William Lemon’s Gardening Tools and Sundries as stated in the 1760 Probate Inventory of Prince’s House, Truro, and Carclew

by Dr Angela Stubbs

William Lemon, the Great Mr Lemon, 1696-1760, was the proud owner of two imposing houses and two gardens: one garden in Truro which has completely disappeared and one at Carclew near Mylor which, though changed, can still be seen and enjoyed.

Mr Lemon, from a relatively humble background in Breage, West Cornwall, had inherited wealth through his wife, Isabella, and used it shrewdly to develop Gwennap Mine and promote wider business interests. He soon became an important member of the local community being twice elected Mayor of Truro and was also Sheriff of the county. Consequently he recognized the importance of commissioning larger and more splendid domestic premises, having previously lived quite modestly in Church Lane.

His town house in Truro, Prince’s House, Prince’s Street, was built in c.1739 to the design of the architect Thomas Edwards of Greenwich who was creating fine houses for the Cornish gentry at the time. Carclew, his country estate, though already built but effectively unfinished, was bought by Lemon for £3,300.00 from the Bonython family in 1749 and Thomas Edwards was asked to extend and embellish the house so that it could be a fitting dwelling for the increasingly wealthy Mr Lemon. Edward’s actual instructions were to ‘alter, enlarge and fit up with colonnades and offices the carcase.’

This new design met with approval from no less than William Borlase who in 1757 drew the south front and commented that the house ‘Bids fair to be the prettiest finished and planted Box in the West of England’. Borlase’s engraving shows a wide lawn in front of the south side of the building which is bordered by two straight avenues of trees on either side: a strictly formal design complementing the Palladian appearance of the house. The area behind the house has a series of terraces leading down to an ornamental pool. Whether William Lemon, who unfortunately died aged 63 in 1760, had time to complete this work himself is not known, though his grandson, Sir William Lemon, and especially his great-grandson, Sir Charles Lemon, did much to maintain and enhance the gardens.

On William’s demise his solicitors, Messrs Whitfords of St Columb, made a scrupulous inventory for probate purposes of all the contents of the two houses including their offices and service buildings, and of the office and chambers at Pill Creek. The Inventory (Cornwall Record Office WH 1780) states that there was both an inner and an outer garden at Prince’s House, probably surrounded by protective walls. In the outer garden were to be found two ‘water potts’ (for rain water, perhaps) and six hand Glasses, probably bell jars. There was also a wheelbarrow, a rake, a spade and a ‘Seyth’ [sic] so there must have been a grass area. (In fact if one looks closely at Borlase’s engraving of Carclew two men can be seen wielding scythes on the extensive lawn.) The outer garden’s list also refers to two hot bed frames with glass, one big and one small. Perhaps these were for germinating seeds in what was very likely to have been the vegetable garden.

In the inner garden, presumably more private and leading out from the house, a ‘rolling stone with an Iron frame’ is to be found together with 23 flower pots and two chairs. Let us hope that Mrs Lemon was able to enjoy the potted-up flowers as she sat in one of the chairs on a lawn smoothed by the ‘rolling stone’. She would have needed some rest as her household was a busy place with several servants to manage, and also included her three grand-children to whom she had given a home after their father’s untimely death in 1757. It cannot have been that peaceful, however, as just beyond the garden walls were two buildings: the outer Stable and the Best Stable in which were housed five horses and two cows (a supply of manure would have been conveniently on hand), and the whole area ran down to the quays which would have been crowded with warehouses and ships.

Carclew in the 1750s as seen by Borlase in his Natural History of Cornwall (Oxford, 1758)

Carclew was run as a small country estate with enough offices and farm buildings to be self-sufficient and productive. The Garden is itemised and the family must have enjoyed sitting there, perhaps under the shelter of the colonnades, as there are to be found within it ten garden chairs, two of them assessed as ‘large’. Perhaps refreshments were also partaken of as there is a ‘marble Table on an Iron frame’. Some rather unsettling items also listed here are ‘5 stocks of Bees’. One hopes they are situated as far away from the sitting-out area as possible; but fortunately Carclew has very extensive grounds. A ‘Child’s Coach’ is to be found in the coach house so perhaps the three children enjoyed being pulled around these grounds by the ‘small Bay Mare’.

The next building to be listed is ‘The Hot House’ in which are to be found ’12 tubs for Trees Ironbound’. One might assume that there were trees within the tubs and as the Inventory was taken in March perhaps these trees, such as fashionable orange trees, were tender and needed protection during the winter, though there is no mention as to how the Hot House was heated. However both properties had engine houses so water was available and lead pipes are itemised in the Wood Chamber. There is also a ‘parcel of garden nets’, presumably for covering fruit bushes, and a pair of Garden Shears. All appropriate for gardening but the rest of the contents of the Hot House seems rather eclectic: a ‘Fishing Net’, a Carpenter’s Bench, a painted floor Cloth [rather like linoleum and used extensively in Early Georgian England before the wholesale domestic use of woollen carpets]. We do not know where the Hot House was to be found but presumably near the house so the next item is rather surprisingly ‘a Gun’. There are, in fact, several weapons a crossbow, a sword, pistols and blunderbusses listed in both the houses and we must assume they were there for a purpose. Town and country life could be dangerous. Four-legged predators were taken care of by the iron fox gin found in the loft. The final items are ‘a Levell and Stand etc.’ Stored in the Coach house are ‘Six Garden Glasses with Wood Frames’ obviously waiting for summer and the propagation of more delicate plants.

There seem to have been plenty of garden chairs at Carclew as four are found in the Gardener’s Room together with a ‘deal desk on a frame’ and a ‘press Bedstead’ with a bolster, blankets and quilt which indicates that the man both slept and worked in this room. Prince’s House did not specify a gardener so we must assume that the manservants there carried out horticultural tasks as well as looking after the horses and cows. Four Garden Chairs are also found rather surprisingly in the Housekeeper’s Room at Carclew but these are itemised as having ‘Cut Tops’, somewhat more superior in style. Old, broken or unwanted furniture does seem to find a place in the servants’ rooms implying that waste was not permitted in the Lemon household. Nine more garden chairs are to be found at Mr Lemon’s office and chambers at Pill Creek and were probably used indoors for seating as no other chairs are listed. The itemising of another ‘rolling stone’ indicates there may have been a lawn to be tended around these buildings.

Within the two houses there are copious jars listed, both china and glass, which may have been used for flower arrangements but the only specific reference to flowers as a decorative item are two ‘flower potts with artificial flowers’ in the Tapestry Room, one of the three grand reception rooms at Carclew. A flower pot and Stand are listed in the Servants’ Hall together with yet another garden chair.

William Lemon’s garden tools are, if perfectly adequate, somewhat sparse in comparison with the quantities of furniture, plate, glass and china itemised in both houses. However it is interesting to see that they have not changed very much: 21st-century Cornish gardeners could quite happily borrow his tools to enhance and improve their gardens and when they had finished their chores they could relax on one of the many garden chairs. I am sure that William Lemon would have enjoyed his gardens after his busy days supervising his mining activities while Mrs Lemon would have passed the time pleasantly with her grandchildren in the spacious grounds of her two properties. Indeed, Mr Lemon chose to have himself portrayed as a distinguished country gentleman standing proudly at an open window through which a fine garden can be seen.

NB The CGT are visiting Carclew House on Thursday 10 Mayat 2.30 pm at the kind invitation of the owners, Mr and Mrs John Williams, who are carefully restoring the terraced gardens.

Little remains of the house at Carclew which was destroyed by fire in 1934.