Family Friendly Days Out

Welcome to our family home

Come and experience Cornish history still in the making. Pencarrow house and gardens lies 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 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 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 and together with a great team they keep Pencarrow thriving in the 21st century.

Decades of history at the Pencarrow ancient family home

The house and family

The Cornish name for Pencarrow means ‘head of the valley’ or ‘high fort’ and as you drive down the mile long carriage way 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 re-structure 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 paneling, 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.

Historic houses in Cornwall, Pencarrow

"We had a fantastic walk round the grounds and gardens, absolutely beautiful. Good for dogs too!"

Art and antiques

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 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.

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 artifacts 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!

Statues at Pencarrow
The Escape to the Country crew at PencarrowFisherman's Friends Filmed at Pencarrow House and Gardens

"We visited Pencarrow today, what a treat we had. A beautiful house full of surprises. Lots of amazing family memorabilia, many items of which were displayed in a humorous way. A wonderful family home. We took advantage of a guided tour of the house, something I would highly recommend."