It’s rare that a West Cornwall gem comes to the market; Penny Churchill finds three exceptional country houses for sale in the area
For the novelist and historian Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, who wrote under the pen-name of ‘Q’, the villages, coves and inland creeks of the Cornish Riviera were ‘jewels in the diadem of a delectable Duchy’. This week’s Country Life sees the launch of an even rarer Cornish gem, the classic Georgian Tretheague near the village of Stithians, within the coveted ‘golden triangle’ bounded by Falmouth, Helston and the cathedral city of Truro.
‘With very few special country houses to be found anywhere west of Truro, a house such as Tretheague (pictured below), which hasn’t been seen on the open market since 1872, will appeal not just to native Cornish buyers, but also to families from outside the county who want a permanent home in this wonderful part of the world,’ says selling agent Jonathan Cunliffe of Savills in Truro (01872 243200), who quotes a guide price of £1.65 million.
The ancient manor of Tretheague was owned by the Beville family until the late 16th century, when Philip Beville of Killygarth died, leaving the property to his son-in-law, Sir Bernard Grenville of Stowe, who broke up and sold off much of the estate. In 1744, John Pearce, scion of a wealthy tin mining family, replaced the old Elizabethan house with the present Georgian manor.
It was almost certainly the work of Greenwich architect Thomas Edwards, designer of several major Cornish town and country houses, including Truro’s iconic Mansion House. Edwards brought in William Lorimmer of St Columb to create the ornate plasterwork, and Tretheague, with its 4,835sq ft of living space, is aptly described by the vendor as ‘a country residence of doll’s-house proportions’.
In 1872, Pearce’s descendants sold the estate to J. M. Williams, a member of another famous Cornish mining family. Ninety years later, in 1962, the property was sold privately to Bernard Penrose, younger brother of the artist Sir Roland Penrose, whose intimidatingly talented family has spawned everything from seafarers, pirates and poets to bankers, mathematicians and chess grandmasters. Over the next 20 years, Penrose and his wife, the redoubtable Annie, restored the house, set in 17 acres of grounds, and converted the 18th-century stable block and carriage house into a charming two-bedroom cottage.
In true Penrose style, he added a few original touches, such as the castellation on the main house and the clock tower on the stable block, which somehow escaped the notice of English Heritage when the house was listed Grade II* on his death in 1988, and are now preserved in perpetuity, along with the ice house, stone gate piers, granite cross and sundial in the walled garden, the latter all listed Grade II.
In 1990, Tretheague passed to Mr Penrose’s younger son, Dominick, a keen historian who is working on ‘about page 500′ of the Penrose family memoirs. He and his wife are planning to downsize to something smaller in the area, now that their two sons are ‘doing their own thing’ in London. The Lordship of the Manor of Kennal, historically linked to Tretheague, is available by separate negotiation.
An imposing set of fan-shaped granite steps, reminiscent of Edwards’ work at the Mansion House, leads to Tretheague’s main entrance at upper-ground-floor level, where the hall, the panelled dining room and the impressive shallow-rise turning staircase are embellished by Lorimmer’s trademark plaster ceilings with modillions and Rococo detail.
The dining room has retained its original fire-place, whereas the sitting-room fireplace has been remodelled using old marble. The fifth bedroom/library overlooks the lush walled garden to the rear, and has original panelling with an early-style dentil cornice. The kitchen and a range of barrel-vaulted utility rooms are located on the lower-ground floor, with the four main bedrooms, a bathroom and a shower room on the first floor.
Cornwall’s convoluted network of family connections is reflected in the ownership of its historic country properties, which often see-saw back and forth across the generations. Mr Cunliffe recently took over the sale, at a reduced guide price of £1.195m, of Trevilla House at Feock, a substantial family house on the edge of the hamlet of Trevilla, five miles from Truro. Surrounded on three sides by National Trust land, it faces south over tree-lined fields towards Pill Creek and the Fal estuary.
Built in 1890 for the land steward of the surrounding Trelissick estate, Trevilla House was sold with much of the estate in 1920, and bought back in 1975 by its present owner, Peter Copeland, whose grandmother inherited Trelissick in 1937.
On the death of her husband, Ronald, in 1955, Mrs Copeland gave Trelissick House to the National Trust, together with 376 acres of parkland, woods, and the famous estuary gardens that they had both created (Country Life, January 11, 1962 and March 26, 1992). Currently run as a successful B&B by Mr Copeland and his wife, Jinty, Trevilla House has two main reception rooms, two conservatories, a 32ft kitchen/breakfast room, six bedrooms and three bathrooms, set in more than four acres of private gardens and meadow. An annual mooring on Pill Creek may be acquired separately.
The grand proportions of the 18th-century Old Vicarage at Gwennap Churchtown, seven miles south-west of Truro, reflect the wealth accumulated at the height of Cornwall’s mining boom. The vicarage stands on high ground overlooking the historic village, with its 15th-century church of St Wennapa, within easy reach of both the north and south coasts of Cornwall.
Currently for sale through Cornish agents Lillicrap Chilcott (01872 273473) at a guide price of £1.65m, the 18th-century former vicarage was substantially extended in about 1830 when the Rev Thomas Philpotts added the imposing north-west wing, using blocks of locally honed granite and costly imported Bath stone. In recent years, the entire building, set in 11⁄2 acres of delightful gardens, has been beautifully renovated by its current owners, who moved there from Yorkshire some eight years ago.
The Old Vicarage’s 4,854sq ft of elegant living space includes four main reception rooms, a study, a large country kitchen, five bedrooms, three bathrooms and a self-contained two-bedroom apartment. Amenities include a charming walled courtyard garden, a pool and a pavilion.