CBA Weekend: Lanhydrock;Truro’s Architecture, and Historic Landscape Characterisation in Cornwall

Unfortunately, after my first night had good HDSPA reception enabling me to use my mobile broadband, subsequent nights (in Newquay and Whiddon Down) have only managed a ‘good’ GPRS, which is only useful for emails and slow browsing, so I have been saving up posting until I got home. Yesterday is here.

On Friday morning the road from Saltash still, after quite a few years, looks newly improved in places; as it approaches Callington from the south there are views of misty hills to its northwest, and to the east the town is dominated by Kit Hill, western end of Hingston Down. In more recent years the town has come to be dominated by the Ginsters pasty factory, which must be, I imagine, the town’s major employer; it’s also now dominated by Tesco, who opened a superstore there a few weeks ago.

Kit Hill is an extrusion of the same granite basolith that forms Dartmoor, Bodmin Moor, Penwith, and the Scilly Isles, and it has some interesting archaeology, both prehistoric and industrial; it’s now a country park. There are impressive views from the summit, right across Plymouth Sound, but not today as it’s still pretty gloomy and misty.

It’s a pleasant road to Liskeard, but the new bypass has provided an easy area for developers to fill up with new houses, as seems to be the case whenever new bypass roads are built; the route next joins the railway in following the windy wooded valley of the River Fowey, where some of the woodland has recently been felled: this is a stretch I’m particularly fond of, with a side road signed to Dozmary Pool (supposed resting place of Excalibur and reputedly bottomless, although it dried up in 1976).

Bodmin Parkway railway station is miles from Bodmin (in the old days it was called Bodmin Lanhydrock: the first three centuriesRoad), but is right near the gates of the main drive to Lanhydrock, which was the seat of the main landowner hereabouts – they also had a small halt for their luggage so they or their guests weren’t offended by the sight of servants carrying trunks. The road route to Lanhydrock takes another two and a half miles until you reach the National Trust’s car park, and then it’s a 600m walk down the oak-lined drive to the Gatehouse and into the garden with its impressive clipped yews, planted Lanhydrockin c.1860; the parterre was created in the 1850s, and the box hedging added in the 1930s. The autumn colour is just starting, and I imagine in a couple of weeks it will be stunning.

The upper garden is less formal, with views across the rooftops of the house and the adjacent parish church (the ‘lan’ in the name is cognate with the Welsh ‘llan’ meaning ‘holy place’, the church is dedicated to St. Treffry CrossHydroc – as was, from at least the C14, the spring in the garden which is now housed in a well house that was rebuilt in the 1860s, but dates back centuries earlier. Other interesting garden buildings are the Thatched Cottage, a recent thatched summerhouse, the 1881 reservoir house, the 1651 Gatehouse, and a couple of medieval crosses: Treffry Cross, restored and erected in the upper garden in 1895, and one in the churchyard.

The house is well worth looking round (although I don’t today), and included in the tour are some of the servants’ areas, for example the kitchens. There are also extensive walks in the parkland and Lanhydrockwoodland down to the river, and before now I’ve extended this to Restormel Castle. No time for any of this today, however, although there is time for a pot of tea and food – last time I was here the Fire Service had evacuated the building, so refreshments were unavailable. They’re probably extra careful since the disastrous Lanhydrock fire of 1881.

After this early lunch it’s back on the road, to Truro. The A30 is now unrecognizably improved from a few years ago, the cuttings still look like fresh scars, and the tree plantings are still saplings in their tree shelters. Over to the south are the china clay workings, the enormous spoil heaps mostly not shining white any more, and some of the hills oddly conical. Equally odd is that china clay (or kaolin) is basically rotten granite.

I ignore the signs inviting me to visit Gnome World and carry on through Truro, up the steep hill out to the Higher Town to the west, past retail parks and other developments depressingly similar to the edges of any other town or city of any size, past the hideous, squat County Hall (it resembles a glazed multi-storey car park), Truro College (which is recently built and much more attractive), and to the Park & Ride car park. I am surprised at the size of it – like a horseshoe-shaped amphitheatre.

£1.20 buys a ticket valid all day, and the bus I travelled on was full – it passes Old County Hall, which is quite pleasant. It deposits me outside the Royal Cornwall Museum, which is useful because that is where I’m going for the first event of the the Council for British Archaeology’s Cornwall Weekend. Jane Marley, Curator of Archaeology & World Cultures gives a whistle-stop tour of the museum’s prehistoric displays, and like all the events in the coming weekend, it was extremely enjoyable, helped by the deliverer’s enthusiasm for the subject, and I would have liked it to have been a lot longer than the 25 minutes allocated. It’s a beautiful building (although the exterior is currently shrouded in scaffolding); the areas I saw are very well curated, and explain the chronology in a really understandable way.

Artognou slate from Tintagel

Artognou slate from Tintagel

Probably the most famous artefact on display in the slate found at Tintagel which was touted in the press as proof that King Arthur was there (although the name on the slate was actually Artognou, it made an interesting news story at the time). The museum also has a copy of the Rillaton Cup – the original is in the British Museum.

The second item on the agenda is a walk round Truro looking at the architectural history with two experts – Nick Cahill and Eric Berry. The photos are all thumbnails but will open a larger image if clicked.

To start off with, we had explained to us why the road we’re in is called River Street – because it’s on top of a river, and most of Truro’s tidal creeks have been narrowed by quays and then completely covered in. Hence also, Lemon Quay, which is a wide street, has a hidden creek down the centre and quays either side.

Truro Assembly RoomsTruro has always been reasonably prosperous (much of its prosperityTruro City Hall was mercantile – its merchants supplied the mines with coal, wood, leather, and other requirements, and built themselves fine houses with the proceeds), but it had several bursts of greater prosperity, and these resulted in a large amount of new building, each producing buildings which are still recognisably of their time. Unfortunately one of these bursts was in the 1960s and 1970s, which, as usual, produced developments that are extraordinarily ugly and out of scale, and for which listed buildings dating from the C16/17 were demolished. Many of the remaining building facades are just that – the buildings behind have completely gone. Truro town houseUnlike the rather grand house we were kindly allowed in to look at: Town house plaster ceilingoriginally a rich merchant’s house, backing on to his quays, now solicitors’ offices, we were shown one room and the staircase – the building still has some of the best plasterwork in Cornwall.

The market place in Truro was originally enormous – on the same scale as, say, Boston (Lincs) or Nottingham, but was heavily infilled in the early modern period. There is a small vestigial market place – High Cross in front of the Cathedral – where the market cross has been relocated. The cathedral itself is interesting – Victorian, and one of the few Gothic Truro Cathedral: orgiinal parish church now part of fabric of Cathedralbuildings in Truro; included in the fabric is part of the earlier parish church. It’s currently partly scaffolded, as the Bath Stone and granite seem to have disagreed with each other. Truro: Coinage HallThere were a few Gothic windows in a building behind the Coinage Hall, but Cornwall apparently never really took to Gothic – they stuck with Regency for decades after the rest of the country.

Much of the Regency architecture in Truro was by local architects Silvanus Trevail, and Philip Sambell, who was born both deaf and without speech.

Truro crescentThe alleys in Truro are known as opes: it’s interesting how many dialect names there are around the country, Brighton has Truro Methodist Churchtwittens, York snickelways, some of the burghs in Scotland have vennels, and there are others.

I was pleased to hear that the Cornwall Pevsner guide is currently being revised – the current one (which dates to 1970) is a bit poor. This tour certainly gave the lie to Truro’s description as ‘The Bath of the West’ – it’s far more varied.

It was so nice to be taken round a city looking at the buildings by two people who not only knew an awful lot about them, but were so enthusiastic, and obviously enjoyed imparting their knowledge. The evening involved registration for the weekend at Truro College, and then spending rather more money on books than I had been intending – several on the historic landscape/archaeology of specific areas of Cornwall, and a beautiful volume of archaeological reconstruction illustrations by Jane Stanley: A Brush with the Past: Cornwall’s Archaeology Brought to Life (9781903798621).

The evening concluded with the 32nd Beatrice de Cardi Lecture: The Historic Landscape Characterisation and its Origins in Cornwall, delivered by Peter Herring, a Characterisation Inspector with English Heritage.

This was a fascinating talk, firstly detailing the development of Cornish Archaeology since 1975, with the Cornwall Committee for Rescue Archaeology becoming the Cornwall Archaeology Unit in 1985, and since 2003 being the Historic Environment Service.

HLC had its origins in Cornwall, the idea being that the landscape is transitory, with no original form and no completion, change being a characteristic of landscape, and archaeologists are well-placed to help society evaluate and guide the form of future change, while retaining the legibility of the landscape for the future.

Peter described the history of landscape archaeology, and the development of HLC – the method used nationally and in some other countries is known as the ‘Cornish Method’. He discussed some of the methods used, and how, now that Cornwall’s data has been digitised, some of the outputs that are available can give overviews that we would otherwise be unable to produce, for example, showing that the historic landscape of Cornwall and Devon and beyond) are more similar than might be thought, perhaps giving echoes of Dumnonia.

Perhaps the most important thing about HLC is that it was created for everyone and aims to broaden understanding, helping people engage with the past. Which is what the CBA was set up to do.

Tomorrow is Craddock Moor. And I’ve since added a post about the Lanhydrock Atlas.

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