Come and experience Cornish history still in the making, perfect for anyone looking for historic houses in Cornwall. Pencarrow House and Gardens lie at the edge of a sweeping valley between Bodmin and Wadebridge in the ancient county of Cornwall. We believe that historic houses should offer fantastic family days out, so do our best to stay as one of Cornwall’s child-friendly attractions. Kids still go free here, so we are one of the few free things to do for children in Cornwall!
This largely Georgian mansion is still lived in by the same family who settled here in the 1500s. The Molesworth-St Aubyns opened Pencarrow’s doors to the public in the 1970s. They have been welcoming families, history enthusiasts, nature lovers and, of course, dogs and their owners ever since.
The family are hands-on with the everyday running of this estate. Together with a great team, they keep Pencarrow thriving in the 21st century.
Our dog and child-friendly gardens are well worth discovering as well. Make sure you take a look at our page dedicated to them and their history!
The Cornish name for Pencarrow means ‘head of the valley’ or ‘high fort’ and as you drive down the mile-long carriageway you go through the Iron Age hill fort. There has been a dwelling here for centuries.
It was in the late 1500s that the Molesworth family were introduced to Cornwall, from Northamptonshire. John Molesworth was appointed by Queen Elizabeth as Auditor to the Duchy of Cornwall and 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.
Now established, landed, and titled, and with money from agricultural tenancies and mining interests, the Georgian Molesworths were in a position to restructure and improve the family seat. They hired architect Robert Allanson from York to design and build it. Thought to be his greatest work, as he died in 1773 aged only 38. Georgian Britain was greatly fascinated with Greek and Roman antiquity and the new Pencarrow reflected the fashion.
The 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. Former buildings can be traced on the house’s other facades. 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 have spent decades re-claiming the gardens from an overgrown state and preparing the house to open to the public in its current form. Today, the family live in one wing of the house allowing the beautiful interiors to be viewed by the public.
"We enjoyed a really interesting tour of this lovely old house. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable. It was nice to visit a property that is still owned and lived in by descendants of the original family."
We have plenty of fine paintings at Pencarrow, 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 tableau 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.
You can see our china and porcelain including Meissen figurines, Chamberlayne’s Worcester dinner service, Sèvres plates and candelabras and famille verte plates of the Kangxi period (1622-1722). We also have a beautiful and eclectic collection of glass pens made for the Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace in 1851. The jewel in the crown is the large Qianlong 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 fox hunt, complete with horses and riders, a pack of hounds and their rather otter-like quarry.
Furniture of note includes 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. There are plenty of family artefacts on display, including the family’s children’s toys, drawings and collections, an 1840 portable shower, clothing and costumes.
You will also find at Pencarrow our row of marble busts in the inner hall sporting 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!
Perhaps it is the magical atmosphere, the layers of history or the stunning grounds that have made Pencarrow a popular location for filming. You may have spotted our heroine in ‘A Congregation of Ghosts’ starring Edward Woodward, ‘Great Country Houses’ for Athena Films or ‘The Red Dress’, ‘A question of Honour’ and ‘The Weekend’, all adaptations of novels by Cornish author Rosamunde Pilcher.
An episode of ‘Escape to the Country’ was filmed here, the team happily enjoyed a cream tea in the Italian gardens! Of course, we must not forget the ever-popular ‘Doc Martin’ television series, starring Martin Clunes, which has used Pencarrow as a location for their filming.
Pencarrow House and Gardens were once again used in May 2018 for the film Fisherman’s Friends as the home of a music producer and the scene of a stag do. You can also spot our stunning Italian gardens as the backdrop for a wedding scene, as well as our beautiful marquee. If you are interested in hiring Pencarrow for future productions please do contact us.
English Wine Based on a novel by Cornish Writer Rosamunde Pilcher, Starring Eva Habermann, Robert Seeliger, Ruther Maria Kubitschek, Barbera Wussow, Sarah Beck, Albert Fortell and Alexander Klaus Stecher. Directed by Dieter Kehler. Pencarrow was transformed into a vineyard and all the rooms on the ground floor were used throughout the film. The versatility of the house meant that a few cunning changes of furniture created exactly the look the Director was looking for.
The Red Dress A Rosamunde Pilcher novel was filmed here by a German company. It was called ‘The Red Dress’. Some of the story revolved around a gentleman in a wheelchair and we had to build special ramps for the steps in the Italian Gardens. The house stayed open during the filming but we had to redirect some of the visitors and put up notices imploring ‘Complete silence please, filming taking place.’
"The shady fragrant delights of Pencarrow were a balm to the mind, body and soul."