Blog: 'Luff Boy Cottage' by Stephen Perham

Recently I was given as a gift a book, a photograph and a postcard. The book was an award to an old resident of Clovelly for school attendance dated 1914-15 and will rightly find a home in the Clovelly archives. The photograph was also about an award, but this time of a life saved and was of the presentation to four Clovelly fishermen, one of whom was my father. The postcard was from Canada, picturing buffaloes grazing and it was dated August 15th 1906. It was addressed to Master B Pengilly, Luff Boy Cottage, Clovelly, N, Devon, England.

Though I have spent most of my life learning about and researching the history of Clovelly and its people, Luff Boy Cottage was new to me.

Around 1857 the artist James Clarke Hook made many visits to Clovelly and was inspired to paint several coastal scenes depicting life by the sea and the fishermen plying their trade. One of these paintings, “Luff Boy” was described by John Ruskin, the leading Victorian art critic, as “A glorious picture-most glorious”. The painting of two boys receiving a lesson in navigation by an older fisherman was exhibited in the Royal Academy in 1859.

There is some local controversy as to the name of the older fisherman - William Burman and John Beer have both been suggested but it is commonly believed to be William. William Burman is also quite possibly the brother of the 23 year old Thomas Burman who was drowned in the great gale of 1821; William’s little cottage which was situated around “Backside” fell down the cliff, thankfully with no one home at the time.

Both of the boys though are well known, the elder of the two being John Hickling Cruse, son of Richard and Elizabeth. Elizabeth had arrived in Clovelly as the nanny to Charles Kingsley. Richard Cruse also featured as a subject in a few more of James Hooks paintings.

John was born in 1844 and was to be a mariner all his life. He died in 1909, a few months after being rescued by the lifeboat following the harrowing experience of being swamped while fishing for lobsters in his boat “Mistletoe”.

The younger child was Richard Pengilly who grew up in number 52 the Quay, which is today part of the Red Lion Hotel. Richard was also to spend his life at sea as a mariner and fisherman, eventually making his home at number 19 High Street Clovelly. He died in 1941, affectionately known as “Old Dick” at the grand age of 89.

Number 19 High St Clovelly is where his family were living in 1906 when the postcard was delivered to Richard’s son, Burnard Cecil Pengilly, making number 19 “ Luff Boy Cottage”. It is always a great honour to discover something new or something lost concerning the place you live.