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Daphne du Maurier
The official Daphne du Maurier website, approved by her Estate

Daphne as researcher – The King’s General

Visiting recently the exquisite Grade 1 listed church of St Sampson, South Hill, a parish in east Cornwall, I came across a laminated copy of a 1945 page from the church’s visitors book. Examining it more closely, it became apparent that the reason for the laminated page was that it featured the signature of Daphne du Maurier, who called at the church on Tuesday 24th July 1945.

The immediate question that came to mind was what was Daphne doing in this beautiful church? She had settled at Menabilly, nearly thirty miles away, some eighteen months earlier. As Vanishing Cornwall showed, Daphne was fond of travelling about Cornwall, investigating its more curious and interesting corners. She also would have been familiar with the area of South Hill, having famously got lost in the fog looking for nearby Trebartha Hall, when riding from Jamaica Inn with her friend Foy Quiller-Couch, an incident which helped to inspire the events in the eponymous novel. However, there is another reason why she might have been visiting, relating to The King’s General, the novel on which she was working in 1945; a reason which casts an interesting light on the depth and method of Daphne’s researches before writing a novel.

In the parish of South Hill lies Manaton, a former seat of the Manaton family. It will be remembered that Ambrose Manaton is a key figure in The King’s General, although his main seat was Trecarrel, the ancient home of the Trecarrel family, which is between Launceston and South Hill, where Ambrose entertained Charles I in 1644.  South Hill church has a chapel in its north transept, known as the Manaton chapel. It is recorded that it once contained Manaton tombs and monuments, although these are no longer there. It would seem likely that Daphne knew of the Manaton connections and went in search of clues about Ambrose’s life.

There is no other name shown as visiting South Hill church on that day, although she could have been accompanied by somebody who decided not to add their name. It is even possible that she was accompanied by Christopher Puxley, with whom she had a brief wartime affair. Margaret Forster notes in her biography that Puxley and Daphne, together with her two younger children, went on a holiday in St Ives shortly after Daphne and Tommy’s thirteenth wedding anniversary – which fell in the week before Daphne’s visit to South Hill.  Although South Hill would have been out of the way on the route from Menabilly to St Ives it could it be that Daphne was not alone on her church crawl.

© Patrick Newberry 2018

We would like to thank the church wardens at St Sampson, South Hill for allowing us to reproduce the image of Daphne’s entry in the church visitors book and Patrick Newberry, an expert on both Daphne du Maurier and Cornish architecture, for permitting us to include this information gem on our website.

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