The opportunity to live in an English castle has come up for one lucky person. St Aubyn Estates is looking for a live-in officer to help take care of St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall.
St Michael’s Mount is a castle built on a tidal island in Mount’s Bay, Cornwall. Not to be confused with Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy, St Michael’s Mount is one of 43 unbridged tidal islands in mainland Britain that can only be reached by a causeway at low tide.
The land was gifted by Edward the Confessor to the Benedictine Order of Mont-Saint-Michel and a priory was established there. During the 12th century, a castle and monastic buildings appeared on the summit of the Mount.
However, when Henry V was at war with France, the priory was dissolved because it was controlled by a non-English religious order. Instead, it became a chapel associated with the Convent of Syon in Middlesex, and the island became a destination for pilgrims.
St Michael’s Mount became involved in various political wars over the centuries. John de Vere, the 13th Earl of Oxford, held the castle during a 23-week siege against Edward IV’s troops. In 1497, it was occupied by Perkin Warbeck, a man who claimed to be one of the Princes in the Tower and the rightful heir to the English throne.
The land was given to Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. It was later sold to the Bassett family who held the Mount against Parliamentary forces during the English Civil War.
In 1659, the land was sold to Colonel John St Aubyn, and it has remained in the hands of his descendants ever since.
Development as a fishing port
Following harbor improvements in 1727, the Mount became a flourishing seaport. Tragically, a tsunami caused by the Lisbon earthquake in 1755 caused a great loss of life and property along the Cornish coast, including at St Michael’s Mount.
Records show that the population on the island reached its peak in 1821 with 221 inhabitants. At one point, there were 53 houses, three schools, a chapel, and three inns. A herd of Jersey cows was kept on the Mount to supply residents with milk, butter, and cheese.
However, after modifications were made to Penzance harbor and railway, the Mount’s settlement began to decline.
While many of the buildings were demolished after that, the castle remained intact and was caught up in the romantic movement in the 18th century. The Mount had been a setting for one of John Milton’s poems in the 1600s, referencing the legend that the archangel Michael sat on a great stone chair on the Mount, looking out over the sea to protect England. In the 1850s, JMW Turner created some engravings and paintings depicting scenes from Milton’s work.
During World War II, the Mount was fortified to guard against a potential German invasion. Three pillboxes built at the time can still be seen today.
Life on St Michael’s Mount today
Today, the majority of St Michael’s Mount is owned by the National Trust. The St Aubyn family still lives in the castle under a 999-year lease, and they manage the public viewing of the castle in conjunction with the National Trust.
Within the castle, it is possible to see various antiquities, including plate armor, paintings, and furniture. Some of the staff who work on the island live on Elizabeth Terrace in houses that date from 1885. As of 2011, the island’s population was 35 people.
A narrow-gauge railway built around 1900 is still in use today. However, it only transports goods and is not open to the general public because the steep gradient means it’s unsafe for passengers.
In 1995, part of the Mount was declared a Site of Special Interest. This is because it provides a location where many Cornish geological features can be seen in one place.
Tourists and royal footprints
St Michael’s Mount can be reached via the causeway when the tide is low. If the tide is in, then access is only possible by boat. Given the myths and legends surrounding the place, as well as its dramatic setting, it is estimated around 300,000 people visit each year.
The brass imprints of footprints that were taken to mark royal visits make up an unusual tourist attraction. Edward VII’s print has been preserved at the bowling green, while down on the harbor is an imprint that was taken to mark Queen Victoria’s visit in 1846.
Keeping up this tradition, Prince Charles and HRH the Duchess of Cornwall made imprints when they visited the Mount in July 2010. Queen Elizabeth II and her husband HRH The Duke of Edinburgh also did so when they visited in May 2013. Photos on the internet suggest that it is a popular pastime for visitors to place their feet next to the imprints and see how they measure up against royalty.
The job of a lifetime
In May 2021, St Aubyn Estates announced that they were looking for a new castle officer. The applicant should be willing to live at the castle five nights a week, and duties would include taking a “hands-on” approach to maintenance and conservation.
The officer would provide support to the Castle Steward, which would include locking up the public part of the castle each day, moving furniture, hanging pictures, and being available for emergency cover. See the job posting for more details.
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The applicant should be discreet, compassionate, and tactful. A love of boats is essential according to Kate Cornwell, head of HR at St Aubyn Estates, because that’s the only way on or off the island during high tide.
Current castle steward Duncan Murdoch is quoted as saying that the best thing about living on the island is the fantastic sea view you get from every window, while the worst thing was not being able to get pizza deliveries.