It’s a stately home on sale for £600,000 with no roof, mains water or connection to the grid – but what any brave buyer of this “ultimate doer-upper” will get instead is a heart-warming slice of British-Jewish history.
Built in 1703, Trehane House, three miles east of Truro in Cornwall, was gutted by a fire in 1946 but a few years earlier had taken in Austrian Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler. Among them was a well-known concert pianist, according to Jack Dunn, a local living in Newquay at the time who visited with house with his Scout group.
The stately home burned down when a plumber accidentally set fire to the attic, and only the walls and two of the four chimney stacks were saved. The house was not insured and reconstruction plans were hampered by the rationing of building materials after the war. After the fire, the then-owners moved into a converted stable block.
Now the ivy-strewn ruins of the historical pile are being touted as the ultimate restoration challenge for someone with a penchant for period property – and a big stack of spare cash.
One of the huts in the grounds of the house where Austrian Jewish refugees slept during the Second World War
Lillicrap Chilcott, the estate agents selling the house, describes it as “one of Cornwall’s most beautiful minor county seats” with “south-facing views over formal gardens to miles of unspoilt countryside beyond”.
The agents say that £600,000 was an attractive figure for the ruin and its 5.5 acres. “We’ve already had offers,” Andrew Chilcott told The Times. “Our client has owned it for about 20 years. They had a thought process to do something [about restoration] but it never transpired.”
In an article for a local paper 40 years ago about the Trehane House’s Jewish refugees, Mr Dunn said he encountered “quite a number of those refugees”, some of his own age, and some “considerably older”.
He recounted his memories of some of the Jewish refugees: “One of the older men was a well-known concert pianist.
“Of the younger ones, I only recall one, Fritz, a tall young man with a quick and ready wit, and another called Kurt, who was shorter and good-looking but rather more serious.”
They were believed to have been housed in huts on the grounds of the property, one of which has been restored by the current owner, which he described as a “prefab small army hut”.
Mr Dunn remembers playing games such as darts and dominoes with the men (there were no women among them), but his most vivid memory was of a typically British game of football in the grounds of Trehane: “Whilst my memories of the game are hazy, I do recall that we were well and truly beaten by something like nine goals to nil!”
The construction of the property, which was built using red brick and locally sourced Pentewan stone, began in 1699 and it was completed in 1703.
One notable owner was Captain William Church Stackhouse Pinwill, who inherited the house in 1861. He was serving in the Army in Malaysia at the time but when he returned, he cultivated the gardens with 4,500 plants from around the world.