Ninety years ago, on a beautiful spring day in May 1932, an older and a younger man set off with packed lunches and thermos flasks from Launceston to visit the ancient manor of Trevalga on the north coast of Cornwall. They ate their lunch in the middle of a field from where they could look out at a calm sea with the village, church and manor house in between. Away to the south Tintagel stood out quite clearly and to the north was the coastguard station at Forrabury, with Boscastle and the rugged Atlantic coastline stretching away in the distance, where they could faintly spot Lundy Island. These two men were Gerald Peter, a solicitor descended from generations of solicitors in Devon and Cornwall, and his personal secretary and assistant, Percy Cory. The two men’s visit to Trevalga in May 1932 was not simply for pleasure. Gerald Peter had recently been appointed Steward of the manor, with the responsibility of dealing with its estate and collecting rent from the tenants. He had been legal adviser to the previous Steward and knew the estate already, but decided that he and Percy should visit and inspect the farms and houses in the village and meet their occupiers.
Trevalga traced its recorded history back to the Domesday Book in 1086. In 1682 it was bought by William Bolitho of Exeter, descending by inheritance to its last owner, Richard Bolitho Stephens, on his father’s death in 1858. In 1932 Trevalga consisted of a hamlet of twelve houses including the Manor, clustered around the old church of St Petroc, and seven farms, on land that overlooked the rocky coastline, but had no access to the foreshore or the sea itself. Richard Bolitho Stephens had died in April 1928 and before then had long been absent from Trevalga, in poor mental health for many years and living in an institution in Gloucester. His widow, to whom he had left a life interest in Trevalga in his will, had also moved to Gloucester, although she continued to visit Trevalga and take an interest in it. She left a pulpit and some other furnishings to the church in memory of her husband. There had been a proposed sale of the estate in 1903, but nothing had come of it, and so the management of the estate was essentially in the hands of the Steward and his assistant.
Percy Cory was a young man in 1932, and his association with Trevalga was to be a very long one. The year after his picnic in the field with Gerald Peter, in late 1933, Richard Bolitho Stephens’s widow Edith died in Gloucester. The couple had no children, and there was no other successor to her life interest. The trustees put Trevalga on the open market for sale. The Times of 25 May 1934 included it in a list of seaside sites in a column headed “The Estate Market”, referring to its mile of Cornish coast, manor house on the cliffs, 840 acres, seven farms and many fine sites, and the fact that land values had recently been rising strongly in the district. Trevalga was sold in September 1934 to a new owner, Gerald Curgenven. He remained its owner until his death twenty five years later in 1959. Since his death, it has been in the ownership of successive trustees of his will. The current trustees’ recent decision to sell Trevalga has stirred controversy and strong opposition from its residents, a “battle of Trevalga” which has been reported in the local and national press.
This is the story of Gerald Curgenven and the battle for his legacy at Trevalga.
GERALD CURGENVEN (1876–1959)
Family and early life
Curgenven is an old Cornish name, and there are records of Curgenven landowners in Cornwall in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Gerald Curgenven’s parents and grandparents were all West Country people, his paternal grandfather, John Curgenven (1810–1861), a solicitor in Plymouth, and other men of the family largely clerics and public school masters by profession. A great-grandfather on his mother’s side had been a significant 19th century churchman, Bishop Henry Phillpotts of Exeter, and Gerald’s father, Francis Curgenven (1836–1901) had begun his clerical career in Exeter. Gerald was born on 18 May 1876 in Byfield in Northamptonshire, where Francis had been Rector of Daventry since 1872, an office he was to hold until his death nearly thirty years later. Gerald was the third of five children born to the Rector and his wife at Byfield and who survived infancy.
Despite growing up in Northamptonshire, Gerald must have known something of Trevalga even when he was young, as its then owner, Richard Bolitho Stephens, was his uncle, and Francis was one of the trustees of a trust of Trevalga created by Richard in 1889. It is more than likely that Gerald first visited Trevalga as a child, when his uncle and aunt still lived at the Manor House. And as an adult, he and his wife had a cottage at Forrabury, Boscastle, where they spent their summer holidays for many years. But despite his family connection, Gerald came to acquire Trevalga through purchase, not inheritance.
Gerald was sent to school at Marlborough College in Wiltshire. Marlborough was then a relatively new public school, founded in 1843 by clergymen to educate the sons of the clergy, and by the time of Gerald’s schooldays in the 1880s flourishing as one of the leading academic schools in the country. The mid-nineteenth century was a propitious time for English public schools, modernising and raising their aspirations to educate “Christian gentlemen” under the influence of Dr Arnold’s reforms at Rugby. After leaving Marlborough, Gerald followed in his father’s footsteps as an undergraduate at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and after graduating, worked as a public school teacher himself, first in 1898 at Rossall in Lancashire, then in 1900–1 at St Peter’s, York, and from 1901 in Bristol, at Clifton College, where he remained for the rest of his working life. In June 1903 he was initiated as a freemason in Bristol. He was also a keen sportsman as a young man, playing rugby, football and cricket. His father had also been an ardent cricketer in his day. The Banbury Guardian of 10 January 1895 reported on the Byfield Football Club’s “very successful smoking concert” in the parish school room the previous Wednesday, where both Gerald, then 19, and his brother Steven, then 15, and their father all sang for the audience, the newspaper recording that Gerald’s “Little Brown Jug” and “Clementine” both “had the reception usually accorded to them at a football smoker”.
Deaths of Francis and Steven Curgenven, and marriage of Gerald Curgenven to Jacquète Woollcombe -1901–2
1901–2 were eventful years in Gerald’s life, marked first by the death of his father Francis in the cold winter of February 1901, only a few weeks after the death and burial of the long reigning monarch, Queen Victoria. Francis was nothing if not a Victorian man, having been born in 1836, the year before her accession to the throne. He was in failing health but at work up until the day before his death, teaching religious lessons in the parish school. In the midst of both national and personal loss, the Curgenven family gathered and led the “exceedingly large” number of mourners at his funeral. The painstaking reporting of local newspapers of the period brings both a depth of detail and a momentary proximity to these distant events. The “reverent silence” of the mourners is almost tangible in this description of his burial: “the grave, which had been lined with moss and ivy by Mr J Brown, gardener to the Rector, is by the side of the grave of the infant daughter of Mr Curgenven. Canon Collyns impressively conducted the remaining part of the service, the congregation standing round the grave in reverent silence”. Among the wreaths sent to the funeral were several from the family’s West Country relations, including one from Richard Bolitho Stephens of Trevalga.
After Francis’s death his widow and daughters and son Edward moved to Exeter, no doubt to be closer to their extended family and settle in a place familiar to Mrs Curgenven from her youth. Gerald’s father’s death was followed a few months later, in October 1901, by that of his younger brother, Steven, then 21 and working in a bank in London. He became ill with pneumonia and died alone in his lodgings in Chiswick, before any of his family and friends could reach him. Gerald’s life took a happier turn over the next few months, as on 7 January 1902 he was married to Jacquète Woollcombe, a woman a few years older than him, and, like him, from a family of West Country clergymen (although with a French ancestor somewhere from whom both she and her mother had inherited their Christian name), her late father having been the Archdeacon of Barnstaple. Jacquète too had recently lost a brother, leaving a widow and very young children. Walter Woollcombe was 45 and a science master at King Edward’s School in Birmingham. In February 1900 he had fallen into a depressive illness and persuaded himself that he had lost his reason and done something wrong. This was entirely imaginary. He was highly respected and loved by everyone at the school. A coroner’s inquest ruled that he had committed suicide whilst temporarily insane. It is not difficult to imagine the grief that this death must have brought to his surviving family.
A large congregation was present at St Sidwell’s Church, Exeter, for the marriage of Gerald and Jacquète. Out of their several clerical relatives, the bride produced a brother and the groom an uncle, both Archdeacons, to officiate at the service. Gerald’s surviving brother Edward was his best man, and his two sisters, Beatrice and Agnes, and Jacquète’s niece Dorothy were bridesmaids, strikingly dressed for the winter wedding in their white costumes and large black picture hats, with bouquets of yellow tulips and hyacinths.
Bristol and Clifton College
After their marriage and honeymoon in London, Gerald returned to work as an assistant master at Clifton College and he and Jacquète settled in Bristol. By 1911 they were living in a spacious bay-fronted Victorian house in Worcester Crescent, Clifton, with other Clifton College masters amongst their neighbours. Whatever their intention or expectation of starting a family might have been, they remained childless, alone in their large house save for their two domestic servants, a cook and a parlour maid. Gerald’s career settled into a similar pattern to his father’s — Oxford, a few years in junior positions in his chosen profession in different places around the country, then a working lifetime in the same place, eventually as the leader of a community, in Francis’s case as Rector, and in Gerald’s as head master. Clifton College, like Marlborough, was a mid-19th century foundation, sponsored by Bristol businessmen and led by a visionary headmaster, who believed in science, the education of women and racial tolerance and aimed to produce “children of varied but definite character”.
Gerald was 38 at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, 40 in 1916 when conscription first came into law, but exempt from it as he was both married and in a reserved occupation as a teacher, and would have been exempt in any event on reaching the age of 41 the following year. Bristol was never attacked during the war, but Gerald’s life could not have been unmarked by it. Many of his former pupils at Clifton College would have volunteered or later been conscripted into the armed forces in the First World War, and died on its battlefields, like many other young men from public schools and universities who had eagerly joined up as junior officers at the outbreak of the war. In July 1922 Field Marshal Earl Haig, an old boy of the school, unveiled the Cliftonian Memorial Gateway on which the names of the 578 young Old Boys who fell in the war were inscribed. Haig’s speech, an anachronism to modern readers, touched on patriotism, sacrifice and Empire, and described “courage, manliness and truth, clean living and honest dealing” as the qualities “that have made our nation great and must be preserved if that greatness is to last”. The voices of those who castigated him as “the butcher of the Somme” were silent, on the official record of this occasion, at least.
Purchase of Trevalga -1934
How did Gerald come to buy Trevalga in September 1934? He would have known of the deaths of Richard Bolitho Stephens and his widow (he was amongst the mourners at Richard Bolitho Stephens’s funeral), both as members of his extended family and through his early familiarity with Trevalga and later summer visits there. He loved the unspoilt countryside and coastline of Trevalga. In the summer of 1934 when Trevalga was on the market, Gerald was a 58 year old headmaster and he and Jacquète sold their house in Clifton (assuming they owned it in the first place) when he retired and moved permanently to Trevalga, at around the same time. But even with the proceeds of sale of this house, how did he raise £14,000 out of a lifetime’s salary as headmaster of a public school, with no inheritance of any significance from his own parents, and in the wake of an economic depression? The answer is not obvious. Gerald’s brother Edward, a successful banker, died a rich man, but much later, in 1947, and in any event left relatively little of his estate to his brother and sisters. Jacquète’s much older sister Mary Woollcombe had died at her home in Boscastle in 1933, leaving an estate of £9,474, with a small legacy and a life interest in £2,000 for Jacquète. This must have been a welcome addition to their household income in retirement, but nowhere near sufficient to purchase an estate for £14,000. However, the residue of Mary’s estate was added to the will trusts of their father’s estate. He had died as long ago as 1885, leaving a personal estate then valued at £10,505, which, if not immediately distributed, would have grown in value, as well as real property which was held on trust and to which Mary’s estate was added. It is possible that the trusts of his will were the source of funds for the purchase of Trevalga. It is also possible that Gerald purchased with a mortgage, subsequently paid off from the income of Trevalga.
When Gerald retired from Clifton College, he and Jacquète made their home in a house which they renamed “Coast View”. They chose not to live at the Manor House. Gerald would often be seen strolling along the country lanes or out on the cliff enjoying the sea air and views. He also added to the Trevalga estate with further purchases of farms and fields between 1935 and 1947 (again, it is unclear from where he raised the money for this), adding about a quarter again to the acreage of the estate by the time of his death. According to Percy Cory, Gerald Curgenven “disliked anything that would clash with the natural beauty of the area. He would not allow any campers on the cliffs, and caravans were barred.” A former resident of the village remembered that he enjoyed gardening but trout fishing was his first hobby -“he loved getting down to the cottage at Forrabury and go trout fishing”.
Lord of the Manor — 1937
Although Gerald and Jacquète chose to live at Coast View and not at the Manor House at Trevalga, his purchase of the estate brought with it the title of Lord of the Manor, and with it some ancient feudal duties in relation to the Duchy of Cornwall. On 1 December 1937, a traditional ceremony took place at the gate of Launceston Castle, as King George VI received acts of fealty to the Duchy to mark the 600th anniversary of its charter. His visit was the first of an English king as sovereign to Launceston since that of Charles I. The ceremony involved presentations to the King from various mayors and manorial Lords in compliance with their historic obligations: 100 shillings and a pound of pepper from the mayor of Launceston, a grey cloak, a pair of greyhounds, a pair of gilt spurs, a pound of cumin, a six-pronged salmon spear and bundle of wood from various other mayors and manors, a pair of white gloves from Trevalga, and from a Mr Bethuel Hutchings on behalf of the manors of Swannacott and St Mary Week, an appearance “within a mantle of goat skins”. As the Cornish Guardian reported it “his Majesty was not slow to see that there was some humour in the presentation, made though it was in all due solemnity and with due obeisance”.
In the Second World War Gerald was active in the Home Guard. Cornwall was at risk of attack from both air and sea, and many men embarked from Cornwall for the D Day landings. In his history of Trevalga Percy Cory mentioned the occupants of the Manor House standing breathless in the garden as they watched a German submarine sink a little ketch.
Deaths of Jacquète and Gerald Curgenven — 1951–1959
Jacquète Curgenven died at Trevalga on 13 July 1951, at the age of 83. Gerald chose to stay at Coast View and outlived her by some years. He died on 10 January 1959. He is buried in the churchyard in the village, his grave marked with the simple, unostentatious inscription
DIED 10th JANUARY 1959
AGED 82 YEARS
LORD OF THE MANOR OF TREVALGA
GERALD CURGENVEN’S WILL
Three months after Jacquète’s death, on 15 October 1951, Gerald made his last will at the offices of Peter Peter and Son in Launceston. No doubt he was prompted to do so by Jacquète’s death and by his own advancing age, together with the absence of a next generation of young people in his family. Gerald was the only one of his surviving brothers and sisters to have married, and not only was his marriage childless, but he had no nieces and nephews or remoter descendants either. Jacquète had been the youngest child in her family, and she and Gerald had largely outlived the children of her much older brothers and sisters. Even her niece Dorothy who had been her young bridesmaid in 1902 predeceased her aunt.
Gerald’s estate was substantial. After his death in January 1959, it was valued for probate at £91,097 11s 6d (£91,097.57), a very large sum for its day and the majority of which must have consisted of Trevalga. After payment of estate duty, his estate was valued at £76,788. Either there were sufficient investments or cash for his estate to pay the duty without selling Trevalga, or his executors were able to borrow the money and repay it from the income of Trevalga.
Gerard’s will was almost certainly drafted by Gerald or Claude Peter, and its drafting follows a conventional structure. He appointed Gerald and Claude to be his executors and trustees, and then set out his intentions for his personal possessions, then for the trust of Trevalga, followed by separate provisions sweeping up all of the rest of his estate (“the residue”) after his death. The residue was to go to his old school, Marlborough College. Reading the will as a whole, it seems clear that Gerald was pre-occupied with what should happen to Trevalga after his death, and his words and the meaning he intended them to have are still relevant to the future of Trevalga. Other than gifts of £250 to each of Gerald and Claude Peter who took probate of the will, and of Gerald’s personal papers and possessions, there were no cash legacies or other gifts of any other significance in the will, other than ensuring that his housekeeper and carer in his last years, Martha Gale, could continue to live at Coast View undisturbed for life. Nor was there any intention for the residue to be distributed between a range of beneficiaries, as is often the case. Apart from Gerald and Claude Peter, and Martha Gale, no single individual received anything from the will. And apart from Marlborough College and any unspecified charities which might one day receive the proceeds of sale of Trevalga, neither did any institution, not even Clifton College.
I have set out the relevant clauses of the will which create the trust of Trevalga in full at the end of this blog. In summary, they direct that:
- The trustees can either retain Trevalga or sell it, although they cannot sell it without the prior consent of Marlborough College.
- For as long as Trevalga remains unsold, the trustees must use its income for every type of expenditure on it as is desirable in the interests of good management
- If there is any income left over after this, it is paid to Marlborough College
- If Trevalga is sold the trustees are to pay the proceeds of sale to any charitable institutions (including Marlborough) they think fit.
By structuring the trust in this way, Gerald Curgenven ensured that the trustees could not and cannot sell Trevalga without the consent of Marlborough, which can give or withhold its consent as it wishes. But Marlborough has no incentive to give its consent, as doing so would bring its entitlement to income to an end, but without any certainty that it would receive any capital from the proceeds of sale.
Importantly, Gerald also said in his will in connection with the trust of Trevalga
“I express the wish that my trustees shall in fact continue to manage the Manor of Trevalga as far as possible in the way in which [it] has been managed in my lifetime and in particular I wish my Trustees to employ the same stewards and agents as have been employed in my lifetime for the purpose of such management”
This is the clearest expression of Gerald Curgenven’s hopes for the future of the Manor of Trevalga. It uses the word “wish”, which by the date of Gerald’s will would have been intended and understood, not as a binding obligation on the trustees, but a wish by which he strongly hoped they would be guided in their decision-making. I think the lack of specificity in the choice of charities to benefit if and when Trevalga is sold is consistent with the importance that Gerald attached to this wish. He did not really envisage Trevalga being sold and so it was unimportant for him to decide who should have the proceeds of sale.
On 13 October 1952 Gerald made a codicil to his will, correcting a minor slip in the description of one of the fields forming part of Trevalga. He clearly had not changed his mind and did not change his mind about the overall structure of the will. As if to underscore the continuity of both men’s presence in this narrative, one of the attesting witnesses to Gerald’s signature of that codicil was Percy Cory.
How far do the terms of Gerald Curgenven’s will reflect the known facts of his life and personality? I would say that they appear to be very much consistent. His wishes for Trevalga were characteristic of a man whose outlook on life, although he had lived through two world wars and much else as an adult, was essentially formed by the spirit of the age and background into which he was born — the Rectory at Byfield in the “high minded” mid-19th century. He was not a hereditary landowner nor a large scale private philanthropist, but clearly a man with a sense of long-term dedication to place and community.
Gerald’s father Francis had been described at his death in 1901 as a man of “a most genial and courteous disposition” and “a gentleman in every sense of the word … tolerant, broad-minded and liberal-hearted”, and his many activities in his parish, from cricket club to concerts (“he always had the interest and welfare of the parish at heart”) warmly enumerated. Gerald’s ideas of benevolent influence and responsibility within a community appear to have been shaped in part by his father’s long service at Byfield, in part by his experiences of English public schools, both as a boy and as a man, and in part through his ownership and Lordship of the Manor of Trevalga. An obituary of Gerald in the Cornish Guardian recorded that
“He did much to preserve and improve Trevalga and under his direction the hamlet, built about a Church (dedicated to St Petroc) whose tower is seen out at sea by mariners, became an increasingly attractive little place. For many years Mr Curgenven spent the rents and other capital on modernising the village”
This also suggests that his lifetime ownership of Trevalga formed the template for the wishes he expressed in his will.
TREVALGA AFTER GERALD CURGENVEN’S DEATH
In appointing Gerald and Claude Peter as his executors and trustees, and asking them to retain the same steward and agents for the estate, Gerald assured a measure of continuity in the management of Trevalga, consistent with the wish he had expressed in his will. Percy Cory continued in his position, by then as Steward, until 1992, the year of his death. The trustees held a dinner at the Wellington Hotel, Boscastle, celebrating his 60 years service to Trevalga. Before he died, he wrote a history of the place, including some first-hand observations of Gerald and Jacquète Curgenven and their lives at Trevalga. This record gives several glimpses of a well-liked couple without airs and graces, spending summers and eventually the last years of their lives in a place where they were happy. After their deaths Trevalga remained, and still remains the same place that it was in their lifetimes.
The first battle of Trevalga — 2010
In 2008 Southern Water acquired some Trevalga land by compulsory purchase in order to build a sewage treatment works. This prompted some scrutiny by the trustees of the terms of Gerald Curgenven’s will trust, and legal advice to them which led to a decision to put Trevalga on the market for sale in 2010, greatly to the concern and opposition of the residents. On 18 July 2010 the Daily Mail reported on the “Cornish village in battle with top private school”, and similar stories appeared elsewhere in the media. Residents of Trevalga spoke of their fear that their houses would be bought up for development and sale as second homes, leaving them without hope of finding affordable alternatives. Several of them also expressed their sense of deep attachment to Trevalga, in an episode of Lives in a Landscape broadcast on Radio 4 that year. Marlborough’s deputy master was quoted as saying that it had been discovered that the trust was imperfect and has failed and the college [Marlborough] is entitled to [Trevalga] absolutely. We don’t see this as an asset that furthers the objectives of [Marlborough]”. A director of Savills, the estate’s agents, was quoted in the Sunday Times of 18 July 2010 (£) saying “When the trust deed was drawn up many years ago, it breached the law of perpetuity. This means that the trust had never legally existed and that, in effect, the college always owned the estate.”
What was this alleged breach of the law of perpetuity? A perpetuity period defines either a fixed or an ascertainable period of time during which a trust fund must be completely distributed, reflecting the policy of the law that private trusts should not continue indefinitely. In 1951, when Gerald Curgenven drafted his will, there was not yet any statutory fixed perpetuity period, and it was conventional to draft such clauses by reference to “Royal lives” i.e. to make the duration of the trust ascertainable by reference to the longevity of the last survivor of a named British monarch. There was no such clause in Gerald Curgenven’s will applying to the principal trust of Trevalga and the sale of the estate as a whole. If that was a fatal defect in the trust, as the trustees/Marlborough had been advised, then Trevalga would have been treated as part of the residue of Gerald Curgenven’s estate. Marlborough as the sole beneficiary of the residue of the estate would then be absolutely entitled to Trevalga. This was the legal analysis behind the claim.
The residents of Trevalga also took legal advice, through the generosity of solicitor George Duncan of Charles Russell, and the late Edward Nugee QC, one of the pre-eminent Chancery barristers of his generation, and, like Gerald Curgenven and his father, a man of steadfast continuity, in practice as a barrister for nearly sixty years before his death in late 2014. He was an authority on the law of perpetuities, and in 2009 had both written a memorandum for the House of Lords Special Public Committee on the draft legislation which became the Perpetuities and Accumulations Act 2009, and given live evidence to the committee. He gave the Trevalga residents firm advice that the Trevalga trust in Gerald Curgenven’s will was valid and did not breach perpetuity law, because it was a gift of income to one charity (Marlborough College) and of capital to another (to be chosen by the trustees). One of the importance differences between private trusts and charitable trusts is that a charitable trust can continue indefinitely. If its original objects can no longer be fulfilled, they can be re-directed to another charity with objects as close as possible to the original. A valid trust for charity does not need a perpetuity period.
Edward Nugee’s view appears to have prevailed in 2010, as Trevalga was withdrawn from sale and remained in the ownership of the trustees, as reported in the media on 3 September 2010.
Registration as a charity
On 22 May 2012 the Gerald Curgenven Will Trust was registered as a charity by the Charity Commission. Its registered objects are
“… 1. to raise income for its income beneficiary, Marlborough College, a charity registered with charity number 309486, and 2. to preserve the capital for general charitable purposes”
This reflects the operative wording of clauses 5 and 8 of Gerald Curgenven’s will, but says nothing about his wishes for Trevalga.
The second battle of Trevalga — 2022
On 23 June 2022 the trustees sent Trevalga residents letters informing them of the decision to sell Trevalga.
“After operating as a charitable trust for some 63 years the inevitable has to be accepted and the trustees have decided the time has come for new ownership of the estate.
The decision has not been made lightly and there has been much legal and other consultation. The proposed sale is with the consent of Marlborough College.
The decision to sell is settled and there is no turning back the trustees are acutely aware of consternation on the estate.”
A meeting was proposed for 27 June 2022 and took place.
The trustees instructed Savills to market Trevalga and it is being offered for sale at a guide price of £15.75M. This is subject to the existing tenancies, the minority of which are regulated tenancies, and the majority assured shorthold tenancies which for the time being can be relatively easily terminated. As in 2010, the proposed sale has prompted vehement opposition from the residents of Trevalga, who fear both the loss of affordable housing, in some cases occupied by the same families for generations, and of the special character and appearance of Trevalga as a consequence of the further development and income generation possibilities suggested in the sales promotion material.
The story which appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 20 August 2022 (£) raises some questions about the trustees’ understanding of their own powers and duties, although it is unclear how far these arise from a misunderstanding in the reporting, rather than on the part of the trustees themselves.
An end point for the trust?
As explained above, it is correct that every private trust has an end point, and that is determined by a perpetuity period written in to the trust. But in 2010, Marlborough was claiming that the Trevalga trust was flawed because it did not have a perpetuity period, and appears to have been persuaded that that analysis was wrong. Why are the trustees now claiming that there is a relevant Royal lives clause?
The answer is that there is a Royal lives clause in the Trevalga trust, but it does not apply to the principal trust to either sell or retain the estate. It applies to clause 8(viii) of the will, which is a clause permitting the trustees to raise up to 1/20 of the market value of Trevalga by sale or mortgage at any time in order to meet their obligations to spend money on the good management of the estate. This clause 8(viii) power has to be exercised within a period limited to 21 years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King George V living at Gerald Curgenven’s death. But this power and this limit has never had any application to the sale of Trevalga as a whole. And even if it was relevant to the currently proposed sale, it is premature to regard it as nearing its end point. Princess Anne (b. 1950) was alive at Gerald Curgenven’s death, will live for at least another 25 years if she lives as long as her mother, and the perpetuity period lasts for 21 years beyond that in any event. And, as the Telegraph article does at least reflect, there is a further simple and comprehensive reason why the Royal lives clause and any prospective end point for the trust is totally irrelevant, which is that it is a registered charity. So any argument for sale of the entire estate based on this perpetuity period seems to be a complete red herring.
The viability of the estate
The real question for the trustees, and for Marlborough College whose consent is required for any sale, is whether the power to sell should be exercised, not whether it can be exercised.
The trustees do not appear to have given the residents of Trevalga any clear evidence that the estate is not viable. Its accounts for the years 2016–2020 are published on the Charity Commission’s website. The most recently filed trustees’ report and accounts, for the year which ended on 31 December 2020, make no reference to any decision to sell or to any concern that it is not viable to continue to manage the estate without selling. They show that there was sufficient income both in 2020 (£273,389) and the previous year (£266,029) to create a surplus for distribution to Marlborough — £80,143 in 2020 and £103,536 in 2019. The accounts also show that the trust has current liabilities which exceed its current (liquid) assets but the majority of this is undistributed income, and the £83,622 figure for other creditors in 2020 is not further analysed.
As reported in the Telegraph, the residents of Trevalga have the support of their MP, Scott Mann, whose intervention has led to the arrangement of a meeting between the trustees and the Charity Commission in early September 2022. He describes Trevalga as a “one of a kind community [which] does deserve some protection. We have significant challenges with housing in Cornwall anyway and we’re doing everything we can”.
The trustees have said that it would be inappropriate for them to make any further statement before that meeting. Savills are quoted in the Telegraph article as saying “the trustees have, for some time explored thoroughly the future of the estate within the trust structure that bind them and have concluded it is time for there to be a new owner not so constrained. This decision is based on both legal and economic grounds and will not be reversed.”
As for the Charity Commission itself —
The residents of Trevalga also hope to persuade the Charity Commission to amend the charity’s registered objects, in effect to rectify the register to make it more inclusive of the original purposes of Gerald Curgenven’s will trust. Modern charity law contains a more expansive description of charitable purposes than in 1951, and includes community development, and heritage, as well as the relief of those in need because of financial hardship or other disadvantage. These purposes could potentially encompass Gerald Curgenven’s wishes for Trevalga, and if these were to be included in the registered purposes of the trust, this might better protect the residents’ interests in any future decision about a sale.
It might seem anachronistic to argue for the perpetuation of a form of benign feudalism in keeping Trevalga as Gerald Curgenven envisaged it would remain. But it is easy to understand the residents’ strong sense of “belonging — without ownership” as one of them described it in 2010, and their desire to remain undisturbed in possession of their homes. It is not necessary to live in Cornwall to be aware that it is a county with an acute problem of housing for local people under pressure of purchase of second homes, with scarcity and inflation of property prices as a consequence, and local authorities anxious to avoid increasing the number of “ghost villages” with a majority second home population.
Nor could Gerald Curgenven have foreseen the polarisation between the interests of his old school and of the inhabitants of Trevalga as it is now apparent, where neither the occupation of affordable housing by residents of Trevalga nor its preservation as a place have the benefit of charitable status, but an independent selective and fee-paying school does.
I hope the meeting between the trustees and the Charity Commission leads to a resolution which might avoid a sale of Trevalga, or if, despite the residents’ opposition, Trevalga is sold, that its new owner is someone who is prepared to continue Gerald Curgenven’s legacy in the spirit in which he intended.
I have written this blog primarily to describe the background to and history of Gerald Curgenven’s will trust, and discuss the legal issues in their real life context. It is not intended to be and should not be relied on as legal advice. I am not and have not been professionally instructed on any aspect of the case by anyone at any time.
This blog is based on material in the public domain (biographical information principally from the British Newspaper Archive), together with some more detailed material, in particular Gerald Curgenven’s will and Percy Cory’s history of Trevalga, kindly provided to me by Serena Partrick of Trevalga
The Battle for Trevalga — BBC Radio 4 broadcast in Lives in a Landscape series 2010
Battle for Trevalga website 2022
Petition to the Charity Commission organised by Serena Partrick
Savills’ sale particulars
GERALD CURGENVEN’S WILL — TRUSTS OF THE MANOR OF TREVALGA
Clause 1 of the will appoints Gerald Peter and Clause Gilbert Peter as his executors and trustees
Clause 2 of the will gives each of them a legacy of £250 if he should prove the will
Clause 3 of the will gives his Trustees his letters and papers to be dealt with as they should think fit
Clause 4 of the will gives his personal possessions to his housekeeper at his death, Martha Gale
Clause 5 of his will sets out the gift of Trevalga to his trustees
5. I DEVISE all my freehold property and lands formerly comprising or forming part of the Manor of Trevalga (which property and lands are more particularly described in the Schedule hereto and are hereinafter collectively referred to as “the Manor of Trevalga”) to my Trustees free of duty in fee simple upon the trusts and with the powers and provisions hereinafter declared and contained of and concerning the same
Clauses 6 and 7 of his will set out the residuary trusts of the estate, providing for payment of his funeral and testamentary expenses (including estate duty both on the residue and on the Manor of Trevalga) and debts and legacies, and declaring Marlborough College to be his residuary beneficiary
Clause 8 of his will set out the mechanics of the trust of Trevalga
Clause 8(i) MY TRUSTEES shall stand possessed of the Manor of Trevalga upon trust (if my residuary fund shall be insufficient to provide in full for all the payments directed to be made thereout by clause 7 of this my Will by sale or mortgage to raise and pay thereout all (if any) my funeral and testamentary expenses debts legacies estate duty and other payments directed by clause 7 of this my Will to be paid out of my residuary fund which shall be outstanding after my residuary fund shall have been entirely exhausted in the payment thereof
(ii) Subject to the foregoing trusts my Trustees shall stand possessed of the Manor of Trevalga or the balance thereof not sold for teh purposes aforesaid (subject to any mortgage effected for such purpose) upon trust either to retain the same in its present state or at their absolute discretion to sell the same or any part or parts thereof at such time or respective times as they shall in their absolute discretion think fit but so that no part of the Manor of Trevalga shall be sold by my trustees in pursuance of this trust for sale without the prior consent in writing of the President for the time being of the Council of Governors of Marlborough College [or of Martha Gale in relation to the property occupied by her in her lifetime] and I hereby declare that the President of the Council of the Governors of Marlborough College shall have absolute freedom either to give or withhold his or her consent to any such sale and in giving or withholding such consent shall not be bound to consult or have regard to the interest of any other person in the Manor of Trevalga under this my Will
(iii) “So long as the Manor of Trevalga or any part of it shall remain unsold my Trustees shall have full power to manage the same in such manner as they shall think fit and to make all such improvements thereto and to carry out all such repairs and works as they shall in their absolute discretion think desirable in the interest of the good management of Trevalga as a whole and I express the wish that my trustees shall in fact continue to manage the Manor of Trevalga or so much thereof as for the time being shall remain unsold as far as possible in the way in which the same has been managed in my lifetime and in particular I wish my Trustees to employ the same stewards and agents as have been employed in my lifetime for the purpose of such management
(iv) [conditions for the occupation of Coast View by Martha Gale rent free for the remainder of her lifetime]
(v) Subject to the trusts aforesaid my Trustees so long as the Manor of Trevalga or any part thereof shall remain unsold shall stand possessed of the rents and profits thereof upon trust to apply the same as far as may be necessary in payment of all expenses currently incurred by my Trustees in connection with the management of the Manor of Trevalga or otherwise in pursuance of the provisions of sub-clause (iii) of this clause of this my Will
(vi) Subject to the trusts aforesaid my Trustees shall stand possessed of the rents and profits of the Manor of Trevalga or of so much thereof as shall for the time being remain unsold upon trust for Marlborough College absolutely
(vii) If and whenever the Manor of Trevalga or any part thereof shall be sold by my Trustees in pursuance of the foregoing trust for sale they shall stand possessed of the net proceeds of such sale upon trust for such charitable institutions (including Marlborough College) as they shall in their absolute discretion think fit
(viii) Notwithstanding anything hereinbefore contained it shall be lawful for my Trustees if at any time or times they shall in their absolute discretion think fit so to do to raise by sale mortgage or otherwise of the Manor of Trevalga or any part thereof such a sum (not exceeding at any one time one-twentieth of the market value for the time being of so much of the Manor of Trevalga as shall for the time being remain unsold) and apply the same for any purpose for which the rents and profits for the time being of the Manor of Trevalga may be applied under the provisions of sub-clause (v) of this Clause of this my Will provided that this power shall not be exercisable more than twenty one years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of His late Majesty King George V living at the time of my death
Clause 9 is an administrative clause about receipts for the trustees
Clause 10 is a professional charging clause for the executors and trustees
 The trust of Trevalga was drafted as a trust for sale, standard at the time, and now superseded by trusts of land under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996. Property held on a trust for sale did not have to be sold immediately, as the trust of Trevalga in Gerald Curgenven’s will makes clear
 See “High Minds”: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain by Simon Heffer 2013