The Magic Of The Mill
by Sharon Parsons / Narratives
Local history, unspoiled character and a tranquil setting combine to make Jeni and Stuart Jebb’s beautiful Devonshire mill house a unique place to call home
Jeni Jebb recalls feeling at home the moment she and husband Stuart stepped into the large kitchen of the millhouse they’d gone to view back in the spring of 2011: “The units were painted exactly the same shade as the ones in my existing kitchen, and even the tablecloth was the same as one I already owned,” she laughs. “I said to Stuart, ‘This is definitely meant to be!’.”
And indeed, as they continued their tour of the characterful Devonshire mill and adjoining cottage tucked deep in a wooded valley in the South Hams, they felt, finally, that this property was what they’d long been searching for.
“For 30 years, we’d lived in a lovely medieval farmhouse near Guildford, but once our two daughters Sophie (26), and Amy (28) flew the nest, we decided the time was right to do something completely different – and move to an area we’ve always loved,” she explains.
Despite their enthusiasm, it proved easier said than done. While their priority was to find somewhere that would suit the two of them, they also wanted to create a retreat for visiting family and friends. But properties that met their criteria – a home with a layout that would give both them and their guests privacy and space – seemed few and far between.
“We decided to instruct a professional property-finding company,” says Stuart. “It might perhaps seem an expensive option, but it proved absolutely worth it.”
Not only did the south west country house finder sort the wheat from the chaff, meaning the couple didn’t make fruitless trips to view unsuitable properties, the company’s expert knowledge of the local market meant they were ahead of other buyers and well placed to assess value and negotiate where necessary on Jeni and Stuart’s behalf, saving them considerable time, stress and worry.
“When the company called to tell us about an old millhouse that had been on the market for a while, we were hopeful,” says Jeni. “We loved its situation, and the size sounded perfect. We went down that weekend with fingers crossed.”
The couple were also intrigued by the property’s considerable history: records show a mill has been on this site next to a farm mentioned in the Domesday book, and is powered by water from the stream that runs along one side of the valley. While it’s thought this particular mill building was constructed some 200 years ago, the adjoining cob cottage – which once housed the miller and his family – dates back to at least the 15th century.
It operated as a working mill until just before the Second World War; then the area was commandeered by American troops, evacuated, and the building used to accommodate soldiers. The fortunes of the mill were to change forever when during the war a line of bombs were dropped along the valley, destroying the leat (the manmade channel which diverted the stream water to the mill) effectively removing the supply.
Not surprisingly, then, that after the war, the mill was used for nothing more than storage for the neighbouring farm’s machinery and supplies, a state of affairs that continued until the early nineties, when new owners took on the considerable task of converting the mill into living accommodation. They also linked it to the cottage via an intriguing labyrinth of passages and staircases which knit the two buildings together. Jeni and Stuart were not only charmed by the building’s provenance, but the layout, particularly the fact that there were four bedrooms on the cottage side (“perfect for guests!”), and three within the mill building, reinforced their conviction that here, at last, was the property they’d been looking for. Within six months, Keynedon Mill was theirs.
While the property was generally in good condition, most of the rooms needed updating. “We loved all the original features, but really wanted to introduce a feeling of light and space,” Jeni explains. Stuart got stuck in without delay, redecorating rooms and corridors in soft, neutral shades, installing contemporary bathrooms and updating the basic heating system with eco- friendly wood-burning stoves.
Meanwhile, Jeni, who had worked in the interiors industry for many years, thought how best to incorporate much of their existing furniture – an easy mix of family heirlooms and classic furnishings – into their new home. Not least, she wanted to make good use of the numerous collections of antique linens, tableware, and charming finds, from vintage signs to kitchenalia she’s amassed over the years. “We were so lucky that almost everything we already had looked completely at home at the Mill,” she says. “Although we had to invest in a few new pieces, generally it meant we were able to make each of the rooms comfortable and homely as soon as they’d been redecorated.” Jeni goes on to say, “Having the space for our two lovely grown-up daughters, family and friends to stay for wonderful weekends really makes this house a home, and being surrounded by all our special treasures which we’ve collected over the years.”
Indeed, within seven months of moving in, the couple were more than settled in their new home and able to welcome a constant stream of friends and family who frequently gather for relaxed weekends. This summer, their daughter Sophie’s wedding was even held in the lovely gardens. “What we love most about living here,” says Jeni, “is the unspoiled beauty of the South Hams, the calmer pace of life, and all the local people who have made us so welcome. It’s such a privilege to be part of this wonderful building’s story and share it with everyone who comes here.”
AT HOME WITH…
THE OWNERS: Jeni and Stuart Jebb and their Lakeland Terrier, Mabel
THE PROPERTY: A Devon Mill dating back to the early 19th century, with an adjoining 15th century cob cottage
THE ROOMS: Kitchen, conservatory, dining room, study, snug, sitting room, seven bedrooms, three bathrooms, two en suites, cloakroom
LOCATION: South Hams, Devon
ON OUR DOORSTEP… Jeni and Stuart recommend a few of their favourite haunts:
Visit: The South West Coastal Path (southwestcoastalpath.co.uk). The scenery is stunning, and we love visiting the wonderful beaches and coves where we spent so many happy holidays with our daughters
Shop at: The Friday market in Totnes is fantastic. It sells everything from artisan bread to French country furniture
- Text: Sharon Parsons/Narratives
- Photography: Polly Eltes/Narratives