The Silvanus Trevail Society

Trevail in middle age 


"To remember the man ...
... and his work"


The society was formed in 1993 to encourage interest in the work of Silvanus Trevail, a gifted architect, an effective local politician and, above all, a great Cornishman.


Silvanus Trevail (often misspelled as Sylvanus Trevail) was born in Luxulyan in October 1851. He rose to become Mayor of Truro and, nationally, President of the architects' professional body, the Society of Architects.

More importantly perhaps, he was Cornwall's most famous architect, certainly of the 19th Century. Following the Education Act of 1870 which created Board Schools, Trevail designed around fifty such schools throughout the county.

He was also largely responsible for putting Cornwall, and particularly Newquay, on the tourist map, designing many of the major coastal hotels including those at Tintagel (King Arthur's Castle), St. Ives (Carbis Bay), The Lizard (Housel Bay), Falmouth (Pendennis) and Newquay (Atlantic & Headland). He was not merely an architect but also a developer. He raised the money to build most of his hotels and he often ran them as Chairman, Director or Company Secretary. 

He also designed private houses, chapels, churches, banks and, following his association with John Passmore Edwards*, several libraries and institutes. In the cases of churches and chapels, he often also helped the congregations with their fund-raising or, as in the case of Temple in the heart of Bodmin Moor, gave his services free. 

    *    For more about philanthropist John Passmore Edwards, visit

Later he became an important figure in the County Council when it was established in 1888, notably as Chairman of the Sanitary Committee where he was deeply (some would say "passionately") involved in drainage schemes for Truro and other parts of Cornwall. He was also engaged in a plan to establish harbours on Cornwall's north coast. In addition to being Mayor of Truro in 1894/5, he designed the Central Technical Schools for Cornwall in the city and his fund-raising talents and executive abilities were again also demonstrated by his having raised some of the money for the building and, as Chairman of the Executive Committee for the Schools, he was responsible for administration and staffing.

In his buildings he showed an exceptional flair in the choice of material, using satisfying combinations of granite and other stone. His close association with the brick and quarry tile works at Ruabon in North Wales gave him the opportunity to use their red brick and terracotta for window surrounds or indeed whole buildings.

Red Bank at St Austell

Members of the STS outside the 'Red Bank' in St Austell c1995

The Society

In 1993, 90 years after his death, many of his buildings still survived in fine form and some of the most notable, like the Atlantic and Headland Hotels in Newquay, had already celebrated their centenaries. Others, however, such as the chapel at Mount Charles and Fowey Grammar School, were far less fortunate, having either been demolished, under threat of demolition or subjected to significant disfiguring alteration.

Sadly, although it was only 90 years since his untimely death, few people in Cornwall let alone outside the county had ever heard of him or, if they had, either spelled his name wrongly or remembered him only for his suicide. Moreover, records were badly fragmented or lost so there was no authoritative picture of him as a person or even just which buildings he had designed. 

In view of all this, the Silvanus Trevail Society was founded in 1993 with the principal aim of  gaining wider recognition for both his works and of him as arguably the greatest Cornishman of the 19th century.  Specific objectives were set as follows:

  • Encouraging further research and the production of definitive publications / lists

  • Liaising with existing groups and organisations concerned with the preservation of Cornwallís history

  • Playing a part in helping to preserve the buildings that survive and to campaign to preserve the buildings that are at risk

  • Ensuring that anniversaries of his important buildings are acknowledged and celebrated.

Over the past few years some major work has been undertaken . . .

  • A definitive list of Trevailís works has been produced

  • Trevailís architectural plans, now stored at the Cornwall Record Office in Truro, have been catalogued and can be found on the CRO website 

  • The book Silvanus Trevail: Cornish Architect and Entrepreneur by Ronald Perry and Hazel Harradence was published, winning an award for the best book on Cornwall in 2008

  • Assisting those who are renovating Trevail-designed buildings

  • Progressing the listing of as many of his buildings as possible 

  • Being consulted whenever a planning application for one of his buildings is submitted

. . . . while a measure of the success of the Society in raising Trevail's profile is that Estate Agents now boast of the Trevail design of properties ... even when he wasn't the architect ! 

For the 21 years up to early 2014, Members received each year a Newsletter containing new research into TrevailĎs life, his works and updates on his buildings while Members were also invited to partake of an annual walk and a car or walking tour of Trevail buildings. Most committee members also gave talks and lectures to groups around the County of Cornwall or even further afield, including the Victorian Society in London.

All this required a great deal of volunteer effort and time commitment. In view of the considerably advancing age and health of the Committee members as well as the feeling that the aims of the Society had been fulfilled as far as was humanly possible in the current economic environment, important structural changes to the Society were agreed at the 2014 AGM. While the research, consultancy and advisory work will continue, memberships are no longer being offered so there are no Newsletters or indeed formal society events.


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  Photo by Hazel Harradence - Page designed by LuxSoft of Luxulyan - last updated 20/10/2014

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