Daphne and Miss Roberts at The Nook in Bodinnick
MISS ROBERTS 1877-1961
In Daphne’s autobiography “Growing Pains – The Shaping of a Writer” she recalls lodging with Miss Roberts at The Nook in Bodinnick during the writing of her first novel “The Loving Spirit” - the story of Jane Slade of Polruan who became Janet Coombe of Plyn. The Nook was opposite Ferryside, the holiday home purchased by the du Maurier family.
1929. “The last day of September came. In a couple of days everyone, including M and Angela, would have gone. The house was to be shut up and it was arranged that I should lodge with Miss Roberts at The Nook, the cottage opposite. I could keep my bedroom at Ferryside open so as to write there during the day. But I would sleep, eat and live at The Nook, dear Bingo with me. No bathroom – Miss Roberts would fill a hip-bath with hot water every morning – and the “usual office” was up the garden path. Who cared? I’d be on my own. And Miss Roberts, cheerful, smiling, gave Bingo and me a warm welcome, the first of many which would follow through the years to come. Dear Miss Roberts, who never looked askance at my shorts, or trousers, or muddy sea-boots, who struggled upstairs each morning with her can of hot water, who pretended not to notice when, disliking sausages for supper, I furtively threw them on the sitting-room fire where they crackled loudly, and whose pleasant tittle-tattle of village gossip, invariably without malice, proved so entertaining.
I had soon settled down to a routine. Work in the morning, across to Miss Roberts’ for lunch, then a pull down-harbour in ‘Annabelle Lee’ in the afternoon or a tramp with Bingo. A cup of tea at The Nook, and back to work at Ferryside until it was time to pack up for the evening and go back for supper at Miss Roberts’. Lamplight and candles in the sitting-room, alone in privacy, with Miss Roberts “dishing” my sups in the kitchen alongside, after which she would retire early to bed, and I would stretch myself on the small hard-backed sofa to read”.
Return to Fowey - 1930
Back to London
Miss Roberts was christened Kate on 27 July 1877, the daughter of Paul and Mary Roberts of Stenalees, St Austell. In the 1881 census Kate aged 3, her father Paul 36 a china clay labourer, mother Mary 35, and siblings Horetta 12, Edith 10, Jeremiah 2, Jane 11 months and step-sister Bessie Nankivell 13 were living at Rescorla, a small village in the heart of clay country, near St Austell.
Aged 13 in 1891 Kate was a live-in domestic servant for John Brenton, a butcher at Bugle with his wife Mary and five children. They also had a lodger Harry Parsons 21, a china clay labourer. He married Kate’s sister Edith Roberts in 1893.
Kate’s brother Jeremiah Roberts married Jane Coombe on 19 May 1903. Jane was the daughter of Samuel Coombe, a clay labourer and Abigail Udy who lived at Rosevear, St Austell. Jane died in 1935 aged 58. Did Miss Roberts tell Daphne about her family and is this where the name came from for the heroine of The Loving Spirit?
When Daphne’s son Kits Browning was asked about this he replied: “Yes I think the use of Coombe for the Jane Slade character could well have been because of Miss Roberts’ sister-in-law. Not necessarily on purpose but the name probably sunk into her subconscious and she remembered it. I know that she used to say that was how she thought of names for characters.”
Kate Roberts died at the age of 84 on 13 October 1961. By then she was living at Ye Old Cottage, East Looe. Her brother Jeremiah, a retired foreman at the China Clay Works, was the executor of her Will. She left effects totalling £4716 13s 6d. Jeremiah died in 1966.