Born in 1799, the son of a Somerset gentleman, and educated at Harrow and Oxford, Heaven became rich in 1834 from inheriting his godfather William Hudson's sugar plantations in Jamaica, supplemented by the compensation paid by the British government for the emancipation of the enslaved people who worked there. Heaven intended to make Lundy his summer estate and quickly set about building a house suitable for his wife and their expanding family.
He considered building his home at Gannet's Combe, some way towards the North End beyond Admiralty Lookout but instead chose Millcombe Valley, considerably closer to what was then and is now the heart of the island and its landing beach. It is a perfectly sheltered position - described by Nikolaus Pevsner as "the only place where Lundy can be seen in so gentle a mood". The house built by William Heaven, originally known as The Villa, is symmetrical and understandably Classical. It has a shallow and bogus pediment, which was not meant to fool anybody as the footpath leading up to the village behind the house, affords an excellent view of its roof.
In their book on Lundy, A & M Langham point out that "the completion of the house was a considerable achievement as Mr Heaven had to import all the materials for building, as well as his furniture, onto the island and have them dragged up the steep track from the beach by sleds pulled by donkeys and oxen" - agonisingly slow and arduous work. Soon after this the Beach Road was built.
The Villa was built of stuccoed granite and Mr Heaven's resident agent, William Malbon, supervised the works. He was not satisfied with their quality and had great difficulty in obtaining the right materials from the mainland, so before accounts were settled on completion in 1838, he commissioned a survey and report. This was carried out by Edwin Honeychurch, an architect from Bristol, who may also have designed the house. Nothing it seems was quite right: he complained about the joinery, plumbing, decoration and bell hangings; moreover he stated that the roof composition was unsatisfactory.
It seems that financial considerations rather than shoddy building caused William Heaven to offer the island for sale in 1840. An enthusiastic journalist described the Villa thus: "the mansion is of recent creation and combines within it all the accommodation a patriotic little monarch can desire, with corresponding offices of every description". The acquiescence of Mr Malbon and Mr Honeychurch to this is questionable but in any case Lundy did not sell.
Millcombe is a pleasing and sociable house planned as it is on the ground floor round a central hall, and on the first floor round a top-lit central staircase. The dining room and drawing room (both heated by unusual convector grates) and the kitchen were in the same places as now. The large room next to the kitchen was the Butler's Pantry. Where there is now a cloakroom and two bathrooms, there was a scullery, larder and a cloakroom.
Upstairs the plan has not changed. William Heaven slept in the bedroom now named Benson. When it was built the Villa had the unusual facility of washbasins in the bedrooms. Miss Eileen Heaven relates that they were moved to Tapeley Hall by Lady Christie when that family acquired Lundy in 1918. In the stairwell is the portrait by Monanteuil of the Heaven children in 1832: Hudson, Maria, William (Walter) and Cecilia. It used to hang in the Hall and was presented to The Landmark Trust by Miss Eileen Heaven.
Behind the dining room there was formerly an outside WC. Beyond is a range of outhouses once used as stores, a gun-room, laundry, and carriage-house. The terrace was added later, and the porch was there by 1872. This doubled as a conservatory, with geraniums and fuchsias in window-boxes, where nectar-loving insects buzzed happily. The family planted the garden with flowering shrubs and laid out the winding paths. The walled kitchen gardens were at the bottom, near the Beach Road. Beside the gate were stables, since pulled down.
Mrs Heaven, whose love of Lundy did not always match her husband's, died in 1851 and after this the family moved to the island on a permanent basis. William Heaven lived at the Villa with his two unmarried daughters, Cecilia and Amelia Anne. His son, the Rev. Hudson Grosett Heaven, joined them in 1863, followed in 1866 by Mrs Marion Heaven, widow of the second son, Walter, with their two children, and in 1873 by a niece, Ann-Mary Heaven.
In 1875, William Heaven had a stroke which left him severely incapacitated until his death in 1883, and the Rev. Hudson took over the running of the island. He was known by the family as ‘Phi’, short for Philosopher, due to his voracious appetite for reading. He was licensed as curate during his father's lifetime and used to hold Sunday services in the dining room or hall at Millcombe when the congregation was small. In 1885, he built the corrugated iron church of St. Helena's on a site directly to the north of Government House, described by Bishop Bickersteth of Exeter as "a corrugated irony".
In 1897, however, the Bishop consecrated an altogether grander church, the one so clearly silhouetted against the sky as we approach Lundy by sea. With its 65-foot tower holding a peal of eight bells, it was designed by the London architect, John Norton. This perhaps explains its urban scale though, as Myrtle Langham pointed out in an article on the Heaven family published in 1986, its size was not so remarkable at a time when Lundy boasted a population of 60. The Rev. Hudson Heaven died on the mainland in 1916, "having accomplished the dream of his life by erecting this church to the glory of God", as the plaque in the church reads.
In 1918 Lundy was sold to the Christies and then in 1925 to Mr Martin Coles Harman. Originally called the Villa, it was by then known as the House, but when the Harmans moved in, they renamed it Millcombe after the watermill that gave the valley its name. They did not live on the island permanently but stayed there for holidays. One of Mr Harman's special Lundy pleasures was the possibility of shooting rabbits from his bedroom window.
In 1961 it was discovered that dry rot had taken hold of the roof and other timbers, especially at the south end of the house. Consequently, the walls of the drawing-room, the bedrooms above and the bathroom had to be torn down and the affected timber removed. It became clear that the copper sheets of the curious inward-sloping roof, designed to catch rainwater, would have to be removed. The considerable cost of this dictated that the roof would be replaced with a flat one of felt covered with asphalt as a temporary solution. This was completed in the summer of 1962.
For a short history of Lundy please click here.
To read the full history album for Lundy please click here.
In 1971 the Landmark Trust began a complete refurbishment of Millcombe, curing the remains of dry rot and renewing the inward-sloping copper roof. To restore Millcombe to its original appearance, the porches at the front and back were removed in 1977. At the same time, a new north window was put in the kitchen, facing the site of the demolished latrine, and the floor was tiled with German quarry tiles like those in the Barn. The range of offices at the back was also restored and is now inhabited by islanders. From 1973 until 1988 Millcombe was a small hotel. In 1989, walls were added to enclose the terrace.