Feock Trails 

The History of Houses in Feock 

House construction

For many centuries cob was the favoured construction material for general houses and cottages, the Quaker meeting house at Come to Good being a fine, and perhaps typical, example. Both the heavy clay soils, which typify the parish and actual clay pits, meant that supplies of the main constituent of cob were readily available. By the 19th century stone became more common and it is interesting to search out the many small quarries which were established adjacent to the new developments. These were often no bigger than the properties they served and can be picked out at the side of roads and footpaths. Those at King Harry Ferry, Penpol, Trolver Croft, Chycoose, Narabo are easily spotted.

 

The 18th and 19th centuries, a period of Mining Boom and Great Houses

 

The 18th century and the period of the Industrial Revolution was a time of great change in Cornwall. Early in the 1700s copper mining started to exceed in importance that of Cornwall's traditional tin mining. By 1720 over six thousand tons of copper ore was being mined annually and this increased inexorably over the next one hundred years to a position where Gwennap Parish alone yielded a third of the world's copper supply. Engineers, businessmen and financial capital were attracted to Cornwall to help develop the new industry. Fortunes were made both by established mineral lords and a burgeoning class of entrepreneurs having a talent for business. The most tangible legacy from this period are the fine mansion houses in the parish and of course the new town of Devoran. The story of these developments and the main threads of development at the time can be seen through the lens of the families and characters involved. The lives of ordinary people were heavily affected by the interests, industry and politics of these influential families and four feature heavily on the 1842 tythe map, these being the families Boscawen, Agar, Lemon and Daniell. 

 

Towards the middle of the 18th century, William Lemon (1696-1760) was establishing the great Carclew Estate across the water from Devoran. Lemon was the first of three giants of Cornish mining who made fortunes for themselves in the 18th century copper boom and whose influence on the parish, through family and enterprise, has been enormous. Of the three he perhaps came from the most humble beginnings but rose quickly as a young man to become the manager of the great Chyandour Tin Smelting Works near Penzance. He made a good marriage and, having money to invest from this, he became a main driving force within the expanding Gwennap Mining District.

Thomas Daniell's family had been previous burgesses and mayors of Truro. Thomas had risen to the post of  chief clerk to Lemon when he married the niece of Mr Ralph Allen of Bath who was a Cornishman from St Columb Major. After rising through the ranks of the Post Office and from this position revolutionising the national postal service Ralph Allen became a wealthy developer in Bath during the mid 18th century and is credited as a major architect of its fine building heritage. With the backing of this influential and wealthy family Thomas was able to take the whole of Mr Lemon's considerable business and mining interests off the hands of his executors after his death in 1760 and continued to run these affairs to great profit, gaining the nick-name “Guinea a minute Daniell”.

John Williams the second of Burncoose (1714-1790) was employed by Lemon as manager of his Poldice mines and assisted him in developing the potential of the Gwennap district including the Great County Adit. He became the most celebrated and influential mining engineer of the era and his nephew John Williams the third (1753 - 1841) controlled not only the copper belt of Gwennap but also a large proportion of the copper smelting industry in Swansea. Whilst the Williams family had little direct interest in Feock parish their influence over mining and smelting activities would have been strongly felt. 

Major Houses in Feock

 

Killiganoon – a lawyer, M.P. and an Admiral

Killiganoon house was built around 1700 by Richard Hussey who was the son of an attorney in Truro. Richard started his career with little capital from his family but through his exceptional abilities became one of the most distinguished lawyers of his time. He was helped along the way by the most influential local personage of the age, Admiral Edward Boscawen, who combined a distinguished naval career with local and national politics through his control of rotten boroughs linked with the family landholdings. Richard made his way in London, being appointed as Attorney General to Queen Anne and also counsel to the East India Company. He was for a period MP for St Mawes on behalf of the Boscawen family, this being a rotten borough with only twenty five voters, all of whom were tenants of the Tregothnan estate. In 1800 the estate was sold to Admiral Sir Thomas Spry who improved and enlarged the house and plantations. Thomas was a member of the Spry family of Place, St Mawes.

 

Trelissick – a county squire and a mining mogul

The first major house at Trelissick was built by John Laurence, a captain in the county militia during the Seven Years War ( 1754-1763). A man remembered for his good nature, convivial habits, and wild eccentricities. The architect was Mr Davy, grandfather of the celebrated chemist Sir Humphry Davy, president of the Royal Society. Around 1800, after Mr Laurence's death, the property was purchased by Ralph Allen Daniell who was son of Thomas "Guinea a minute" Daniell . It was under his, and his son's tenures, that the house and estate we see today was established. 

 

Tregye – a smelting house owner and the old landed gentry

A substantial farmhouse at Tregye had been established in the 18th century however its development  into a mansion started after William Penrose inherited the estate from his uncle John Libby in 1807. William's inheritance also included shares in the great Wheal Fortune tin and copper mine together with a substantial sum of money which he wisely invested. In 1830 he joined with R & W Mitchell (of Calenick Tin Smelting Works) to take the lease of the lead smelting works at Penpol. Unfortunately William and his only son, William, was drowned at he age of only twenty two and after Juliana's death in 1850 Tregye was sold to Hon. Richard de Clare Boscawen. This purchase renewed the long established connection which the Boscawen's have had with Tregye and the parish as a whole.  Extensive alterations were again made to the house in the 1890s under the Boscawens and after it was sold in 1915 the gardens benefited greatly from additional planting by the Rogers family, utilising plants brought back from expeditions around the world which were financed by their relatives the Williams of Burncoose and Caerhays.

 

Porthgwidden – another M.P. and a churchman with money and influence

The mansion at Porthgwidden is first reported as being newly erected in the late 1820s. It had been the residence of Edmund Turner, M.P. for Truro from 1837 until his death in 1849. In 1842 however it was bought by John Phillpotts, brother of the Bishop of Exeter, a barrister and also M.P. for Gloucester. His son Thomas Phillpotts was ordained in 1830 and installed as vicar of Feock in 1844. Thomas was an extremely energetic churchman and champion of the poor. He had a hand in designing and building both Devoran and Feock's schools and churches. He was a passionate horticulturist and, in friendship with C. D. Gilbert of Trelissick, worked together with him on improvements in farming practice, building on experience gained from working the Porthgwidden Home Farm at Harcourt. The house was considerably enlarged by Thomas and his wife in later years, the new clock-tower is dated 1855.

 

The “New Town” of Devoran was built by the Lanhydrock Estate, owned by the Agar Robartes, a long established family of business and commerce

One of the first Robartes, Richard of Truro, was a merchant and banker during the reign of Henry VIII. His grandson, another Richard, was sheriff of Cornwall and was made Baron Robartes of Truro in 1625. The area of Devoran Cock was purchased by the Robartes family in 1577 and was part of an ever increasing portfolio of holdings around Truro and Redruth. Richard Robartes bought Lanhydrock House in 1620 and extended both the house and estate to become the family seat.

 

In 1794 the steward of the Lanhydrock estate, Alfred Jenkin, reported that because of  the growing trade in coals and timber he considered the Devoran area a prime area for development and the estate should purchase more land as it became available. Jenkin could see the potential for a new improved port at Devoran to facilitate the trade. He had considerable influence over the estate at this time due to the death of  its owner George Hunt in 1798 and it being inherited by George's niece Anna who was the wife of Charles Agar, Viscount Clifden. Their son Thomas James took the name of Agar Robartes in 1822. Under good stewardship the estate thrived and the mines of Wheal Agar and East Pool were still amongst the richest in Redruth well into the next century. The port of Devoran developed in the early 1800s and was given a great boost by the opening of the Redruth and Chasewater Railway in 1826. By 1836 trade had increased to such an extent that major improvements to the port were required and Jenkins offered a prospectus for the building of a harbour and new town. The tithe map of 1842 indicates just a few houses at Devoran, most of the 19th century buildings we see today were constructed between 1845 and 1865. The builders used stone from local quarries which are now filled in and built over. By 1871 however, Devoran population had reached a 1500 persons, over two thirds that of the whole parish at that time.

Plan of the roads, buildings and harbours at Devoran.

The 1842 Tithe Map, an important document in the history of Feock. Note how much of the land is in the possession of four landowners.

Written by Phil Allen

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