Aug 252017

Recently, a number of buildings were granted listed status to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967, which partially decriminalised male homosexuality. This was an extension of Historic England’s ‘Pride of Place’ initiative.

One of the buildings that is now Grade 2 listed is in my North Devon place of Bucks Mills. The building is known as ‘The Cabin’ and perches precariously on the cliff top, overlooking the rugged North Devon coastline. The cabin consists of two rooms, one up and one down. It is only comparatively recently that the rooms were connected by an internal staircase. Previously it was a case of going out of one door and walking up the hill to access the upper story. The building probably started life as a fisherman’s store; it is unclear whether it was ever a permanent home. In 1903 it was rented from the Walland Carey estate by F R Schmidt for £2 10s a year. It lay vacant for a short time before being taken over in 1907 by Arthur Thomas Braund. By 1909 the tenant was Mrs Lang. It is possible that Arthur Tom did actually live there as his fifth child claimed to have been born in The Cabin. How seven people could possibly have fitted in two rooms approximately twelve feet by ten (at a generous estimate) stretches the imagination, even allowing for the overcrowded living standards of the time.

Mrs E Ackland, a doctor’s wife from the nearby town of Bideford, took over the tenancy in 1913 and The Cabin became a holiday retreat for the family from then until the 1970s. As sitting tenants, they purchased The Cabin when it was sold by the estate in 1948. The Cabin’s principal association, leading to its LGBT connections, came through Mrs Ackland’s daughter Judith, who met her life partner Stella Mary Edwards at Regent Street Polytechnic in London. Judith was noted for creating figures from cotton wool, a technique known as Jackanda. Mary Stella Edwards was both an artist and a poet. The pair used The Cabin as a holiday home until Judith’s death in 1971, taking inspiration from the stunning landscape. The Cabin was then administered by a trust, who were bound to leave everything exactly as it had been in the time that the ladies owned it, even to the extent of maintaining the direction in which the cup handles pointed! The National Trust is now responsible for The Cabin and it is used as an artists’ and writers’ retreat. It is only when someone is in residence that the public can gain access to The Cabin, which is overseen by a National Trust volunteer.

Janet Few

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