 16:50
Hello, my daughter has an assignment regarding the swimming pool just below the property but we can´tfind anything about it any where and just wondered if you knew anything of it´s history for example does it belong to the property or if not had you discovered anything regarding it when purchasing the property. We would really appreciate any help you could give, Thank you. Regards T Witchell
Amy gillen 18th October 2016 00:31
Hi my name is Amy and I am a leaving certificate construction student in Ireland. As past of our final year assignments we have to make a ´heritage model´. I have chosen to make this house as i find it very interesting and unique. I am wondering if anyone has any photos of the entire exterior of the house or knows where I can find them. I am finding it very difficult to construct my model without properly seeing the sides of the house. Also I cannot remember what tv show I saw this house featured on, if anyone knows. Thank you!
Sally Hearn nee Royden 12th November 2016 00:09
Norman Hall was a great friend to my family and often called in on his way home from teaching at Redruth School. Norman collected select cups and saucers. Eventually the collection held an example from every period of every English manufacture. The collection was housed in what had been the library of a previous tenant,a well known poet. I can´t recall his name.Each shelf provided a fine display space.That room eventually was transformed into the art gallery. For several years ,as an art student I was employed to sit in the bay window and sell the stock. 1962-65.
During one of those winters Norman replaced single handedly the steel cables of the bridge. Sometimes I would be employed to sit inthe ticket box on the main land. Norman painted my portrait several times and I have other pieces too. Newquay Hospital holds a collection of his work.
Diane Eveleigh 12th February 2017 10:22
I am Herbert James Jenkin eldest daughter and was brought up in Newquay, after constructing the bridge my grandfather and his family left Newquay, for a new life in Ladybrand, South Africa. Herbert died in South Africa 1923, the remaining family returned to Cornwall.
Stephen law 14th February 2017 11:12
I wonder if any one can help me are there any books regarding the complete history of the house and the island in Newquay many thanks Stephen law
Donna Williams 15th October 2019 21:57
My late father, David Goudge, used to deliver newspapers to the island from the newsagents at the railway station when he was a boy. He told of crawling over the bridge on his hands and knees in inclement weather.
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