A whole lot of trouble! How did TV’s Ruth Watson keep this family’s Cornish mansion from falling to pieces? With drastic action – and very tough love…
Georgina Le Grice is no stranger to horror stories thanks to her job as a literary agent in London. But she never expected to find herself in one, at Trereife House, her family’s manor house in Cornwall. The quaint 18th-century property fell into disrepair and there was no money to save it.
“I moved into Haus Trereife when I was two years old,” says Georgina, 24, “and my elderly grandmother moved out. It had 80 acres of land, 14 rooms and six huge, ornate bedrooms. We never had a heater, and in the winter I went to bed in layers and with two duvets. But I didn’t mind because I loved the house.”
From a young age Georgina knew that she and her younger brother Peter, 23, were heirs to an estate with a remarkable history. The house has been the home of the Le Grice family since 1798.
Rescuers: Ruth Watson at Trereife House in Penzance with Tim, Peter, Georgina and Elizabeth Le Grice
But generation after generation has been hit by crippling death taxes and ongoing expenses.
In 1982 it was inherited by Georgina’s father Tim, who runs a law firm. A few years later he moved here with his wife Liz and their two children.
With running costs of £40,000 a year, Tim, now 68, poured money into a series of projects that turned out to be disastrous. An amusement park with a gypsy wagon, a zoo, and a restaurant all failed to take off, instead incurring significant debt.
Early last year, the home — and family — were struggling to stay afloat.
It was then that Georgina, whose career as a literary agent in London was flourishing, realized how bad things were. She says: “I wanted to help but didn’t know where to turn. I had seen Country House Rescue before and was hoping Ruth Watson could give us some answers.’
But could Ruth, a multimillionaire hotelier and businesswoman who does to crumbling land piles what Gordon Ramsay does to failing restaurants, save the family home?
The first meeting in May last year was a disaster.
Beautiful B&B: With running costs of £40,000 a year, the Le Grices needed to convert their home into a hotel
After inspecting the home, Ruth gave the family her assessment. She proposed a big bed and breakfast business, but when Georgina’s mother Liz, 62, wasn’t willing to help, Ruth wasn’t too pleased. Georgina recalls: “Ruth suggested to Mum that she give up her job as a librarian to run a B&B.
Mum disagreed and said she wasn’t domestic. Then Ruth snapped back: “I can tell by the way you run your house.” Mum held it together while the cameras filmed, but then she ended in tears. I felt absolutely terrible.’
But Ruth believes tough words were needed.
She says: “I found the house in a completely run-down state. There were holes in the roof, damp everywhere, damaged plaster cornices, and trees growing in the middle of the outbuildings.
In such a state, Georgina and her brother should inherit a pile of junk.”
She set out the family chores: prepare four of the bedrooms for paying guests; check the possibility of renting luxury yurts for high-end camping in the walled garden; and organize a literary event that brings visitors to the estate.
Before Ruth came to my rescue I was so distraught that I bought 60 scratch cards hoping for a miracle to save my family’s house. I didn’t win a single cent
“In the end, the bed and breakfast trial was a success,” says Georgina, “guests said they loved the house and camping on the site. We knew there was potential, but Ruth wanted me to quit my job in London and move to Cornwall. At the same time, I was offered a promotion – and I felt completely torn.”
Ruth suggested that she devote two years of her life to founding the B&B and Georgina agreed.
Renovations began and the family spent every penny they could spare repairing the roof and preparing the four bedrooms for paying guests. “When I last visited in October,” says Ruth, “I was glad that some progress was being made – but I didn’t realize how far the family would go to get their business off the ground.”
Four months later, Georgina is finally mistress of her house while still clinging to her career. She arrives in Cornwall every Friday at 11pm and catches the 5am train to London on Mondays. It’s a punitive regime, but one that breathes life into family property.
Weddings are a booming business and bed and breakfast rooms are doing well.
Georgina says: “Before Ruth came to help us I was so desperate that I bought 60 lottery scratch cards hoping for a miracle to save my family’s house. I didn’t win a single cent.
Now, thanks to Ruth, we have the house ready for a prosperous future.”
Country House Rescue, 9 p.m. Sundays, Channel 4.