Using our HHA cards we drove past St Austell towards Roseland and visited Caerhays Castle. Apparently you can only use the card here for either the house or the gardens…a bit of a cheap gesture I would have thought. First impressions were amazing. You have to park by the beach and walk up a drive past the lake, and the view of the castle is indeed spectacular. This drive is just really the tradesmen’s entrance as the main drive is on the other side of the castle and is a mile long. Anyway we booked a tour of the house and in fact it was the very first of the season. The guides were very good and we had our introduction outside in the sunshine by the porte-cochere, before entering the hall.
Unfortunately, but understandably, as it is a private home and very much lived in, no photos of the interior. And indeed looking on the net, I could find nothing except the following shots on a restoration builder’s website. I sneak these in here…..
What was striking was that although of course the castle looks as a castle should externally, inside there are only a handful of rooms and on a reasonably intimate scale. There are more private rooms and bedrooms which we didn’t see, but nevertheless a liveable interior.
The history of the buildings is not generally reviewed anywhere, but the potted history of the owners is on Historic England………..
‘In the early medieval period the manor of Caerhays belonged to the Arundell family, passing by marriage c 1379 to the Trevanion family, with whom it remained in direct succession until 1767. John Trevanion, who inherited the estate in 1703, improved an existing house and developed gardens, thus creating ‘a pleasant romantic seat’ (Lake 1867). When William Trevanion died in 1767 the male line of the family became extinct, and the estate passed to his sister’s son, John Bettesworth, whose son adopted the additional name of Trevanion when he inherited Caerhays in 1801. John Bettesworth Trevanion commissioned John Nash (1752-1835) to build a new house in 1807. It is possible that at the same period Humphry Repton (1752-1818) may have advised on the development of the grounds; correspondence from Mr Pole-Carew of Antony, Cornwall (qv) suggests that he had introduced Repton to Trevanion, but there is no further documentary evidence relating to this possible connection (Stroud 1962), and contemporary descriptions do not refer to Repton’s involvement here. Partly as a result of the escalating cost of building the new mansion, the Trevanions found themselves in increasingly straightened financial circumstances, and in 1840 the family departed for Paris leaving the estate in the hands of creditors who offered it for sale in 1842. It failed to sell, and was again offered for sale in 1852 before finally being purchased in 1853 by Michael Williams, a wealthy banker, mine owner, and iron master of Scorrier and Burncoose. Michael Williams undertook the repair and improvement of the house and made significant changes to the pleasure grounds which are recorded on a plan of 1858 (private collection), the year of his death. Michael Williams was succeeded by his son, John Michael, who continued the improvement of the grounds. J M Williams died in 1880 and was succeeded by his son, John Charles, who c 1885 began the woodland garden for which Caerhays has been noted in the C20. In the late C19 and early C20 J C Williams supported expeditions by E H Wilson (1876-1930) and George Forrest (1873-1932), which provided new introductions which were planted at Caerhays; J C Williams was also undertook significant work hybridising camellias, rhododendrons, and daffodils at Caerhays.
J C Williams died in 1939 and was succeeded by his son Charles, who continued to hybridise rhododendrons and who managed, despite a busy political career as MP for Torquay and Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means during the Second World War, to maintain the gardens during the war. Following Charles Williams’ death in 1955 the estate passed to his nephew, F Julian Williams who has overseen the restoration of the gardens in the late C20.’ Julian is still around though ancient, and a son has now taken up the reigns and doing all the usual things, visits, weddings, shoots, selling caerhays as a film location etc etc
What Historic England doesn’t really make clear is that it was actually the extravagance of Nash which led to the downfall of a dynasty! Nash must have thought he was onto yet another good thing (he designed Brighton Pavilion of course for the Prince Regent). And he was sacked by the Trevanions – but too late.
Going back to our tour, a lot of the furnishings and paintings have been bought by the present generation and so there are the usual Opies, Romneys, etc as well as one or two very interesting more modern paintings. The interior style is of a piece with the buildings and there are some exceptionally nice rooms, especially we thought the round drawing room and the octagonal library. Background heating seemed to be some ancient free-standing heaters………I think living in this style of house is definitely for the upper classes!
One very, very interesting thing was in the room which had been created as a museum by the family in Victorian times, a collection of geological specimens which apparently are of international renown. They were quite spectacular. Far from being lumps of old rock (as I thought), they were incredibly beautiful especially some of the foreign ones such as the Australian opals in their raw state. But the Cornish exhibits which were carefully labelled with which of the family’s mines they had come from were equally intriguing.
After a lovely piece of cake and tea in the courtyard (another source of income), we trotted off down the drive, past the splendid lake, to have a wander on the beach. Caerhays is known especially for its gardens and of course we didn’t see these, but F. talked to a lady (when both coming out of the loo) who said that they had been a little disappointed on their garden tour..the plants needed another week or two before blooming. We will be back to see the apparently breathtaking magnolias, rhododendrons etc perhaps in a couple of weeks time……..
On our drive back home we had some great views of the bay…..a lovely Cornish day.
And, as we passed near it, we couldn’t resist calling into Fowey where we did our usual gaping at houses, estate agents, and visiting of some shops on the lookout for maritime-themed draught excluders of all things.
I loved this door (on a holiday cottage of course)…
Back for a late ‘lunch’ at 4pm! We found our living room flooded in sunlight…we are more or less West-facing.