Property has a habit of reminding us of the past and of links across time and even continents. I thought this recently when considering a tie between the County of Devon in England and Cape Cod on the north east coast of the USA – two rocky coastal areas separated by a single ocean. Two places called home by a single family.
The Smalley family has been a part of Bideford in Devon, England for hundreds of years and probably long before the Pilgrim Fathers set out for America in 1620. But records show that several Smalleys set off for the American colonies in the wake of the Mayflower. Curiously one was Edward Smalley the son of Walter Raleigh Smalley. Rumour was that Walter Raleigh Smalley was the illegitimate child of Elizabeth I – the ‘Virgin’ Queen – and the English aristocrat, writer, poet, soldier, politician, courtier, spy, and explorer, Sir Walter Raleigh. Raleigh supposedly arranged for a shipmate named Smalley from Devon to raise the boy.
But I digress – property does that – it was probably one of Edward’s kinsmen, John Smalley who, sailing from London on March 9 1632 with Edward Winslow in the William and Francis, ventured to Cape Cod. By 1645 Smalley had bought a 55-acre parcel of land on the bluffs, high above the Atlantic Ocean near Truro on the Cape – the original deeds show the land was purchased with British pounds. There have been Smalleys in the area ever since. But at some stage the family name was shortened to Small. For centuries the family worked land and sea. In one case both at the same time as three generations operated the lighthouse.
Over hundreds of years of ownership and divesture, John Smalley’s original 55-acre plot has diminished now to 2.6 acres and has become known as Spion Kop. It is this parcel next to the Highland Lighthouse, and a short walk to the beautiful beach, which is now for sale with its shingle-clad cottage dating back to about 1900. It is a sensational location and a very romantic spot. But for me one historical mystery remains: why was the property given the name Spion Kop – the name of a 1900 Boer War battle in South Africa that the British lost?