Trelowarren Estate : Lizard Peninsula


 Trelowarren Manor is listed in the Doomsday Survey but there is no record of the exact position of the old house or of the Priory which is said to have existed there up to the 14th century.

 In early times Sir Richard Vyvan, Master of the Mint to Charles 1 in the Civil war was the most prominent man in the district and his home was the focal point of the Lizard Peninsula. Trelowarren reached its “ hay day” during the period 1800-79. Our Curnow interest in the Manor is due to its close proximity to the small village of Garras where a concentration of Curnow families lived. I am assuming that agricultural labourers like the Curnows at some stage probably worked for the Lord of the Manor.

We followed the sign from Garras and headed for the Estate. Passing the solid granite lodge on the Garras road we traveled the long “Ilex Avenue” of trees planted by the landlord in 1833. Covered with a canopy of green leaves imparting a sort of majestic processional feel the driveway passed through rolling hills that were so lush that I paused to photograph the growing corn. I could almost imagine our Curnow ancestors working the field. The Avenue led to a driveway entrance with granite pillars either side and after parking the car we walked through a gateway in a long wall that led to the ancient Manor House. We spent as long as we could afford that afternoon enjoying the surrounds of the significant Estate.

In early times political votes and power were often bought and sold by the Lords and Ladies of controlling families. In 1832 the Great Reform Act replaced the old ways with a spirit of reform. Cornwall had its own distinct culture but it was divided into two parties. The conservatives( Tories) still preferred the intervention of the notable wealthy aristocratic families like the Bassets, Vyvans, Edgcumbes, Lord Falmouth and the Rashleigh family.

While one farmer in the “West Briton” of 21st November 1889 declared that during the first half of the nineteenth century—“landlordism was probably responsible for more crimes than all the isms put together in Cornwall.” John Rowe suggested that not all reform was good because —“a keen national interest in agriculture seemed to die when the long reign of “Farmer George” ended.”

The Vyvan family, so legend says, is so ancient that they escaped from the sinking land of Lyonesse on horseback. They inherited the Estate by marriage in 1427 when it was no more than a small manor house set low in the landscape for shelter from the bleak moorland of the Lizard peninsula. The medieval house was first extended by John Vyvan in the 16th century. A new Chapel was built in the time of Charles 11 and prayers were said twice a day. The spacious Hall was decorated with Cross Bows, Hunting poles, Milita drums and staghorns while the bedchambers displayed the cloth hangings, point lace beds and works of the female Vyvans.

Richard the nephew of the second baronet was a Jacobite and in 1715 George 1st sent messengers to arrest him. A story says the kings messenger was detained at an inn while a friend proceeded to Trelowarren to warn Richard who was able to destroy many documents that would incriminate him. The kings messenger arrived at nightfall just as the family were about to assemble in the chapel for evening prayer. At Richards request prayers took priority proceeding according to custom. He was taken to the Tower of London and later released.

The history of the grounds as they are today began with Sir Vyell Vyvan (1767-1820). He created woodlands, pleasant gardens, shelter belts and roads. Sir Richard Rawlinson Vyvan succeeded him (1800-1879). He promptly showed his Tory colours, opposing Catholic emancipation, any kind of reform in Parliament and the repeal of the Corn laws. In 1846 Queen Victoria was expected to visit the Estate via Helford River and a landing was built at Tremayne. The Chapel was also enlarged in 1870. One of Sir Richards lasting garden features was the creation of the formal lawns around the house with wide granite steps.

The 1881 Census reveals that Sir Vyell Vyvan and his wife were living in the main house with their sixteen year old daughter Mary. In addition to the housekeeper there were 12 servants all of whom came from outside the Meneage. After the death of Sir Courtney Vyvan (1858-1941), his wife Lady Clara Vyvan wrote a number of books about Cornwall and also added to the gardens. She died in 1976 and the property with its Restaurant, Craft centre and base for an Evangelical organization is now open to the public.

 On one occasion when following the shores of Helford River and admiring the natural beauty of lands bordering Trelowarren property I had written in my diary,

“We crossed two narrow stone bridges over Gear creek. There was a sense of being in another world, a natural remoteness was clearly noticeable. This was where the Cromwellian troops routed the Royalists in 1648 and to all appearances not much seemed to have changed since that time. In talking to local land owners later I was told the area had been preserved because the Vyvans of Trelowarren had refused to sell property to land developers.”

In her book “The Helford” (1) Lady Clara Vyvan writes, as the widow of the Old Landlord Lady Clara’s book confirms what I had been told that day. She describes how she saw the Estate and her compassionate husband as a sensitive landlord, a conservationist well before his time.

“After nearly half a century spent in the service of his country at home and abroad, he had inherited an ancient home, always known in local parlance as “The Manson,” together with a property which included many miles of the Helford river shores. The woods, beaches, fields and farms extending along the southern margin of the river from Gweek to Frenchman’s creek remained in the hands of the Old Landlord for many years, yet never, in all his time of ownership, did he betray or even feel a personal pride of possession concerning that lovely corner of England. He had realized, from his first day of taking up his inheritance, that it was an almost sacred trust. He knew, without voicing that knowledge to other people’ that the beauty of his land must be kept inviolate, that digging for house foundations and drains must never be permitted on those shores of the river that no human dwelling, neither mansion, hut, nor pink bungalow should be allowed to arise and cast their reflection in those waters.

The tidal river had from time immemorial been the haunt of sea-birds, marine creatures and otters; a waterway for boats that would pass up and down from Helford to Gweek and Gweek to Helford, without leaving any trace behind; the playing ground of winds and tides; a place full of ancient yet ever renewed beauty. And so it must remain as long as he had any say in the matter.

Always when he looked at the river, or thought of it, or made some sacrifice to preserve its setting, he felt that pride which a man may feel in serving a fair lady, a noble master, a worthy cause. He knew that certain reaches of the Helford owned him as their guardian, it never occurred to him that he was their owner and arbiter of their fate, because he viewed himself as a creature of a day while he was constantly aware of their eternal value.

So they possessed him, body and bank-book, and he paid their tithes and taxes as if it were a privilege to do so.

He owned not only the land encircling the home but also many thousands acres in other parts of the county. He owned too an ancient and honourable name which he shared with a horde of often- impecunious relations, to say nothing of the rambling Mansion with one wing dating from Tudor times. All these responsibilities brought many claims on his attention and a day spent on or beside the river was a day of escape seldom achieved. Never in all his life had he found much leisure for dreaming and yet one could see in his eyes the power of dreams, that distant illuminated look which betrays constant awareness of things remote from the mud at one’s feet, the marmalade on the breakfast-table, the overdrawn account at one’s bank.

Because he was imbued with a deep and abiding sense of his duty to his neighbour and because he was a born an accustomed listener, he found himself often in the position of holding an informal court of justice, without advocates or ceremonial. When anyone came to him with some trouble that might concern arrears of rent, a pig, a cow, a quarrel, or even a wife, he would always meet his visitor on equal terms and never would his well-considered advice be disputed. Sometimes it was actually a husband or a husband’s conduct that was under discussion, for women, as naturally as men, would come to him for counsel.”

We know for example that the power of Lord Falmouth and often the dominance of the upper class exploited those who were poor. Lady Clara’s Landlord however paints a more paternal picture, a protector of the vulnerable, a friend and counsellor to the little people. This tends to support John Rowe’s earlier comment that in some cases, with qualification, the reign of “Farmer George” in some cases in Cornwall could have worked out to be a good thing .

Reference (1) “The Helford” by C.C. Vyvan pub 1986, ISBI 1.850 22-021-2. See also “The Story of the Vivians” by Stanley Vivian, 1989. “A Cornish Family Through Seven Centuries at Home and Abroad”. ISBN 0 9514814 0 1

Trelowarren Estate


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