Penwarne, Mawnan Smith

Inge Bratley, working with Margaret Burford at Penwarne, Mawnan Smith, describes her rewarding experiences as a first-time garden recorder.

It was by pure chance that I picked up the copy of the Cornish Gardener that contained a call for interested people to join the Cornwall Gardens Trust as garden recorders.  This hit all the right buttons with a perfect combination of my interests in gardens, their history and design, plants and, as a bonus, photography.  I know I am not the only person who could visit a garden a day and never get bored but this was even better.  I was going to see gardens that were not always open to the public and would be allowed  to look ‘behind the scenes’, delve into the history of the place and gain a much better knowledge than one would as a visitor. What bliss!

The visits to Penwarne were pure enjoyment.  However, I felt that my experience and knowledge were insufficient at this stage to allow me to interpret correctly what I would find in an historic garden.  If this was supposed to be a true record of the historical architecture and hard landscaping of a garden, then the interpretation of features and ‘remnants’ had to be correct.  So I left that to my experienced partner, Margaret Burford, whilst I did the photography and offered to do some research.

The Access to Archives website a2a.org.uk provided the starting point and so, armed with a list of references, I turned up at the Cornwall Record Office in Truro.  On my arrival, I vaguely registered people with flasks and sandwiches and soon realised why as the day flew by and I wished for a coffee-making machine.  I became totally hooked and felt like a bloodhound on a trail not wanting to let go as I racked my brain in search of yet more keywords that might give me an insight into who and what influenced the owners of Penwarne garden when designing it, and who actually did it.  My CRO assistant got ‘Penwarne fever’ as well as she dug out document after document.  Frustratingly we found little of relevance and had to be happy with the usual Tithe Apportionment and Map of 1840.

The Courtney Library provided a pre-tithe map of 1838, but the Cornish Studies Library in Redruth proved to be the most productive.  Again assistance was excellent and with the help of Douglas Ellory Pett’s Parks and Gardens of Cornwall, Lake’s Parochial and The Book of Mawnan, I extracted the few bits of information that seemed to be available.  My favourite piece, however, was the Mawnan Women’s Institute Scrapbook 1951 containing an extensive historic account of Penwarne amongst many others.  Beautifully produced and handwritten, it changed my mind about the image I had been led to believe over the years of ‘just a jam-making, doily-knitting group of country women’. Oh, no, far from it .