Category Archives: CORNWALL

TEHIDY

One hundred years ago, ‘the most beautiful mansion in Cornwall’ was destroyed by fire. Eye-witness accounts tell us of the devastation that night, and the desperation felt in the aftermath.  

Tehidy - Drawing
Tehidy House, Palladian building started in 1734 by John Pendarves Basset (1713–1739) and completed in about 1740 by his brother Francis Basset (d.1769). Demolished about 1861 for re-building in neo-classical style by John Francis Basset (1831–1869).

The story of Tehidy goes back many hundreds of years. In his ‘History of Cornwall’, Samuel Drew says that Tehidy, which in the Cornish language signifies either the ‘narrow house’, the ‘fowler’s house’, or the ‘single dwelling’, was about four miles north-west from Redruth, and “when surveyed from the summit of Carn Brea Hill, from which it is conspicuous, it appears like a well cultivated garden blooming in the midst of a barren desert. The manor of Tehidy, which is of extensive jurisdiction, and enjoys great privileges, being excepted out of the grant made by the Arundells of the Hundred of Penwith, includes within its circuit many rich mines.”¹

Tehidy Park had been the property and residence of the Basset family for many centuries. The ancient family of Cornwall and Devon descended from Thurstan Basset, who was in all probability the son of Osmund Basset of Normandy, who came over with William the Conqueror. Soon after the Norman Conquest, this great baronial family rose into power and importance, especially in the midland counties. The family gave a Chief Justice to England in the reign of Henry I, in the person of Ralph Basset, from whom sprang the Lords Basset of Drayton and the Lords Basset of Haddington.

During the 12th century, the Bassets of Cornwall obtained the estate by marriage with the heiress of the great house of De Dunstanville. In fact, the earliest mention of Tehidy occurs about 1100, according to William Lake’s ‘Parochial History of the County of Cornwall’ when “Alan de Dunstanville, or Dunstanvile, who was then lord of the manor of Tehidy, granted a lease of Minwinnion, now the home farm, within the park to Paul Guyer.”² From this period they appear to have enjoyed considerable wealth and influence until the civil wars, when three brothers of the family all distinguished themselves in the royal cause. Sir Francis Basset, the Sheriff of Cornwall, was with King Charles at Lostwithiel, when Essex’s army surrendered. Owing to large sums of money expended by them in this unhappy struggle, the family estate became considerably reduced, but it was afterwards retrieved by marriages to heiresses.

Two ancestors of the family married Miss Hele and Miss Pendarves. From the last named union, the estates descended to John Pendarves Basset (1714-1739), who built a new mansion house at Tehidy in 1734, allowing the architect Thomas Edwards of Greenwich to undertake his first work in Cornwall. Sadly, its owner died of smallpox a few years later, aged 25, the house not fully completed, and leaving his widow £100,000. His son, John Prideaux Basset, had died in minority, in 1756, and the estates reverted to his uncle, Francis Basset of Turley (1715-1769), in Northamptonshire, who married Margaret, daughter of Sir John St. Aubyn, of Clowance.

Francis Basset died in 1769 and left as his heir Francis Basset (1757-1835), MP for Helston, who was created a Baronet in 1779, and advanced to the peerage as Baron De Dunstanville, of Tehidy, in 1796. He married Frances Susannah, daughter and co-heir of John Hippesley-Coxe, of Stone Easton, Somerset, and by her had an only daughter, Frances (1781-1855). Lord De Dunstanville married, as his second wife, a daughter of Sir William Lemon, of Carclew, presumably with the hope of securing a male heir. However, he died in 1835, when the barony of De Dunstanville became extinct, but the barony of Basset, of Stratton, devolved to his daughter, Frances, who became 2nd Baroness Basset of Stratton in accordance with a special remainder.

Francis_Basset,_1st_Baron_de_Dunstanville
Francis Basset in 1778 on the Grand Tour in Rome, with the Castel Sant’Angelo and St. Peter’s Basilica in the background. Portrait by Pompeo Batoni, Prado, Madrid.
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In BBC TV’s recent adaptation of Winston Graham’s ‘Poldark’ series, the character of Sir Francis Basset was played by actor John Hopkins. Like the books, it was a sympathetic portrayal. Image: BBC.

The entailed estates passed to his nephew, John Francis Basset (1831-1869), who was the eldest son of John Basset of Stratton, younger brother of Lord de Dunstanville, and sometime MP for Helston. His mother was Elizabeth Mary, daughter of Sir Rose Price, Baronet, of Trengwainton. Following the death of Lady Frances Basset in 1855, he succeeded to the remainder.

Tehidy - Lost Heritage (2)
Tehidy was an historic manor in the parish of Illogan in Cornwall, located on the north coast of Cornwall, far to the west of that county, about two miles north of Camborne, two miles west of Redruth, and about a mile south of the harbour at Portreath. Image: Lost Heritage.

John Francis Basset commenced rebuilding Tehidy between 1861-1863, funded by revenue from tin mining and land rents. His interest in mines was immense, especially North Basset, South Frances, Dolceath, West Basset and Wheal Basset. He possessed one of the largest landed properties in the county, extending from St Agnes through Ilogan and Camborne, the greater part of the town belonging to him. He was the owner of the parish of Perranarworthal and owned  a considerable portion of the parish of St. Gluvias and had a valuable property at Meneage.  In 1860-61, it was said that his income from the Dolceath and Basset mines amounted to £20,000.

For the restoration of Tehidy, John Francis Basset employed the architect William Burn (1789-1870), of Piccadilly, and the works were reported to have cost £150,000.

Tehidy - Lost Heritage (3)
Tehidy was a seat for many centuries of the junior branch of the Basset family which gained much wealth from local tin mining. Image: Lost Heritage.

John Francis Basset died without issue and the Tehidy estate passed to his two brothers, namely, Arthur Basset (1833-1870) in 1869, and Gustavus Lambert Basset (1834-1888) in 1870. By this time, income from the tin mines was diminishing, but the Bassets found it difficult to live their lives any other way than had been the norm. After the death of Gustavus Lambert Basset the estate passed to his son, Arthur Francis Basset (1873-1950), who turned out to be the last member of the family to live at Tehidy.

He found it extremely difficult to finance the estate, not helped by his costly pursuit of horse-racing and the gambling debts that often came with it. In 1915, there were rumours that the Prince of Wales was going to buy Tehidy, but little importance was attached to the gossip. However, in October newspapers confirmed that the estate had indeed been sold.

Tehidy - Unknown
In 1734 the building of a new mansion house was commenced by John Pendarves Basset and in 1739 Francis Basset took possession of the estate and the almost completed house. In 1861 John Francis Basset again commenced a rebuilding, funded by the income from mining and land rents. Image: Gordon Reed.

The buyers turned out to be Mr Hamilton Edwards, a financier,  formerly connected with Lord Northcliffe as managing Director of the Amalgamated Press, and Mr Arthur H. Bond, a land expert. Between them they secured the Tehidy landed estates, royalties of the mines, tin streams, Portreath harbour, and Arthur Basset’s other interests. The sale, believed to be upwards of £300,000, was regarded as one of the most sensational transfers of landed property since the Duke of Bedford had parted with his Covent Garden estate.

“Broadly speaking,” said Hamilton Edwards, to an interviewer, “the scheme represents the liberation of land and the advent of the small owner. I have long believed that small holdings, as distinct from small ownerships, are quite inadequate as solution of Britain’s land problem. The small holder becomes a County Council tenant and has no fixity of tenure. The farmer who can buy his freehold at a moderate price is his own master, and leaves property to his family, and receives the full benefit of any improvement he makes to his farm.”

Tehidy - Lost Heritage (4)
Tehidy was completed by 1863. By 1888 Arthur Francis Basset had inherited the estate but because of diminished income from the mining industry it was difficult to finance the estate. Image: Lost Heritage.

The bulk of the estate, including its tin mines, was duly sold-off, but there was still the problem of what to do with the mansion and its surrounding parkland. In July 1916, it was reported that Arthur Francis Basset was not leaving the county, having purchased back farms at Illogan and Godrevy, and had secured an option on Tehidy for twelve months.

Arthur Basset didn’t take up the option on Tehidy. In June 1917, The Cornishman sounded an ominous note: – “We can state authoritatively that there is a danger that this Cornish landmark may actually be ‘scrapped’ for building material, unless some Cornish philanthropist comes forward at once and acquires it at an almost nominal price as a convalescent home for Cornish miners injured in the war, or perhaps for sailors and marine engineers.”

Tehidy - Hall - Lost Heritage (5)
The Entrance Hall to Tehidy, now sadly lost. Image: Lost Heritage.

History books tell us that the Basset family left Cornwall for good in 1915. However, with Arthur Francis Basset regaining ownership on some parts of the estate, it was likely that he had remained at Tehidy since the spectacular land sale of that year. In September 1917, The Cornishman was once again on hand to report on developments. The mansion was up for sale again, plants and flowers in pots had been sold at auction, and it was known that some of the Basset heirlooms had left the district, and that other personal furniture was stored in Camborne.

It was announced that Messrs. William Rowe and Co had been instructed to hold a five day auction of the furniture of Tehidy, including an automatic organ, fire engine, antique and modern goods of all kinds, from grandfather clocks to four-poster beds. Admission to the house was by catalogue costing two shillings, and on the morning of Monday 17th September the dining-room was full to overflowing, and bids followed each other in rapid succession.

Tehidy - Drawing Room - Lost Heritage (6)
Tehidy. The Drawing Room. Image: Lost Heritage.

“Many Cornish people found the sale gave them the first opportunity in their lives to see the park and the fine rooms with their elaborate alabaster and other mantel-pieces, the family portraits, the superb mahogany doors, the painted ceilings, old and modern portions of the building with Adams ceilings and decorations, and other features of the mansion, the wealth of colour – almost a riot of gilding and bright hues within contrasting with the sober and severe external architecture and restful greenery of the wooded park and lake seen through the windows.

“To some it will perhaps be a surprise to know that when the last enlargement was made and Italian artists were engaged to litter the walls and ceilings with pictures, the contract was for £70,000 and as this was broken, the amount spent was considerably exceeded, and probably reached the £100,000 figure! The house, park and woods were probably not laid out for less than a total of £200,000 besides the annual upkeep, and at times the Bassets have employed a staff of forty servants in the house and grounds.

“It seems almost incredible, but an old keeper who is still as bright as a new shilling, has lived at Tehidy under four male owners. This faithful retainer, who has been nearly sixty years on the estate, is now installed in the south lodge, and is 77-years-old. It may be imagined that in his wildest dreams he never expected to see the estate sold to strangers and the furniture knocked down by the auctioneer’s hammer.”

Tehidy - Lost Heritage (7)
In 1915 the mansion was sold after 700 years of Basset ownership, the deal was finalised in 1916. Image: Lost Heritage.

Weeks later, there was some indication as to what the new owners had in mind for Tehidy mansion. Arthur Bond made an offer to Sir Arthur Carkeek with the idea of any new purchaser using the premises as a hospital. The deal involved the mansion, with its grounds, land and adjoining woods (some 250 acres in all), to be bought for £10,000. The matter was brought before the Committee of the Patriotic Fund at Cornwall County Council, who immediately discussed it with the County Tuberculosis Authorities, who had already made several attempts to set up an institution of this kind without success. The offer was accepted, and Cornwall County Council set about raising money by voluntary subscriptions. By January 1918, the amount subscribed had reached over £11,000, and by the time the deed of gift was handed to Mr W.C. Pendarnes, Chairman of Cornwall County Council in May, the figure had exceeded £16,000. It eventually reached a sum approaching £20,000.

“At the moment, Tehidy Mansion is a big shell or framework set in a beautiful park, sheltered by belts of trees. Some of the exquisite Adams marble fireplaces have been re-bought and removed by Mr A.F. Basset; there are a few ragged corners from which bookshelves have been taken, and there are no beds or other hospital furniture and equipment.

“There was much speculation as to the reason that Mr Basset realised, vaguely at first (which accounted for some vacillation) more definitely as the war progressed, that after the war few landowners will be wealthy enough to pay super-tax and still be able to meet the costs of a large establishment, the difficulty being increased by the scarcity of labour and the higher cost of living as the result of war. All over the country we may expect to see a reduction in the number of sumptuous establishments, and the late Sir Edward Hain was not alone in regretting the passing of these historic homes which he described as the picture-galleries and museums of the country.

“It may interest my readers to know that Mr Basset, while keeping his ‘shooting box’ in Scotland, has not bought any other ‘home’ since parting with Tehidy, and that he has worn khaki as a recruiting officer in London during the past two years. What the future holds we do not know. A.F. Basset, who has been High Sheriff of Cornwall, may come back with us to live in some rose-draped bungalow and meet us all as comrades in peace and co-workers in the rebuilding of England.

“Thousands of Cornish people are still mystified as to exactly what happened when Tehidy became a commodity for sale to the highest bidder. Usually property passes from one hand to another without mystery, and it is seldom that you get deeds signed by the old owners as well as the new, or that (as in Mr Basset’s case) some farms are re-bought by the seller, or that after a mansion has been sold the seller acquires an option to re-buy it, and at the end of a year does not exercise the option.

“The facts, however, are very simple. The purchase of Tehidy, including the mines, farms, tin streams, and leaseholds was not an ordinary straight-out purchase for cash, but a ‘deal in margins.’ Three shrewd London speculators (only two of whom came to Cornwall) had been partners in similar successful deals, which dealt with land and houses, but did not include mines. They put a certain amount of money in security, which has earned interest during the past three years, but has not gone out of their hands. A fund was opened, and as fast as they re-sold farms or other property, the money went into this Basset Fund and earned interest. The speculators were credited with this interest and with the rents received from the tenants, but then they were charged interest on the unpaid part of the balance of the purchase money, and a time-limit was set for the completion of the payment, whether the speculators had re-sold all or only a part of the property.

“At the end of three years they have re-sold property to the value of over a quarter of a million (including mine royalties for £90,000) and have made a profit on the deal. It would not have been a large profit if they had had to part with £250,000 in cash three years ago; and they might easily have lost fifty or sixty thousand by the deal; so, if they made a similar amount it means they have been paid for their risk, expert knowledge, staff-work and personal exertions.”

Herbert Thomas. The Cornishman. May 29, 1918.

Tehidy - Lost Heritage (8)
In 1918 the house became a hospital for tuberculosis sufferers. It received its first patients in February 1919. Image: Lost Heritage.

The Tehidy Sanatorium started accepting patients In February 1919, but the euphoria came to a shattering end a fortnight later, on the morning of Wednesday 26 February.

A few days before, representatives of the county had carefully removed the Basset Coat-of-Arms and motto “For King and People” from the front of the old mansion. It turned out to be a prophetic action; in the early hours of the morning an electric wire fused in a room occupied by the sanatorium’s only five patients. The ward was on the second floor, faced west, and was above the drawing room and library.

Whilst on duty in the ward between 1.30 and 2 o’clock in the morning , Sister Everett smelt smoke and at once informed Dr Roper, the Medical Superintendent, who immediately gave the fire alarm, and started the task of the removal of the patients. With the assistance of the matron and sisters, the patients were removed in their beds. Dr Roper carried some of the patients downstairs on his back; and the Matron and staff worked untiringly from the time the fire was discovered. The patients were deposited on the open lawn on the western side of the house. Here they were warmly wrapped up and were later taken to the motor garage where temporary provision had been made for their reception. Later in the day, one of these patients died from natural causes.

Tehidy Fire - Royal Cornwall Museum
Two weeks before the disastrous fire, Tehidy had received its first patients. After the fire, the Tehidy Sanatorium Committee bought Admiralty huts from St Ives and transported them by traction engine to the park. A hut from Tregenna Hospital at Camborne had already been erected. These were used as accommodation for tuberculosis patients. Image: Royal Cornwall Museum.

The Camborne Fire Brigade were summoned about 3.15 a.m. and were closely followed by the Redruth Brigade. In the meantime, staff and those living around the estate did their utmost, but their services were of no avail. Favoured by a strong easterly wind, the fire spread with great rapidity and soon most of the mansion was a mass of flames.

The firemen set to work on the north and south ends of the building in an endeavour to save these parts. The middle, or main portion, was too far gone to save, and it was a matter of a very short time before the huge roof fell in with a terrible crash. The steam engines were unable to work at a very high pressure due to an inadequate water supply, but the firemen battled for five or six hours and eventually got the fire under control.

Tehidy - Lost Heritage (9)
Aftermath of the fire at Tehidy. It was once described as ‘ the most beautiful mansion in Cornwall.’ Italian artists had decorated the walls and ceilings, their work destroyed in a few hours. Image: Lost Heritage.

The historic building, which had been intended to be both a War Memorial and a Home of rest for ex-soldiers, ex-sailors, miners and other civilians suffering from tuberculosis, had had thousands of pounds spent on it, though the bulk of furniture had not been delivered and the Lady Falmouth room was still awaiting equipment given by the Viscountess, who had taken a great interest in the scheme.

The scene of the fire later in the morning presented a sad spectacle. Except for the basement and one or two other rooms, all that remained were the great bare walls. A representative of The Cornishman was permitted to visit what remained of the house: –

“On the north side is the conservatory which is intact. The hall palms and trees showed no sign of injury by smoke or fire, and there was little water on the tiled floor. Passing through a long corridor on the first floor, the dining room was reached. Here could be gained some idea of the destruction wrought. The beautifully gilded ceiling and marble mantel-piece and grate, with two figures carved at each end, all that remain in the room, are discoloured and ruined. The drawing room with its famous ceiling shared a similar fate. The water in this room was about six inches deep, and on the floor lying about like waste paper, were pieces of what remained of the wonderful painting which took Italian artists many months to execute. At the south end there are a few small houses which escaped. Near the part destroyed is the laundry on the roof of which is a large clock. The effect of the flames did not even stop the motion of the time-piece. The front entrance to the house, which faces south, appears to have escaped more serious injury, and the verandas underneath do not appear to be damaged, and the statue in the centre of the front wall, also remains intact.”

Tehidy Fire
“The interior of the sanatorium now presents a scene of grievous desolation. The facade and the outer walls alone stand.” Image: Owen Trembath.

One hundred years later, it is difficult to imagine the devastation caused by the fire. However, we are thankful to the faithful Herbert Thompson, the correspondent from The Cornishman, who visited Tehidy weeks afterwards. He once again provided a unique account of the damage and the extraordinarily rapid rate in which the hospital facilities were being revived: –

“A few days ago, I paid a surprise visit to Tehidy – my first since the disastrous fire destroyed many costly and valued relics of this historic mansion and undid a year’s work of a devoted band of enthusiastic pioneers. I was not surprised to find on the spot the usual batch of workers – Dr Roper, the medical officer who brought the patients downstairs on his back when the alarm of fire was given; the matron who worked strenuously and coolly to get her patients out of danger and to see that they were comfortably housed beyond reach of the fire and smoke; Mr Howard Lanyon and Mr F.D. Bain, who visit Tehidy almost daily and devote their Sundays to this humanitarian and honorary work; and Mr Crispin, the clerk of works, whose cheery temperament looks for a silvery lining to the cloud, and who has lost no time since the fire in adopting ‘Reconstruction’ as his watchword, like the lad who held ‘that banner with the strange device – Excelsior!’

“The fire assessors are at work on their estimates of destruction: the committee and staff, plans in hand, are busy at their task of preparing for the reception of the cases, some of them heartrending, which but for the fire would now be receiving the attention of trained nurses in beautiful surroundings.

“At a distance there was little sign that Tehidy had been swept by flame. The massive outer walls, the inner dividing walls, the terraces, the new masonry on the south side, even a statue forming a pinnacle above the main entrance remain intact. But as you approach the mansion you see that it is a huge shell. The County Committee recently added £5,000 to the Insurance: so that at the time of the fire the Company had accepted £25,000 worth of liability for damage done to the building. But for a division of opinion that amount would have been increased another £10,000. When the county meeting was held, I told that gathering that they would find Tehidy was ‘less a bargain than a gift.’ I hold to that statement now. I believe there will be no difficulty in proving that far more than £25,000 worth of damage has been done: though it should be possible with £25,000 to carry out much purely practical reconstruction work, with the walls and other materials as a basis. The Government expert was asked (before the mansion was bought) where he would build a sanatorium if the mansion were destroyed by fire and his answer was: ‘On the very same spot.’

“There is, therefore, every reason why the central building – modernised, yet retaining architectural symmetry and dignity – should remain where it is. There is building material on the spot to meet all demands; and within easy reach will be the pavilions, or huts, for certain classes of cases. Already the Tregenna Hut from Camborne is erected, and a veranda has been added by Mr Crispin, so that patients can sit looking southward, in the eye of the sun. On the green bank above the house and sheltered by trees six other huts will be erected – some have already been brought from St Ives, and the sites are being prepared. These are not makeshift buildings but solid wood structures which will last, and which can be easily fumigated and kept in thorough order.

“What I saw and heard at Tehidy helped me to realise the rapidity of the work of destruction. The inner dividing walls, and inner main walls faced with granite, are so massive and supported by iron girders and brick arches, that they held together even when the main building became a fiery furnace. It was ‘touch and go’ whether the patients would be saved or not. Men and beds had to be taken downstairs when the fire had begun to come through the floor – the first floor – and the interior burnt like matchwood. The great staircase has gone and some of the splendid mahogany doors. But others of these had been sold to a gentleman in London. Some of the rear rooms are undamaged, together with a few of the beautiful mantelpieces which have been boarded up to protect them from falling roof material. I was surprised to find the great gilded ceiling of the dining room (where the auction was held) still intact: but it has warped and there is an enormous weight of debris above, threatening its destruction. Mrs Basset’s sitting room with its gilded and painted panels, and the oil paintings stored there, is gutted, the Italian painted ceiling is now a wreck and the strips of burnt canvas litter the floor. The many bedrooms, so charmingly decorated and fitted, are gone and the costly ceilings of some of the main rooms cannot be replaced. Yet there is enough left to remind us of the Tehidy we knew; though it is easy to realise that when Mr Arthur Basset revisited his birthplace a few days ago he was saddened beyond words at the destruction of his old home.

“Whether the fire was caused by an electric wire fusing: or whether the low open fireplaces gradually rendered the woodwork as inflammable as timber, may be a matter of argument. It is singular that a second fire has occurred since my visit, due to coals from the fireplace! I was impressed by the outstanding facts that in a twinkling fire can transform a stately building into a shell of bricks and granite: yet I was equally impressed with the fact that if Tehidy as a mansion contained defects from a Sanatoria point of view, the county is amazingly fortunate if it is able to handle many thousands of pounds worth of building material, much of it unharmed by fire, plus £25,000 for reconstruction and furnishing purposes. There are two causes of regret – the loss of features of the old mansion which cannot be restored; the loss of time in caring for the hundreds of patients in the county who need, as Admiral May said, immediate treatment and not that which might be available some years’ hence. I hope the Insurance Company will recognise the full extent of the calamity and the fact that the building as it stood could not be erected for four times the amount of the insurance; and that the committee will be supported in every way in their endeavour to make early provision for urgent cases, while developing as soon as possible their plans for a new central building from the wreckage of the old.”

By January 1922, Tehidy mansion had been partly rebuilt, but it looked different to John Francis Basset’s building from the 1860s. A long building with portico and clock tower, between two angle pavilions was built in place of the original east entrance front, it infilled a courtyard and used pillars and masonry salvaged after the fire. The imprint of the original centre section was used to create a sunken garden, utilising walls from the former basement.

Tehidy Chest Hospital - Rob M Crorie
Tehidy Chest Hospital showing the later additions built in the former parkland. Image: Courtesy of Rob M Corrie.
Tehidy - Rod Allday
Following the fire in 1919, the central portion of Tehidy was demolished and its materials used to build this smaller facade. Image: Rod Allday.

The mansion provided hospital services for many years and, as Tehidy Hospital, later dealt with people with strokes, head injuries and various respiratory disorders. The estate was bought by Cornwall County Council in 1983 for the benefit of the public and became Tehidy Country Park. The hospital shut in April 1988 and was converted into luxury apartments in the mid-1990s, while several houses were built around the former hospital buildings.

Tehidy Aerial - Barry Gamble
An aerial view of Tehidy today. The sunken garden behind the central block was built using the old basement walls. Image: Barry Gamble.
Tehidy - The Santon Group
Tehidy was converted into luxury properties in the 1990s. This building was completed in 1922 as a replacement for the old mansion. Image: The Santon Group.
Tehidy - Sykes Cottages
The remains of the old cellars were used as the outline for the sunken garden at Tehidy. Image: Sykes Cottages.
Tehidy - Express Estate Agency
Elements survive from the earlier mansion built 1734-1739 to the design of Thomas Edwards. Three out of four quadrant pavilions, each with a cupola and clock, surround its central site. Image: Express Estate Agency.

¹ Samuel Drew (1765-1833). A Cornish Methodist theologian. ‘The History of Cornwall’ was published in 1824.
² William Lake ‘A Parochial History of Cornwall’. It was published in four volumes between 1867-72.

More images at Lost Heritage

POLSTRONG HOUSE

Polstrong 3
Originating in part from around 1700, this elegant Grade II listed house at Roseworthy is thought to have been built for the wealthy Daniell family and is mainly of Georgian style with Victorian additions. The conservatory was designed by Silvanus Trevail, a leading Cornish architect, for John Rule Daniell.

For decades, the Daniell family were associated with the firm of Daniell and Thomas, solicitors, of Camborne. At the turn of the last century the house was let to tenants but was put up for sale in 1904. It passed to Mr R Arthur Thomas, Managing Director of Dolcoath Mine Ltd and later Chairman of the Cornish Chamber of Mines. It was he who made a milestone speech in 1943 in which he declared that “Instead of Cornish mining being dead, it is probably sleeping.” Unfortunately, the industry would vanish in years to come.

Of course, the house also has its own ghost story where a ghostly carriage and a pair of horses manifest themselves at Polstrong House every ten years at midnight on Christmas Eve, driving up to the front entrance and depositing a spectral couple on the doorstep who then vanish, a scene encountered by an unwitting visitor to the house in 1912. In recent times Polstrong House has been used in a Rosamunde Pilcher film, having an abundance of period features.

Polstrong 1

FOWEY HALL

Fowey Hall (Family Holidays)
Fowey Hall – former seaside residence of Sir Charles Augustin Hanson (Family Holidays)


Built: 1899

Architect unknown
Owner: Luxury Family Hotels
Hotel and Spa
Grade II listed

Roughcast render with Portland Stone dressings; red tile roofs over stone modillioned eaves cornices; pedimented dormers and large stone axial stacks with moulded cornices; lead domed central bellcote with turned wooden balustrade and a weather vane; ogee lead roofs to corner towers. Built in a large nearly symmetrical plan with 2 cross wings plus square corner towers projecting at the front plus parallel range at the rear plus C20 extension to ground floor of right-hand return. Queen Anne style. Built as 2 storeys plus attics. (Historic England)

Fowey is fêted for long-established families. In Victorian times the names of Hanson, Rashleigh and Treffry were uppermost in the growth of this picturesque little Cornish town. Their names still evoke pride amongst the locals who realise that, without their intervention, the town’s present day prosperity might never have happened.

The Treffry family are still resident at Place, a wonderful house, hidden within Fowey’s narrow streets and a stone’s throw from the harbour. The Rashleigh’s have retreated to Menabilly, a country house now more famous as being the former home of Daphne Du Maurier. However, the Hanson family have gone but can take pleasure that they are not forgotten.

Fowey Hall is a lasting reminder to one of the town’s most famous sons. It echoes the story of a young boy who left Fowey to make his fortune. He travelled afar and returned home an extremely wealthy man.

His legacy is Fowey Hall, one of the last country houses to be built in England, and constructed with such grandeur that suggests it was built in earlier times.

Our story starts in 1889 when the businessman Charles Hanson looked to build a new house in his beloved Fowey. He found a plot of land in a commanding position with fine views of the harbour. The land was owned by the Rashleigh family and overlooked Place, the ancestral home of the influential Treffry family, and no doubt cost Hanson a lot of money to buy.

It would be another ten years before the house was completed. According to deeds the land was far more extensive than the grounds which exist today and it is likely that much of this was sold off in later years.

Fowey from Hall Walk c1950 (Francis Firth)
Fowey Hall perched above the ancient Cornish town c1950’s (Francis Firth Collection)

Charles Augustin Hanson (1846-1922)

Charles Augustin Hanson was born in Polruan, across the river from Fowey, in 1846.  He was the eldest of five children of Mr Joseph M.A. Hanson, a master mariner, and Mary Ann Rogers Hicks who lived at St Catherine’s Street in Polruan.

The family moved to Fore Street in Fowey and Charles completed his education at Fowey Grammar School. He nurtured ambitions to work in finance and, on leaving school, worked as an assurance office clerk in Plymouth. He stayed for two years or three years before moving to Canada. It would appear that his parents also made this perilous journey across the Atlantic.

Charles Hanson The Sketch 14 Nov 1917
Charles Hanson. A photograph from The Sketch, 14 November, 1917. (British Newspaper Archive)

In Canada he initially worked in the lumber trade before entering the finance markets. He was joined by two brothers and became stockbrokers in utility investment. Hanson Brothers Montreal eventually became one of the largest firms of private bankers in Canada.

Charles Hanson was a pioneer in introducing Canadian Government, municipal and railway securities to the London market, and one noteworthy result of his many trips back to England was his entry into partnership with Messrs. Coates, Son and Co, of Gresham Street, London, and the Stock Exchange.

In 1868 Hanson married Martha Sabina Appelbe (1849-1924) of Trafalgar, Halton, in Canada. She was a wealthy heiress and they would have one son, Charles Edwin Bourne Hanson, and a daughter, Alice Maud Appelbe Hanson, both born in Ontario.

He remained in Canada for 22 years and was a member of the Wesleyan Ministry. His business interests were identified with Canada and Newfoundland, but he increasingly controlled his financial undertakings in London. On the rare occasions when he was released from business pressures he often returned to Fowey.

Hanson returned to London in the late 1880’s and gave the go ahead to build Fowey Hall.  At the close of the century he was living at 9 Wilton Crescent, in Belgravia Square. By 1899 Fowey Hall was ready to receive its roof and shortly after he moved in with his wife. The Royal Cornwall Gazette described it as ‘a fine mansion looking from the harbour’. Today the date is inscribed on drain pipe headings around the property.

Fowey Hall Aerial (Such Good Pictures)
Modern day aerial view of the  Fowey Hall Hotel  and grounds (Such Good Pictures)

Fowey Hall was extremely grand, built of the finest materials by master craftsmen. It boasted electric lights, Baroque plasterwork, a vaulted kitchen, elaborate marble fireplaces and warm air central heating.  According to records the main painting in the dining room was by Canaletto and is now displayed at the Walpole Gallery in London. The house was bedecked throughout with wooden panelling, much of which still exists to this day.

The road leading to the house was specially constructed and known as the Ropewalk. It still exists and has been renamed Hanson Drive.

In the grounds of Fowey Hall stood an ancient windmill which had originally been built in 1290. The tower was dilapidated and in danger of falling down but Hanson paid a considerable fortune to have it restored and strengthened.

His return to England heralded the golden period for Charles Hanson. He became a Justice of the Peace in 1904 and was High Sheriff of Cornwall in 1907.

His business activities also included the chairmanship of the Gresham Life Assurance Society and the Gresham Fire Insurance Society, the latter formed under his guidance. He was also interested in the China Clay Corporation Ltd which carried out activities at Redlake, near Ivybridge, and of which he was chairman.

Hanson found time to serve the corporate life of the City of London, becoming an Alderman in 1909 and Sheriff in 1911-12. He was also one of the representatives of the City on the London County Council.

In 1916 Hanson won Bodmin for the Conservative Party where he served as M.P. until his death. His introduction into Parliament rejuvenated the 70-year-old although he was never to raise his voice in the House of Commons. Observers noted that Hanson was more interested in other people’s talks rather than his own conversation.

Charles Augustin Hanson c1918
Sir Charles Augustin Hanson as Lord Mayor of London c1918

In 1917-18 he became Lord Mayor of London and was given a Baronetcy in the latter year. While in office he was awarded a gold chain and badge of office, the chain bearing ornamental shields upon which were enamelled the arms of the Worshipful Company of pattern-makers (of which he was master on three occasions), and also those of Cornwall, Canada, Newfoundland, and Fowey, with a view to the entrance to the Stock Exchange, while in the centre of the badge were Sir Charles’ arms, crest and motto. (This was presented to Fowey in 1921 and is today on display at the Fowey Museum). His services to the county were highlighted when he was awarded the Freedom of the Borough of Liskeard in 1919.

Hanson travelled considerably and visited practically every part of Europe, as well as most of the British colonies. In 1908 the Emperor of Austria conferred upon him the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Franz Josef, with permission to wear the decoration being granted by King Edward VII.

He was also a Knight Commander of the Grecian Order of the Saviour, a Commander of the French Legion of Honour, a Grand Officer of the Crown of Italy, and possessed the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun, third class honours conferred upon him by the heads of the Allied nations in recognition of his valuable work on behalf of the nation and the Allied cause during the First World War.

While he might have been highly regarded in business and political circles it was not the case with members of the suffragette movement. Presumably his views were more traditional and, in the early 1900’s, his beloved Rolls-Royce was set on fire by protestors while parked in the coach house at Fowey Hall.

Correspondence relating to his time at Fowey Hall suggests that Hanson was particularly keen to attract royalty to his Cornish home. These documents are now in the hands of Fowey Hall Hotel which says:-

‘As a suitable backdrop from which to promote his political career, by the time it was completed, Fowey Hall was truly a place in which to welcome royalty who visited during the early part of the century – although perhaps not as regularly as Charles Hanson would have liked!  We have inherited correspondence which includes a wealth of telegrams from Sir Charles to members of the Royal Family at Sandringham, Buckingham Palace and Marlborough House – all of them extravagantly worded invitations which place Fowey Hall at the disposal of King Edward and Queen Alexandra and latterly, the Princess Victoria.  Members of the Royal household may have wished that Sir Charles had been rather less assiduous in his attentions as each invitation necessitated an elegantly worded refusal.  Throughout the early part of the century, Sir Charles kept the post office busy with a constant stream of telegrams to the Royal Family, needing only the slightest rumor of a Royal indisposition or news of an anniversary to renew his attentions’.

Sir Charles associated himself with many charitable enterprises and was on the governing bodies of several charities including Christchurch, Bridewell and St Thomas. Even when Fowey Hall was unfinished he used the grounds to host a hospital bazaar, raising funds for a new cottage hospital.

A charming spot commanding magnificent views of the picturesque harbour, and the blue waters of the English Channel beyond,’ said a local newspaper. ‘The bazaar was held in a large tent, and the grounds were gaily decorated with strings of flags’.

In 1916 Hanson held a fundraising event in aid of the Great War at Fowey Hall.  Postcards celebrating the event were sold in Fowey for months afterwards and the dining room was used as a sewing room, used by the ladies of the town, who created garments for the soldiers.

By 1921 Sir Charles Hanson was in failing health. His last public appearance was in November when he was made the first Freeman of Fowey.

He referred, with pride and joy, at being able to spend the “clouded evening of my life in Fowey.  My last days will be spent in my old home, and where my remains will be buried forever.”

He died on 17th January 1922 at Fowey Hall.  The funeral took place the following week and the town of Fowey descended into mourning. All shops and premises closed for the duration, flags on various public institutions and ships in the harbour and river were flown at half-mast all day.

‘It was a simple but impressive procession which wended its way through the narrow, silent streets of the old world town. First came members of the local lodge of Freemasons, and a few visiting brethren, wearing white armlets and sprigs of acacia. Then followed a lorry buried under a wealth of beautiful wreaths, and immediately behind was the hearse, containing the coffin shrouded in a Union Jack, on which rested a cushion bearing the deceased’s orders and decorations. The immediate mourners were Major Sir Charles Edwin B. Hanson, deceased’s only son and heir, with his wife, and Major General Frederick Poole (son-in-law), Mr and Mrs H. Brent Crotrian and Mr and Mrs Appelbe (nephews and nieces) followed on foot, together with the Mayor – wearing in addition to his robe of office – the magnificent gold chain worn by Sir Charles during his year of office as Sheriff of London, and now the property of the Corporation of Fowey – aldermen and members of the council, borough officials, and mace bearers, the rear being brought up by members of the Cornwall County Constabulary, two of whom carried the ancient white staves emblematic of the arm of the law, to which were affixed black bows’.

Sir Charles Hanson was buried in the little cemetary overlooking the old harbour.

Charles Hanson Funeral
Mourners at the well-attended funeral of Sir Charles Augustin Hanson in 1922

Following his death the three codicils of his will were Sir Charles Edwin Bourne Hanson, now of Fowey Hall, his son-in-law, Major-General Frederick Poole, of Cotswold House, Fowey, and Mr Herbert Brent Crotrian, Recorder of Scarborough, and residing at Leighton Buzzard.

According to his will It was suggested that Charles Hanson had intended to bequeath certain legacies to members of his household staff at Fowey Hall, all of whom he had great regard. However, the impact of the First World War had been so severe that he regretted to find that he was not in a position to do as he had hoped.

He left £2,000, his motor cars, and garden effects to his wife, certain jewellery to his son, household effects to the value of £5,000 and a reasonable selection of personal effects to his daughter, Dame Alice Maude Poole, and the residue of his belongings to his wife during widowhood.

Fowey Hal was inherited by Sir Charles Bourne Hanson and the residue of his properties were shared between his two offspring.

His wife, the Dowager Lady Hanson, died at Fowey Hall in 1924. She also suffered ill-health during her later years. Unlike her late husband she did not take a prominent part in public life although she was the inspiration which guided him. She preferred to take interest in poorer people and during World War One supported the Red Cross movement and received the Red Cross Medal for her efforts.

Fowey Hall (House and Heritage)
Fowey Hall Hotel  photographed in 2014 (House and Heritage)


Charles Edwin Bourne Hanson (1874-1958)

Sir Charles Edwin Bourne Hanson, 2nd Bt, (1874-1958), followed his father into finance. He might not be as well remembered but nevertheless lived a busy and prosperous life.

Hanson graduated from Clares College, Cambridge University, with a Master of Arts (M.A.). He became a military man gaining the rank of Captain with the 4th City of London Volunteers serving in the Boer War between 1899 and 1902.

In June 1902 there was a large gathering at Fowey Railway Station for the return of Captain Hanson from South Africa. A carriage drawn by willing hands paraded through the streets, decorated with bunting, and headed by a brass band. The procession climbed the hill to Fowey Hall where refreshments were handed out to those taking part in the homecoming.

He later served as Lieutenant for the  3rd  Battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment and was promoted to Major in the Great War.

Away from the battlefield he succeeded his father as a partner in Coates, Sons and Company and became a member of the London Stock Exchange.

In 1908 he married Violet Sybil Johnstone (1881-1966), the third daughter of Mr J.B. Johnstone of Coombe Cottage, Coombe, and lived at The Manor House, Old Malden, in Surrey. In 1910 Hanson became Lord Lieutenant of the City of London.

After his father’s death he moved into Fowey Hall while retaining his city residence at 14 Cranmer Court in London. He was appointed High Sheriff of Cornwall in 1939.

Fowey Hall Cornwall (The Telegraph)
A country house built by master craftsmen using the finest materials (The Telegraph)

In 1940, a year after the start of World War Two, the War Office requisitioned Fowey Hall and, in 1943, it became a base for American officers.

The Hanson family remained in residence for the duration of the war and watched as accommodation huts were built in the grounds (these would remain until 1946).

In  April 1944 Rear Admiral Alan Kirk, Commander of the task force, and Rear Admiral John Wilkes, Commander of the landing craft, stayed at Fowey Hall in preparation for the massive D-Day landings of which many ships had amassed in Fowey Harbour. The following month forty war correspondents were accommodated at the hall and were briefed on forthcoming events.

It is likely that the war had a devastating effect on Fowey Hall.

Constant use and riotous officers’ parties probably damaged much of the interior. The Hanson family remained at the hall but it is likely that, after the death of Charles Edwin Bourne Hanson in 1958, the decision was made to finally sell.

 A change of use and return to former glory

Much of the land was sold and it is thought that Fowey Hall was unloaded to a property developer who, in turn, sold it to the Co-operative Holidays Association.

This organisation specialised in holidays for working class walkers, bird lovers and lovers of the countryside. However, Fowey Hall was seen as offering more than the average hostel.

The late 1950’s and 60’s had seen an unprecedented tourist boom. Increasing car ownership led to a growth in caravanning, independent and self-catering holidays.  In an attempt to tap into this boom and attract a wider clientele, the CHA had decided to move away from the working class attachments of the co-operative movement, rebrand itself and broaden its holiday provision.  (The official name of the Association was changed to Countrywide Holidays Association in 1964).

Fowey Hall was key to the CHA’s changing strategy but it meant that much of the interior was altered to accommodate holidaymakers. The bedroom floors were reconfigured with shower rooms at the end of the corridors although most of the ground floor remained in its original layout.

Fowey Hall Postcard (CHA)
Fowey Hall. A vintage postcard published by the Countrywide Holiday Association

By the early 1990’s the CHA was in decline and was keen to dispose of some of its properties. Fowey Hall was deemed surplus to requirement and sold in 1992.

In 1998 Fowey Hall was taken over by Luxury Family Hotels who began refurbishing throughout.

Most importantly the library, morning room, drawing room and billiards room were returned to their original uses.

The driving force behind the restoration was Nigel Chapman, owner of the hotel group, who later sold the company to Von Essen Hotels in 2006. After they went into administration in 2011 he  bought back the Luxury Family Hotels chain, including Fowey Hall.

Fowey Hall (Find Your Perfect Venue)
Fowey Hall. Enjoying a renaissance as a luxury hotel  and spa (Find Your Perfect Venue)


Notes:-
Charles Edwin Bourne Hanson was succeeded by his son Charles John Hanson, 3rd Bt, (1919-1996).  He married twice but did not live at the Hall beyond his childhood, spending much of his time in Suffolk where he ran a book shop.  However, he did return to Fowey to dedicate a memorial to his grandfather which can be found at the end of St. Catherine’s Parade.  The inscription dedicates the lane to the Borough of Fowey in memory of Charles Augustin Hanson, for the use in perpetuity of the people of Fowey as a footpath.  At his request, Charles John Hanson’s ashes were scattered in Fowey cemetery.  Upon his death in 1996, the title passed to his son, Charles Rupert Patrick Hanson, 4th Bt, (b.1945) who lives in Brighton.

There are many who believe that Fowey Hall was the model for ‘Toad Hall’ in Kenneth Grahame’s. ‘The Wind in the Willows’.  Grahame was a frequent visitor to the Hall at the time he was writing letters to his son, which were to be immortalised in his enduring classic, in which the town of Fowey is depicted as ‘The Little Grey Seaport’.  It is likely that he visited Fowey Hall as a guest of his great friend, Sir Arthur Quiller Couch, later famous for his interpretation of The Oxford Book of Verse.  Quiller Couch married Charles Hanson’s cousin, Louise Amelia Hicks.  The Hicks side of the family was a close-knit group and we can be sure that they were frequently entertained at the Hall.

References:-
Many details have been obtained from archive editions of the Royal Cornwall Gazette, the Cornishman and the West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser. I am in indebted to the Fowey Hall Hotel who provided vital missing information from documents inherited with the hall, research at the Fowey Library, details provided by the Corporation of London and from Who Was Who.

Fowey Hall Hotel,
Hanson Drive, Fowey, Cornwall, PL23 1ET

POINT NEPTUNE

Point Neptune, a marine villa, built in 1862 for William Rashleigh

Built: 1862
Architect: Unknown
Owner: Dawn French
Country House/Marine Villa

Grade II listed

Coursed slate with granite dressings. Low-pitched hipped slate roofs with deep bracketed eaves. Slate stacks with moulded granite caps and louvred yellow clay pots. Original mid C19 house is of painted brick, partly slate-hung and with low-pitched slate roof with deep eaves and verges to gable ends. (Historic England)

This entry has been updated with new information since original publication.

The small boat rocks gently as it tours the landmarks along the River Fowey. Here are buildings of all shapes and sizes. Each property is immersed with history and romance. As the boat heads towards the mouth of the river it cuts it engine and is left to float against the incoming tide. The skipper tells us that the Victorian house nestling above Readymoney Cove is called Port Neptune, built by the Rashleigh family, who lived for most of their time at nearby Menabilly.

This is about as much as we learn about the house. It looks splendid, an accumulation of different buildings moulded into one impressive residence that appears to rest on granite buttresses rising from the sea. It is set against a backdrop mature trees that sharpen the features of the house.

Before we know it the engines have restarted and we are sailing towards the opposite bank and other treasures yet to be discovered. But as we move away from Point Neptune it calls after you wanting to share some of its secrets.

The house is undoubtedly seen at its best from the River Fowey. Here you can appreciate the elegance of its design but a short coastal walk to Readymoney Cove reveals more of the house.

point-neptune-6
Point Neptune seen from the beach at Readymoney Cove (House and Heritage)

Very little has been written about Port Neptune which is surprising considering its dominant position overlooking the open sea. Here the occupants will have been able to watch the boats come and go and witness the growth of Fowey’s maritime history.

It was built on the site of an old Napoleonic gun battery that guarded the harbour. The remains are the rising buttresses that remain today.

Point Neptune was built in the mid nineteenth century for William Rashleigh of Menabilly. He came from a long line of Rashleighs who originated from Barnstaple across the county border in Devon.

Philip Rashleigh settled in Fowey in the 16th century as a trader. His son’s marriage to Alice Lanyon resulted in the acquisition of Cornish properties and soon became prolific merchants and ship owners.

In time they would own property at nearby Menabilly as well as a new townhouse in Fowey (still survived as The Ship Inn).

According to research they benefited from the dissolution of the monasteries by scrupulously buying land and re-selling at a profit. By marrying into wealthy Cornish families the Rashleighs became huge landowners with significant influence across the county. Many became MPs and it was Menabilly, on the Gribben Peninsula, that provided the stable family home.

William Rashleigh (1817-1871) was the eldest son of Mr William Rashleigh of Menabilly, by Caroline, the daughter of Sir Henry Hinxman, of Ivy Church, Wiltshire. He was educated for the army and, on reaching 21, travelled throughout Europe, Turkey, the Holy Land, and Egypt, extending his travels to Nubia, along the Nile, at a time when such excursions were few. On his return he was elected as an M.P. for East Cornwall between 1841 and 1847.

In 1843 he married Catherine Stuart, the eldest daughter of Robert Walter Stuart, the 11th Lord Blantyre of Erskine and Blantyre.. He would become a volunteer with Admiral Plumridge aboard HMS Leopard in the Baltic expedition and, in 1854, found action in that ship during the capture of Bomarsund in the Crimean War. He would serve as a Justice of the Peace, a Deputy Lieutenant for Cornwall and would oblige with the Royal Cornwall Rangers Rifle Militia.

When Rashleigh inherited Menabilly in 1855 he was a man of substantial means. However, he was a man of the sea and eventually turned his back on Menabilly, preferring to live by the shoreline. The grand house was left under the stewardship of his brother Jonathan while he looked to build a new home by the sea.

His chosen location was the old fortification at the high above the entrance to Readymoney Cove. The cove had once been used as a watering place for shipping in the 18th century.

In 1792 pilchard cellars were built (52 feet long and 24 feet wide with walls over 2 feet thick). These were erected on the site of a former gun emplacement. The beach was later used for shipbuilding and ship breaking and, in 1833, the schooner, Catherine, was launched from the beach by the shipbuilder George Nickels.

We can only speculate as to what state and condition the old gun battery was in. An old cottage, of painted brick with a low pitched slate roof, existed to the north-east of the site, and this was retained in Rashleigh’s plan for a new marine villa.

Work began in the early 1860s and completed by 1862. What emerged was a large L-shaped range to the south west, an entrance front to the west, an extension to the south and a new wing to the south east. The original cottage became part of the servants’ wing.

A single-storey hall was built with a drawing room projecting at the southern sea-facing front. There were extensions to Point Neptune, after Rashleigh’s death, in the late nineteenth century and further alterations during the twentieth century. However, what remains is largely Rashleigh’s stone Italianate marine villa, seemingly sitting at different levels, with slate roofs, sash windows and granite dressings, all with an elegant grace that cannot be bettered.

point-neptune-2
The perfect idyll overlooking the River Fowey. Behind the house are unspoilt fields with the original carriageway meandering across them. The trees are fledglings and have yet to make their mark on the landscape. Below the house are scattered the estate buildings in Readymoney Cove

On the 10th October 1862, Rashleigh presented six men from Tywardreath Church with £1 for a peal of bells that marked his arrival at Point Neptune.¹

A few weeks later there were major celebrations at the opening of an ornamental carriageway from the Fowey and Tywardreath turnpike road, through his grounds at Lewhire, to the gates of Point Neptune. It was reputed to have cost Rashleigh £500 to build.

It provided an extension of the Fowey Esplanade and Rashleigh allowed townsfolk to use it for recreational purposes. He named the carriageway St Catherine’s Parade after his wife and partly in response to the old castle near the entrance of Fowey harbour.²

point-neptune-3
The original carriageway leading down to Point Neptune

At the entrance to the house were large granite piers where the words ‘Point Neptune’ can still be seen inscribed either side of the large cast iron gates which had originally hung at the four-turnings entrance at Menabilly.³ The stables and carriage house were built below at the head of Readymoney Cove.

Point Neptune
The cast iron gates that originally stood at Menabilly (House and Heritage)

As is so often the case Rashleigh had little time to enjoy his marine villa. He died on 31 October 1871, aged 54, at St Leonard’s Hill in Windsor. His London address was recorded as 17 Hill Street, off Berkeley Square.

Today he lies in a white silk lined coffin at the Rashleigh Mausoleum above Readymoney Cove. He lies alongside his wife, Catherine, who died a year later at Woodhill, Hatfield, in Hertfordshire. The Rashleigh Mausoleum had been built in 1866, cut into the face of the cliff, on the crowning summit known as St Catherine’s Hill. The actual site had been a former gun battery and the mausoleum was excavated into the ground complete with an arched vault made of white fire-bricks.

Rashleigh Mausoleum
The Rashleigh Mausoleum. Today hidden in undergrowth and not easy to find (Trip Advisor)

In 1874 The West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser paid tribute to Rashleigh:-

“That the late Mr Rashleigh liked the open sea as much as his neighbours we have proof in the rocky proximity of his dwelling to that element, his admiration being further shown by the appropriate choice of its name, borrowed from the title of the trident god himself; a devotion that, like the true loyalty to a liege lord, went beyond life, and lodged him, when he departed, in a rock-hewn grave, to be near and overlook, as it were, in death the azure realm he had made the close friend of his life.”

point-neptune-4
Walls and gates shown from the old carriageway drive which is now a public footpath

Point Neptune passed to the Rashleigh’s only child, Edith Frances (1849-1905).

A wealthy woman, she would marry Sackville George Stopford-Sackville, the MP for Northamptonshire North, in 1875. His work at Northamptonshire County Council and as a Justice of the Peace and Deputy Lieutenant for that county meant he split his time between the ancestral home at Drayton House and London. The 1881 census shows her husband in Northamptonshire while Edith is ensconced at Port Neptune with 8 servants. On her death in 1905 the house would revert to her husband and remain unoccupied.

point-neptune-5
Sackville George Stopford-Sackville (1840-1926)

According to writer Hilary Macaskill, ‘a guidebook of 1892 describes Point Neptune as the “beautiful and pleasantly situated marine residence of William Rashleigh esq”, commending its fine view of the harbour, the carriage road leading to it that wound its way alongside the high slate wall, and the footpath at its side. “the use of which Mr Rashleigh and his lady have generously and opportunely presented to the respectable inhabitants of Fowey of all classes”.

Point Neptune 1891 (The Francis Firth Collection)
Point Neptune in 1891 (from the Francis Firth Collection)

The next owner of Point Neptune was the Reverend William Eastleigh Henry Cotes (1857-1935).

Educated at Cambridge he spent a lifetime in the church serving in Worcester, Kent and London. He rose from modest beginnings and would soon have a house in Portland Place, London, with his wife, Maria Anne, and their son, John Charles Cecil Cotes (1890-1925).

In 1911 Cotes employed 7 servants to attend the household. Two of these, the cook and kitchen assistant, were brought up to London from Cornwall. A man of wealth he would use Port Neptune for many years as a summer retreat.

His son, John, would eventually move to Readymoney Cove with his wife, Dorothy, and live below Point Neptune in the Beach Cottage. He had served with the Royal Naval Air Service but would die of heart failure following a bout of influenza. His father would outlive him by ten years.

In 1921 Cotes put the Point Neptune estate up for auction. It was described as a granite residence of 14 rooms, seven cottages, gardens, timbered grounds, and covering an area of 12 acres. There were no bids for the estate but the marine villa attracted offers from £3,000 to £4,300. At this figure the property was withdrawn but there were interested parties keen to enter private negotiations.⁴

Sale Notice
The next owner of Point Neptune was John Grenville Fortescue (1896-1969), the son of John Bevill Fortescue of Boconnoc, Lostwithiel and Dropmore, at Burnham in Buckinghamshire.

John Grenville Fortescue had been educated at Eton, fought in the First World War, where he was wounded, and gained the rank of Lieutenant in the Reserve of Officers, Coldstream Guards. In 1917 he had married Daphne Marjory Bourke.

The Fortescue’s lived at Point Neptune with their three children until 1931 and would later live at Penarwyn in nearby Par. (It might be suggested that John Grenville Fortescue fell out of favour with his father. His brother George Grenville Fortescue inherited Boconnoc when John Bevill Fortescue died in 1939. There appears to have been little provision for John Grenville and he only inherited Boconnoc after his brother’s death in 1967. Two years later Boconnoc would pass to his son John Desmond Grenville Fortescue.)

The land surrounding Point Neptune had also passed into new ownership. By 1929 the woods had been bought by Mr and Mrs Stenton Covington, popular conservationists, and handed to the National Trust. The old pilchard cellars, later used as a lime kiln, were purchased by Mr Jesse Julian who handed them over to the people of Fowey. These were converted into a shelter with toilets in 1935 and a lawn seating area was built above to celebrate the silver jubilee of King George V.

Sale Notice 1931
After Point Neptune was put up for auction in 1931 it fell into the hands of Mrs Hester Parnall (1868-1939), a Cornish lady with a remarkable history.

She had been born Hester Hicks, the daughter of Walter Hicks, founder of the St Austell Brewery. She appeared content to live the life of an Edwardian lady and married Thomas Rogers Parnall in 1904.

He was the son of Edward Parnall, who founded one of Cornwall’s leading drapery business. Parnall has been described as a man of leisure although he did serve as a director of the St Austell Gas Company. He was first married to Mary Catherine Parkyn who died in 1897.

When Hester became his second wife he was 64-years-old and she a relatively young woman of 36. They would live at Belfield, the family home, in St Austell.  Parnall died in 1915.

Hester Parnall (Western Morning News)
Hester Parnall (1868-1939) (Western Morning News)

Walter Hicks recognised a quality in his daughter and exploited this following a family tragedy in 1911. Her brother, Walter Hicks Jr, had been running the St Austell Brewery but was killed in a motorcycle accident at Helston. Hicks turned to Hester and made her a director while teaching her the skills to become Chairman in 1916. Under her management the brewery acquired 79 pubs and hotels and replaced horse-drawn wagons with steam-powered ones. The brewery thrived and she is regarded as one of the first British women to take the helm of a large company.

A worker at the St Austell Brewery described her as “ruling the company with the grace of a duchess combined with the aplomb of a successful businessman.”

St-Austell-Brewery (Beach Retreats)
St Austell Brewery, established in 1851, and managed by Hester Parnall (Beach Retreats)

Stories are part of Hester’s legacy. It is said that the first worker to spot her chauffeur-driven Daimler arriving at the brewery each morning would tap on the water pipes. This would echo throughout the brewery and warn workers to get to work. She was also known to place her two Pekingese dogs either side of her as she sat in her office. These were carefully placed on pieces of blotting paper laid out by the office boy.⁶

Hester Parnall invested a considerable amount of money at Point Neptune. Between 1936 and 1939 she modernised and redecorated the house and lowered the lounge windows to provide better views of the sea. She was no doubt preparing the house for her retirement.

Hester handed over control of the St Austell Brewery to Egbert Barnes in 1939, only three weeks before her sudden death.

Point Neptune was immediately offered for sale with the contents offered for auction in 700 lots. With war looming it was not inconceivable that buyers were unwilling to invest in property. The house didn’t sell and by August 1939 it was offered for let.

Auction Notice (1939)
During World War Two it is likely that Point Neptune remained largely unoccupied. At the end of the war it was once again offered for sale. By now the former stables and carriage house had been converted into Point Neptune Cottage but known locally as Readymoney Cottage. It had been author Daphne Du Maurier’s home between 1942 and 1943 before turning her attentions to the Rashleigh’s Menabilly.

Readymoney Cottage (Beautiful England Photos)
Readymoney Cottage (Beautiful England Photos)

In 1949 St Catherine’s Parade was leased to Fowey Borough Council for 50 years and gifted to the Borough of St Austell and Fowey in 1970.

For many years Point Neptune was the home to Mr and Mrs Hughen Welch. He had been a chartered accountant in South Africa and Rhodesia for 60 years before retiring to Cornwall in 1983. After this time the marine villa was converted into luxury holiday flats with the Welch family living on the ground floor. It was awarded Grade II listing in 2001. He describes Point Neptune as “a wonderful place to live” but chose to sell it in 2006.

It was marketed at £2.8 million and bought by comedian Dawn French and her then-husband Lenny Henry.

It is derisive that, at the time of the sale, Point Neptune was described as being ‘”‘next door to the house where Daphne Du Maurier once lived”. Time has somehow crafted Readymoney Cottage into being more famous than the estate house to which it once belonged.

The house has been tastefully renovated and, despite an amicable split with Lenny Henry in 2010, it continues to be an attractive family home for French and her second husband, Mark Bignell.

It is here that French has written her memoir, Dear Fatty (2009), as well as her novels, A Tiny Bit Marvellous (2011), Oh Dear Silvia (2013) and According to Yes (2015). With a roguish twist of fate Point Neptune has now become the home of a writer maintaining the literary romance that Cornwall is celebrated for.

Point Neptune Modern
Modern day Point Neptune seen from St Catherine’s Hill (House and Heritage)

St Catherine’s Parade survives as a public pathway but shows little evidence of its past glory. It is now a public footpath of compact earth, gravel and tarmac, bordered by advancing hedgerow and growth. Banks and walls remain but survive in poor condition. A footpath once ran down the side of the carriageway but this has all but disappeared with the advance of nature. At the seaward end old holm oaks still survive but there is little evidence that this was once the grand approach to Port Neptune.

References:-
¹West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser (17 Oct 1862)

²West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser (31 Oct 1862)
³Western Morning News (21 May 1932)
⁴West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser (28 Jul 1921)
⁵Western Morning News (31 Mar 2014)
⁶Cornish Guardian (25 May 2011)

Point Neptune,
St Catherine’s Cove, Fowey, Cornwall, PL23 1JH