Constantine Cornwall

Cornish Country House Fires

The Cornish country houses of Tehidy, Lanhydrock, Godolphin, Trelawne, Arwenack and Mount Edgecumbe and many more have an event in common, a major fire. Jo Mattingly shared her research on country house fires with members of Constantine History Group at the September meeting.

Most of the fires mentioned happened during the nineteenth century, but some were earlier e.g. Arwenack in 1646 and others more recent such as Carclew in 1934. Records often do not mention the cause, but many seem to have been chimney fires whilst other were caused by careless use of candles, installation of modern heating and electrical systems in old house and some, possibly, by arson. Most fires happened at night or early morning when few members of the household were moving about the house. A daytime fire at Trevethan in 1815 was not noticed because, apart from one occupant, all were in the fields for the harvest.

A common feature in attempts to fight the fire was a lack of water, Trelissick was able to limit damage in 1880 because of the plentiful supply from its water tower. Several large houses had their own firefighting equipment such as Tehidy. Often the equipment was also used to fight fires in the local area.

Country house fires created architectural loss to the county and often collections of valuable art work, books and archives were also destroyed.

Following fires houses were sometime reconstructed such as Lanhydrock, but frequently owners took the opportunity to redesign their home. The remains of building are sometimes incorporated into the replacement. Occasionally, as at Carclew the house remained a ruin. During the nineteenth century and earlier houses were often not insured and owners had insufficient funds to rebuild.

Fortunately, there are few deaths recorded although sometimes owners such as Lady Robartes died of shock a few days after the Lanhydrock fire in 1881. Owners often seem to have found time and a safe area to get dressed before they appeared on the scene of the fire!

Next month’s talk “Dolly Pentreath and the Cornish Language” by Jan Pentreath will take place in the WI Hall Constantine at 19.15 on Friday October 20th Guests welcome. Contact 01326 250604.

Don Garman, Hon Sec.