Many great houses and estates were created and embellished by money made from the mining industry. A number of outstanding houses and gardens in Cornwall which once belonged to the mineral lords, or the industrial ‘nouveau riche’, still survive today.
Symbols of great wealth
While upward social mobility meant that people with new money were able to move to more attractive areas of towns and villages, the landed classes – many of whom made huge fortunes form the mining industry – were keen to reflect their success and status.
During the expansive period of industrialisation many new estates were built, including a mansion at Scorrier constructed by the Williams family and Carclew, the home of William Lemon. Older estates underwent elaborate transformations. Tehidy, the seat of the Basset family, was one of these. The mansion was rebuilt by John Francis Basset in 1861, reflecting the fortune he had made from local mines. His yearly income from the Dolcoath and South Frances mines was about £20,000 (worth approximately £860,000 today).
These elegant mansions boasting well stocked libraries, music rooms and conservatories crammed with plants were shielded from the source of their wealth – acres of mine tips and industrial buildings that ‘scarred’ the landscape – with lavish ornamental gardens.
The rise of horticulture
Horticulture became increasingly popular amongst the wealthy during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Several of the families involved with the mining industry became notable horticulturalists. Many sponsored plant-hunting expeditions all over the world to look for new species they could bring back to Cornwall.
Due to Cornwall’s mild climate, many of the plants and shrubs brought back from more tropical regions flourished here, particularly in the more sheltered, south-facing gardens. Rhododendrons, brought back from India and the surrounding areas, and tree ferns, which originate from New Zealand and Australia, have flourished in Cornish gardens. As a result, many of the gardens that developed during this period have become internationally renowned.
Once home to one of the great Cornish mining dynasties, the Lemon family, Carclew was destroyed by fire in 1934. Sir Charles Lemon’s family was one of the first to receive and grow rhododendrons from seed around 1850, sent from Sir Joseph Hooker’s expedition to the Himalayas.
Trevarno House, formerly the home of the Wallis mining family, later became the home of the Bickford-Smiths (safety-fuse manufacturers). It’s famous for its magnificent gardens and is also home to the National Museum of Gardening.
Trengwainton House was bought by the Bolitho family, one of the great Cornish mining families in 1867. When Lt. Col. Edward Bolitho inherited the garden in 1925, he set about transforming the garden with exotic species. He sponsored a plant-hunting expedition to Assam and the Mishmi Hills in Burma in 1927-8. Many of the specimens brought back from that venture had never been grown in the UK before. The rhododendrons at Trenwainton today were grown from seeds brought back by that expedition.
The property is now owned by the National Trust, and the gardens are open for visitors.
The Tehidy estate had been owned by the Basset family since Norman times. During the height of the mining boom, the family’s wealth grew exponentially as a result of income from mining and land rents. The house was rebuilt by John Francis Basset between 1861-1863. The estate was sold by the Basset family in 1916. The mansion was destroyed by fire in 1919, and replaced by the new owners in 1922.
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