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Victorian Ilfracombe

Hillsborough Cottage

Larkstone


Situated as it is, in a gentle shady valley, running down to a pebbly beach, with the great sweep of Hillsborough behind it, this mid-Victorian villa is a perfect example of the "picturesque". The "cottage orné" (as Pevsner describes it in his "Buildings of England") had come into fashion at the beginning of the nineteenth century, when great landowners, such as those at Milton Abbas and Blaise Castle, re-housed their workers, either out of philanthropy or to improve their views, in housing estates that simulated Medieval villages. Lattice windows, thatch and tall chimneys, or pretty brickwork and tiles, Gothic porches and roses round the door, all give the impression of an ancient settlement rather than a recent development.

Hillsborough Cottage stood on its own until the 1930's raised pale imitations of it, and until the 1990's when South West Water raised its ziggurat below, and though Larkstone Terrace looked down on it, trees shaded and protected its privacy. Strange then, that in 1992 it stood empty and vandalised by fire and could easily have been demolished. The restoration has successfully brought it back to us, the bright orange tiles mellowing over the years.

In two ways it represents the Mid-Victorian ideal of a country cottage. Firstly in its plan, compare it with Laston House above. There you have a rectangular building, symmetrical in the arrangement of door and windows, smoothly stuccoed. Here the plan is complex with projections and irregularities on every side, rather in the fashion of a Medieval manor house that grew up in stages over the years. In Laston the roof is low so as not to detract from the facade; in other houses of the same period the roof and its chimneys are all but hidden behind parapets, witness the Baths House or Adelaide Terrace. Here the roof dominates. Although Hillsborough Cottage has two floors, the upper storey is entirely within the great sweep of the roof, its windows looking out under pretty scalloped gables. It is these gables, rightly emphasised in white paint that meet one everywhere. There are almost no horizontal eaves, the few that exist run beside gabled projections and these are all irregularly placed.

Typically again of the Mid-Victorian age, the cottage is faced with local greenish brown stone, (no stucco here) and there are Gothic touches everywhere. The porch, with its pointed arch and solid door with iron hinges, might be to a parish church. There is even a parvise, (little room over the church porch), its tiny window providing a means of spying out welcome, or unwelcome, visitors. In both casement and some bay windows there is delicate Gothic tracery. The back of the house is built into the sloping ground so that the door into the garden is at the level of what is the upper floor at the front and there is a pretty square headed dormer casement window in the roof that faces Larkstone Gardens.

The cottage is set in its own garden which is allowed to take over the house, with shrubs and creepers growing against and over its walls, stressing the Victorian's romantic view of nature, its wildness and wetness over against the tamed and landscaped nature of the eighteenth century. At the top of the garden there is a fine octagonal two storied summer house.

Hillsborough Cottage has come down to us in fine condition. At present it stands by a bleak roadway, opened up for the lorries of South West Water. Larkstone Lane still survives lower down, but this upper area needs careful consideration to restore what was until recent years, a charming semi-rural corner of the town.

Jim Bates - March 1999



Created 20/4/99