Digging Deep

PUBLISHED: 17:08 19 October 2010 | UPDATED: 18:02 20 February 2013

Trevarno gardens

Trevarno gardens

Lousie Danks unearths the roots of Cornwall's horticultural history and discovers its links to the mining industry

Contact Vivienne Robinson on 01209 821295 for further Blue Badge Guide/tour information. With thanks to Ainsley Cocks of the World Heritage Site Team for his help compiling this feature. www.cornish-mining.org.uk

Cornwall is known for its horticultural excellence and it is easy to be blinded by its superior gardening successes without looking into the reasons why. The sub-tropical gardens, the estates, the plant-hunting discoveries and the legacy of centuries of green-fingered enthusiasts all add up to a botanically rich county.

Even now, Cornish garden tours are endlessly popular and garden visits provide valuable income for many historic gardens. We are blessed with an almost perfect climate for growing, and new plant introductions were happy to put their roots deep into Cornish soil, but how did the horticultural industry come to be so important to Cornwall?

Many of the great gardens and estates that Cornwall is famous for were built or developed by wealthy families and estate owners using revenue created by the mining industry. Vivienne Robinson, Blue Badge Guide and Cornish Heritage specialist, explains: Some of the great families of Cornwall and the estates they owned make up valuable parts of our heritage. Plant-hunters were sent out to Asia, North America and South America from these estates, and they brought back plants like camellias and azaleas. Wealthy historic families (many from the mining industry) helped to build up the gardens that we know today.

The first example that springs to mind is the Trevarno Estate, Vivienne explains. Famed for its gorgeous Victorian boathouse and lake, and its strong links with Cornish mining and William Bickford, the Trevarno Estate near Crowntown has an interesting history. Devon-born William Bickford moved to Truro and then on to Camborne. A currier by trade, he had little first-hand knowledge of mining and the blasting accidents which occurred, and was driven to thinking about how the process could be made safer. Originally, fuses were made of goose quills, which lead to unpredictable explosions. A friend, James Bray, owned a rope factory and William watched the rope makers twisting separate strands together, which was his inspiration for creating a woven fuse around a core of gunpowder that was varnished to make it waterproof.

The fuse burned safely and steadily and saved many lives. William Bickford did not live to see the opening of the fuse factory that made thousands of miles of fuse, but his ancestors bought the Trevarno Estate and developed the ornamental gardens surrounding the house.

Another famous Cornish mining dynasty, the Bassett family, owners of the Tehidy Estate since Norman times, earned their wealth from the minerals, predominantly tin, mined from their land. In early 1730, Tehidy House was built, surrounded by generous gardens and parkland, now known as Tehidy Woods. In 1915 the house was vacated and the estate sold, bringing 700 years of Basset ownership to an end. The next few years proved to be dramatic for the mansion. It became a hospital for tuberculosis sufferers, but a fire resulted in the house being burnt to the ground. By 1922 it had been rebuilt.

On top of Carn Brea, a beautiful 28m Celtic cross was erected to commemorate the passing of Francis Basset. It looks out over a substantial part of Cornwall and on a clear day you can see both the north and south coasts. Within site of the monument are many of the 300 mines owned by the Basset family, and from this perfect vantage point there are beautiful and iconic industrial views of Cornwall.

Godolphin House, near Helston, was funded by income from the local tin and copper mines that fell within the estate boundary. The house and gardens were developed by generations of the Godolphin family. A visit to the garden and a walk to the top of Godolphin Hill reveals remains of Godolphin mine, camouflaged by trees. Further along another field the remains of an engine house give further clues to this estates mining legacy.

Many important examples of gardens and estates once owned and financed by families linked to the mining industry still survive today. You dont have to dig very deep to uncover the links between two of the countys best-known industries.

Further Information

Trevarno Estate, Crowntown, TR13 0RU. 01326 574274, www.trevarno.co.uk

Tehidy Country Park, near Camborne, TR14 OHQ. www.cornwall.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=13240

Godolphin House, Helston, TR13 9RE. 01736 763194, www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-godolphinestate

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