Trereife - a Family Home

PUBLISHED: 12:31 18 August 2010 | UPDATED: 16:06 20 February 2013

Trereife has formal gardens Photo: Ian Wilkinson

Trereife has formal gardens Photo: Ian Wilkinson

Trereife is an impressive Cornish manor house with glorious gardens and a distinctly friendly feel. In this July issue, Cornwall Life pays a visit.

Trereife - a Family Home

Trereife is a substantial Cornish manor house with glorious gardens that has a distinctly friendly character that makes a wonderful family home. Words and photos by Ian Wilkinson

The current owner of Trereife, Tim Le Grice, considers himself fortunate on at least two counts. First, of course, because his house is beautiful. Set in rolling countryside just west of Penzance and a mile inland from Newlyn it is a fine, substantial manor house, which, despite its grandeur, still manages to retain the character and ambience of a family home. Second, because the Le Grice family was fortunate enough to inherit the estate from the original owners, the Nicholls family, in the early 19th century.

The Nicholls had lived in the house since Elizabethan times, first as yeoman farmers and later as minor gentry. The last male member of the family, William John Godolphin Nicholls suffered from a disease known in those days as 'ossification of the muscles' (probably muscular dystrophy), and was not expected to live very long. Possibly because of this, the estate became disentailed in 1814 and ownership passed to William's widowed mother, Mary. Mary married Charles Valentine Le Grice (who had initially been taken on as a tutor for the ailing William) and by whom she had another son. Mary died in 1821 and the Le Grice family became established at Trereife as successors to the Nicholls family and have remained there ever since.

Charles Valentine Le Grice was, by all accounts, a remarkable man. Affectionately known as CV, he was both witty and intellectual with strong connections with the literary world. He enjoyed the company of William Wordsworth, Charles Lamb and Leigh Hunt, and was a lifelong friend of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He ran the estate well and played a leading role in local affairs both as a magistrate and as perpetual curate of St Mary's Church.

The house in its present form, however, owes much to John Nicholls, a highly successful London barrister who transformed the old farmhouse in the early years of the 18th century. Perhaps influenced by the beautiful Queen Anne houses being built in London at that time, he decided that his own house in Cornwall should have the same classical and perfectly proportioned frontage. He achieved this by the unusual expedient of turning the house around so that the original rear elevation became the front. In the course of these rather drastic alterations, although the outer walls were retained, the roof was removed and the first floor raised, which means that the current house is higher than the original farmhouse. A new roof was installed together with a staircase of an earlier 17th-century design. The front elevation, faced in brown granite is of classical Queen Anne design with seven bays, the central one of which is enhanced by a simple door with pediment. The building is two storeys throughout with a hipped roof and three dormer windows.

The entrance hall gives a taste of the glories of Trereife. It is spacious and airy with panelled cream-coloured walls, a white ceiling and dominated by the fine 17th-century staircase. The furnishings are simple - a dark oak occasional table and some fine chairs, and the walls are hung with oil paintings of the Le Grice family. There are also drawings of the house at the end of the 18th century before the building of the Georgian stable wing and adjoining rooms.

To the right of the entrance hall is the breakfast room, which is now used as the family sitting room. It retains the original panelling, the white marble capping above the fireplace, and an ornate mirror cleverly reflects the design of the fine ceiling. The fireplace itself is of the Queen Anne period in the Adam style.

Across the entrance hall is the drawing room, a truly spectacular room that receives plenty of light from the large sash windows on both the front and side elevations. With a polished wooden floor, pale-green painted panelling and ornate moulded ceiling, it transports you back in time to a rather more elegant age. This room was significantly altered in 1920 by Charles Henry Le Grice who renewed the panelling and ceiling and changed the shape of the room by demolishing the wall separating it from an adjoining study. The fireplace in this room is simple yet perfectly proportioned, as are those throughout the rest of the house.

From the hall a passage leads to the dining room past a small collection of leather-bound volumes. Sadly, the house's substantial library fell victim to the last war. Tim Le-Grice's father, mindful of the threat of bombs (one fell quite close), had the priceless books removed to a safe place, but while they were safe from the bombs, they succumbed to the damp storage conditions and were ruined.

The dining room is dominated by a magnificent 17th-century fireplace that was imported from another house in the area. The room has a remarkably cosy feel despite its size, and one can imagine some of the meals that must have been enjoyed here on winter evenings with a huge log fire burning in the grate.

On the subject of heat, I did notice some cast-iron radiators in a couple of the rooms, but Tim Le Grice tells me that although his father did carry out some modernisation works to the house, the 'new' central heating system hasn't really worked since 1938!

Upstairs there is yet another drawing room elegantly furnished with French period pieces. The original panelling has a pastel colour scheme and the floor is richly carpeted while the ceiling is again beautifully moulded. This room affords the finest views of the formal gardens with meadows and woodland beyond.

Outside the house, at what is now the rear elevation, the walls of the original farmhouse and the stable block enclose a small paved courtyard. Tim Le Grice maintains a small office here (he is a practising solicitor) and the old kitchen has been converted into an art gallery. The stables are still in use for their original purpose.

The grounds of Trereife are perhaps its crowning glory. Set in woodland at the head of a valley, they have changed little since the mid-18th century. At the front of the house, the large gravel area has been laid out with perfectly symmetrical beds of shrubs rather like a series of miniature mazes and somewhat reminiscent of the formal gardens of a French chateau. A raised garden on one side is laid out with flowerbeds and walks and this area is bounded by an 18th-century kitchen garden wall, with climbing plants beautifully set off by the mellow brickwork. On the other side of the house is a shrubbery with magnificent camellias and rhododendrons, and beyond is the meadow where horses graze, with a view of the sea and Mount's Bay.

Trereife is open to the public for five months a year from May until the end of September, daily except Saturdays. Guided tours of the house are conducted by the owner, Tim Le Grice, and refreshments are available from the Poets Caf. The house and grounds can also accommodate various functions and events and Trereife is licensed for civil weddings.

For further information visit 01736 362750,

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