Grey Ladies was built by Ernest Betjemann, the Poet Laureate’s father, on part of a field known as Well Park, bought from Robert Darell Smythe Darell (of Trewornon) in 1918. The architect was Robert Atkinson FRIBA, OBE, who had also designed Undertown in 1928. Grey Ladies was first bought in 1933 by Mrs Sally Elaine May Faber from Harrogate, for the price of £1,600. The 1933 conveyance document is handwritten in beautiful copperplate, and is firm on various points, including that neither the “dwellinghouse” nor the garden should be used for carrying out any kind of trade or business, except “the reception of lodgers or boarders or the carrying on of a learned or artistic profession”.
In the 1933 conveyance the house is referred to as No.1 Grey Ladies, implying that the almost identical house next door, now known as Grey Gables, was originally built as No. 2 Grey Ladies, and that the Grey Ladies name was bestowed by Ernest Betjemann himself. From a sketch in the conveyance it may be seen that the road turning off Daymer Lane to reach these two houses was already in existence, though it is not clear whether by then it continued on towards other houses higher up the clifftop.
Grey Ladies was bought in 1968 from Mrs Jackson (previously Mrs Faber) by the Robertson family. Antony Robertson CBE ((1915-2003) met his future wife Mary Norman (1917-2013) at Oxford where both were undergraduates before the Second World War. They married in 1946. Before children and deteriorating eyesight interfered, Mary was an outstanding tennis player, becoming a tennis blue at Oxford, playing for her home county (Staffordshire), and both at Wimbledon and abroad. She also gained OU half-blues in fencing and netball. Antony read for the Bar after Oxford, but then enlisted with the Royal Artillery in 1939; he was captured by German forces in 1940 and spent the next five years as a prisoner of war. During this time he passed his Bar finals from PoW camp – his wife saw his Bar admission certificate at a PoW exhibition in London. Antony was already a fluent German speaker, having spent much time in pre-war Germany and its opera houses, and during his time in camp he also learnt Russian and Mandarin. He and an architect schoolfriend John Mansel spent much time in camp forging papers for escaping colleagues – their successful efforts were thought to be too valuable for them to be allowed to try to escape themselves. After the war Antony practised briefly as a barrister and then became a career civil servant, mainly with the Ministry of Transport. He was awarded the CBE for his long chairmanship of the Traffic Commissioners for London.
Antony and Mary Robertson retired to live full-time at Grey Ladies in 1985, where their three sons Alastair, Nicholas and James and their grandsons visited them regularly. Mary had a longtime love of Cornwall from many pre-war holidays there, and an uncle living in Hayle. After a family holiday in Rock the Robertsons took Singleton, which still belongs to the James family, for several successive summers before buying Grey Ladies. Sailing at Rock was also a strong attraction.
In 2009 Grey Ladies was sold to Matthew and Susan Byrne. The original house was demolished in 2012 because of its poor structural condition, but the new Grey Ladies owes much of its design and appearance to its predecessor. Matthew grew up in Trebetherick (at The Wold) and attended Wadebridge School in the 1970s before leaving the County to first study at University and then work building his own engineering business. Susan is from Canada and has strong Cornish roots with her Grandfather born a century ago down near Falmouth on the family farm where her cousins still live. Matthew and Susan have a daughter Isla who loves Cornwall as much as they do.