War and the Cornish House


20131010-163926.jpgWhen I was asked to do this talk I was conscious that it wouldn’t be an easy subject to talk about. My reservations were based on a single conceit – namely that in my research I hadn’t encountered much primary source material about the role of the Cornish country house during the Second World War. Also lacking are living memories of wartime requisitioning of the country house and published sources, indeed John Martin Robinson’s landmark book The Country House at War, barely mentions Cornwall. With that in mind, I have extended the remit of this talk beyond the country house to encompass the wider country estate, thereby charting its decline and subsequent rise during the 20th century.

For the purposes of this paper my story starts in 1902 when King Edward VII ascended to the throne. The Edwardian era was an unsettling time for the Cornish gentry. Government budgets of 1894 and 1909 crippled the rich, tax rates rising from 6% and 8% Super Tax to 12% and 16% by November 1914 and 30% and 50% by the time hostilities had ceased. An example of the financial burden on the gentry can be seen in the Super Tax bill of Viscount Clifden of Lanhydrock who paid a staggering £6,553, 12s, 10d during the tax year 1916/17, the equivalent being some £300,000 today. If this wasn’t enough the decline of agriculture and tin extraction meant that diversification into china clay, finance, food processing, horticulture, manufacture and eventually tourism became inevitable. On top of this there were other taxes to consider as well as lost incomes from share dividends during the war when railways were requisitioned by the state.

The consequence of all this was mass land distribution, indeed the best estimates are that between 1918 and 1921 a quarter of all acreage in Britain changed hands. Again, using Viscount Clifden as an example, huge tracts of the Lanhydrock estates, many that were acquired as far back as the 16th century, were sold during a series of land auctions during first twenty years of the 20th century.

Consequently, as the gentry’ classes faded so their country seat fell into decline.

Glynn House, for example, at the time of the First World War had no electricity and had been unoccupied for some time. It was described by Daphne Vivian as ‘shabby’ although Ms Vivian adds ‘even the shabbiness had a charm for me’. The estate was considered ‘derelict’.

At Tehidy, the fine Palladian mansion built by Thomas Edwards of Greenwich, along with 250 acres of land was sold to the County Council in 1916 for a modest £10,000. Two years later it passed onto the Cornwall Sanatorium Committee in memory of those who died during the Great War. In February 1919, a month after the first residents moved in, the bulk of the building and many important family portraits held in store were destroyed in a fire. The mansion itself was rebuilt by 1922 at a cost of £35,000 and continued in use until 1988 when it the claim that the hospital was costing £1.75 million per annum to run forced its closure.

An eighteenth century watercolour of The East Front of Trerice, in the Gallery, Cornwall

Painting at Trerice – an eighteenth century watercolour of The East Front of Trerice, in the Gallery.

In 1915 Sir Charles Thomas Acland sold the 1,830 acres of the Trerice estate while in 1919 517 acres of the Home Farm were sold to Cornwall County Council under the ‘Homes for Heroes’ scheme whereby soldiers returning from the Great War were rewarded with agricultural land and housing. The Elizabethan manor house itself along with 16 acres was sold in 1920 and changed hands several times until the National Trust acquired in in 1953. During the Second World War the outbuildings housed a unit of the Local Defence Volunteers who remained ever ready to face the head-on the ever-increasing threat of Nazism.

Lanhydrock was more fortunate. In 1885, after four years of refurbishment after a fire, the Agar-Robartes family moved back into their beloved house. Costing the equivalent of some £6 million today, the refurbishment boasted the latest developments in fashion, modern technologies and country house planning. Between 1885 and 1914, the house and estate became the very happy home to Lord and Lady Robartes, their large family and retinue. But the First World War was to end this zenith. In 1915 Tommy Agar-Robartes (1880-1915) was killed at the Battle of Loos. The loss to the family was immeasurable. First, he was the son and heir of the Viscount Clifden title and the vast estates and impressive seats at Lanhydrock and Wimpole in Cambridgeshire. Tommy was dashing, good-looking, a real Edwardian playboy often being seen in Monte Carlo or sailing around the Mediterranean with his debonair friends. As an MP he was popular, well-respected, a good speaker, a man with a very bright future. Second, he was nominated for a posthumous Victoria Cross but never got it because he ventured into no-mans-land to rescue an inferior officer – not an act of heroism it would seem. Predictably Lady Robartes wrote in 1915 ‘we do not know how to bear our grief’ and wrestled with the fact that three more of her sons were still in France. It is of note that Viscount Clifden allowed the use of his property in Bodmin to house Belgium refugees, a letter in the collection dated 27 May 1915 from the Bodmin and District Belgium Refugee Relief Committee records the arrangement which was ‘rent free’.

Tommy was not the only member of the Cornish gentry to serve his country. Frederick, 6th Baron Rendlesham of Bosloe, near Falmouth, and his siblings Percy and Hugh Thellusson, served with distinction, Hugh receiving the DSO in 1915. Another to receive a DSO was George Vivian of Glynn. John Eliot, 6th Earl of St Germans of Port Eliot, was one of five brothers who served, receiving a MC himself in 1917 while two of his siblings received military OBEs. The St Aubyn family of St Michael’s Mount and the Boscowans of Tregothnan each sent four brothers to war −Piers St Aubyn died in 1914 during heavy fighting in Flanders and John drowned in the Eastern Mediterranean in 1915 while Vere Boscowan died at Ypres serving with the Coldstream Guards and his elder brother George died in a German Military Hospital in 1918.

Arguably gentry’ losses were slight and of course the main death toll was amongst the working classes, many from the mining industry who could adapt their skills to tunnel and burrow beneath enemy lines. This large scale loss had huge ramifications for the post war future of the country house. Fewer young males created labour shortages and with less supply came a reluctance to work long hours for little pay – a situation that became known as, the ‘servant problem’. Coupled with this modern technology, the financial depression of the 1930s, the delights of city residences, taxation and death duties only exacerbated the problems and put an end to the hedonistic delights of the country house forever.

This conference has shown that Cornwall played a major role in the Second World War. Air fields scattered the county from Predannick on the Lizard to Davidstow on the north coast; anti-aircraft training was carried out at Bude and communications were established at Porthcurno all vital roles in the war machine yet it was in 1944 when Cornwall took centre stage in proceedings with the embarkation for the D-Day landings.

The Americans were located in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and South Wales, while the British and Commonwealth troops occupied a swathe of land from Hampshire to Sussex. Embarkation points for thousands of American troop, armour, equipment and supplies were sited at Mount Edgcumbe and the Helford River. At Trebah, garden maintenance was reduced to a minimum when the beach was used to dispatch a regiment of 7,500 men of the 29th US Infantry Division for the assault landing on Omaha beach. Surviving features include concrete vehicle storage road, features partial survival of concrete apron, mooring rings and concrete slipway. The concrete biscuits have since been taken from the beach and used to form a pathway within the gardens leading to the beach

The military requisitioning of country houses in part to facilitate the D-Day preparations is a sorry tale. It is fair to say that when hostilities recommenced in 1939 many Cornish stately piles were no longer primary residences and consequently some were in a poor condition.  It is also a truism that the military hardly constituted the perfect heritage custodian, less so during the uncertainty of war. Stories resonate of chandeliers being shot at, doors being used for bayonet practice, panelling and antique furniture used for open fires and grand master paintings used for dartboards – so it is hardly surprising that damage and loss is still evident in many of the examples featured below.

With the influx of soldiers came the need for encampment. American soldiers could be found in the grounds of many country estates including Trelowarren the ancestral home of the Vyvyvans;  Treriefe, the ancestral home of the Le Grice family; Boconnoc, near Lostwithiel, and Lanhydrock, the latter two having significant ammunition dumps located in the dense woodland. While the lower ranks were encamped in the grounds the officers eeked out more comfortable existence. Between October 1942 and April 1944 Prideaux place in Padstow was requisitioned by Company B of the U.S. Army’s 121st Engineer Combat Battalion. The wonderful Elizabethan house was severely damaged and still has only 6 habitable bedrooms, indeed one room still carries the notice ‘Lance Sergeants’ Mess’. Heligan was requisitioned; a property already decimated by the loss of 16 of its 22 gardening staff during the First World War whilst in 1944 Ince Castle near Saltash became the base for the Auxiliary Territorial Service.

Place House, on the Roseland Peninsula was requisitioned by the War Office and an anti-aircraft battery was placed nearby. The Spry family moved out onto the estate. After a spell with the War Agricultural Committee the house was severely damaged as a result and in 1949 it became a holiday business and later a hotel. Enys House, meanwhile, became the shore headquarters for the Royal Dutch Navy.

Trebartha, near Launceston, was sold in 1940, requisitioned soon after. Being such a huge house it was used as a prisoner of war camp and was demolished in 1948. Pencalenick, a Victorian pile by J.P St Aubyn, now a school on the outskirts of Truro, was also used as a prisoner-of-war camp after earlier deployment as a training camp and hospital. Again, the house was left ruinous and was bought by Cornwall Council in 1948. Luxstowe House in Liskeard, a Gothic house built in 1831 by George Wightwick for the Devonport merchant and banker, William Glencross, was requisitioned by the war Department and held troops in the build up to D-Day and afterwards Italian prisoners of war. Trewan, near St Columb, was requisitioned by the air ministry and used as billets. After the war the house was set up as the headquarters of the Coastal Command and later the United States Air Force. It is now a holiday park with the house being restored with the proceeds.

The whole Penrose estate, now National Trust, was transformed in the 1940s into a military zone. The 2½-mile shore bristled with anti-invasion defences and was guarded by pillboxes at Bar Lodge and Gunwalloe; Royal Naval aircraft used the Loe Pool for rocket-practice; and a camp was built for 2,000 German and Italian prisoners at Higher Nansloe. Penrose House was commandeered first for British Army use, and in 1943 to billet American GIs from F Company, 175th Regiment, 29th Infantry before they embarked from Trebah for the Normandy D-Day landings in June 1944. Loe Bar was mined and booms prevented enemy seaplanes landing.  Lower Pentire (now holiday rental) was a centre for torpedo research. There were many wartime tragedies: on 20 October 1941, a Luftwaffe pilot ditched his plane into the sea at Gunwalloe Fishing Cove, only to drown within site of the Mullion Home Guard, and two boys, Harry Dale and Robert Munting, were blown up by a landmine on the same beach three years later.

Only one house was damaged by enemy action that being Mount Edgcumbe which was hit by a stray incendiary bomb meant for Devonport. Along with parts of the house perished portraits by Joshua Reynolds, although one Reynolds and three seascapes by William van de Velde survived. The 5th Earl, Lord Piers, died soon after and with him the direct male line died out. The house remained a shell until 1958 when the War Damage Commission supported by the Ancient Monuments Department commissioned the architect Adrian Gilbert Scott to rebuild the house along the old plan although somewhat reduced. Scott deployed the Georgian style, introducing the main staircase in the hall surmounted by a first floor continuous Gallery around the top-lit hall. The family moved back in 1960 after spending a reported £100,000 on its restoration.

Returning to Lanhydrock the death of Tommy Agar-Robartes was undoubtedly the catalyst that brought about a stark decline to the family’s fortunes. Of the surviving eight children only two married and only one had a child of their own. During the Second World the house became home to three waves of evacuees. Indeed the story goes that the Misses Eva and Violet Agar-Robartes went to the village hall to collect two evacuees only to bring back 17 because they ‘were so endeared by their cherubic faces’.  By the 1950s Viscount Clifden was desperate to secure of future of a home that had remained in the same family since 1621. The property was accepted by the National Trust in 1953.

Two stories to finish are, it is fair to say, based on less solid provenance. Treverbyn Vean, nestled deep into the Glynn Valley near Liskeard, was acquired by Lord Beaverbrook and it is said that Winston Churchill and Field Marshall Montgomery discussed war strategy at the house. Beaverbrook sold the house to his daughter Mrs Janet Kidd in 1947. Tregenna castle, near St Ives, once a country seat of the Stephens family became a hotel in 1878. Amongst its guests between the wars was Herr von Ribbentrop and it was believed that the property had been promised to him by Hitler himself when England was finally conquered. However, the same story has been told about St Michael’s Mount, a property that was fortified during the invasion crisis.

In conclusion, it is fair to say that the 20th century, in particular the economic slump and the First World War, saw an end to the building of the country house in Cornwall. That’s why Cornwall has very few stately examples of architecture in the prevailing styles of Queen Anne revival, Arts and Crafts or Aesthetic movements. One notable exception of course is the Arts and crafts inspired Porth-an-Alls, near Prussia Cove. Built by the architectural maverick Philip Tilden of whom The Times said had ‘a talent for the restoration of old buildings, though of somewhat lush and luxurious taste’. The house was never completed due to the outbreak of war in 1914.

The Second World War saw houses mistreated, some beyond economic repair a situation caused by high post war taxation imposed by a socialist government, 75% death duties imposed in 1946, high running costs and  shortages of building materials leading to a national trend of country house demolition. At its worse two and a half country house were demolished every week during the 1950s – the biggest destruction of our heritage since the dissolution of the monasteries. Heritage and tourism came to the rescue of the Cornish house.  But that is a paper for another day.

I end with a request.  If you have any details of other country house activity during the Second World War or want to delve a bit deeper on the topic please let me know – I would really welcome your input on this little researched topic.

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The London Letters of Samuel Molyneux F.R.S. (1689−1728) Lecture given to the Society of Antiquaries of London, 22 May 2014.


SMSamuel Molyneux was born in Chester on 18 July 1689. He was the third and only surviving child of the celebrated astronomer, antiquarian, philosopher and constitutional writer William Molyneux (1656-98) and his wife, Lucy who died when Samuel was only two. William studied at Middle Temple between 1675 and 1678 and once back in Dublin, in 1683, he founded with Sir William Petty the ‘Dublin Philosophical Society for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge, Mathematics and Mechanics’. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1685. Through his scientific and published research William attracted friendships with Royal Society notables such as Robert Boyle, Edmond Halley, Robert Hooke, John Locke and Isaac Newton.  William and his circle were huge influences on the infant Samuel however, William died aged 42 in 1698 when his only son was 9 years old. Samuel was raised in Dublin by his uncle Thomas Molyneux (1661-1733) who, like his brother William, had studied at Trinity College, Dublin, travelled abroad and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.. Thomas later forged a successful career as a physician, being elected a Fellow of the Irish College of Physicians, of which he was elected President in 1713, and later served as Regius Professor of Physic in 1717.

Thomas provided his nephew with a first-class education at Trinity College where he was tutored by George Berkeley who dedicated his 1707 book Miscellanea Mathematica (1707) to his pupil. Molyneux travelled extensively throughout Ireland and became secretary of the Dublin Philosophical Society where he published his research.  Within the society he benefited from the social and intellectual freedom of membership taking great pains to build close links with his father’s friends, including the Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed; ‘Operator’ to the Royal Society, Francis Hauksbee the younger; Secretary of the Royal Society, Dr Hans Sloane and distinguished men in Irish society such as William King, Archbishop of Dublin (1650-1729) and Andrew Fountaine (1676-1753), both of whom later supported Molyneux in England – King with gainful employment as a book-buyer and Fountaine with letters of introduction.

There is no evidence to suggest that Molyneux either personally met or privately corresponded with Sir Isaac Newton, President of the Royal Society, before 1712 so Newton’s patronage in being Molyneux’s nomination for a Fellowship of the Royal Society must have, at least in part, been based on the Irishman’s elevated reputation.

In October 1712 Samuel Molyneux travelled from his native Dublin to London in the hope of bolstering his standing as an elected Fellow of the Royal Society.   When he arrived it is clear that he already held a respectable reputation based on his family pedigree, excellent education and grounding in family’s interests of antiquarianism, astronomy, history, natural philosophy and empirical science. On 30 October 1712 the Royal Society’s council minutes recorded the attendance of Samuel Molyneux ‘at his request’ to a scientific meeting at the Royal Society while on 4 November Molyneux, along with the Swiss mathematician Jean Bernoulli and the unknown Mr Turner were Balloted to for to be (sic) proposed to be Elected Members of the Society: Mr Bernoulli and Mr Molyneux were approved of, and Mr Turner was disapproved’.   Two days later Molyneux was again at the Society this time he addressed the meeting giving descriptions of cross-bills, as seen in the north of Ireland, and of Irish marble, noting that ‘the best marble came from the County of Kerry, that the white marble turns yellow, and that the Irish marble was brittle and full of cracks’. The Journal book entry for 1 December 1712 records the election of Molyneux, Bernoulli, William Tempest (1682-1761), for 50 years a chief clerk at the Court of Common Pleas, the botanist Dr Patrick Blair (fl.1708-1728) and the well published botanist Richard Bradley (1688-1732) Mr Bradley were Proposed, Ballotted for, and Chosen Members of the Society’

Molyneux’s admission to the Royal Society coincided with a series of letters written to his learned uncle in Dublin. Copies of these seven letters, contained within a folio notebook, now deposited in Southampton City Archives, trace his six month tour of London, Oxford and Cambridge taken between October 1712 and April 1713. These letters have recently been published for the first time in their entirety by the London Topographical Society.  As a social commentator his work sits confidently alongside other contemporary tourists, such as, Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach (1710), Daniel Defoe (1724), César de Saussure (1725-30), Don Manoel Gonzales (1731) and John Loveday (principally 1730).  Unfortunately the manuscript is not complete which may well explain why details of his election into the Royal Society are not mentioned.  However, on 20 December 1712 he described a visit to the society’s new premises at Crane Court in Fleet Street where he met Francis Hauksbee whose final appearance at the Royal Society was in January 1713, shortly before his death in April. Curiously Molyneux does not discuss his host’s pioneering research on capillarity but does show an interest in his expertise in the manufacture of air pumps of which he was the designer of six known types. He also reports briefly on a pasteboard experiment, presumably one prepared by Hauksbee as ‘demonstrator or curator of experiments’ for a public lecture at the society. Such experiments were indicative of the revisions that Newton was making in advance of the second English edition of his book Opticks which was not republished until 1717.

As soon as Molyneux arrived in the capital he engaged on an erudite programme of edification and self-improvement by visiting some of the finest collections in the City before moving onto Oxford and Cambridge.  Such collections were symbolic of the shift in English intellectualism towards an insatiable appetite to challenge established beliefs through the application of logic and experimentation. Many of the connoisseurs and collectors were held in high regard as experts in their fields, likewise many were Fellows of the Royal Society. Unfortunately, because of the missing folios in the manuscript there are no first hand descriptions of his known meetings with Fellows Hans Sloane (1660-1753) and Edmond Halley (1656-1742). However first-hand descriptions of other scientific collections are plentiful including the botany and entomology collections of James Petiver (c.1665-1718) housed in his apothecary shop in Aldersgate Street, and the collections of rarities amassed by Elias Ashmole (1617-92) housed at the Ashmolean museum in Oxford.

One of Molyneux’s personal highlights was in February 1713 when he visited Dr John Woodward (1665-1728) to view his geological collections which he clearly felt represented a shrine to learning.   Between 1688 and 1724 Woodward, Professor of Physic at Gresham College in London, amassed some 9,400 scientific specimens in his college rooms which were painstakingly classified and documented.   From this collection he formulated intellectual theories, such as An Essay towards a Natural History of the Earth (1695), in which he debated (and later fiercely defended) the notion that Noah’s flood disturbed the earth’s strata and re-deposited it according to the specific gravity of materials.   This, according to Woodward, explained the origins of fossils  then one of the most contentious aspects of natural philosophy.   Of this theory Molyneux wrote ‘The Doctor however is so well pleas’d with being sure he is in the right that it were a Cruelty if it had not been an impossibility to convince him of the contrary’.  Despite Woodward’s idiosyncratic charm, Molyneux appeared well aware of his repute as a sceptical theorist and volatile character − indeed, in defence of his academic ideologies he faked the discovery of a Roman shield and reputedly participated in a sword fight − he was later expelled from the Royal Society. Yet, Molyneux’s admiration of the doctor’s collection was boundless and in his letter home he provided his uncle with a comprehensive account of the British and foreign archaeological artefacts, fossils, minerals and rocks on show. Like Molyneux, Woodward too ended up the butt of the satirist’s pen for unprofessional conduct and flawed learning.

In the letter dated 18 February 1713 he visited Greenwich Observatory and his father’s former friend, the quarrelsome, uncompromising and strong-minded, John Flamsteed (16461719). Appointed in 1675 by Charles II as the first ‘Astronomical Observator’, the dour and perpetually poorly Flamsteed lived in a grace-and-favour house at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich.  Despite a previous disagreement with his old friend William Molyneux over the latter’s book Dioptrica Nova − an argument that prompted Molyneux to describe Flamsteed as ‘a man of so much ill-nature and irreligion’ − Flamsteed received the young Molyneux cordially.  At the time of Molyneux’s visit, Flamsteed was at the centre of a reputation crisis himself. Being such a perfectionist and protective of his observational research, conducted between 1676 and 1705 when Astronomer Royal, he refused to disseminate his research to a wider audience. In 1709 Queen Anne appointed a Board of Visitors to investigate his reluctance, as a result the Royal Society ended his exemption from dues and on 9 November 1709 used non-payment as an excuse to expel him. Worse was to follow when in 1712 Royal Society notables Newton and Halley forced the publication of his observations in a private edition entitled Historiae coelestis. Flamsteed was so enraged by Halley’s abridgement and unauthorised additions to the text that by 1714 he had obtained 300 copies of the print run of 400, removed all 97 pages of which he approved and destroyed the rest.   Molyneux briefly alludes to the controversy

‘He shew’d me a Catalogue of the fix’d Stars which he has printed at his own Expence from his Observations much more corrected and compleat than that one printed in the new Volume of his Works, which Catalogue it seems he disapproves of and disowns, this he designs not to publish yet awhile, but I believe when he does it will be found at least as Exact and as well accommodated to the ancient Greek names of Ptolemy & to Bayerus his Tables as that in his Works if not better  by the way he shew’d 12 or 14 Curious Draughts of as many of the noted Constellations with the Stars in their Scituations plac’d on them in which I really think he was very judiciously corrected, several improprietys in those Tables and on a much larger Scale on this head’.

After visiting Oxford and Cambridge, Molyneux travelled to Harwich where, on or soon after 20 April 1713, he departed for the Electoral Court at Hanover in the service of the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough whose own impervious reputations had declined dramatically in the wake of the rise of Tory influence at court.  He returned to England after the Coronation of King George I where he forged a career as a well-respected professional, serving as a loyal and effective secretary to the Prince of Wales. During this time he also represented constituencies in both the English and Irish parliaments and acted as an Irish Privy Councillor.  Throughout his travels in England and in the execution of his public duties Molyneux had access to powerful people, many of whom helped him elevate his own private and public standing.

Molyneux displayed few personal weaknesses. His letters on the whole portray a very personable and polite young man networking with connoisseurs and collectors, using as his introduction his Royal Society contacts and his late father’s elevated status. However, some of his comments and actions, particularly those prompted by his staunch Protestant and Whig views, depict an inflexible and self-confident temperament making him appear at times a rather pushy and impatient individual. Such a view was taken by the Jacobite, non-juror, Thomas Hearne (1678-1735), the notoriously cantankerous second librarian at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, who after meeting Molyneux portrayed in his diary the Irishman’s ‘superficial’ knowledge’ a consequence, he considered, of taking ‘Accounts from Conversation with Gentlemen, and not from study’.   He concluded with

‘I had sufficient and full Proof of Mr. Mollineux’s Confidence and of his Ignorance in Antiquities. Yet he had not as yet discovered himself to be a Man of Republican, ill Principles, and of a malignant Temper…’

Hearne’s opinions however were not universally shared.  After the Hanoverian Succession Molyneux’s professional position at court and his on-going interest in science and natural philosophy made him one of the leading intellectuals of the day. He was credited as being in Essex with William Derham during the solar eclipse of 1715 when both men compiled a report for Edmond Halley.  The reciprocal nature of his friendship with Derham is displayed by Molyneux’s likely influence in his appointment as Chaplain to the Prince of Wales in 1715. In 1717 John Green dedicated his book The Construction of Maps and Globes to ‘the Honourable Samuel Molyneux Esq. Secretary to His Royal Highness the Prince [of Wales]’. In 1718 Derham dedicated his work on the great naturalist John Ray to Molyneux and in 1721 the astronomer and cartographer John Senex (1678-1740 later F.R.S.), whose shop was based in Salisbury court, Fleet Street, dedicated his map of Europe to Molyneux.

Molyneux’s reputation as a scientist was forged around the interdisciplinary study of meteorology, astronomy, optics and, during his short time at the Admiralty, navigation.  The earliest reference to scientific research however was in 1716 when he began to gather meteorological data from Greenwich, Holly Bush (near Hampstead), Kew, Richmond Park and St Paul’s and carefully logged it in a series of notebooks until 1723 when the entries stop.   These books, now in the Mount Stuart collections on the Isle of Bute,  also provide details of those he co-operated with during his research, the most notable being his close associates James Bradley and George Graham, while others include Richard Boyle 3rd Lord Burlington (1695-1753) and his late father’s friend Edmond Halley.  Also at Mount Stuart is another meteorological journal which starts in 1708 and ends in 1733 and is inscribed on the spine ‘Molyn: on the weathr’. Although attributed to Molyneux it predates his arrival in London by four years and post-dates his death by five years so it is unlikely that he was responsible, although arguably it is feasible that he commissioned the research whilst in Dublin and it somehow continued after his death.

Yet, it was Molyneux’s interest in lenses and glass grinding, primarily influenced by his father’s published research in optical physics that forged his long-term reputation as a creditable scientist.  One commentator wrote of his early attention to the subject

‘I had myself, some little Acquaintance with Mr Molyneux when he was a very young Man, and know that he had even then a mighty Taste for Mechanicks, and for no branch of them more [than optics]’.

When in London during the winter of 1712/13 he specifically noted his experiences in the fields of optics for the benefit of his uncle. On leaving the Royal Society and perhaps still in Hauksbee’s company, Molyneux reported on a visit to ‘Willsons, a glass grinder’ most likely the microscope-maker James Wilson (c.1665-c.1730) who is known to have worked at The Willow Tree, Cross Street, Hatton Garden, between 1702 and 1710.

‘From him we went to one Willsons, a glass grinder, we saw his Microscopes of Single glasses which are indeed excellently good and worth any bodys enquireing for; I think he told me he sells a compleat case of them for about 3li  which is not by any means dear:’

At Greenwich Observatory he was enthused enough to report on Flamsteed’s advice

‘…and told me one Secret which I must remember in glass grinding & that is, that a glass is seldom good that is polish’d with a Rag and Putty [calcined tin taken from a tin-smelters furnace] in the hand without the Tool [a metal basin], but that the best and Surest way which he never knew fail was to make the Workman continue to Polish it in the very Tool, and without Putty or any other thing but the very Stuff us’d in Grinding which by little must be taken away, and the tool now & then gently breath’d on to make the glass slip about in Surface to which, if the Mould and glass be true, it will stick so hard as to require a good Strength to move it about: Haveing promis’d to waite on him again some night I took my leave & retir’d’.

AFTERMATH

His commitment to scientific advancement is suggested by his attendance as member of Council of the Royal Society in 1716 although he was recorded at very few meetings ─ this however may simply be a reflection of the unreliable system of signing-in. His opportunity to pursue serious optical research came about in 1717 when he married the wealthy heiress Elizabeth Capel who, in 1721, inherited Kew House from her aunt and where he built an observatory and installed the first high-quality zenith sector telescope having a radius of twenty-four feet, built by the eminent maker George Graham (c.1673-1751).  From Kew Molyneux and James Bradley set about checking Robert Hooke’s 1669 measurements of the annual parallax of the star Gamma Draconis. Hooke and Flamsteed had previously tried to determine parallax in fixed stars but their results were inconclusive. Matters stood until Molyneux made his first observations in November 1725, his memorandum noted when he was joined by Bradley and Graham who carried out checks and minor alterations. An apparent change in the position of stars was soon noticed but it was not a discrepancy which could be explained by parallax and the implication (that the star was far too distant to show parallax) was not immediately realized.  Their work did however prove that the earth orbited the sun and eventually led to the determination of the speed of light.   Molyneux’s involvement prematurely ended when, after his appointment as a Lord of the Admiralty in July 1727, Bradley moved his research to Wanstead and worked alone to discover the aberration of light – a discovery that transformed the science of astrometry.   Bradley communicated his findings to the Royal Society in January 1729, less than a year after Molyneux’s death.  In 1742 he became Astronomer Royal.

In 1726 Samuel Molyneux (1689-1728) and Nathaniel St André (1680-1776), a Swiss surgeon and anatomist of good repute, applied their sceptical and analytical minds to the claim that Mary Toft from Godalming was giving birth to live rabbits.[1] Together they concluded that the claim was true ─ St André going as far as to publish a learned paper on the matter.[2] In December 1726 Toft finally disowned her assertions, St André published a retraction in the Daily Journal and a public scandal ensued with both men being venomously ridiculed by, amongst others, William Hogarth, Alexander Pope in conjunction with William Pulteney and Jonathan Swift.[3] That Molyneux’s interest in the enquiry was optical, rather than anatomical, was revealed in Toft’s confession where she described him as the ‘purblynd Gentilman…survayin me with his telluskop’, a view broadened by Pope and Pulteney who, at least, acknowledged him as an instrument maker in their satirical poem The Discovery, or the Squire Turn’d Ferrett:

Not surprisingly the obstetrical farce quickly became a cultural phenomenon. Initially it fiercely divided public and scholarly opinion by pitting conventional notions of scientific logic against more established beliefs in secular magic and superstition. Once disproved however the story was played out in the newspapers and in a progression of published pamphlets written by some of the key witnesses in an effort to shift blame and defend their damaged reputations. These ‘gazettes and public papers’ were enthusiastically received and discussed by an eager public in the coffee-houses and for these avid readers the retractions and justifications raised issues of personal decorum and double standards while for the impudent satirists the opportunity to parody and chastise learned men of science as ignorant, predatory fools was too good to miss. In consequence, the reputations of John Howard, the man-wife, and St André, who objectively as an anatomist would have led the examination, were beyond recovery. Molyneux, the quarry of Pope’s vicious satire and the subject of a pantomime played out in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, remained silent on the subject presumably in an attempt to cosset his reputation as a sober, honest and trustworthy intellectual. While his public character was severely damaged his reputation in the physical sciences remained much admired however this too was challenged when the experimental philosopher Zachariah Williams accused him of stealing his method for ascertaining longitude using a system of magnetic variations of the compass.[4]

Molyneux never lived long enough to fully assess the damage to his personal and professional reputations. In 1728 he collapsed in the House of Commons and, despite being treated by St André, died soon after at his London town house. In death he suffered two further indignities both at the hands of St André. First, within days of his passing St André eloped with Molyneux’s widow, Elizabeth (d.1758), to Southampton where they eventually married and established a significant estate. Second, in 1730, Molyneux’s nephew, the author and clergyman Samuel Maddon (1686-1765), accused the surgeon of administering a fatal dose of opium −a murderous claim that was not proven at the trial that followed.[5] These humiliations injured Molyneux’s reputation further by compounding murder with scientific ineptitude and the conjugal infidelities of his wife, whose own reputation has since been defined in sexual terms.

* House and Collections Manager, National Trust, Lanhydrock, Cornwall, PL30 5AD. I owe a great debt of thanks to Sheila O’Connell, Joanna Corden, Kate Dinn, David Hayton, Clyve Jones, Sue Hill, Kathryn and Eleanor Holden, Anita McConnell, Alison Morrison-Low, Miriam Phillips and Ann and Bruce Saunders.

[1]  The rabbit scandal has been well covered by others including Dennis Todd, Imagining Monsters: Miscreations of the Self in Eighteenth-Century England (Chicago, 1995) and Clifford A Pickover, The Girl who Gave Birth to Rabbits (New York, 2000).

[2]  Mr St André, A Short Narrative of an extraordinary Delivery of Rabbets perform’d by Mr John Howard (London, 1726).

[3] Hogarth published a print entitled Cunicularii (26 December 1726), a ballad by Pope and Pulteney was entitled The Discovery: or, The Squire turn’d Ferret (London, 1727) and Swift (under the pseudonym of Lemuel Gulliver) published a pamphlet entitled The Anatomist dissected; or the Man-Midwife finely brought to Bed. Being an examination of the conduct of Mr St André touching the late pretended Rabbit-bearer; as it appears from his own Narrative (London, 1727).

[4] W.T. Lynn, ‘The longitude and the Magnetic Variation’, The Observatory, Vol. 27, (1904), p.277.  Albert J. Kuhn, ‘Dr. Johnson, Zachariah Williams, and the Eighteenth-Century Search for the Longitude’, Modern Philology, Vol. 82, No. 1 (Aug., 1984), pp. 48.  The idea gathered support from influential figures such as Edmond Halley and William Whiston, was passed to Sir Isaac Newton and thence to Molyneux at the Admiralty where it was rejected.

[5] Reverend Mr Madden to the Hon Lady Molyneux on occasion of the Death of the Rt Hon Samuel Molyneux Esq. who was attended by M St Andre a French Surgeon (Dublin, 1730). 

 

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‘Loving the Alien’: David Bowie and Me


I never met David Bowie. But I knew him.

Bowie 2Growing up I digested every word and image I could. I bought illicit bootlegs, Wembley Wizard, Live in Stockholm, Soft in the Middle, and treasured my 7” copies of Prettiest Star on Mercury Records and Space Oddity on Phillips and coveted my ultra-rare album An Evening with David Bowie. It was the rarity of these vinyl treasures that helped me feel that I owned a little piece of Bowie that no-one else had. A friend of a friend once showed me the very same boots Bowie wore on the reverse cover of Space Oddity. As a 12 year old I slipped the space boots onto my tiny space feet and in hushed tones walked unearthily around the room pretending I was a flame haired androgynous astronaut. Today I still believe they were Bowie’s boots; however part of me suspects that the bastards simply conspired against an impressionable fan to help them pass a quiet Sunday afternoon.

I first discovered Bowie aged 7 when my brother bought Hunky Dory. We played it on a 1950s valve driven radiogram, sneaking into my Nan’s room after she had gone to bed to witness the wonderful bass toned sound, so powerful and deep. For a small child the cover was mystical, the reserve even more so. I couldn’t even imagine who Biff Rose was or why on earth the ‘VU’ was ‘returned with thanks’. I read. I listened. I learned more. I explored the Velvet’s, the Stooges, Neil Young and searched for the roots behind Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, both of which enthralled me.

I bought Diamond Dogs in 1974 with my pocket money.  I didn’t really get it. Future Legend terrified me, Diamond Dogs was furious and Rebel Rebel too laconic, the B-side seemed so multifaceted. I worked hard at reading George Orwell’s 1984 in order to understand Bowie’s muse, not easy for an 11 year old. Today, it remains one of my favourite albums, Sweet Thing, Candidate and Reprise sounds as fresh today as it did forty years ago. Later, in a fit of pique, I sprayed a yellow Bowie motif on the back of a new leather jacket; I thought I was a cool as mustard. Of course I was not.

Plastic Soul, the Thin White Duke and the Berlin albums came and went, I was totally hooked.  The animation of Bowie’s so called Nazi salute at Waterloo station was captivating, I lapped up every word of Alan Yentob’s Cracked Actor documentary, I read with glee The Man Who Fell to Earth (being too young to see the film) and continued to collect official and unofficial releases with relish. His music, his actions, his image carried me through my exams. I painted and drew him in art. I graffitoed his facsimile autograph ‘Love on Ya, Bowie’ and splashed the Aladdin Sane lightning flash across my text books.  I raced home on my bike at lunchtimes to see where Heroes, Boys Keep Swinging, DJ &c sat in the charts. I bunked off school and waited in Subway Records all day to collect my copy of Scary Monsters, perhaps even the first copy sold in Southampton. I didn’t want a bag, I wanted everyone to see it, walking through town and on the bus.  The moment the needle hit the plastic was electrifying, that native Japanese voice so loud, Bowie screaming ‘It’s No Game’. And then there’s Ashes to Ashes, life changing.

I died a little with Lets Dance, my preoccupations diverted by the Clash, the Ruts, the Jam and others. The MTV generation was not for me. With the 1980s came a new found passion in the form of the independent music scene, a crisp driving license gave freedom to see my new found favourites live in intimate venues –the Blue Aeroplanes, Hurrah!, Brilliant Corners, Del Amitri, the Daintees, Mighty Mighty, Stump and Half Man Half Biscuit. Yes, my musical notations had shifted but Bowie was always the common denominator. The Thin White Duke sat on my shoulder guiding my tastes. To be fair he was never far away with bands like Tubeway Army, One the Juggler and Bauhaus carrying the well-lit torch; imitating but never bettering.

Despite snubbing Tonight and Never Let Me down I did warm to the disorganised industrial sound of Tin Machine, it just seemed to fit where I was at in my life.What brought me back to Bowie was Outside.1. It was an album that shocked and disgusted in equal measure. It was loud, intelligent, and not at all polite –everything I aspired  to be. As I grew, Bowie grew. He catered for my ever changing moods. Smooth sounds when I was feeling smooth, deeper sounds for those deeper moments. Where are we Now was a revelation. Bowie Is at the V&A was breath-taking, total immersion into fashion, music and persona –I went twice. The Next Day marked a maturity that matched mine, the promotional films offered exhilaration in the way that they harked back on the old with a sparkle of the new.

BowieI bought Blackstar on the day of release. Like all hardened fans I studied the lyrics to within an inch of their lives. He writes about ‘Fool[ing] them again and again’ in Dollar Days while he ‘…know[s] something’s very wrong’ in I Cant Give Everything Away adding ‘skull designs upon my shoes’. I saw the film for Lazarus. I am not ashamed to say that I never read into his last regeneration, in hindsight it is so obvious. If the lyrics were not enough there was the website posting the line ‘Look up here, I’m in heaven’ on Christmas Day 2015, the released promotional image (again from Lazarus) showing a deathly, gazing, Bowie holding a note to camera which read ‘To Jimmy [Fallon]…help Me’ and the fact that his last Twitter follow was God. The clues were there.

Playing out and controlling the image of his own death is an ultimate act of power. For me Bowie has long been a powerful presence. The more you worked at him, the more you got out of him. His music and personality was both superficial and intensely insular. Without sounding a little cliche, a little bit of me died today, as it did when Lou Reed died. Just knowing Bowie was on the planet was reassuring.

Regrets? Well, I never saw Bowie live. Too young in the 70s, not interested in the 80s, too late in the 90s and averse to stadium gigs in the 00s. A missed opportunity perhaps. However, Bowie’s musicality underpinned the culture in which I grew up, the music, the literature, the fashion. He gave me an education, he shaped me as an individual. For that I am grateful. He died as he lived, unpredictable, an enigma. Things will move on without him, but they won’t be the same.

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How the ‘King of Cornwall’ Brought History to Life


Painting at Trerice - an eighteenth century watercolour of The East Front of Trerice, in the Gallery.

Painting at Trerice – an eighteenth century watercolour of The East Front of Trerice, in the Gallery.

In 1953 George Edward Michael Trinick (1924-94) joined the National Trust in Cornwall as an Assistant Agent. He rose steadily through the ranks becoming Area Agent in 1956, Regional Secretary of Devon and Cornwall in 1965 and Cornwall’s Regional Director between 1978 and 1984. Unusually during this time he simultaneously acted as Historic Buildings Representative, a curatorial role that saw him not only facilitate the acquisition of Trerice (right), but also prepare it as a visitor attraction.

Read more here

https://www.sahgb.org.uk/the-architectural-historian.html

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No.6 Dear Bloody England. ‘Aesthetic Snobs, Wayward Theories and Bonkers Banks’


GGTAs an aesthetic snob and wayward theorist himself John Betjeman claimed that he hated aesthetic snobs and their wayward theories. In 1937 a young Betjeman hoped for ‘friendly bombs [to] fall on Slough!’ adding ‘It isn’t fit for humans now’. The following year he wrote the cantankerous, candid and whimsical ‘Ghastly Good Taste’ or, to give it its full title ‘a depressing story of the Rise and Fall of English Architecture’. When it was reprinted thirty-seven years later, he apologised. He apologised for writing the book in a ‘white-hot fury’. He apologised for his naïve arrogance. He apologised for his sweeping generalisations. He did not apologise however for his elitism and offbeat ideas.

With all its snooty connotations and ornery theories there is no doubt Betjeman would have hated ‘Dear Bloody England’. However, where we might have shared some common ground is on the topic of banks and banking architecture. Banks are public palaces. Traditionally they have been inviting and engaging buildings with open and decorative auditorium and clear spatial progress. Historically banks were designed as statements of commercial enterprise; they were built by architects for bankers and the act of banking – in that respect they were fit for purpose.

SoaneThe architecture of choice for many banks was Classicism, a style that portrayed the rigidity of the banking system with soaring Corinthian columns that imparted a firm trust with entablature and pediments that asserted a comfortable assurance of longevity. The architect George Sampson drew on this style for the earliest incarnation of the Bank of England in Threadneedle Street in the 1730s. Sir Robert Taylor extended this building before John Soane, architect to the Bank of England for 45 years from 1788, looked to French theorists and imperial Rome for his stimuluses of light and space (above). His building was a revelation, the domed roof a feature of the London skyline until Herbert Baker demolished it in the 1920s.

southampton24 banks in London in 1725 rose to nearly 70 by the end of the century. With the Victorians came a slow departure from the Classical ideal facilitated by the likes of Cockerell, Hardwick and Tite. However the classic style was not lost altogether as monoliths to commerce intimidated high streets up-and-down the country −Charles Cockerell’s splendid Palladian example (1846) in King Street, Manchester, John Gibson’s vain-glorious Portland stone bank situated at the dock end of the High Street in Southampton (1875) (left) and towering white imperial Martin’s Bank, Edge Hill (John Francis Doyle, 1905) in Liverpool are all sound examples.  Gothic, on the whole did not fit the ethos of trustworthy banking − far too austere, however the Queen Anne style was softer and more befitting. Today many modest banks of the twentieth-century reflect the resurgence the Renaissance or ‘Wrenaissance’, honest red brick affairs with Portland stone Corinthian orders and ornate door pediments. Thankfully many are retained on our high streets although not all for their intended purpose.

Today banking architecture is in tatters alongside the reputations of the bankers it represents. New modernist and post-modernist buildings embrace open plans, boutique-style and automation, with heart-space instead of banking floors and glass bullet-proof booths replacing ornate panelled church-like partitions. Where once there was engagement and service is now turbulence and conflict.

1778But perhaps all is not lost? The red brick, gabled, Queen Anne style, Cock’s and Biddulph Bank in Whitehall (Richard Coad, 1880) (right) is now a pub called ‘The Lord of the Half Moon’. Its wonderful banking hall with coffered ceiling above, influenced perhaps by the nearby banqueting House (Inigo Jones), now hosts the noise of drinkers and the clinking of glasses. Much has been retained, the stern and sober panelling, the mouldings and architectural fittings. To the rear is John Oldrich Scott’s extension, now an eatery. Its function changed but integrity not lost. As for banks, well last week I spent one hour in a God-forsaken sterile glass lined box hemmed in a makeshift cubicle with white light. The telephone was constantly emitting a loud electronic repetitive noise. The cash dispenser machine had its own unique tone as did the printer, the security door and the panic alarms. For one hour I sat as if in a Depeche Mode concert.

Betjeman would have visited his bank manager in a sober, serious building perhaps in an Adam inspired office befitting a Chaplinesque suited and booted black and white bank manager, perhaps even  Mr Mainwaring himself. If Betjeman walked into a bank today my guess is that he would declare them ‘… not fit for humans now’? Today there is no manager. No banking floor. No architecture. No connection. No engagement. Just machines that annoyingly bleep from the moment you walk in to the time you leave, bleepin’, ringing, pulsing, annoying, electronic bleeps −buzzers and bells, buzzers and bells.

Apologies for writing this in a ‘white-hot fury’, for my naïve arrogance and for my sweeping generalisations however if there is any conclusion to be drawn from this, then ‘love pubs, hate banks’ might fit the bill.

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Eulogy to Captain, the Honourable Thomas Agar-Robartes M.P. (1880-1915)


Lanhydrock Church, 27 September 2015

 A sequence of events, one century ago, changed the future of this parish forever.

Tommy Agar-Robartes M.P.On 13 September 1915 the Honourable Thomas Charles Reginald Agar-Robartes, Captain in the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, was recalled from the trenches for Parliamentary duties. After two days at Westminster he returned to his Cambridgeshire seat, Wimpole Hall, where, on the 17 September he spent the day at the races. The following day he wrote a note to a friend, it read

I shall return to London after Newmarket for noon – when I hope I may find you – like you to dine with me on Friday?

Tommy never made this lunch appointment. Instead he was immediately recalled to the Western Front to help plan a military assault on the industrial mining town of Lens in north-east France. He led his men to within 20 miles of the village of Loos, where a letter from Major General, the earl of Cavan awaited their arrival, it read

We are on the eve of the greatest battle in history, the future generations depend on the result…great things are expected from the Guards division.

On the 25th Tommy’s men captured and moved into an enemy trench which, it was reported, was littered with dead bodies. From here there were further orders to advance, this time towards a wooded area and then to a chalk pit beyond. Both objectives were fulfilled but with heavy casualties.

On the 28th, during fierce fighting and with a strong smell of noxious gas in the air, Sergeant Hopkins of the 5th Reserve Battalion was shot by a German sniper. Tommy could not abandon his comrade so, in Hopkins words ‘[Tommy] came 80 to 100 yards right across the open in broad daylight and within 200 yards of the enemy and dragged me into safety’. This unselfish, spur of the moment, action cost Tommy his life. After being hit by a German sniper Tommy died in a casualty clearing station on the 30 September.          

TAfter his death many tributes were paid yet nowhere was Tommy’s loss felt more than in Cornwall. Joseph Broad, addressing Viscount Clifden as Chair of the St Hydroc’s Church Tower Committee, summed up the nation’s feeling when he proposed a vote of condolence ‘…to Viscount Clifden and family on the lamented death of Captain Agar-Robartes who had laid down his life for his King and country after performing a gallant and self-sacrificing act’.

Six days after that missed lunch appointment in London the son and heir to the Lanhydrock estate, the future 7th Viscount Clifden, was dead.  My tribute to Tommy is to recreate his missed lunch appointment. Most likely held at either Claridges or the Ritz, two of his favourite restaurants, I will invite five contemporaries, all of which had an impact on his professional and private life.

At the head of the table would be Tommy himself   ̶  a convivial host, educated, fun, debonair, a spirit unto himself. A man the media portrayed as an Edwardian playboy, often seen sailing around the Mediterranean or walking the Monte Carlo or Paris boulevards, described by some as the best dressed man in Parliament and by others as the most reckless horseman in Cornwall.

Alongside Tommy at the table I would sit his political idol and mentor, the 5th Lord Rosebery, short-lived Leader of the Liberal Party and one-time Prime Minister. Together they shared a common passion for horse racing, cricket, yachting, society life and politics. I would hope that they would look back fondly on a political rally held in the Bodmin Public Rooms in 1905 when Rosebery, fully supported by Tommy in the Chair, made a heated and heartfelt speech in which he appeared to betray the leader of the party, Henry Campbell-Bannerman. The sitting Tory government immediately saw a treacherous split in their rival party and called a General Election. The Tory’s completely misjudged the situation and the Liberals won a landslide victory with Tommy gaining his first seat in Parliament. As member for South-East Cornwall and later St Austell, he was a popular, engaging and confident politician, a great champion of Cornwall, the Cornish and advocate of the working man.

His sense of fairness undoubtedly came from his devoted mother Mary, Viscountess Clifden, my next dinner guest. She raised all nine of her children to observe Christian values and follow strict moral codes. War split families, and with four sons in military service no-one was more aware of this than the Viscountess. She might recall her sadness of Tommy’s last Christmas, spent in Norfolk, away from his family, serving on the home-front with Royal Bucks Hussars.  On Boxing Day 1914 from Sennowe Park, the Norfolk home of the holiday magnate Thomas Cook, he wrote of his request to transfer to the Coldstream Guards, which he did on 5 January. What drove him was an eagerness to serve on the front line and a conviction that his life was of no more importance that any other Englishman, no doubt a consequence of the values of benevolence, duty, loyalty and unselfishness installed by his mother. His loss to the family was immeasurable.  In a letter, dated October 1915, two weeks Tommy’s death, she wrote ‘we do not know how to bear our grief’, in February 1916 Tommy’s brother, Gerald, wrote ‘my mother and sister are anxious to have some flowers planted on the grave’.

150px-PrmrsNext at the table would be Lord Rosebery’s youngest son and Tommy’s best friend Neil Primrose, Liberal M.P. for Wisbech. Together they were known as the ‘inseparables’. It is a fair assumption that Tommy’s choice of London address in Great Stanhope Street was to be close to Primrose who lived just a few doors down. They travelled America together and were constant companions at the races. Tommy joined Captain Primrose in the Royal Bucks Hussars in 1914, the same year they joined fellow Liberal back-benchers in a revolt against Lloyd George’s budget. The conversation at dinner would, I hope, not dwell extensively on politics but on happier times when on 7 April 1915 Tommy returned from the Western Front to perform best man duties at Primrose’s wedding. Tragically, Primrose was killed in action not long after Tommy however their friendship remains marked in the House of Commons where their armorial crests are positioned side-by-side above the Speaker’s chair.

Through Primrose, Tommy was a regular house guest of the de Rothschild family at Mentmore and Waddesdon. During this time he struck up a close friendship with my next dinner guest, Dorothy de Rothschild who was regular correspondent. In August 1914 he wrote of his optimism for a quick resolution to hostilities ‘we move from Reading in a few days to the East Coast probably and then I hope we shall lunch at Ostend a week or so later and dine some months afterwards in Berlin’. In May 1915 his outlook was less positive; he wrote ‘I now command a Company. I was hit three times in one day on May 9th but only slightly- I found my own iodine sufficient to deal with the wounds! I am rather depressed today as I have just heard that Ferdy and Denny two of my closest friends have been killed –also Francis…and John…’ In July 1915 we get a glimpse of irony when he wrote ‘We are in the trenches at Cambrai which is rather a lively spot as the Germans are only about 15 yards away in one part of my line – we have great bombing spats every night in the crater of a mine which is called Etna…we have just had a heavy thunderstorm which has soaked everything’.

With only one space left at the table I am struggling to make the last selection. His twin Everilda would give us an insight into Tommy as a caring and attentive brother. Sergeant Hopkins, the man Tommy saved from no-mans-land at Loos, would tell us of his heroism and sacrifice. And then there is the author and Tommy’s political agent Arthur Quiller Couch who would attest to Tommy’s love of the turf as well as all things Cornish. It would be fitting to invite any of the men listed on the war memorial above the church door ̶  all would have known Tommy, all would have shared his heroic values, his commitment and sense of duty to his country. Likewise any member of the Lanhydrock or Wimpole staff would have been welcomed to the table and been fully engaged into the conversation despite their more modest backgrounds. Maybe we should all imagine ourselves in that last space, listening intently to the conversation and thinking on what might have been.

TommyRobartes-1And this, for me, remains the most enduring accolade to Tommy ̶ he was an English gentleman who mixed freely with people regardless of class. As eldest son and heir he not only measured up but exceeded all of the expectations placed upon him.

As a son he was equipped the take the family forward. As a future landlord he was benevolent and dynamic.  As a brother he was a loyal and dedicated. As a scholar he was cultured and well-informed. As a sportsman he was a leader and a captain. As a politician he was popular, a man who followed his convictions. As a soldier he displayed great leadership skills and earned the respect of those who served beneath him.

I will finish with two contemporary tributes. The first is an unsigned card sent to the family presumably in 1915 with a hand painted bunch of violets on the cover (below) which reads

He was the soul of honour and of fearless chivalry. No braver or skilful officer has led the Coldstream Guards into action.

The second quotes Arthur Quiller Couch who said at Tommy’s memorial service in St Margaret’s, Westminster,

..he had in him, and he carried it eminently, that which I think, if men could be judged like thorough-breds in a show, would make a man an English gentleman, recognisable from every gentleman in the world. And the mark of it is that he, the English gentleman, treats life under God, as the finest, the gallantest, and the most glorious of all sports…that was Mr Robartes.

card  card2

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No.5 Dear Bloody England. ‘Half Spam Half Biscuit’ or ‘A Builder formerly known as Prince’


John Betjeman loved Cornwall. His impassioned lyric ‘Cornish Cliffs’ runs

Small fields and tellymasts and wires and poles, With, as the everlasting ocean rolls, Two chapels built for half a hundred souls.

Today, 25-strong congregations have more than halved. The once bustling, cold, drafty, splendidly galleried chapels have thankfully been saved, converted for domestic use. Small fields too are being lost as piecemeal development has pushed the towns into the surrounding, poorly protected, green belts. Predictably the ocean stills rolls in but now laps against a changing coastal landscape where the ‘…wealth of heather, kidney-vetch and squills’ are at risk to scattered developments looking out onto horizons of wind turbines.

Split pediment with en-suite garage

Split pediment with en-suite garage

Close to the north Cornish coast, at Newquay, is Tregunnel Hill, a new eco-spam-development being built in phases by the Duchy of Cornwall. It is a cut-and-paste version of Poundbury near Dorchester, alien to the surrounding landscapes and unconvincing in its conception and design. It is in fact the polar opposite of Betjeman’s idyllic, calm, green, ‘Cornish lanes [that] lead inland to a usual Cornish scene, Slate cottages with sycamore between’.

And this is the main problem, there is nothing ‘usual’ about Tregunnel Hill. There are no slate cottages, no Cornish lanes, in fact nothing indigenous to Cornwall other than some locally sourced materials, mostly slate, that weatherproofs buildings like the bizarre Deco inspired, part rusticated, commercial style, mid-European office block.  Alongside this piece of retro-modernism (and dwarfed by comparison) is a Spamadian town house, shamelessly cribbed from the Palladio inspired early 18th-century Enys house in Truro (below).

5.1       5.4

There is more than a hint of Dorset cookie in this Duchy Original, indeed the builders C.G. Fry & Son and Morrish Builders have worked on Poundbury − the very antidote to the Hardyesque − for many years now. Within seconds of arrival at Tregunnel the Dorset comparisons shout loud. The council house model  with poor stone to glass ratios and beach hut style porches, house’s so cramped in plan that ‘bolt on’ chimneys are needed for articulation, the playschool house, the slate hung house, the ever-so-slightly-but-no-so-you-would-notice Georgian pastiche house and the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Classic Colonial. Throughout the development we get glimpses of the same Chamberesque or Adamesque details that Captain Poldark (if we were passing through to see his cousins at Trenwith. Or should that be Chevanage!) would do a double take at.

5.3Amongst these styles there is no hint of the locality, no touches of Cornish vernacular, no place for a take on the Cornish engine house. Sad that. Clive Aslet in the Daily Telegraph (15 July 2008) wrote

‘Then there is the vexed question of architecture. Hugh Petter of Robert Adam Architects has drawn up a detailed pattern book of the Cornish vernacular, showing the type of house features that builders might adopt’.

What happened there then? Were they stolen? Sold by those ruthless bastards, the Warleggan’s no doubt, to raise money for their failing mines? Whatever happened, these invaluable designs were clearly never used, to the detriment of the overall design.

Of course, in the spirit of balance, it’s not all bad. The masterplan for the site works well. Hatched by the Prince’s Foundation and the wild-haired architectural theorist and urban planner Leon Krier, well over a decade ago, the scheme was produced by Adam Urbanism and endorsed by Cornwall Council in 2011. The vistas are good at times and when fully landscaped will, I am sure, become more sympathetic in its surroundings. The houses look onto the busy road into the town which adds some much needed character to Newquay’s approach.

5.2Experiencing Tregunnel Hill has prompted me to publish my first (and possibly last) ever poem entitled ‘The Song of the Cornish Vernacular’ which has been inspired by heroic Arthurian legend and the inappropriate use of heroic characters as non-heroic names of houses that inhabit the development.

Camelot, Carlion and Pellam, King of Listeneise.

Galahad, Normandy, Merlin and Morgause.

Saracen, a Pagan ripe to convert.

Good Knight Dinadan, with garage and forecourt.

Princely New Urbanism near the coast it doth sit.

This Duchy Original sure takes the biscuit.

Clearly I am no poet. My poem hardly rhymes, nor does it have good metre or alliteration. It has no emotion, conveys little meaning and relies on repetition to achieve incantatory effect. Nonetheless, it is a poem in the same way that Tregunnel is a mixed use estate.

My poem’s purpose is not to say that everything in is past was great nor to decry everything since is crap. It is not to hark back on some utopian Betjemanic state that only existed on the words of a page. Nor is it to gracefully and respectively suggest that some ducal architectural critic and theorist has turned poacher. Rather I am conveying a real concern that good architecture now appears less important to people than it did in the past. Such developments trivialises good design and by merely mimics the past but not in a good way. My questions include − what identity does Tregunnel Hill bring to Cornwall? Arguably little, as this development could be in Dorchester, Ayrshire, Herefordshire or Gloustershire. Is Tregunnel for the many? No Tregunnel is for the few. It is a product of those who perceive that good architecture is no more important than any other commodity.

It is therefore sentimentalist spam, mock-heroic Arthurian sentimentalist spam, but sentimentalist spam nonetheless.

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