Where the story starts at the Old Post Office, a medieval hall house owned by the National Trust, isn’t clear; neither is whose story it is. But once across the threshold, a myriad of things combine to tell the story not just of a house, but of a village, its people and its legends.
It’s a small place at first glance, modest and easy to miss, tucked away among the gift shops and cafes of Tintagel. It isn’t one of the National Trust’s more splendid and palatial properties, which in itself endears it to many people – it’s a homely house, welcoming and kindly. The Trust’s part in its story only started in 1903, when it was sold to them by Catherine Johns, who with a group of friends, saved it from demolition – a fate many of the old houses in the village had suffered in the rush to accommodate those in search of King Arthur among the ruins of the castle.
Not quite as old as the castle, the house’s story began late in the 14th century, when a prosperous farmer wanted a place to shelter from the fierce gales and rains that blow in from the Atlantic to batterfang the walls and doors. For over 600 years, it withstood the wind and rain, crouching low to the ground with a roof stooped under the weight of its slate tiles.
Below those tiles, the front door is where the story of the house begins for most people, but there’s another story about the street outside: Fore Street, Tintagel. Because Tintagel isn’t an ordinary village. Tintagel isn’t even its real name. Until just after the Second World War it was known as Trevena, but there was marketing to be done and to capitalise on the association with King Arthur, the name was changed.
So visitors cross the threshold now into the Tintagel Old Post Office. Except, as visitors discover, it was never quite a post office either. A room in the house was the letter receiving office for the area between 1870 and 1878 – a mere footnote in its long life, but somehow the name has remained. For many people, mostly those stopping on their way to seek the spirit of King Arthur, like Tennyson before them, the Old Post Office itself is just a footnote.
But when visitors, explorers or the simply curious come through the door, that perception changes. It’s not just an old Post Office. It’s a story, within a story, with more stories within. It preserves, creates and tells stories. It shares the stories of all the people who have worked and lived there over the years. Some of them are still here to tell their stories and memories, others are long gone, but maybe still present when a book drops inexplicably from a shelf in the shop.
The stories go on being told and discovered, to visitors and by visitors. It’s storytelling and story sharing at its best. Those who work within the Old Post Office will share the secrets of the house, not just the facts in the official literature, and in return, visitors tell stories about their mother or their grandmother who made rag rugs, just like the ones in the bedrooms and the parlour.
Everyone who visits adds a little more to the story of the Old Post Office. And the Old Post Office becomes a part of its visitors’ stories. Every day the stories continue to be told, added to, embellished and grow.
It’s not just with words that the stories are told. Neither are they only in the sepia hues of the old postcards and photos collected and caught on a pinboard in the recreated post room; they’re in the fabric of the house itself. They’re in the beams and the timbers and the slates, in the buttressed walls and the worn stone floors, among the soot in the chimney and the scent of woodsmoke that lingers; they’re in the rags of the rugs, the dust in the corners and the footsteps of everyone who walks through its door. Just pass under the lintel and you’ll find the story has already begun.
You’ll often find author Rosamund Derry as a steward at the Old Post Office in Tintagel