Sheila Pearse

(1896-1961) – Art student

Sheila Pearse was an art student at Plymouth during the war. Her future husband Stanley Breen returned from Gallipoli unscathed and, after marrying in 1925, they became tenant farmers at Cotehele. Sheila drove tractors and racing cars and, in 1950, made a banner in honour of all those injured in war.

Credit: Cotehele House (National Trust), Mary Martin and photo by John Hammond

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Sheila Pearse was born in 1896 and grew up in Cawsand where her father was a master mariner.  When war broke out Sheila was 17 and a student at the art school in Plymouth.  At the time her future husband, Stanley Breen, was a member of the Royal 1st Devon Yeomanry, which then formed part of the South Western Mounted Brigade. Stanley was one of the lucky ones.  Despite serving in Gallipoli and other hot spots, he returned from war physically unscathed, with souvenirs including a pair of olivewood candlesticks, and a book of pressed flowers for his mother.  These now belong to his niece.  He took up the farm tenancy at Cotehele with Sheila, whom he married in 1925. Their stock included a gaggle of geese, and a herd of cattle which were housed in the medieval barn (now the restaurant).  As Miss E. Neale recalled in an interview for Stoke Climsland archives, Sheila’s husband Stanley Breen ‘never drove the tractor, she always did that, and she [Sheila] used to go motor racing, reliability trials we used to have years ago’.

Community‐minded Sheila was a talented needlewoman, florist, and organist.  She decorated Cotehele Chapel at Harvest Festival time, and played the organ during services throughout the year, including Christmas carol concerts, when the instrument would be wheeled into the Hall (this organ, now in the Victorian Library, can be played by visitors).

Around 1950, Sheila made a banner for the Plymouth Branch of LESMA (Limbless Ex‐Servicemen’s Association) in honour of the war‐injured. When she died in 1961, Stanley commissioned a memorial window in St Dominick Church. Amidst the stained glass, with symbols reflecting Sheila’s skills and interests, are three clear horizontal ‘slits’ revealing views to the surrounding landscape.  An inscription reads ‘She used her many talents in the service of this neighbourhood’. Stanley continued farming at Cotehele until around 1970.

Credit: Cotehele House (National Trust) portrait given by Mary Martin and photographed by John Hammond