Trevail's SealThe
 Silvanus Trevail Society

"To remember the man and his work"

 

 

NEWSLETTER 2002

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Contents

 

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Talk given by Peter Laws

When the Trevail building slides of the late Peter Laws were given to us, there were some scraps of paper included that had what appeared to be the basis of a talk on Silvanus Trevail that Peter had prepared. Interesting facts concerning the origin of some of our knowledge were included, and although some other information has now been superseded, I thought members would be interested to see what Peter had written. It is not the talk he gave to us at the Headland Hotel in the early days and there is no indication to the group it was intended for.

[I don't think that it's the one that he gave in the late 80's to Luxulyan Old Cornwall Society either, but I am indebted to Peter for starting my interest in ST and his works - MGS] 

 

You are about to hear a true story of a quite unusual man, born at Carne Farm, Trethurgy, in Luxulyan parish in the year of the Great Exhibition, 1851. (31 Oct). He was born to Jane, cousin of and husband to John Trevail, born 1820, died 1902.

Education: 1) Luxulyan Parochial School 1858-65. 2) Ledrah House School, St Austell 1865-68 under the Headship of a Dr Drake. The prospectus read ‘For the Sons of Clergy, Solicitors, Doctors and Govt. Officials’. In the Senior Oxford Certificate of 1867, he had sufficient number of marks to give himself the suffix of ‘A.A.’ As you will see later on, this was very important to him.

In 1893 he was elected by Committee to a Fellowship of the RIBA and in 1971, I went to the RIBA in London on a search. I had been told by a relative that he was professionally educated at Oxford University, but there was no architectural school there. I hoped to find in the RIBA archives his application for Fellowship made in 1892 and believed in it I might find an answer to the usual question "Where were you professionally educated?" I did in fact find it in a file 78 years old (shows the value of not throwing things away) and the answer to the question that he wrote in his own handwriting "At 11, Kings Road, Bedford Row".

It was a curious answer to say the least, since one would imagine that he would have written something like ‘In the practice of Prof Bloggs, the eminent architect, in London’.

11, Kings Road, in Bedford Row (in Holborn) I then discover has been a victim of the Blitz and so I went to the local Rating Authority. I then found in a dusty cellar the Rate Book of the Parish of St Andrew in Holborn, at the City of London Guildhall Library. The quest has ended for in that book in 1869, 11, Kings Road was shown to be the office of a Henry Garling, FRIBA, who had won the Government Competition for a new Foreign Office in 1857. I think that he spent probably 2/3 years in that office, 1868-71, during which time he attended lectures at the new Architectural Association, a place of training.

Although not 21, he had set up in practice at "Par Station", (the post office name for Par). I always wondered if the GWR rented him a room on the platform! In the 1873 Post Office Directory one reads "A very prominent object in the village of Mount Charles is the Elementary Board School, opened 2 December 1872. This building, intentionally plain, cost £945 including fittings, for 375 children and the architect was Mr S Trevail of Par Station". (One of the 1st Board Schools erected under Gladstone’s new Education Act, 1870.

Trevail was never one to hide his light under a bushel, for he caused the information about the Mount Charles School design to be included in that Directory (which was rare enough in 1873) and the fact that he had designed the new Board Schools in St Austell, opened early 1873.

From 1872 to 1880, he wrote to the newly established School Boards throughout Cornwall to say "If you want a new school, then I am your architect". (Touting!). He designed in all 35*, from St Ives to Brassacott in W. Devon. They were called ‘Trevail’s Landmarks’. In 1878, aged 27, he exhibited his drawings, selected by the RIBA, at the Paris Exhibition, of the Church of S. George in Nanpean, 1878, and the following year submitted a model and drawing of his new Fowey Grammar School at the Sydney Exhibition. He was awarded a Medal and Diploma for them.

He was now becoming an illustrious citizen of Par Station and early in 1880 moved his office to the ‘Capital’, Boscawen Street in Truro. He was involved in the spring of 1880, with the visit of ‘Bertie’ later King Edward VII, to Truro to lay the foundation stone of our new Cathedral, by designing five triumphal arches around the city, through which the Prince’s procession went (Welcome, Masonic, Royal, Station & Cornish). He was certainly putting himself on the map.

On 1st January 1882, he got himself invited to the New Year Reception at the White House in Washington when he met the President, Chester Alan Arthur and told the whole world about it in a broad-sheet distributed to the World Press.

His commissions in the 1880’s and 1890’s included the Church of St Catherine, Temple (83). (Pevsner says of it "remarkable how thick the language of mediaeval architecture becomes at Trevail’s hands"). Church of St Paul, Upton Cross (86), R/C Church in Truro (86) and Mevagissey Cemetery Chapel (86). His country houses included ‘Treloyhan' St Ives for Edward Hain, ‘Tregaddick’ Blisland for Sir Warwick Morshead and a large mansion in Dublin that became archiepiscopal palace of the Anglican Primate, Woodside.

In 1895 he was successful in being elected to the membership of the Society of Architects and membership of its Council that led to the Vice Presidency in 1896 and Presidency in 1901 (October). This Society merged with the RIBA in 1925.

Trevail formed the Cornish Hotels Co in 1891, becoming its architect and secretary and responsible for 5-6 large cliff top hotels like the Headland at Newquay.** 1894 and Cornwall was so proud of him that the Earl of Mount Edgcumbe presented him with a set of 170 pieces of silver that cost 400gns and a cheque for £100. That year he was elected 765th Mayor of Truro (Borough Councillor 1886-1903), a JP and was elected County Councillor for the East Ward of Truro in the first County Council election in April 1889, Chairman of the Sanitary Committee and compiler of its Standing Orders. Peak of achievement when he was elected a fellow of the RIBA in 1893, aged 41 years. Author of a report on the Improvement of the Truro River and another report on East Cornwall Harbours for the Board of Trade.

His drawing of the Truro Central Technical Schools was in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition on 1898. He was also architect of the schools and Chair of the Managers. He chaired a committee established in London jointly by the RIBA and the Surveyors Institution (now RICS) to produce a report on the Law on Ancient Lights. A new Act in 1902 resulted. He fought for his profession, urging the Registration of Architects by statute, which was not to come about until 1928. Mrs Thatcher wanted to repeal it.

He bought for Truro Cathedral James Tinworth’s terracotta panels of the ‘Via Dolorosa’ from Frank Bond of Wargrave in Berkshire (still to be seen). His last works were the large extension of Bodmin Mental Asylum and the Science, Art, Technical Schools and Library opened in Newton Abbott in 1904, a gift of Trevail’s friend John Passmore Edwards in memory of his mother Jane Susan Passmore born in that town.

In May 1903, he presided over his last Presidential Dinner of the Society of Architects, he confessed to his sole assistant Alfred Cornelius (elected FRIBA 1925) that he was a worried man. Six months later, almost to the day, he was dead.

On 6th November 1903, he wrote to his cousin Charles Trevail, (son of his Uncle Joseph of Menadew, Luxulyan), "I will do my utmost to come to Uncle Joseph’s funeral tomorrow, Nov 7, if not prevented by what I am unable to control". On that day, November 7 a Saturday, he left his office at 80 Lemon Street when Alfred Cornelius saw him into a cab which was bound for the railway station. He caught the 11.40 up train, purchasing a third class ticket. He always travelled first. At Par Leah May entered Trevail’s compartment and as the train left she saw him leave his seat and go to a WC reserved for Ladies Only. As the train entered the Brown Queen Tunnel (between Lostwithiel and Bodmin Road) Leah heard a shot at 12.40. The train stopped at Bodmin Road, she called a porter and told him about it. He found Trevail’s body lying across the WC. He had put one bullet from a 5 chamber revolver through his forehead. Reason for ladies loo – it had a mirror.

Why? An inquest was held at Bodmin Guildhall when Cornelius told the Coroner that ever since they had come down from London from that dinner 6 months before, Trevail had been thoroughly depressed and had only been out of the office 12 times in 6 months (he lived at No 80). He did not known that his master had possessed a gun, who had been quite disgusted when he was not elected as Mayor that May. The Coroner said "Business worries had wholly unhinged Trevail’s mind and at the moment of death he had been totally irresponsible".

The Society of Architects obituary was very generous and ended with the words "He had the dogged pertinacity of the Cornishman and his zeal and energy were remarkable".

I personally think, having talked to members of the family, that Silvanus Trevail having climbed to the top of a very tall tree, risen to the Presidency of his Professional Society, could not face climbing down again. He had given up the County Councillorship (on being appointed architect for the Bodmin Mental Asylum) and had lost his seat on the City Council. There was little left.

His funeral was sparsely attended, but his sister did commission a fine east window in Luxulyan Church to his memory in 1906. Its inscription reads "To the Glory of God and in Memory of Silvanus Trevail, AA, JP, FRIBA, President of the Society of Architects. 1851-1903".

Those letters ‘AA’ are very revealing. In 1867, if a boy gained high marks in his Senior Oxford, he was entitled to put AA after his name. (Associate of Arts Certificate). He used them to tell the world, particularly when he was elected to the Presidency of the Society of Architects in 1901, that he was a graduate of Oxford!

* Our research shows the Board Schools total 55; others 6; Science and Art Institutes several more.

** There were several hotel companies.

 

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FINGS ARE STILL WHAT THEY USED TO BE

Pauline Howard

On 5th June 1893 the Building Committee of the County Fisheries Exhibition "after a great deal of consideration have adopted plans being prepared by Mr Silvanus Trevail for the building which will be erected on Truro Green for the forthcoming Fisheries Exhibition". (1) The floor space was some 16,000 sq ft - "6 to 8 times that of any public hall in the County" (1) at that time. Apart from a promenade garden all around the building connecting to an open space with bandstand in the middle, the Town Council placed at the Committee's disposal the whole of the south side of Town Quay complete with stores. At that time Lemon Quay was connected to Town Quay by the Green and there was no Morlaix Avenue downstream (nor a public car park upstream); the quay was to be connected to the Green by an avenue of trees. The buildings were also to be connected to what was then the Concert Hall and Public Rooms etc, which had been booked for the occasion. More recently these not inconsiderable spaces included the Palace Cinema and Bingo Hall. The new buildings which were of a very temporary nature, timber with corrugated iron roof, were to be sold two weeks after the exhibition finished. All the most valuable exhibits were housed in the Concert Hall and Public Rooms.

In April 1893 the contract for the erection of the buildings on the Green was awarded to James Julian and on 18th May Mr Julian's premises on Lemon Quay suffered a catastrophic fire; nonetheless by June 22nd the buildings were sufficiently complete for the Royal Cornwall Gazette to view and marvel at the size of the main arcade, approximately 200ft long and 40ft wide, "probably the largest building of its kind ever erected in the City" (1). 'Of its kind' probably means 'temporary' since the Cathedral was very considerably larger. There were four smaller arcades at right angles to both the main arcade and the public rooms.

The early stages of the Fisheries Exhibition plans had been hastily re-organised due to the untimely death of the Duke of Clarence, which occasioned national mourning and postponed the projected opening from Autumn 1892 to July 1893. It also meant that postponements in the Prince of Wales' engagements, because of his brother's death, resulted in his inability to attend the opening and Lord St Levan was deputed to act for him at short notice. This delay must, however, have resulted in a far better result. Even so, exhibits despatched from Asia failed to arrive in time, taking six months en route, and were hastily arranged on site at the end of the first week.

The artists chaired by Stanhope Forbes came in for praise for their efficiency and excellent hanging and were held up as an example to other groups. The Concert Hall was used for the display of cases, sent by the South Kensington Science Museum, which had been constructed for the International Fisheries Exhibition held in London in 1883; others came from the British Museum. Some Japanese exhibits despatched from London 4-5 days before the opening, arrived 4-5 days after it opened, causing two hasty re-arrangements in one week.

The first lecture in the Concert Room was given by Professor Howes of the Royal College of Science, South Kensington, "Fish in Relation to their Surroundings". Unfortunately the lantern apparatus was found to be unworkable owing to some defect in the GAS arrangements. This preliminary setback might be to blame for the fact that many lectures were poorly attended. That on the salmon family had only 20 listeners "half of whom were WOMEN". (2) Probably they were resting between the very well attended fish cookery lectures and demonstrations. A lecture by Mr Ridge of Newlyn on "Trawling in the West of England" saw a much larger and vociferous audience and with the aid of a model trawler complete with nets, he demonstrated the method which resulted in the landing of immature fish. He suggested that hastily conceived legislature by C.C.C. or others could do more harm than good. In a later column a Falmouth Trawling Company was irate because C.C.C. were banning their operations, not only in the Fal but out as far as the 3 mile limit. It was noted that a little under 400,000 tons were landed at Devon and Cornwall ports in 1892; an increase of 15,000 tons for Cornwall and a decrease of 25,000 tons for Devon; the Cornish increase due to heavy mackerel catches. This compares with 104,000 tons landed at British ports in 2000, down from 341,000 tons before 2000.

Many of the exhibits were lent by local enthusiasts and collectors and I suspect that many of the birds lent by Daubuz and other Truro worthies are still with us in the R.I.C. collections. Many were selected for the School and Museum of Fisheries, so their whereabouts is a mystery - did their store too burn down? A list of prize winners in the Draw was published but there is no indication as to the prizes - were they donated by exhibitors, backers or tradesmen? Some of the exhibits, except for Fine Arts, would have made odd prizes. Many of the pictures exhibited by Newlyn and other artists are still around and include Craft's "Heva Heva" and Garstin's "Rain it Raineth…." and a Langley. Many of the artists listed are little known nowadays - it would be intriguing to discover how many of these exhibits can still be found. There was an enormous William Pike until 20 years ago that might never have left its hanging place on the landing of the Palace Cinema. Those lent from private collections may still be in situ, although some may now be owned by the National Trust. Unfortunately my efforts to obtain a copy of the Art Catalogue (Part 2 of the Cornwall Fisheries Exhibition Catalogue) have been unsuccessful. If anybody has one I could look at, I would be most grateful to hear from them. This all started because a photo album turned up in a sale room with some of Argall's photographs of the exhibition.

One thing that will not have survived will be the aquaria of fish standing in the Market Hall promenades and, lit by Mr Perrow's electric light every night, which proved a great attraction. It would be remarkable if they survived the exhibition, allowing for the rain, the sun, Malpas herons and the Kenwyn's kingfishers! They had a murky problem to start with until the weed started to grow and cleared the water. The cases of fish, shells and other exhibits from London, Australia, Japan and Canada were either returned via Saltash or stored for the School and Museum.

Most of the complaints about authorities, the railways and organising bodies are as relevant now as in 1893, Throughout the period of the exhibition and beyond the adjacent columns are full of Silvanus Trevail's battles to obtain a proper sewage scheme for Truro and there is a tremendous outcry when he dared to cast aspersions on the sewage in Penzance. The refusal of the G.W.R. to run excursion trains to Truro for the exhibition was another thorn in the flesh; finally they ran one from Falmouth for 1/- return, but only one concession at very short notice from any main line Cornish station at "a single fare and a quarter". They did however run Bank Holiday Excursions from Devon but NOT from Plymouth. Their reason for the lack of enthusiasm was that the population of Truro was too small. Bank Holiday attendances shook them and from then on excursion fares and trains were available from Plymouth and all of Cornwall. On Bank Holiday Monday 7,000 attended the exhibition, 9,000 the Gala field and there were 200,000 in Truro for the day. The difference presumably due to season ticket holders, workers, competitors, and those who came to other events and particularly to view all the illuminations and processions with floats. One day a steamer had been chartered from St Mawes filled mostly with fishermen and their families, which did not return until 10.30pm, and some old men said they would not have missed the event for £1. The reason for the G.W.R.'s non-co-operation is evident in the adjoining columns again; there were great festivities in Camelford at the opening of the second stage of the North Cornwall Railway - 850 men laid the track from Launceston and the next stage to Delabole was opened only four weeks later. G.W.R. had already dumped Silvanus Trevail and his new hotel for them in Exeter when he had the N.C.R. line passed through Parliament. They had reason to fear this alternative route because they had had to reduce their carriage charges by 10% earlier in the year when they were pocketing 30-40% of the value of the mackerel catch for carriage from St Ives and Newlyn. The fish merchants rebelled and chartered steamers to deliver direct to Billingsgate and it may have been these exorbitant charges that also influenced Parliament to pass the railway bill. Truro station staff were congratulated on coping with the crowds on bank holiday though.

The Gala field was inconveniently at the top of Lemon Street; most of Truro lived at the bottom of the hill or up the other side. The refreshment pavilion arrangements for the Gala field were left in the very capable hands of a Temperance committee, consisting of non-conformist ministers and other like-minded gentlemen. As the field was surrounded by high-class residences they were determined to keep a well-behaved event. Donkey racing, athletics, bicycle races and balloon ascents backed up with coconut shies and other fairground events were organised and at the last minute Cornish wrestling was also included for 10gns and a 5gns silver cup presented by Mr Williams of Pencalenick. What these gentlemen failed to organise was the supply of food and drink for their Temperance Pavilion. At a few days notice their wives and all the other ladies of Truro rolled up their sleeves, organised the food and tea and served it. However, even they were overwhelmed by the 9,000 plus competitors and workers on Bank Holiday Monday and raiding parties had to go down into town to buy up all the food in the shops. It is reminiscent of the car sticker "Cornishmen do it dreckly, W.I. women do it now". For all this hard work they appear to have made a profit of less than £3, but some of the expenses were high and there was a large contingent of boys from the "Ganges" who gave displays. Swimming events and displays including life saving were held in the Baths, designed by Trevail, backing onto the Kenwyn and were well attended.

It is easy to overlook the purpose of this exhibition which was to aid and publicise the Cornish fishing industry which was already taking some hard knocks. Evelyn Rashleigh, one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the exhibition, was endeavouring to gain support for the formation of a School and Museum of Fishery in Cornwall. Many of the exhibits were bought and retained for this purpose and he himself spoke to the Birmingham Cornish who raised nearly £30 and the Melbourne M.P. Capt. Salmon raised a similar sum from Cornish exiles in Australia.

What I have not been able to establish is what came of this enterprise. I have not been able to find accounts for the exhibition which had not been expected to show a profit but which, with the 5-day extension and unforeseen attendance over the bank holiday, probably did show a small profit. It is difficult to imagine that Silvanus Trevail did not harbour a desire to design a school and museum - Rashleigh had suggested £4,000 would suffice but £6,000 would equip it in some style, but nowhere have I seen any sketches. It does appear that a lot of the exhibits were re-used for a similar Fisheries Exhibition, held at short notice, in Saltash in September, the London exhibits apparently breaking their journey home. Did a raiding party cross the Tamar and hi-jack the project to Plymouth? Was the scheme integrated with one of Passmore Edwards schools? He did provide a school and museum for mining and laid the foundation stone for Hayle Institute on 20th September, after the exhibition closed.

What had originally been planned as a "winding up" dinner on August 14th turned into a "One and All", chaired by Lord Edgcumbe who gave an account of a similar school set up in Baltimore and Evelyn Rashleigh suggested that wealthy Cornishmen might be willing to endow £30 each for scholarships to the school in their name. He also admitted that there might be a "battle of the sites". Was it a Pyrrhic victory? Would nobody give way? What happened to all those stored exhibits?

Sources -  (1) The West Briton   (2) Royal Cornwall Gazette

Photographs of the Exhibition by kind permission of Mr Tim Clarke of I.O.W.

 

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NORTH CORNWALL TOUR

Helen Trust

 

We headed for Washaway, on the Bodmin to Wadebridge road, for the first stop on our annual September outing. The winding road climbed the wooded hillside and shortly after the Camelford turning Washaway church came into view, followed by a pleasing selection of old buildings which form the hamlet. The school which we had come to see, was set back a little from the road on the corner of a lane. We parked in the lane, from where our group viewed the building, now a private residence called Castle House, after the ancient ramparts on the rising ground behind. An appropriate name, maybe, but we felt it a pity, for historic reasons, to loose the name School in its title.

Surprisingly small, even to accommodate the infants, the building has many details to please the eye with none of the austerity one tends to find with some Trevail designs. The main section was built in 1880. Charmingly characterful with handsome stonework, the attractively interlaced Delabole roof slates are set off with pierced red ridge tiles. Infant children from the surrounding area attended here, until like so many schools of this size and age, its facilities fell short of present-day needs. After much study and enthusiastic study we set off for Tredethy Country House Hotel at Helland.

Tall hedges dominate the narrow lanes in this richly pastured and wooded hinterland beyond Bodmin. There’s seldom a car to be seen and yet the A30 is so near. Tredethy, once the country seat of the Hext family, is a sedate and comfortable mansion of modest proportions, set on the brow of a steep woody hill on the western side of the river Camel, affording far-reaching, fine views and vistas of the surrounding countryside. It was home to Prince and Princess Chula of Thailand from 1930; became a hostel during the Second World War and is now a hotel. Amanda Rose, the current owner, has put much care and thought into its restoration, presenting it as a very warm and welcoming holiday retreat that at once feels like home.

Tredethy dates from the early seventeenth century and was ‘improved’ and extended in 1868. In 1893 Trevail added bay windows to the existing right hand side of his new porch, and built a matching new wing to the left. His large fire surround and ribbed plaster ceiling are the dominant features of the dining room, with a similar ceiling in the main hall. His heavy oak doors of large proportions divide some of the rooms. The earlier grand staircase with beautifully carved spindles rises from the back hall, turning as it ascends. Most of the bedrooms were occupied by guests, but we were kindly permitted to view the master bedroom of Trevail, which like much of the building had undergone extensive renovation though still retaining attractive details. This rooms looks down across the front terrace and lawn to the landscape beyond.

An upstairs room, once a guest room but now more of a library, is one of the oldest rooms in the house. Reminiscent of a medieval solar, with its tiny fireplace and early 17th century barrel vaulted ceiling with moulded ribs and floral motifs, it is now home to a collection of books, photographs and memorabilia from the Chula days which give a fascinating insight to their lives. From time to time the royals would invite a small orchestra to perform Chopin or Mozart to select gatherings. The ambience of such occasions still lingers, the spiralling cigarette smoke almost tangible. The Chulas were clearly happy at Tredethy and a sense of their pleasure still pervades the atmosphere of the place.

We dined in the Terrace dining room, a pleasant new addition to the east side of the house. Lunch is always an excellent opportunity to catch up with the other members as we meet so seldom. We were delighted to greet Elizabeth Gosling who had once again made the journey from Axminster to join us.

After lunch Helland church was next on the itinerary. Although locked we enjoyed a detailed look at the exterior. The church has been there for many years, but Trevail added the granite two-stage tower with battlements and pinnacles in 1888. Time for a group photograph among the beautifully lichened gravestones.

Off to Helland chapel, last stop for James and me as we had to return home to tend our flocks of Jacobs sheep and the donkey. As expected we were unable to enter the chapel but had a good look at the outside. Again in granite, it was built in 1878 not far from the church and is still regularly used for worship. Our rather windswept party posed again for photos before departure. A small group went on to Tintagel to see King Arthur’s Castle Hotel, now re-named Camelot Castle, and for those of us who were unable to join them, we hope to have another opportunity in the future.

 

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150th BIRTHDAY CELEBRATIONS

Liz Hecquet and Catherine Entwistle

 

Thirty members and friends of the Society responded to the kind invitation of the Chairman, Dr James Whetter, to celebrate Silvanus’s 150th Birthday.

The gathering, which was held on the exact anniversary of his birth, 31st October, took the form of a lunch party, held in the Garden Room of the Headland Hotel in Newquay. It was a beautiful day and it seemed particularly fitting that the celebration should have been held at this beautiful location and in one of Silvanus’s most spectacular buildings.

After an excellent lunch, Dr Whetter commented upon the good attendance at the celebrations and he then proposed a formal toast to ‘Silvanus Trevail and his work’. We were told that Radio Cornwall had featured the event and as well as interviewing architect Alec Wells that morning, had also re-run some earlier interviews taken with other members. Several of the party took photographs, including some group pictures outside the hotel. Many were loathe to ‘break up the party’ and about a dozen ‘family members’ stayed on at the hotel for afternoon tea.

On a personal note, we would like to say how much we enjoyed the whole event. Although our aunt, Mrs Joan Serhus, is well-acquainted with all the members, it was the first time that we had attended a function. It gave us particular pleasure to meet everyone – the inspirational officers, the various family members with whom we made, or renewed, acquaintance, and the people who were connected with the Society because of their interest in Silvanus Trevail’s work. The occasion was all the more poignant for us because it would have been unlikely that we would have attended, but for the recent death of our mother, Bonnie Johns (nee Trevail). However, we will now make an effort to be more active members and we look forward to meeting again at some of the future events.

 

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BODMIN WALK SUMMER 2001
 

A VISIT TO COLLINS COUNTRY

Ann Perry

 

Having, in previous years, thoroughly explored Trevail buildings in Truro, Newquay and St Austell, the group decided to investigate Bodmin and met at Bodmin General Station, a suitable venue which reflected Trevail’s interest in railways and walked to St Nicholas House. This house, now a social club, was built on the site of St Nicholas chapel for John Richard Collins. Discussions between Trevail and JR Collins began in 1895 and although the present house does not match up very well with the plans in the CRO the correspondence there does suggest that a house was built there by Trevail. One sheet has been found with a floor layout that matches the front portion of the house. The letters include a plea from Trevail for advance payment – "times are so bad now that I really want the money to meet the heavy demands upon me when bills are coming in from all quarters" (13/1/96). Trevail seems an odd choice by JR Collins as in 1889 when Trevail produced plans for the proposed new Guildhall, he said that he would be sorry if the plans were carried out as the windows were so ugly. Later, when it was decided to advertise for further plans in 1890, Trevail said that "as an architect whose time is of importance, I refuse to take part in a promiscuous scramble".

The house is well situated overlooking the valley and it is easy to visualise what an impressive property it must have been at the beginning of the twentieth century. Unfortunately the grounds have not been maintained and there are some unsympathetic additions to the building. There are still some interesting pieces of old stonework from the chapel including a very fine archway. However research by the Bodmin Local History Group found that JR Collins liked to collect such antiquities, so some stones may have come from elsewhere!

From there we walked towards the town, passing the Masonic hall, designed by Alfred Cornelius in 1910, still in a good state of repair, with no apparent alterations to the exterior. We then walked to the top of Fore Street to look at the former Baptist Chapel and the library.

The lower part of the chapel is now used by the St John Ambulance and is in a very sorry state. Trevail made alterations and additions to the basement rooms and added the only feature of distinction the porch. The quite elaborate pillars look somewhat forlorn against the cracked render of the walls. However, across the road Bodmin Library was a more uplifting sight.

The library was funded by J Passmore Edwards, the great Cornish-born benefactor. Preliminary negotiations began in 1896, he laid the foundation stone in April of that year and the building was opened in May 1897. However once opened there were complaints about the defects in the windows, plaster falling down and despite this, the builders demanding payment. In spite of all this an article in the Building News in November 1897 described the library as a "building which does Silvanus Trevail credit ….. arrangement perfect".

Today the interior shows few changes, with the porch tiles and stained glass still in good condition. The upper floor is now used for I.T. and Cornish studies, which would have pleased the donor, who, when the arrangements for the library were being discussed, approved the upper floor being allocated for technical instruction – "better than novel reading or gossip".

From there we walked back through the town to St Guron’s House, passing the memorial clock at the corner of Folly Square. This clock, dated 1845 and inscribed with the name of John Basset Collins, sparked my interest in the Collins family and a little research showed how involved they were with the life of the town and also with Trevail.

In the nineteenth century John Basset Collins lived in Fore Street, Bodmin. He was Mayor of that town at least seven times between 1844 and 1886. In the 1851census he is recorded as living there with four children (three of whom were to have dealings with Trevail). He was a solicitor who held various posts including Registrar to the County Clerk and Probate Court, Hon Sec to East Cornwall Hospital and in 1883 the Rectory of Blisland was said to be in his gift. Later, in 1897, when Trevail designed St Guron’s for Miss Collins (JB Collins’ daughter) she consulted, not her elder brother, JR Collins, but her younger brother the Rev Edward Collins, who was vicar at Blisland, where Trevail had designed a house for Sir Warwick Morshead, Tregaddick, ten years earlier. Sir Warwick Morshead was the Magistrate for Bodmin in 1897 when JR Collins was Clerk to the magistrates. JR Collins also became Mayor and in 1899 was a member of the Library Committee.

Miss Collins desired a "modest" residence and sent many reminders to that effect to Trevail, "ladies purses are not very deep", suggesting economies and alterations including "a plain, not pretentious" entrance. It is easy to understand why Trevail did not always respond quickly, or even at all, when you realise just how involved in Bodmin he was at the time. He had just finished a house for Henry Dennis, and was starting St Nicholas and some large-scale additions to Bodmin Asylum, apart from work elsewhere. St Guron’s is a substantial house, set in an attractive garden, overlooking the town. It is surprisingly peaceful, maybe reflecting the influence of St Guron, who had a hermitage in the area! Outside can be seen a large addition put on for the dentist, although the rest is untouched. The interior also retains many of the original features, including a fine staircase from the central hall. We were made very welcome by the new owner, Fiona Winter, who with the assistance of her children, gave us a thorough tour of the house and entertained us to drinks in the kitchen – a very pleasant and fitting end to our walk.

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Newsletter compiled & edited by Hazel Harradence
Internet Edition by Malcolm Surl

Content last updated 22/01/11