Pencarrow House and gardens

Our Family Home

Pencarrow House and Gardens lies at the foot of a sweeping valley between Bodmin and Wadebridge in Cornwall. The largely Georgian mansion is still owned and occupied by descendants of the family who settled there in the 1500s. Open to the public since the 1970s, Pencarrow House and Gardens is a great day out for families, history enthusiasts, nature and garden lovers, and of course the dogs. The family members are very involved with events and day-to-day management of the estate, as they face the ever-changing challenge of maintaining a historic home in the 21st century.

Come and experience Cornish history still in the making, and all very welcome.

House and Family

Pencarrow, whose name in Cornish means “head of the valley” or “high fort”, obviously occupies a favourable site – the Iron Age hill fort now bisected by the main drive attests that man was long ago attracted to its location and climate. Some form of large house stood on Pencarrow’s present site for centuries.

The Molesworth family was introduced to Cornwall from Northamptonshire in the late 1500s, when John Molesworth was appointed by Queen Elizabeth as Auditor to the Duchy of Cornwall. He secured the family’s status in the county by marrying Catherine Hender of Botreaux Castle near Tintagel. John and Catherine’s grandsons further improved the Molesworth fortunes: the elder was knighted by Charles II and appointed Vice-Admiral for Northern Cornwall; the younger, a Colonel and Governor of Jamaica, was made a baronet by William III as a reward for loyalty.

Thus established, landed, and titled, and with plenty of money from agricultural tenancies and mining interests, the Georgian Molesworths were in a position to massively re-structure and improve the family seat. They hired architect Robert Allanson from York to design and build it, and it was probably his greatest work, as he died in 1773 aged only 38.

Georgian Britain was greatly fascinated with Greek and Roman antiquity, and Pencarrow was bang on trend. Its new East and South fronts were based on the style of Venetian architect Andrea Palladio, who in turn copied the classic proportions and elements of Greek and Roman temples. Older buildings can be traced on the house’s other fronts.

The interior of the house boasts many fine features including ornate wood panelling, a rococo ceiling, cantilever stone staircase, handsome stained glass, and many other points of interest. The eighth baronet, Sir William Molesworth, expensively redecorated it prior to his 1844 wedding to Andalusia, a singer and London society hostess with exacting standards.

The house was uninhabited in the middle of the 20th Century, before being taken on in the 1970s by Lieutenant Colonel Sir Arscott and Lady Molesworth-St Aubyn. They spent decades re-claiming the gardens from an overgrown state and shaping the house to open to the public in its current form. Today, the family inhabits one wing of the house.

Arts and Antiques

Pencarrow boasts a fine collection of paintings, most notably an important series of family portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds, and two riverscape views of London by Samuel Scott. A favourite family work is a tableaux of the Four Misses St Aubyn in front of St Michael’s Mount, a delight of drapery by Sir Arthur Devis. Other artists include Richard Wilson, Henry Raeburn, and Charles Brooking.

China and porcelain in the house include Meissen figurines, Chamberlayne’s Worcester dinner service, Sèvres plates and candelabra, and famille verte plates of the K’ang Hsi period (1622-1722). Equally enjoyable is an eclectic collection of glass pens made for the Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace in 1851.

The jewel in the crown is the large Ch’ien Lung famille rose bowl known as the Pencarrow Bowl, which was specially made by Chinese artisans based on drawings. The outside of the bowl shows farming scenes demonstrating the estate’s connection to agriculture; on the inside is a colourful artist’s impression of Pencarrow and a foxhunt, complete with horses and riders, a pack of hounds and their rather otter-like quarry.

Furniture of note include a giltwood Adam suite, side-tables carved in the style of William Kent, Louis XVI settee and chairs, and a George IV four-poster bed.

Family artefacts greatly enhance the visitor experience at Pencarrow. Among those on display are the family’s children’s toys, drawings and collections; an 1840 portable shower; clothing and costumes. A row of marble busts in the inner hall sports a variety of hats, from bowlers and top hats to a fez. This, according to the lady of the house, both livens them up and keeps them from catching a cold.



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