The house at Tintagel Old Post Office
Despite its name, Tintagel Old Post Office was first built over 600 years ago as a farmhouse during the Middle Ages. Slowly modified over the centuries, it became more fashionable than functional. The house has served many purposes over time, but it has always been a home. Its final use was as the letter-receiving office for the village during the 1870s.
History of the house at Tintagel Old Post Office
The house was built in c.1380 as a medieval thatched house of three rooms with a through-passage. The building would originally have been a single storey dwelling, open to the roof, and would have housed livestock in the northern partition.
A central hearth in the hall would have offered warmth and provided smoke that would seep through the thatch above, killing off woodworm and preserving the wooden frames.
Developing the house
Modified since the medieval period, the main phases of re-development took place during the 16th and 17th centuries: local brown slate was used in place of thatch for the roof, timber panelling was replaced with stone and a fireplace and central chimney stack were also added.
A now smoke-free building, it was possible to add the upstairs bedrooms, which were added in stages, in the south and north wings, making the building a two-storey hall-house.
Various additions and extensions were added over the years to the existing building layout; therefore Tintagel Old Post Office displays the building tastes of several centuries.
By the 19th century, the house had descended into a bad state of repair and was even in danger of being demolished. After being saved by a local campaign, various works were carried out on the fabric of the building between 1896-1900 to save it from such a fate, before its acquisition by the National Trust in 1903.
A final phase of roof restoration took place in 1992. After discovering that some of the supporting beams were rotten, a conservation project was carried out in order to repair or replace them. This project involved removing all the slates of the roof in stages, cataloguing them, treating or replacing the supporting beams before placing the roof slates back in their original position. This took two conservation builders six months at a cost of over £75,000. It was decided that due to the warped shape of the beams and the characterful appearance of the house that the roof would be put back askew and remain wonky. The project went on to win an award for building conservation from the Cornish Buildings Group.
Today, work on the fabric of the building is an ongoing maintenance project funded by memberships, donations and purchases in the online shop.
Once the shippen - a place for keeping cattle - this room later became a private parlour. The main features of this room are the fireplace with large stone lintel, a longcase clock that strikes on the hour and several samplers that were worked on by girls as young as nine.
The North bedroom
This room, dominated by its 16th century roof structure, is now furnished with a simple iron bedstead and oak and pine furniture.
Nearby is a sleeping platform, an extra mezzanine-style bedroom that may be a relic of a sleeping loft or hay loft that would have been a common feature or medieval longhouses. it was used as a bedroom for young girls before they married - it is thought that women who were deemed too old to marry would remain sleeping on the platform, hence the phrase 'left on the shelf'. Please see the short film at the bottom of this page for views from the sleeping platform.
The hall is open to the roof and keeps the original height of the early structure, offering ample views of the slate and beams that make up the iconic wavy roof. It is dominated by the early 16th-century fireplace with its later-installed Victorian 'cloam' (clay) bread oven.
The South bedroom
A spiral staircase leads to this bedroom. This feature dates to the 16th or 17th century and reflects the trends of the time. The bedroom itself is furnished with an oak bed with a mattress supported by ropes. The house team still tighten these ropes to prevent the mattress sagging and it is thought that this is where the phrase 'sleep tight' comes from. The other items of furniture in this room date back several centuries. The warped wooden roof beams in this room show the effect the weight of the roof slates has had.
The post room
This room has been furnished as the letter-receiving office that served the village during Victorian times, with postal and telegraph equipment located behind the counter.
Inserted to the exterior wall just outside the post room is a rare and unusual Victorian post box. This type was a short-lived design as it had no rain hood above the letter slot, meaning post would get wet (at the Old Post Office a slate cover prevents this). This type was created in 1857 and soon discontinued, being replaced by a new type in 1859. As such, only a dozen or so of these early type post boxes still exist today.