Dear readers, I begin with an apology, I am not an Historian and I do not profess to be an expert on Trelissick and you have every right to ask why I am even attempting to write this article. The answer being quite simply that I have thoroughly enjoyed being a room and tour guide at the property and wish to share what little knowledge I have, of the rich heritage which we have so close to us. I have done my very best to check my facts but again an apology if I have got it wrong!
There are few houses and estates which can boast such an intriguing past and such magnificent views, reflecting the rise and fall of fortunes experienced in the County as a whole.
In 1280 rogues, felons and persons of ill repute would have frequented the place called Trelesyk as the original house on the site was periodically used as a court and is mentioned in the Assize Rolls.
A small farmhouse is recorded on the site from 1558 – 1603 and in 1632 Trelissick is mentioned in a Will as being held by John Trefusis esq. in the Manor of Trevilla, with a rental value of 6 shillings a year. John Trefusis of Trefusis Mylor, was an Oxford law graduate and M P. for Truro. He married twice, his first wife was Jane Treffry of Place Fowey and the second the widow of Sir Francis Drake.
The Lawrence family leased part of the Manor of Trevilla including Trelissick and between 1632 and 1705 the property came into their possession as it is mentioned in the will of Edward Lawrence in 1705. In 1750, his son John Lawrence built a mansion at Trelissick to the design of Edmund Davey ( the grand father of Humphrey Davey of miners ‘safety lamp fame!). John Lawrence was a retired sea captain, a lieutenant in the Cornish militia and a man known for his ‘good nature, convivial habits and wild eccentricities’ ; even after his death. He laid out a small park and built a large, highly productive walled fruit garden with orchards. He also built the first lodge at the entrance to the drive. He was probably responsible for planting many of the park trees and for building the first lodge at the entrance to the drive.
The 1750 mansion was a double story building and its footprint is clearly shown by the original cellar. The footprint of this original house is shown on the ground floor plan of the ‘Daniell mansion’ commissioned in 1825.
When John Lawrence died in 1790 the estate was split, the larger portion being held by his widow. Trelissick was let to Francis Pender, while another portion of the estate including King Harry Quay was let to Ralph Allen Daniell.
After 1790 the Lawrence family experienced financial difficulties and in 1805, as a result of legal action by the family’s creditors including Ralph Allen Daniell, Trelissick was offered for sale and acquired by Ralph Allen Daniell.
Ralph Allen Daniell was the only son of Thomas ‘Guinea- a – minute’ Daniell a very wealthy tin and copper mine owner ( including the immensely profitable Great Towan and Gwennap mines). He married the heiress of Ralph Allen of Prior Park, Bath. As a wedding gift they were given Bath stone to build the Mansion House in Truro where they lived. As a result of this, Bath Stone was used to construct many of the larger houses in Truro. R.A. Daniell expanded and developed the 18th century park, creating rides through woodland to the north and south of the house. He acquired so much land that it was said that he could ride from Trelissick to Truro on his own land. R.A.Daniell died in 1823 and the estate passed to his son, Thomas.
Thomas Daniell, in contrast to his grandfather and father seems to have lived as a wealthy gentleman of leisure in the society life of Bath and perhaps resided at Prior Park, his grandmothers estate. This was apparently not sufficient for him and he, or perhaps his father on his behalf, purchased Michaelchurch Court and associated estate in the Manor of Ewyas Lacy in SW. Herefordshire when it was put up for sale in 1815. The sale included the 1364 acres of farmland, farms, cottages , woods plus other interests including rights to some 50 000 acres. This allowed him the status of a landed gentleman and Lord of the Manor of Ewyas Lacy. There is no record that he ever took up residence in Michaelchurch although it was fully furnished by him!
Thomas Daniell further improved the Trelissick estate by laying out miles of rides and carriage roads through the north and south woods along the west side of the River Fal. He continued the planting work started by his father and was responsible for planting many of the beech and oak trees. One carriage drive to the house was from Penelewey along the side of the Fal over a stone bridge, where the modern wooden bridge crosses the road, through the parkland (where the tennis court is) and along the front of the house. There are existing lime trees in the pasture in front of the house which once bordered the drive.
He was also responsible for re- designing and virtual rebuilding of the original house. The East and West wings, kitchens , ancillary rooms and servants quarters were constructed. The Grecian style portico was added to the front elevation and a new entrance with portico to the West Wing. As a result the original 1750 mansion became completely surrounded by the new 1825 – 1832 house but it is still there!
The West wing comprises the drawing room, outer hall and West library and the East wing the East library, kitchen and associated rooms. The West and East wings were originally single storied. The two wings were linked by many other rooms including the Butlers pantry, housekeepers room, and estate office. There was a large solarium and behind this the servants quarters which were demolished in the 1960’s. The remains of these can still be seen in the courtyard adjacent to the kitchen and solarium for example there is a large fireplace visible on the outside wall of the solarium.
Above the lintel where the original kitchen range was sited in the kitchen ( long since replaced by an AGA!) there is a carved Pelican, the Coat of Arms of the Daniell family.
As you move from the 1823 – 1832 Daniell extensions into the original 1750’s house you notice the dramatic decrease in the size of the rooms and the dramatic reduction in the height of the ceilings. The wide doorways into the morning room from the drawing room and from the dining room into the East library are through original outside walls.
Agricultural and mining depressions in the early 19th century, a flamboyant life style, gambling on new mine development, and it is said, horses and cards, all led to financial ruin. He mortgaged both the Trelissick and Michaelchurch Estates but to no avail, in 1832 he fled to France to evade his creditors and a debtor’s prison. In 1835 he was declared bankrupt with debts of nearly £40,000.
Trelissick came into the hands of Viscount Falmouth of Tregothnan who held a mortgage over it; the house remained unoccupied from 1832 until 1844 when Lord Falmouth succeeded in selling it to John Davies Gilbert. He owned estates in Eastbourne and was developing Eastbourne and East Dean in Sussex into fashionable resorts.
John Davies Gilbert’s father was a Cornishman, engineer, High sheriff of Cornwall, President of the Royal society and a MP. He was christened John Davies- Giddy but in 1818, after his marriage to Ann Gilbert, he changed his name to Davies-Gilbert to enable his wife to inherit the Gilbert estates in Eastbourne. Ann Gilbert was an accomplished and well respected agronomist .She was passionately concerned about low agricultural productivity and the plight of the rural poor. She did much to encourage landowners to encourage their agricultural workers to cultivate waste land in an effort to improve the nutrition of their families.
John Davies Gilbert married Anne Dorothea Carew in October 1851, she was the daughter of Robert Shapland, Baron Carew of Wexford , Ireland. They divided their time equally between Trelissick and estates in Eastbourne. John Davies manifested his mother’s interest and passion in agricultural pursuits and it is likely that the intellect and drive which he inherited from his mother had a major impact on agricultural practices throughout the estate.
An article in the West Briton in 1854 about local housing and health states: ‘In every area we find cottages grouped as if with the purpose to prevent ventilation....close to a high hedge which bounds and confines a hollow, originally perhaps a puddle for ducks but gradually made a receptacle for every abomination which a house and its inmates can supply’ Feock had ‘ one of the highest Poor Rates in the County and labourers were supported in idleness, discontent and crime. Residents were always in fear of incendiarism as many as three deliberate acts of arson being recorded in one night.’ John Davies Gilbert did much to change the Parish as recorded in the West Briton ‘Since his residence in Feock, the Parish is quite changed. Model cottages have been raised in all directions, not fancy cottages such as an artist would engrave but plain good homes with all that domestic decency required and with large well stocked gardens. He mingled much with his tenancy and dependants and was a large and liberal employer. Nor was he ever backward to fulfil the important duty of a landowner in prominently identifying himself with Agriculturalists of the County, attending their meetings’ John Davies Gilbert died aged 42 on April 16th 1854 of ‘severe liver disease’ at Prideaux place in Padstow where he was staying with his sister in law Mrs. Prideaux- Brune.
His son Carew Davies-Gilbert who was born in 1852 at Trelissick inherited the estate on his father’s death in 1854. Carew was educated at Trinity College Cambridge and travelled widely including ,USA, New Zealand, Australia, Far East, China and Japan. He collected many plants which he introduced into this country and many of these are in the gardens and parkland at Trelissick. He married Grace Katherine Rosa in 1881 and divided his time between Eastbourne and Trelissick. He was a magistrate, Deputy Lieutenant and High Sheriff of Cornwall. Carew Davies married Grace Massy-Dawson of Ballina Court , Tipperary, Ireland. The West Briton reported that ‘There was much rejoicing at Trelissick. The tenantry and employersassembled at the mansion, and, with the usual kindness and consideration shown by the Hon Mrs Gilbert, those of the tenantry who were unable through illness or age to walk were carried in Mrs Gilbert’s waggonette. The guests to the number oif about 200, sat down to an extremely bountiful ‘high tea’ in the great barn, which had been ver appropriately and tastefully decorated for the occasion. Through the kindness of Capt. Fanshawe the band of H.M.S. Ganges played a selection of airs during the repast. After the repast an adjournment was made to the croquet lawn where dancing, ‘Aunt Sally’and various other amusements were provided, and all thoroughly enjoyed themselves until dark.’
Mrs Gilbert was pregnant when her husband died and gave birth to a second son in September 1854. He was baptised in Bodmin on the 20th September but died on the 30th of September. He is buried with his father in Feock Church yard.
Under the occupancy of the Davies-Gilberts the wings of the house were extended upwards to produce double storied structures. Buildings like the water tower, with its weather vane in the form of a Squirrel, the crest of the Gilbert family were constructed and they continued to develop the parkland. In the early 1900’s they added a billiard room at the top of the house with magnificent views over the Carrick Roads. The Davies-Gilbert family continued to purchase land, for example on the Roseland. Carew Davies-Gilbert had five daughters and when he died in 1913 the family returned to Eastbourne and the Trelissick estate was divided and rented.
Leonard Cunliffe was said to be sailing on the Carrick Roads when he saw Trelissick from the water. He made enquiries and decided to rent and in 1920 to purchase it. Leonard Cunliffe and his two brothers were merchant bankers. Lord Walter Cunliffe, the eldest brother was Deputy governor of the Bank of England ( 1911-1913)and later became the Governor (1913-1918). Leonard was the President of the Hudson Bay Company and also a Director of Harrods.
Ida Fenzi was born in Florence and her father was a member of a distinguished Florentine banking family. When her father died Ida was brought to England by her mother. Mother married Leonard Cunliffe in 1898 and Ida lived with them at Juniper Hall, Mickleham near Dorking in Surrey until she married Ronald Copeland the chairman of Spode china.
Leonard Cunliffe continued to develop the gardens and parkland at Trelissick and replaced the original timber solarium with the present day solarium. In 1937 Leonard Cunliffe died and he left Trelissick to his step daughter Ida. Ida and her husband continued to live near Stoke on Trent until 1948 when they came to live at Trelissick. They continued to develop the gardens and parkland. In 1955 Ida generously gave the parkland, gardens and house to the National Trust. The family continued to live in the house until 2013.
Over the 2013 Christmas period the national Trust opened some of the rooms in the house to the public. A part of the house is now open five days a week with conducted tours on the other days.. Thousands of people have now visited the house and all have marvelled at the view.... how lucky we are!
I am indebted to all members of the Trelissick management team especially Craig Hardman for furnishing me with so much information.
Written by Dr Colin Blake
An early print of the 1750’s mansion commisione
The ground floor plan of the house after it had been extended by Thomas Daniell between 1825 and 1832. The servants quarters were behind the Solarium but were demolished in the 1960’s. The extent of the 1750’s house is shown.
To the left, Trelissick mansion after the extensive rebuild between 1825 – 1830.
To the right, the servants quarters in the area behind the solarium. Demolished in the 1960’s.
Carew Davies Gilbert’s re-designed Trelissick mansion circa 1880. A second story was added to the wings, the whole house was modernised with adequate water, drainage and heating. The architect was St. Aubyn.
To the left, the main entrance to Trelissick mansion circa 1930. The two windows to the right of the door on the ground floor are false but maintain the aesthetic balance.
To the right, an aerial view of Trelissick showing the highly productive walled gardens.
Written by Dr Colin Blake