A bit of a grey day but no matter, we came to tour Trewithen house and not the gardens which we will save for next Spring. The house is only open in Spring and we went on the last day of opening to take advantage of our HHA membership. Historic England
gives a history of the building, but I cannot find any more details on the net of either the history of the building or its contents which is rather annoying. I purposely didn’t buy the guide because I thought I would be able to find masses of information myself! Here is the entry from Trewithen’s website..
“When Phillip Hawkins first bought Trewithen in 1715 he established the estate as home to a dynasty that has, through the centuries, made a very significant contribution to Cornwall.
John Hawkins was the first member of the family to move to the county in 1554. Originally a courtier to Henry VIII, he settled at Trewinnard, near St Erth, married and established a maritime trading business through Mevagissey that thrived for many years.
Phillip Hawkins was a wealthy attorney and landowner who commissioned London architect Thomas Edwards to rebuild Trewithen and lay out the park. When he died childless the estate passed to his nephew, Thomas Hawkins, whose parents lived at Trewinnard – thereby uniting the two branches of the Hawkins family in Cornwall. Phillip’s will is very interesting and shows a man contrite at taking advantage of smuggling ( a not unusual activity for the gentry of Devon and cornwall ).
Thomas fell in love with Anne Heywood, whose father agreed they could marry on the proviso that his architect, Sir Robert Taylor, was commissioned to re-design and embellish Trewithen House. The work was carried out and, in addition, Thomas had plans drawn up for landscaping the gardens. Many fine specimen trees were planted and the famous vistas around the house were created.
When Thomas, shown here, died from a smallpox inoculation, the estate passed to his eldest son Christopher. Although Christopher Hawkins never married, he did an enormous amount for both Trewithen and Cornwall – including opening new tin and copper mines, becoming involved with clay mining near St Austell, re-building the harbour at Pentewan and the great breakwater at St Ives, endowing local schools and building new ones. He also became Richard Trevithick’s patron and commissioned the world’s first steam thrashing machine from him. Trewithen was expanded to the extent that he ‘could ride from one side of Cornwall to the other without setting hoof on another man’s soil’.
On Sir Christopher’s death in 1829, Trewithen passed to his brother John Hawkins (who built and lived at Bignor Park in West Sussex), a man of great learning and intellect who planted many fine trees at Trewithen – including Holm oaks.
John was succeeded in 1841 by his young son Henry Hawkins – known to all as CHT – who chose not to live in Cornwall. When he died in 1903, the estate passed to his nephew John Heywood Johnstone, changing the family name for the first time in nearly 200 years. Sadly John survived only a year after his inheritance – leaving his 22 year old son George Johnstone in charge.
It was George who was responsible for developing the gardens and, by sponsoring some of the great plant hunting expeditions to the Himalayas and China, introduced a wealth of new species. When George died in 1960 his widow and eldest daughter Elizabeth continued his botanical work – with Elizabeth going on to be awarded the Bledisloe Gold Medal for services to Agriculture and Landowning.
Trewithen’s current owner is Michael Galsworthy, George Johnstone’s grandson. Equally committed to the care and further development of both the gardens and the wider estate, he came to live in the house with his family in 1980. Since then, he has overseen the planting of more than 30,000 trees to enlarge the shelter belts and surrounding woodlands – compensating for the many casualties of the great storm in 1990.”
In fact Michael has now died, and the new family members have only been in residence for 7 months…..
The tour with a guide of about an hour was very interesting although our guide was new and only feeling her way into the job. The most splendid of the ground-floor rooms, which is what you see, was the dining room or salon which originally had been the hall…very impressive indeed. But each of the rooms had interest. Definitely a family house, photos and belongings everywhere, one could even sit on the furniture…I quickly sat on one of the Chippendales just for the experience! There were many great paintings in particular portraits by Joshua Reynolds who was born in Plympton. One was particularly interesting because it was when Reynolds was experimenting with different flesh hues. He gave the sitter a rather greenish face which was most odd. I’m surprised he didn’t cut the whole thing up and start again. Some of the furnitures was exquisite, particularly some of the pieces brought to England by Raffles who was connected to the family through marriage. Interesting too was the family history with the house and estate passing between branches of the family as deaths occurred……one couple had nine children all of whom died. One head of the family, Thomas Hawkins, wanted to prove the new smallpox vaccination was fine to his children. He unfortunately died. Such brave men our ancestors…All in all a visit well worth while.