Anthony Lambert from Historic House
This is a remarkable book.
In its multi-authored, rounded approach to the subject of the Cornish estate and house, it goes far beyond the usual country—house monograph. lts generously illustrated chapters delve into its every aspect, starting with early settlements and the farming that began almost 3,000 years ago followed by the formation of villages.
Chapters examine the history of the name, deer-parks, landscaped parks, the coastline and its long tradition of smuggling, and the early 13th-century parish church of St Michael before turning to the building of Caerhays Castle.
The cellars of a large early 15th—century house became the foundations for a house designed by John Nash in 1808 on a substantially raised platform to increase its impressiveness. The parents of the poet Lord Byron were married in the chapel of the earlier house.
Most of Nash's houses have been demolished, so the modestly altered form of the castle, with its mass of different shapes perfectly suited to its setting, makes it an important survival.
It has had a curious life. We know work was still in progress in 1824, yet its contents and even stained glass were sold at auction in 1842 and 1852.
John Trevanion Purnell Bettesworth appears to have overreached his means by commissioning Nash to build Caerhays, but other factors are thought to have played a part in his sudden downfall. He escaped his creditors by fleeing abroad and died a bankrupt in Belgium in 1840. By 1852, lead from the roof was gone and water ran through the rooms. The house was rescued the following year by Michael Williams, and mid—Victorian improvements brought the house to more or less its present form by 1881.
A chapter describes the rooms on a public tour of the house and the collection of largely 19th—century paintings, and another is devoted to John Nash.
The third section covers the history of the families which have owned Caerhays, beginning with the arrival of the Trevanions in the early 15th century and the inheritance of the house by the Bettesworth—Trevanions. But the main focus is naturally on the Williams family, which still owns Caerhays, and the role it has played in Cornish history particularly in the extraction of the county’s minerals and development of associated industries outside the county.
It was John Charles Williams who did much to make Caerhays so well—known for its collection of magnolias and camellias in the 120—acre gardens. He sponsored plant-hunters in their expeditions to south-west China, and was noted for his work in hybridisation.
The gardens are the subject of the book's final section and appendices. It might have been better to transpose sections two and three, as the earlier architectural history mentions characters and events still unfamiliar to the reader. A polish from an editor would have been beneficial, and some of the pictures might have been larger. But these are minor quibbles, and, as the preface suggests, others might do well to emulate the depth and breadth of the book’s coverage.