For some reason, Trerice really reminded me of Chastleton House in the Cotswolds, which I had visited almost two years ago to the day. It is not vastly similar in appearance and was built around 40 years before Chastleton, but there was just something about the feel and ambience of the place that struck a chord and took me back two years. I also decided very early in my visit to Trerice that I would happily move in if the opportunity presented itself!
We started our tour with an introductory talk and picked up a lot of useful background as ever. The name Trerice means the ‘home by the ford’ and there is apparently a back route to the house that takes in that very ford (a route that, according to our tour guide, visitors generally do not use twice!). For 400 years, the property was in the hands of the Arundell family, whose own name is believed to be French in origin and whose coat of arms includes six swallows, a pun on the French word for swallow, which is ‘hirondelle’.
Although there have been Arundells at Trerice since the 14th century, when Ralph Arundell married Jane de Trerise, the current house was not built until seven generations later in the 1570s when John Arundell V decided to build something new and exciting. Although John followed the habit of the time in creating the house in an ‘E’ shape in dedication to his queen, the building still created a certain amount of shock and horror among the other local landowners, much as a garish, modern building might do today. As our guide pointed out, human nature doesn’t change.
I mention John Arundell V and the numeric suffix indicates the potential confusion in this family. Of the 13 generations of Arundells to have owned Trerice, no fewer than nine of them were Johns so the numbers are essential! Very few of Trerice’s owners ever lived there full time, with most of them preferring the other family seat near Bude. John II was interesting, though, as after hearing a prophecy foretelling that he would die on the sands, he quickly upped and moved his family to Trerice, which was further from the beach than the Bude house. Unfortunately, during the Wars of the Roses, he was Sheriff of Cornwall and was ordered to regain St Michael’s Mount from the Lancastrian Earl of Oxford and, yes, he died on the beach at Marazion!
Although John II’s prophecied demise came a hundred years before the current house was built, this is an amusing anecdote to add to the family background (although I’m sure it wasn’t amusing for him!). The other John that merits a little more attention – this time after the Elizabethan house was built – was John VI, known as ‘John for the King’, a name earned for his exploits during the Civil War (another similarity to Chastleton, which was also home to a Royalist stalwart).
By the mid-18th century, the Arundell line died out with John IX so, because of the earlier marriage of John VII to Margaret Acland, the house passed into the hands of the Aclands of Killerton in Devon (one of my NT Connections). Like many of the Arundells before them, the Aclands were absentee landlords and it is perhaps this ongoing situation that led to the survival of many of Trerice’s Elizabethan features as there was no one there to decide to modernise.
Unfortunately, the lack of modernisation was matched by a lack of upkeep and the North Wing couldn’t cope with the neglect, collapsing after a gale in the 1860s. It was left in this dilapidated state for about 90 years, although thankfully the tenants at the time saw fit to retain the old stones, which were stacked in the farmyard, or what is now the front lawn! Here the stones stayed after the Aclands sold the house in 1915 and for another 40 years until the National Trust acquired the house at auction, having been drawn to the property by its ornate plasterwork ceilings and the very early Dutch-style gables (among the earliest such features in the country). The tenant who moved in to Trerice was a Mr Elton and it was he who oversaw the restoration of the North Wing, returning it to its former Elizabethan glory, on the outside at least. Inside, the rooms in the North Wing are notably more modern and are presented as they would have been in the 20th century. This makes a tour of the house somewhat surprising as you pass from a Musician’s Gallery, overlooking a Great Hall, straight into a 20th century dwelling. The rebuild was completed in 1958 and the first visitors were reported to have paid about 10 pence each to view two rooms and the courtyard!
The plasterwork ceilings in the house are worth another mention as they were built just four years before those at Buckland Abbey, which I will be viewing in my very next visit! It is thought that the same craftsmen may even have been used as Sir Richard Grenville of Buckland was a distant cousin of John V and may have received a recommendation from his kinsman. Other things I would like to draw your attention to include the long table in the Great Hall, which was the only item of furniture bought with the house, with the rest of the contents having been added over the next 50 years. The window in the Great Hall is also striking. I could suggest a mathematical challenge to count the individual panes of glass but that’s just cruel – there are 576(!), of which many are the original glass.
Those with an interest in war history will want to seek out the display about the ‘Choughs’ in an ante room in the house. These were a company of the Home Guard who used Trerice as a training ground during WWII and there are some old photos and artefacts from that time on show.
The gardens are not large but include a pretty knot garden, created in the Elizabethan style and modelled on a pattern from one of the plaster ceilings in the house. There is also a vegetable garden, again based on Elizabethan themes, and a turf maze that children will enjoy following to its centre. I was itching to do just that but decided I should try to act with a little more decorum.
A passing comment in the NT handbook also pointed out that the Barn Restaurant at Trerice offers a ‘famous’ lemon meringue pie. I am not sure quite how famous it is as even the house volunteers didn’t seem to be aware of its celebrity status. But it was extremely tasty with very fluffy meringue on top so it is worth a try!
Highlights: Gabled front, plasterwork ceilings, overall ambience
Refreshments: Roasted vegetable tart with Cornish new potatoes and steamed vegetables (my third vegetable tart this week, the vegetarian options in Cornwall have been a little samey!); the ‘famous’ lemon meringue pie
Purchase(s): Guidebook; ‘The Abortionist’s Daughter’ by Elisabeth Hyde (secondhand book)
NT Connections: Killerton (also owned by the Acland family)