A number of entries ago, I seem to remember commenting that I hadn’t visited all that many traditional stately homes and was finding my way instead to gardens and other diverse oddities. This week, though, I have well and truly found myself back in more conventional National Trust territory and for the third day in succession I bought a guidebook of around 60 pages and headed into a large stately home with a long history and a lot to see.
Before heading off to Lanhydrock (Lan-high-drock) near Bodmin, I read somewhere that there were 50 rooms to see, which was slightly intimidating. I made a joke that I hoped a lot of them were kitchens and downstairs rooms, which I tend to whizz through slightly more quickly than the upstairs accommodations (I’m not a snob, I just like to look at fancy things rather than pots and pans!) Fortunately, my joke became reality as I found that around half of the rooms open to the public are designated as servants’ areas. However, this was half of a total of 82 highlighted in the floorplan (of which more than 60 are open to visitors). So, a visit to Lanhydrock is still a fairly monumental effort!
Knowing that Lanhydrock sported some impressive Jacobean features and was also renowned for its late-Victorian aspects, I was certainly wary about the size of the family tree attached to this property and at first glance it certainly does look complicated, with Robarteses followed by Hunts and then Agars, who later became Agar-Robartses (all one family but including name changes due to marriages). All in all, though, you could be forgiven for visiting Lanhydrock and ignoring the first seven owners of the house between 1621 and 1861! The Trust has presented the house as a Victorian home and there is very little evidence of the earlier generations, barring a number of portraits, so you will have to resort to the guidebook for further information on who they were and what impact they had on the house. I can’t complain about this approach, though, as large parts of the house were rebuilt or added on after a terrible fire in 1881 so the late-Victorian feel is certainly appropriate to the property.
I can’t skip over the earlier generations completely, though, firstly because there is an NT Connection hidden in there and secondly because of a couple of odd paint jobs! The NT Connection is with Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire (see entry no. 59), which came under Robartes ownership when Charles Bodville married Elizabeth Cutler in 1689, and the couple appeared to spend more time at their Wimpole status symbol and at their London home than they did at Lanhydrock. Wimpole was later sold and passed through many other hands before returning to Robartes ownership in the 1890s as payment of a bad debt. It was then that Thomas Charles Agar-Robartes is reported to have ‘stolen’ some of Wimpole’s treasures to bring to his newly rebuilt home at Lanhydrock!
So, that’s one NT Connection covered. There’s another one coming up but I will just digress again briefly to mention the two Hunts who owned Lanhydrock between 1758 and 1861. The first of these, George Hunt, decided the granite of his house was not fashionable enough and had it painted red to resemble brick! His niece, Anna Maria Hunt, ordered the paint to be removed as soon as she inherited but decided to replace it with a yellow paint so that it resembled Portland stone. The guidebook reports that patches of this can still be seen on the old north range and on the gatehouse. It feels like a travesty for such liberties to be taken with the old grey house, but slaves to fashion have clearly been around for centuries!
Anyway, having skipped carelessly through seven generations of the family, we now come to its most important period and another NT Connection. Thomas James Agar-Robartes, who inherited the house in 1861, was married to Juliana Pole-Carew from Antony, a house I will be visiting in a few days’ time. Unfortunately, their biggest claim to fame at Lanhydrock was that it was on their watch that fire broke out in 1881, destroying a large part of the old Jacobean house (leaving only the north range, to the right of the entrance, relatively unscathed). The fire is believed to have contributed to the deaths of both Thomas and Juliana shortly afterwards, leaving their son Thomas Charles to oversee the rebuilding, which was completed in 1885. Thomas Charles and his wife Mary then moved in with their expanding family. They had recently lost a young son in infancy but already had four other children and this expanded to nine over the next 10 years! It is the story of this family that is now told at Lanhydrock, with the house laid out very much as it would have been in late-Victorian times as the family steadily swelled in number.
There is information about the fire in the cart house in the stable block and I have to admit it was quite poignant reading this and seeing the painting of the fire as it was not long ago that I was watching video of a blazing Clandon Park on the Internet. I imagine I felt much as those watchers in the painting would have felt while Lanhydrock burned.
Luckily for Lanhydrock (and hopefully for Clandon eventually), demolition was avoided and the family paid a significant sum to rebuild in much the same style as before, albeit adding more modern features inside and extending the servants’ wing behind the south range. It also led to a very interesting layout in the house as it follows a strict Victorian pattern, with separate parts of the house for the occupants depending on rank, gender and age. This resulted in very large servants’ quarters, perhaps the largest I have come across to date, with the kitchens surrounded by no fewer than seven other workrooms dedicated to specific food preparation and storage, while there are also multiple staff bedrooms to view, plus a luggage room, linen room, livery room and more. Even those (like me!) who are not especially interested in this aspect of a busy house should find the size and scope of the servants’ areas quite impressive. The Victorian structure also meant that the children had their own part of the house and the nurseries, schoolroom and nanny’s room aren’t something you find in every big house and are a very interesting part of the visit.
In the main part of the house, there are no real ‘wow’ rooms (except perhaps the Gallery with its Jacobean plasterwork ceiling), but the influence of the Agar-Robartes family can be felt throughout. Tommy, the eldest son, is a particular presence thanks to his political career and tragic death at the Battle of Loos in WWI. The Smoking Room was notable as it is mentioned that numerous political luminaries visited Tommy at Lanhydrock when he was an MP, including William Gladstone, Lord Rosebery (both of whom planted trees in the garden) and Winston Churchill. Tommy’s early death is also felt in his dressing room and bedroom, with the bed holding his open suitcase, which was apparently returned to Lanhydrock by the captain’s batman and never opened by the family, being discovered by the National Trust after the house passed into their hands.
I’d better mention the grounds briefly as Lanhydrock has the novelty of a church right next to the house. This is St Hydroc’s and explains the house’s name, which means ‘the site of Hydroc’. There are some memorials to family members in the church, including a notable one to Captain Tommy. There is not a large formal garden around the house, although the beds to the north of the house are quite striking (right), as are the herbaceous borders of the Higher Gardens. Spring is probably a good time to visit, as the house is renowned for its magnolia tunnel and camellias. There is also a thatched cottage near the magnolias where you can read more about the gardens. The sentinel yews are also an integral part of the grounds around the house. The guidebook says there are 29 but one of them is a bit sick at the moment so it could sadly be down to 28 before long.
The Trust took over the house in 1953, although a few of the Agar-Robartes ‘children’ lived on there until their deaths. It was notable that the house was not the main attraction for the Trust, which had more interest in the estate. However, the regional director for Cornwall at the time was instrumental in devising the Victorian interpretation of the house and contents that makes for such a distinct type of visit. One of the volunteers we spoke to on the way round told us how she remembers coming to Lanhydrock shortly after it opened to the public when there were just six rooms available to view. Six rooms?! Try more than 60! Visiting today requires a lot more stamina than it did back then!
NB: I forgot to mention a royal visit to Lanhydrock, with George VI and Queen Elizabeth having lunched there in 1950.
Highlights: The Gallery; the Nursery quarters; the Victorian family theme
Refreshments: Jacket potato with tuna mayonnaise, coleslaw and leaves, elderflower pressé, and a dessert comprising two scoops of local Callestick ice cream (vanilla and honeycomb). We ate in the waitress-service Servants’ Hall restaurant, but there is also a Stables snack bar and Park Café near the car park.
Purchase(s): Guidebook; gift card; ‘Music and Silence’ by Rose Tremain (secondhand book)
NT Connections: Wimpole Estate (also owned by members of the Robartes family); Antony (family home of Juliana Agar-Robartes, née Pole-Carew)