Using our HHA membership today we visited Pencarrow House which is just North of Bodmin, and about 40 minutes away. On the way I realised I had forgotten my mobile/camera and F. found that hers was out of charge. So no pics. In a way that was great, it was freeing. It meant we could walk about without worrying which pictures to take. Might do it more often!
On turning into the mile-long drive up to the house, we were amazed by the view….a long, long avenue with rhodedenrons (700 varieties in the grounds apparently) and camellias on both sides in flower, quite magnificent. Pity about the camera! The house was guided tour only which I like, so as we had a bit of time we had a cup of tea and half
a homemade cake each sitting outside the Peacock cafe. The cafe is aptly named as we were watched the whole time by a family of peacocks perched on a balustrade. The chickens and cockerel running about and sitting under our table were rare breeds (rare to me anyhow, I haven’t been able to identify them), with feathered legs, and they seemed to move with a clockwork gait…quite amusing.
The tour was taken by Sue F. who was an absolute mine of information. The house largely Georgian is still lived in and owned by descendants of the family who settled there in the 1500s, the Molesworth-St Aubyn….the same family who own St Michael’s Mount, and a splendid holiday house we see regularly at Hannafore. It was explained to us that the house lay empty for 30 years and was taken on in the 1970s by Lieutenant Colonel Sir Arscott and Lady Molesworth-St Aubyn. They spent decades re-claiming the gardens from an overgrown state and shaping the house to open to the public in its current form. Today, the family inhabits one small wing of the house, the accommodation that used to be the servants’ (typical of many private houses that the owners end up in the servants’ quarters!). Basically the ground and first floor have been made habitable, and have been refurbished with all the collections which had been stored in the attics. The upper floor remains derelict.
‘Pencarrow boasts a fine collection of paintings, most notably an important series of family portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds, and two riverscape views of London by Samuel Scott. A favourite family work is a tableaux of the Four Misses St Aubyn in front of St Michael’s Mount, a delight of drapery by Sir Arthur Devis. Other artists include Richard Wilson, Henry Raeburn, and Charles Brooking.
China and porcelain in the house include Meissen figurines, Chamberlayne’s Worcester dinner service, Sèvres plates and candelabra, and famille verte plates of the K’ang Hsi period (1622-1722). Equally enjoyable is an eclectic collection of glass pens made for the Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace in 1851.
The jewel in the crown is the large Ch’ien Lung famille rose bowl known as the Pencarrow Bowl, which was specially made by Chinese artisans based on drawings. The outside of the bowl shows farming scenes demonstrating the estate’s connection to agriculture; on the inside is a colourful artist’s impression of Pencarrow and a foxhunt, complete with horses and riders, a pack of hounds and their rather otter-like quarry.
Furniture of note include a giltwood Adam suite, side-tables carved in the style of William Kent, Louis XVI settee and chairs, and a George IV four-poster bed.
Family artefacts greatly enhance the visitor experience at Pencarrow. Among those on display are the family’s children’s toys, drawings and collections; an 1840 portable shower; clothing and costumes. A row of marble busts in the inner hall sports a variety of hats, from bowlers and top hats to a fez. This, according to the lady of the house, both livens them up and keeps them from catching a cold.’ There are many touches like that throughout the house both quirky and poignant.
I was particularly fascinated by the piano a Collard and Collard grand piano used by Sir Arthur Sullivan in composing Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe in 1882 which stands in the Music Room, and some of the original G+S costumes are randomly scattered in various rooms. I was also glad to see one of the four known portraits of Charles I at his trial. At an hour I suppose the tour was just about right but I could have gone on for far longer.
We then did a circuit of the grounds, taking in the Italian garden, the rockery (the first in Victorian times), and a wonderful stream-side garden called Mole’s Garden, the memorial garden to the late Lt Col Sir Arscott Molesworth-St Aubyn Bart, with beautiful views down the valley towards the House. It incorporates pools within the dammed stream, a bridge to the far bank and imaginative planting of grasses and shrubs…lovely. We then went past the lake and climbed to the prehistoric iron-age fort which to me was quite spectacular. It seemed to have three concentric defences and outriders too. Peering through the shrubs and trees which now adorn it the views of the surrounding countryside are quite magnificent.
All in all a superlative house and gardens….we must come back.