Family Owned Estate
“When I’m at home, I sleep in the sitting room, my old room is the master bedroom now,” says Georgina Le Grice. She shows me a picture on her phone of a single mattress on the floor, surrounded by boxes and old furniture. “My colleagues find it funny to see the house on the website, then they see where I sleep. There’s quite a difference.” The image is startlingly out of kilter with the public face of ‘home’, Trereife House in Penzance, Cornwall, a beautiful Queen Anne manor with formal gardens and rolling grounds. You could almost describe it as slumming it.
Yet Georgina’s eviction from her childhood room is just one of the sacrifices she’s had make in order to keep the house going. Since appearing on the last series of Country House Rescue – the Channel 4 show that aims to turn around the fortunes of ailing country houses , back for a fourth series this week – Trereife (pronounced Treave) has been transformed from a struggling business with debts of £100,000 to a thriving bed and breakfast and events venue. There are four plush bedrooms and two self-catering flats for guests. Georgina’s former room is now the Coleridge room, named after the Romantic poet who was a friend of the first of the family to live at Trereife, the writer CV Le Grice. The house and grounds are open to visitors during the summer, and this year they will host weddings most weekends and seven public events on the estate, including the Cornwall Design Fair.
The future looks bright for the house and the Le Grices, the seventh generation of the family to live at Trereife, but it was a close call. They are thankful for their TV experience. “Before we had the basis of some good stuff, but it was all so unprofessional,” says Georgina, 27. Viewers saw Ruth Watson (to be replaced this series by writer Simon Davis) horrified at Trereife’s poor signage, their one B&B room with a lime-scale ridden loo and ageing décor. She balked at Georgina’s father Tim’s failed business attempts, including a small animal zoo and a gypsy caravan park. “Dad was led down the garden path a bit ,” says Georgina. “And he was too kind – charging too little for weddings and events.”
Watson prescribed developing the B&B rooms, upping the quality and quantity of events on offer and increasing accommodation capacity with some eco tents pitched in the gardens. Warm, open and down-to-earth (not necessarily typical of previous Country House rescuees), Georgina, Tim, 25-year-old brother Peter and mother Liz set to the task with gusto, taking the programme’s criticisms on the chin. When the show aired, the family received hundreds of emails simply wishing them luck. “It was really heart-warming,” says Georgina. “You don’t expect people to care because we’ve got this big house and there are far worse problems in the world.”
Yet the family face relentlessly hard work and long hours to keep themselves afloat . Peter is at the helm in Cornwall during the week, with Liz and Tim (and family dog, Duke) keeping a hand in. Tim can often be found regaling guests with the house’s literary history, former art librarian Liz helps with the B&B and keeps the produce stocks high (medlar jelly is Trereife’s speciality). Any given weekend could find all four making and serving breakfast for the guests. Georgina is no less committed: she has been leading what she jokingly calls her ‘double life’ for more than two years now. “I’ve been at Trereife about 40 weekends in the last 12 months,” she says. Her commute means getting the train down after a week doing her day job as a translation rights agent in a literary agency, then taking the 5am train back to London on a Monday to be in the office. “Mondays are fine, I sleep all the way,” she says. “On Fridays there are often jolly groups, so I sit in the quiet carriage so I don’t get too jealous.”
Peter originally planned to go into teaching after his degree, but the allure of Trereife proved too great. He’s now been working on the house for two years and has no plans to change – except perhaps to upgrade his own bedroom from a converted attic to a house in town .
Peter’s role is a multifaceted one. Talking to Georgina, it’s clear that her brother’s position worries her. “People ring up and ask to speak to the manager, it’s him. They need the accounts, that’s him, the maintenance man, that’s him, the bookings too.” Recently, Peter went to his first wedding fair to market the house as a venue. “He had to make the stand look pretty and decorate it with rose petals and talk to the brides about flowers, it wasn’t very natural for him but he got a few leads,” says Georgina who calls her brother “an amazing person”, qualities not lost on female viewers who took to Twitter to express their admiration after the programme.
Taking Ruth Watson’s advice, the family now offer a more comprehensive wedding package, including a stay in the B&B rooms for the wedding party. And they’ve come a long way from the bargain prices previously offered; one wedding was grand enough to have Hugh Grant as one of the guests. “The first we knew about it was when a helicopter company asked if one of their clients could land in a field, as they had a wedding in the area – it turned out it was our wedding ,” says Georgina. And Grant is not the only star to have come to Trereife – the house is also marketed as a film location and this year played host to Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens and Dominic Cooper as they shot their new film Summer in February, a period piece set at the Newlyn School of artists at the turn of the century. Peter played an extra “He got asked to be Dominic Cooper’s naked body double but he declined as they weren’t offering enough money.”
While business is currently booming, they know they can’t rest on their laurels.
Georgina estimates that last year around 40 percent of the guests had seen Country House Rescue, this year it has been less. Despite Georgina’s worries, the bottom line speaks for itself: The house is now booked into summer and they are covering their costs and a bit more. They haven’t yet stretched to the eco tents, instead choosing to put money back into the house.
Long term, Georgina admits to be “totally torn” between her London and Cornwall existence, but for now the double-life is here to stay. She is characteristically self-effacing when reflecting on what she considers her greatest achievement of the last year. “I can now do a perfect poached egg,” she says after some deliberation. “Last May bank holiday, Pete and I were running the B&B and someone asked for poached eggs, I must have gone through 12. I sent Pete to tell the girl that our poaching machine was broken. She got fried. I still feel bad that he had to be the messenger.”
Food for thought for the households embarking on the post Country House Rescue adventure over the coming months – one feels that if they can do it with half as much passion, enthusiasm and humility as the Le Grices then they’ve got an exciting journey ahead, even if it’s not quite the one the producers had in mind.