In Focus: The Mansions of Cornwall, as they existed in 1846

A rare survey of over 80 Cornish country houses has been found and reprinted – Adrian Tinniswood takes a look.

If rarity was the sole justification for a facsimile reprint, then Edward Twycross’s 1846 survey of Cornish country houses would certainly merit this new edition from Fountain Lake Press.

First published in an edition of 50-odd copies, most of which have been dismembered for the sake of their plates, Mansions of England and Wales: Cornwall is so obscure that it escaped the notice of Michael Holmes’s comprehensive bibliography, The Country House Described, and even failed to appear in the first edition of John Harris’s magisterial Country House Index (although it did sneak in right at the end of the second.)

However, rarity is not enough – there has to be a point. And, in this case, there is. Twycross’s Cornwall sheds fresh light on a neglected county and its neglected country houses, just at a moment in the mid 19th century when the mining industry was still bringing prosperity and landed families still lived in some architectural style.

A plate showing the Boscawen familys Tregothnan near Truro

A plate showing the Boscawen familys Tregothnan near Truro

It contains descriptions of 81 Cornish country houses, ranging from landmarks such as Lanhydrock, Cotehele and Heligan, to less well-known mansions, such as the modest Lavethan House, ‘a delightful residence… erected many years since’, and such Tudor-Gothic monsters as Tregothnan and Moorswater Lodge near Liskeard, ‘in the construction of which great taste has been displayed’.

Fifty-one lithographs conjure up a lost world in which sheep graze on immaculate lawns, proprietors gaze proudly up at their ancestral seats and demure bonneted ladies walk their dogs or pause to admire vast and elaborate Italianate gardens.

Republished in an edition of 175 numbered copies, at £395 a pop, Twycross’s Cornwall is definitely not for the casual reader, but it deserves its place in the architectural history of the county.

And Fountain Lake deserves congratulating for finding and resurrecting this rare example of the genre.

‘The Mansions of England and Wales: Cornwall’ by Edward Twycross, Fountain Lake Press, £395, available from www.janetteray.co.uk