Clearwater: The Cornish Connection.
The Clearwater Mysteries open in London’s East End in 1888, and for the first three books, the action centres around Clearwater House in the west of the city. We don’t get to Cornwall until the end of book four, ‘Fallen Splendour,’ and even then, it is only a fleeting visit. Clearwater’s country home, Larkspur Hall, begins to come to life in book five, ‘Bitter Bloodline’, and is one of the main settings for book ten, ‘The Clearwater Inheritance.’ It is, of course, also the star of the new Larkspur Academy series.
But where and what is Larkspur Hall, and where did it come from?
Larkspur Hall is a fictitious stately home in Cornwall, and a question I am often asked is…
My mother moved from Kent to Cornwall in the 1980s, and I made my first visit there when I was about 20. I looked up where I was going and what I could expect, using books in those days, and asked others who had been there what they thought of the place. I was told to expect impressive cliffs, wild countryside, a dramatic coastline and superb, open vistas dotted with ancient monoliths and settlements.
I arrived at night on the train from Paddington, in itself, a romantic journey, and was taken to a remote farmhouse where my mother was living while she and my step-dad renovated a Wesleyan chapel they were converting into a home. It was dark, of course, but the following morning, I was up early to throw back the curtains and catch my first sight of the promised wild and inspiring countryside… and saw nothing but fog for two days.
Ah well, that was still romantically mysterious enough for me, and when the weather improved, it didn’t take long before I was exploring Penwith by bicycle and falling in love with the county. Penwith is the very last part of the last county in England, home to Land’s End and locations with enigmatic names such as Zennor, Kelynack, and Crows-an-wra where my mother’s chapel was/is. It is also where you find Penzance, of the pirates’ fame, but let’s not bring Gilbert and Sullivan into this.
I have returned to Cornwall many times over the years. My husband and I took the children there one Christmas and stayed in a remote farmhouse on the moors near the Nine Maidens stone circle. On another visit one night, my antique Ford Escort delivered me to a guesthouse somewhere equally as remote just as the radiator blew up, leaving me somewhat stranded. The upside of this was an uninterrupted and unpolluted night sky. I have never seen so many stars. They seemed so close, I could have lit a cigar from them.
These days, living in Greece, I don’t have the chance to visit Cornwall very often, except in my imagination, and that’s a very tenuous link to the next question: Where and what is Larkspur Hall?
The name came from my imagination while I was writing book two, ‘Twisted Tracks.’ I just checked the original publication and noted, with alarm, that I had written, ‘Larkspur is Lord Clearwater’s country house two miles north of London.’ Cornwall is actually over 200 miles from London by car, and Bodmin, where Larkspur is now situated, is 259 miles from Knightsbridge and Clearwater House. I re-released ‘Twisted Tracks’ in 2020 and made the change. Larkspur is now described as being ‘miles west of the city’, and I left it vague because, then, I wasn’t then sure exactly where I was going to place it.
I can’t remember when I decided to put Larkspur on the edge of Bodmin Moor. I think it was while creating ‘Fallen Splendour’, but I chose the location for several reasons.
- It is remote, which is helpful when I want seclusion and a sense of being cut off from the world. Very useful for when we have an assassin stalking the grounds.
- The distance is handy for when we have a race against time. In the late 1880s, it would have taken up to 12 hours to reach Larkspur from London by train. When the race to stop a murder is on, changing lines, the weather and conflicting timetables all play a part in delaying the hero and heightening the tension.
- Bodmin Moor is wild, subject to rough weather, has an ancient history and is romantic. Moors have always been popular with romantic writers (Egdon Heath for Hardy, the Yorkshire Moors for Emily Brontë), because of their combination of loneliness, mystery and tradition.
- I like Cornwall. Simple.
Is Larkspur Hall based on a real property?
Yes and no. I based it on several. When you read the Clearwater Mysteries, you will find characters mention how the Hall has been added to over the years, how it started life as an abbey, has a square tower, church-like pillars in the grand hall, and what I call a horseshoe staircase, which is actually an imperial staircase. (See photo, for the shape. At Larkspur, the stairs and balustrades are stone.)
An imperial staircase (sometimes erroneously known as a “double staircase”) is the name given to a staircase with divided flights. Usually, the first flight rises to a half-landing and then divides into two symmetrical flights both rising with an equal number of steps and turns to the next floor. [Wikipedia.]
This is a central point for a few action scenes in the Clearwater and Larkspur Mysteries, and appeals to my sense of the theatrical. As does the tower, the ruined church in the grounds, and the maze of servants’ passages. Larkspur is said to have 16 bedrooms, but they are actually suites, so include a sitting room, dressing room and bathroom. Thanks to Archer, the Hall is now powered by electricity and the servants’ rooms all have gas heaters and hot and cold running water.
The inspiration for the outside of the Hall came from several places. Lanhydrock House is one. Although Larkspur is taller and doesn’t have the protruding wings of Lanhydrock, the gatehouse is similar. (See photo.) You could also look at Highclare Castle where Downton Abbey is filmed, but if you do, only look at the front, and move its main tower from behind the building and stick it on the end of the west wing.
By the way, Lanhydrock is just south of Bodmin, and about six miles away from Larkspur.
I have an Ordnance Survey map of Bodmin Moor, and on it, I have marked the Larkspur estate. If you wanted to look up the estate boundary (on OS Explorer map 109), you would find it like this: The northern boundary abuts the village of Waterloo, and runs east to Medland, drops south from there to Fore Downs, west from there to Trago and beyond, and runs northwards back to Waterloo via Trewardale and Trewint. It takes in all of what is now the military land marked ‘danger area’, the A30 doesn’t exist, and I have wiped out several villages and hamlets. Sorry about that. The Hall would be situated at Pounds Conce, and Larkspur Village would be roughly where Millpool is, but it’s all made up. Having said that, some places mentioned in the Clearwater and Larkspur Mysteries are real. Colvannick and the standing stones, Pengelly Farm, Blisland and many of the ancient sites mentioned in the books.
Which is another segue into…
Standing Stones. Fact or Fiction?
Fact: There are hundreds of ancient sites to visit in Cornwall, including the Colvannick Stone Row, the centre of the first two Larkspur Mysteries. Stone circles, monoliths, ancient settlements, barrows, cairns and fogous can be found almost anywhere in the county, and Bodmin Moor has its fair share. These were the inspiration for the mystery, ‘Keepers of the Past’, where most of what you read is based on existing monuments, history and fact. Most of, note, not all. To find out more, you can read the author’s notes at the back of the book. In the new series, the Larkspur Mysteries, I am putting these notes to give the reader some insight into how I mix fact and fiction. That is something I have been doing since Silas first appeared in ‘Deviant Desire’ looking through the gutters of Greychurch (Whitechapel), while Archer was at home in North Riverside (Knightsbridge), and Fecker was working at the docks in Limedock (Limehouse).
In the up-coming book three, ‘Agents of the Truth’, the characters visit the British Museum Reading Room, the Inns of Court, Newgate and Wormwood Scrubbs prisons, all real and described as they were in 1890. They also visit the Cheap Street Mission (fictional), and meet real one-day famous archaeologists, including Howard Carter, then aged 16. They also get to explore Larkspur Hall and other parts of Cornwall, as will you when you read ‘Agents of the Truth’, due out in February.