An Elegant Setting
PUBLISHED: 12:14 18 August 2010 | UPDATED: 15:16 20 February 2013
Trewithen House, near to the village of Grampound, is famous for its gardens but in our July issue, Cornwall Life has a look inside the property
An Elegant Setting
Explore Trewithen House and its famous gardens for a great day out.
Trewithen has an international reputation for its spectacular gardens. The estate's collection of magnolias and camellias attracts many horticultural enthusiasts, and the paths leading past historic beech trees, rhododendrons bursting with colour and exotic tree ferns give a vibrant and tranquil sense of country splendour. At the heart of this picturesque estate lies another treasure, Trewithen House.
The estate lies in rolling parkland close to the village of Grampound, on the outskirts of Truro. The house overlooks miles of verdant countryside, which is scattered with the odd sycamore or turkey oak tree, courtesy of former owner Thomas Hawkins who employed two tree shapers to ensure their fine form today. Trewithen's surrounding parkland is grazed by the estate's organic dairy herd.
Although a dwelling was recorded at Trewithen in the Domesday Survey of 1086, the house standing today is an outstanding example of 18th-century architecture. The house is flanked by two striking buildings known as the 'French Pavilions'. Formerly used as stables and a courtroom, the buildings are today used as Estate offices and garden workshops. One of the buildings, the old Manorial Rent Court, is now laid out as an exhibition centre and houses the RHS Travelling Trees exhibition, previously on show in the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro. Three sides of the house are constructed from granite sourced from the Pentewan quarries, which were owned by the Hawkins family of Trewithen; the stone produces a lichen which gives the walls a beautiful soft pink hue on exposure to wind and rain.
Trewithen House is rather unusual in two respects: firstly, the outward appearance of the property has barely changed since Philip Hawkins bought the house for 2,700 back in 1715, and secondly, Trewithen has remained a family home ever since this date, passing down from generation to generation of the same family through marriage. Today, it is home to Michael Galsworthy and his family, a fact which certainly adds to the character of this fine property.
A wealthy attorney and landowner, Philip Hawkins established the family dynasty at Trewithen, commissioning London architect Thomas Edwards to rebuild the house and design the surrounding park. Having carried out his work between 1715 and 1725, Edwards is credited for Trewithen's design; he also worked on various other Cornish houses of the period. Philip's succeeding heir to the estate was his nephew Thomas Hawkins, who commissioned the famous London architect Sir Robert Taylor to enlarge the property and redesign the interior of the house. Extensive work was carried out from 1740 and plans were drawn up for landscaping the gardens. In planting many fine specimen trees and creating the exquisite views from the house that greatly add to Trewithen's charm today, Thomas left a considerable legacy.
Thomas's eldest son, Christopher, was an ambitious heir and notable businessman who made a lasting contribution to Cornwall's mining and china clay industries. Trewithen's estate grew considerably during his lifetime and his dream to "ride from one side of Cornwall to the other without setting hoof on another man's soil" was undoubtedly realised. His successor, brother John Hawkins, added to the horticultural development of Trewithen, planting many fine trees including holm oaks.
Much of Trewithen's horticultural splendour today is credited to George Johnstone, who inherited the estate in 1904. Johnstone's travels across the world instilled in him a passion for plants and a desire to create a garden "of excitement and discovery" within the woodlands behind the house. On his return from serving in the First World War, he began the design of the new garden, guided by the framework for the original 18th-century landscaping and woodland planting.
The current owner, Michael Galsworthy, has continued his grandfather's work in his commitment to maintaining and developing both the gardens and the estate. Over 50,000 trees have been planted to expand the shelter belts and surrounding woodland since he took over the running of the estate back in 1980.
Trewithen house is roughly divided into two halves: the formal rooms, which may be viewed by the public, and the family's private rooms, which have a modern and laid-back atmosphere. Each room has a distinct character, from the light and comfortable Drawing Room with its warm yellow walls and views of the estate, to the Oak Room with its ornate floor-to-ceiling dark oak panelling.
The Library, its shelves swollen with books, has hunting scenes on its walls, an array of antiques on the mantelpiece and a selection of chairs. Much of the property's impressive collection of furniture, which includes a set of Chippendale chairs, dates back to the 18th and 19th centuries, and many of the pieces were made especially for the house. The collection also includes furniture that belonged to Sir Stamford Raffles (founder of London Zoo and Singapore, and who was related by marriage to the present family), as well as clocks by Thomas Mudge and Samuel Northcote, and a wide range of fine pictures and portraits. The original plans drawn up for both the house and the garden are framed on the hallway walls.
One of the property's most striking features is the glass dome above the staircase. But the title of Trewithen's most spectacular room must go to the Dining Room or 'Great Saloon'. In contrast to the other rooms, which are more intimate, this is a large room that occupies the five bays of the south frontage. Neo-classical in style, Ionic columns divide the room, and rococo plasterwork, which was so popular in the 1750s and 1760s, adorns the walls. The colour scheme is pale green and the room has arcading and carved and painted wooden candle brackets. A grand piano, a huge 18th-century dining table, and a fine collection of Oriental porcelain contribute to the sense of grandeur.
The huge windows frame views over the south lawn. This lawn is a first-class example of fine garden design, using dimension, perspective and colour. The story of the south lawn began during the First World War when 300 beech trees were felled by government order for use as trench props on the front line. George Johnstone created this wonderful garden from what was left, and it is seen as a model for garden designers today.
There are portraits of previous generations, many of whom lived in and left their lasting legacy on Trewithen, as well as recent photographs of the Galsworthy family. The house's splendour does nothing to dispel the intimate and warm character of the rooms; you can imagine the chatter and laughter of the many dinner parties that must have been held here over the centuries.
It is little surprise that a historic building such as Trewithen requires a high level of maintenance. The slate roof in particular demands regular and careful attention.
Although the international reputation of the gardens attracts thousands of visitors each year, the family also has its own enchanting outdoor space in the walled garden.
A summerhouse overlooks the garden from one corner with a wisteria in the other, while Mrs Galsworthy's herb garden, a pond and classically styled water feature complete this exquisite picture. This charming garden can be visited in the summer on set days when the colours are at their best.
The latest addition to Trewithen Gardens is the rose garden. Opened in March this year, it holds the title as the only official rose garden in Cornwall. Head Gardener Gary Long says, "The garden is designed to dispel the myth that roses cannot be grown in the county." It is laid out in the shape of a traditional Celtic cross with a water feature constructed of granite at its centre and over 3,000 different specimens of roses have been supplied by The Cornish Rose Company. Gary has ambitious plans for the forthcoming years at Trewithen, including the creation of a water garden, the Eagle Ponds Restoration Project.
Trewithen, Grampound, near Truro.
01726 883647, http://www.trewithengardens.co.uk/