Prominently positioned above the densely wooded valley of the River Fowey near Bodmin, Lanhydrock literally translated means the site of somebody called Hydroc. William of Worcester regarded this to be the 6th-century St Hydroc, later to be the patron saint of the parish church. A farming community was established around a small timber framed church which was associated to the Augustinian Priory of St Petroc in Bodmin. The church was made more permanent in stone during the mid-15th century. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries a branch of the Glynn family of neighbouring Glynn were the recorded as tenants of a manor house which was first on mentioned in a deed belonging to the Priory of SS Mary and Petroc. The 1531 the Herald’s Visitation records Thomas Glyn ofLanhydrock and Jane Cliker as being head of the family but by 1545 the Glyn’s had been evicted after the mansion house had fallen into decay and some apple trees were removed. Soon after Thomas Lytelton, a grandson of Thomas Glyn and Jane Cliker, converted one of the ecclesiastical outbuildings, perhaps a barn or grange, into a new home ─ this building still comprises part of the north range of the present house.
Lanhydrockbriefly passed through marriage to the Trenance family until c.1621 when the manor and avowson was acquired by Richard Roberts (c.1580-1634). The Roberts first appear as a prominent family towards the end of the Tudor period when Richard’s father John (d.1614) was reputedly left between £5,000 and £6,000. John Roberts, then of the Great House inTruro, in turn amassed a fortune of £300,000 and 40,000 acres of land and rapidly rose from the medieval middle-class to that of the gentry elite making themselves unpopular as the new wealth in Cornwall in the process. Undeterred, Richard Roberts was considered by 1626 as the ‘wealthiest in the west’ his riches being made from the supply of wood for the tin industry and later the more dubious profession of money lending which eventually saw him forced to pay £12,000 under threat of prosecution for usury in 1616.
Having an impetuous desire for status he married into the Hender family of Boscastle, a family celebrated for their hospitality and ‘great entertainment’. He became High Sheriff of Cornwall in 1614, two years later he was created a knight and in 1621 a Baronet. In 1624 he purchased a Barony title from the Duke of Buckingham for a reputed £10,000. To reinforce his newly acquired status he changed his surname from Roberts to Robartes and commissioned an impressive, although essentially bogus, family pedigree roll which traced his family lineage back to the medieval Earls of Cornwall. He also made improvements to the new family home at Lanhydrock ─ the finely carved front door displaying his baronial arms exists to this day.
However, Lanhydrock, as it is seen today (below), was essentially the creation of Sir Richard’s son, John Robartes (1606-85). An Oxford educated Puritan and by, 1634, leader of the Cornish Parliamentary Party in the House of Lords, he fought for Parliament during the Civil War but retired into self-imposed exile during the Commonwealth and Protectorate. He staunchly supported monarchy with church, thereby opposing the execution of Charles I, consequently he was restored to favour at the Restoration becoming Lord Privy Seal, Lord President of the Council and 1st Earl of Radnor in 1679. Between 1634 and 1644 he extended his father’s house at Lanhydrock creating a restrained, astylar, quadrangular mansion house in a provincial style grander and larger than contemporary houses of Trewan and Penheale. Despite the influence of Classicism in London and, by the 1630s, in Cornwall, such details appear as an afterthought at Lanhydrock with only the outward façade of the Hunting Lodge (present day Gatehouse inscribed ‘ILR:L 1651’) having any significant dispensation to Classicism while the inward facing elevation remaining steadfastly Gothic. The extensive deer-park was enclosed in 1657 and covered three parishes.
The advancing Royalist army under Richard Grenville captured the house in 1644 and it was said that Charles I visited from nearby Boconnoc Grenville made every attempt to protect the house from mutilation, perhaps he had his own sights set on living at Lanhydrockafter hostilities had ceased. At the Restoration of King Charles II Lord Robartes was brought back into the political favour and consequently Danvers House in Londonbecame his main residence. Lanhydrock was left unoccupied by the family, although the family Chaplain Walter Snell contributed to the Free and Voluntary tax of 1661 and was the only person in attendance when the Duke of York’s Treasurer Thomas Povey visited in 1669. Lanhydrock was rated in the hearth tax assessment of 1662 as having 45 hearths being one of only three Cornish houses having more than 30 hearths, Port Eliot having 46 and Godolphin having 49 ─ Lord Robartes’ town house in Truro contained a more modest 10 hearths. After the death of Lord Robartes, created 1st Earl Radnor in 1679, successive generations preferred to live outside Cornwall but were still reliant on the income generated by their vast Cornish estates that were surveyed and mapped in 1696 by the royal cartographer Joel Gascoyne (below).
When John Loveday visited in 1736 he commented that the house was ‘extremely out of repair and utterly destitute of furniture’. William Borlase concurred in 1758 ‘Everything in the house is in a state of neglect and decay’. In view of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Earls of Radnor all dying without issue coupled with the unfashionable appearance of the house it is perhaps not surprising that it was considered for demolition in 1754 being valued at £1,500 for architectural salvage.Fortunately the house was not demolished and it was the 1st Earl’s great-great-grandson George Hunt (1720-98) and his niece Anna Maria (1771-1861) who restored the house and garden to some favour. In 1758 George Hunt MP inherited the old-fashioned house of which a typical contemporary comment was as W. J. Temple’s diary entry for 15 August 1782 records ‘The house is gothick, but mutilated’. Hunt set about modernising the house. He had the east wing demolished in c.1784 which created a more stylish E-shaped house while the 1799 probate inventories show improvements being made to the interiors with the installation of tasteful furniture and fittings, some internal structural changes sweeping away reminders of the Jacobean style and the introduction of fashionable colour schemes. Curiously, Hunt had the exterior walls painted red, presumably to make them appear as red brick. His niece Anna Maria Hunt after much legal wrangling inherited in 1798 and set about removing the red paint in favour of yellow stuccowork that replicated ‘the colour of Portland stone’. George Hunt’s financial wealth passed to his Wilbraham cousins and Anna Maria inherited a colossal debt from her Cornish property that she slowly clawed back through sound financial dealings and good estate management. Between the years 1808 and 1811 Anna Maria attended the funerals of two of her children and her husband of only seven years, the successful London barrister Charles Bagenal Agar. Her only surviving son, Thomas James Agar (1808-82), later 1st Baron Robartes, took on the Robartes name in 1822 and took more responsibility for the estate after reaching his majority.
There is no evidence to suggest that any substantial work had been completed in the house since its completion in the 17th-century, indeed the ‘whole building’ Stockdale observed in 1824 ‘…is getting much out of repair’. Lord Robartes commissioned Joseph Pascoe ‘architect and surveyor of Bodmin’ to carry out essential repairs and to design an impressive, although unexecuted, stable block in the Georgian style. In 1854 the east-facing parkland which ran up to the front of the house was redesigned as a formal garden in the Italianate style, enclosed by a new perimeter wall and using the Gatehouse as the formalised entry. The architect for this works was theLondon based George Truefitt, a Gothicist whose most significant commission was theTufnell Park estate inLondon. His designs were slightly altered and laid out between 1858 and 1864 when further internal structural repairs were carried out by George Gilbert Scott. This work was carried out on Scott’s behalf by Richard Coad, a Liskeard born architect who had studied at the Royal Academy and had risen to the position of ‘chief assistant’ in Scott’s busy London office. As both Coad and Scott received £300 each for the work it would suggest that Scott had little to do with the job, although the design of a new Coachouse in the modern-Gothic style remains undoubtedly Scott’s. Coad set up his own architectural practice in 1868 after successfully acting as Scott’s Clerk of Works for the Royal Albert Memorial inHyde Park and continued to make improvements atLanhydrock throughout the 1870s under his own name.
On 4 April 1881 a roof fire fanned by strong winds caused considerable damage to south and west ranges. A telegram reporting that Lord and Lady Robartes were well proved untimely, both died as a result of the tragedy, Lady Robartes within days and Lord Robartes a year later reputedly of a broken heart. The 2nd Lord Robartes, Thomas Charles (1844-1930) immediately gave instruction to his chosen architect Richard Coad to reinstate the house as ‘an unpretentious home’. Coad specified that the house was to be returned to its pre-fire glory and ‘in the spirit of conservation’ choosing the Jacobean style as its inspiration but in order to suit the moral needs of such a high-Anglican family Coad was particularly mindful of the segregation between public and private, master and staff, male and female. His refurbishment would also boast the highest standards of high-Victorian domestic comfort and convenience. Lord Robartes was, not surprisingly, concerned about fire striking the mansion for a second time. For this reason neither gas nor electricity were installed (although it was briefly considered to generate water-powered electricity from a source in the Higher Garden), a spring-fed 190,000 gallon reservoir supplied a fire hydrant system that was installed by James Merryweather & Sons at some considerable expense, while constructional steel and twelve-inch thick reinforced concrete fireproof ceilings were used to minimise the use of timber and hence reduce further any potential risks. These ceilings prefabricated inLondon proved a major concern to theLanhydrock steward Silvanus Jenkin who, not only, queried the cost but also solicited the question ‘were they scientific and safe?’
The difficulty of refurbishing and extending an old building while incorporating new interiors and state-of-the-art services caused Coad a great deal of anxiety. In 1882 he wrote ‘[had] it been a new house my difficulties would have been far less’. Furthermore his London based architectural practice comprised of only one pupil, another Liskeard born man John Sansom, so Coad recruited the services of a chief assistant, the gifted Glaswegian architect James M. MacLaren. MacLaren had attended lectures at the influential École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, studied at the Royal Academy and was a member of the progressive Art Workers Guild yet, while the exterior architecture and engineering expertise remains undeniably Coad’s, MacLaren’s architectural flair can be seen throughout the house conveying taste and fashion to some of the interiors. Some of these features MacLaren drew in perspective for exhibition at theRoyalAcademyin 1885, most notable are the aesthetically styled Dining Room, Elizabethan Teak Stairs and the Rococo style Prayer Room chimney piece. What is clear from these drawings is that the intended decoration for the house was in the Arts and Crafts style. To merge Arts and Crafts decoration within a Jacobean or historic setting was not unusual, rather it would have been considered the height of fashion for a young progressive family.
With Coad falling foul of the Lanhydrock steward, the costs spiralling out of control and even MacLaren writing to Lord Robartes with reference to Coad’s ‘needless neglect’ Coad was removed from the job by 1885. The family moved in soon after. The works carried out up until the summer of 1885 amounted to £73,000 – nearly four times over Coad’s initial quotes four years earlier. Such a cost would have amounted to approximately a years rental income from the Agar-Robartes’ extensive land holdings which in 1883 amounted to 22,234 (in 1873 amounting to a rental income of £30,730 per annum) in Cornwall along with 11,430 in England worth £14,594. In 1899 the title of Viscount Clifden passed into the family after the failure of the male Agar line and during this time and the first decades of the 20th-century Lanhydrock reached its zenith as the family home of Agar-Robartes family. The success however was short lived when the son and heir, Tommy Agar-Robartes (1880-1915) was killed at the Battle of Loos during the First World War. Predictably Lady Robartes wrote ‘we do not know how to bear our grief’ but what was inconceivable was how this single event proved the catalyst that brought about a stark decline in the family’s fortunes. Of the surviving eight children only two married and only one had a child of their own. By the 1950s Viscount Clifden was desperate the secure of future of a home that had stayed in one family since 1621. The property was accepted by the National Trust in 1953.
Lanhydrock remains one of the National Trust’s finest examples of high-Victorian country house planning and innovation. The interiors remain much as the architect Richard Coad left them in 1885 with the Victorian Kitchens, Nursery suite and staff quarters remaining some of the best preserved in the country. The acquisition and presentation of the house today is a testament to the commitment and enthusiasm of the late National Trust Regional Director, Michael Trinick (1924-94) who worked tirelessly towards interpreting Lanhydrockas the late-Victorian home of the Agar-Robartes family. Of particular significance within the collection is the family portraiture, fine ceramics and an internationally significant library housed in the impressive 35m Jacobean Gallery with its fine plasterwork ceiling depicting iconography from the Old Testament book of Genesis. It is this room to which Thomas Hardy refers as Endelstow House in A Pair of Blue Eyes as ‘…a long sombre apartment, enriched with fittings a century or so later in style than the wall of the mansion. Pilasters of Renaissance workmanship supported a cornice from which sprang a curved ceiling, panelled in the awkward twists and curls of the period’.