A former fisherman’s store, dating from the mid-C19, with some C20 alterations; used from the 1920s to 1971 as a summer home and studio by artist couple Judith Ackland (1892-1971) and Mary Stella Edwards (1898-1989).
Reasons for Designation
The Cabin, a mid-C19 fisherman’s store, used in the C20 as a studio and summer cottage by artists Judith Ackland and Mary Stella Edwards, is listed at Grade II, for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: as a well-preserved and little-altered former fisherman’s store, an increasingly rare building type, set on the cliff above Bideford Bay;
* Historic interest: for its association with Judith Ackland and Mary Stella Edwards, artists and devoted lifelong companions, who used the building as a studio and summer cottage from 1924 until Judith’s death in 1971;
* Group value: with the numerous other listed C19 buildings which make up the small, cliff-top estate settlement of Bucks Mills.
The Cabin was built in the mid-C19, probably as a fisherman’s store, on the cliff above Bideford Bay in the tiny settlement of Bucks Mills (formerly Buckish Mill); it post-dates the 1838 tithe map, but is present on the first edition Ordnance Survey map of 1886. It was owned by the Walland Cary estate, the manor which held the land, and leased to various tenants. A photograph from circa 1890 shows the building unheated, with a window in the first floor of the west gable end wall where a stove and fireplace would later be installed. By 1906 the window had been closed, the building whitewashed, and a brick stack added to the west end of the ridge. The tenancy had been taken on by Mrs E Ackland, the wife of a doctor from nearby Bideford, by 1913. From the 1920s The Cabin, as it was christened, was used by Mrs Ackland’s daughter, Judith and Mary Stella Edwards, as a summer home and studio. The tenancy passed to Judith Ackland in 1938, and in 1948, when the Walland Cary estate was broken up, Judith purchased the building for £625.
Judith Ackland was born in Bideford in 1892. She began her artistic life at Bideford Art School, before moving to London to attend Regent Street Polytechnic (now part of the University of Westminster). Here she met Mary Stella Edwards, a fellow student, and they began a lifelong partnership, ended only by Judith’s death in 1971. Judith and Mary Stella were inspired by the beauty of the North Devon coast, painting, principally in the open air, views around the area, including those around and of The Cabin, and still life compositions with shells and other found objects. They travelled extensively throughout the country, painting and selling their work, but The Cabin remained their summer home and studio. After the Second World War, they began work on a new project. Judith, seeking a more settled life, began to produce dioramas, inventing and patenting a new process for model-making which she called Jackanda, in which highly-detailed, realistic figures were constructed using a base of wire and compressed cotton wool, and arranged in historical tableaux; the portraits, costumes and backgrounds were extensively researched before they began work. Judith made the meticulous figures, while Mary Stella painted delicately-coloured, exquisitely-detailed backdrops. A number of the dioramas were commissioned by the town of Windsor to celebrate various important moments in its history, including an ambitious and large-scale piece showing scenes of the Golden Jubilee celebrations of George III in 1809, which included portrait figures of the royal family based on paintings in the Royal Collection. The dioramas remain in the collection of Windsor Museum. Mary Stella painted a warm and intimate watercolour of the interior of The Cabin, showing Judith at work with her model-making materials beside the window in the ground-floor room.
In addition to her painting, which included book illustrations and jacket designs, Mary Stella Edwards was a poet, who published several volumes throughout her life. The women’s love for each other, and for The Cabin, was tenderly evident in her piece ‘The Words of Others’, written in 1973, two years after Judith’s death:
'The North Star’, the half-heard radio said,
No matter in what connection; and the tears sprang
Sliding across my eyes – so that I heard no more -
Hiding this paper, but not that constellation
That shines in my brain and ever at that door
Where we stood always when stars were bright at bedtime,
Stood in the dark night air, joined in love and gazing.
And in a book I read – a few words only -
‘The rowan already bright with berries’;
And at once we stand together in that enchantment and place
First found that day, and I picked the oak-leaf spray
To hold it always – but now only with tears.
I have it still, shrivelled and dry, among my treasures.
After Judith’s death, Mary Stella closed The Cabin and did not return. She moved back to her family home in Staines, Middlesex where she died in 1989. She presented a collection of her own and Judith’s work to Burton Art Gallery and Museum in Bideford, which included watercolours, drawings and dioramas of local topographical and historic interest, dating between 1913 and 1965. Other work by the pair can be found in public collections at The Victoria and Albert Museum, the Museum of London, The National Museum of Wales and Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal, Westmorland.
The Cabin, which had been left unaltered since 1971, was cared for by the Ackland-Edwards Charitable Trust, which maintained it almost as it had been left, occasionally allowing it to be used as a painting retreat. The building was passed to The National Trust in 2004, on condition that it continued to be used as a place of inspiration for artists. Each summer artists take up short residencies, and the building is also occasionally opened to the public.
A former fisherman’s store, dating from the mid-C19, with some C20 alterations; used from the 1920s to 1971 as a summer home and studio by artists Judith Ackland (1892-1971) and Mary Stella Edwards (1898-1989).
Brownish and grey stone rubble, brick stack and dressings, and slate roofs.
The building is a simple one-up, one-down, orientated east-west, set against a bank, with a small, single-storey addition at the east end.
The cabin is a two-storey building with a pitched roof, standing on a platform on the cliff above Bideford Bay, its south side set against the bank. The doors and windows are set in openings under segmental brick arches, and the windows have stone cills. There is a wide doorway with a plank-and-batten door giving level access to the first-floor room in the otherwise blind south elevation, which is single-storey only to the path above the building. The west gable end has an off-centre doorway to the ground floor, with a C19 plank door. Above it is an inset slate plaque inscribed THE CABIN. To the left is a nine-pane, fixed window. The long north elevation has a roughly central multi-paned timber casement window to the ground floor, with a two-over-two horned sash window to the first-floor to right. At the west end is a rectangular brick ridge stack with an offset to the top. The east gable end has a four-paned fixed light to the ground floor, and a narrow, one-over-one horned sash above. Attached at the east end, with a lean-to roof against the retaining wall to the south, is the former privy, with a plank-and-batten door with notched top.
Internally, the stone walls are whitewashed. The ground-floor room, whose ceiling is clad in timber, has a high inglenook fireplace at the west end, with a deep timber bressumer and mantleshelf, and a woodburning stove (replaced 2016). At the east end half the width of the building is taken up by a pantry, partitioned off with matchboarding, which has a plank-and-batten door and wrought-iron door furniture. The pantry has shelves fixed to both side walls. Adjacent to the pantry door is a second, similar door giving access to the stair. The stair is boxed in with matchboarding in the ground-floor room, creating small understairs cupboard. The stair, which turns through 90 degrees, has timber treads and risers. The first-floor room, its floor covered in brown, patterned linoleum, has a narrow, cast-iron fireplace with a round-arched grate and a timber mantleshelf extending the width of the chimney breast. A matchboard balustrade separates the stair from the room and is extended over the stair void as a deep shelf. The long elevations include narrow timbers running part of the length of the room, each with rows of nails inserted, likely to have been associated with the building’s original function as a fisherman’s store, perhaps for hanging nets. The roof is ceiled, but the ends of the principal rafters of the mid-truss are visible, and the exterior shows that there are twin purlins.