Whiteford Park Historic Landscape Survey and Management Plan

Published by the Historic Environment Service (HES) (formerly Cornwall Archaeological Unit) in May 2004.

1822 view of Whiteford House from the Lawn, engraved by J Grieg from a drawing by FWL Stockdale from 'Excursions in Cornwall'

1822 view of Whiteford House from the Lawn, engraved by J Grieg from a drawing by FWL Stockdale from ‘Excursions in Cornwall’

The Historic Environment Service of Cornwall County Council was commissioned by the Duchy College, to undertake archaeological and historical assessments of the park.  This involved desk based research of maps and documents followed by fieldwork.  Together with an ecological assessment, these formed the basis for a long-term landscape management plan for the parkland.

The overall survey area covered 90 hectares (220 acres), of which 49 ha (151 acres) was covered by archaeological fieldwork.  Although the majority of the parkland is within the ownership of the Duchy College, two important areas are owned privately: the site and remains of Whiteford House and its surrounding complex of buildings and the Temple and its lawn, owned by the Landmark Trust.  Both of these properties are being carefully restored and maintained.  Three sites outside the study area were also included as important peripheral landscape elements related to the park: Whiteford and Holmbush plantations, both owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, and Sir John Call’s folly on Kit Hill, managed by CCC as part of the Kit Hill Country Park.

Whiteford was in the 18th and 19th centuries the significant landscape park in this part of Cornwall.  It would have stood out as an elegantly designed park with the house and temple as eye-catchers in a landscape that was otherwise devoted to farming and mining.  The park included a canal with two bridges and a cascade, ornamental plantings of shrubs, plantations, individual trees, clumps and copses along with ornamental gardens and a hot house, and circular ride giving view to the surrounding countryside and Kit Hill.  The parkland essence of Whiteford Park still survives albeit in a degraded condition.

The aims of the restoration plan were to fully re-establish the parkland nature of the landscape whilst maintaining it as active agricultural land, and secondly to enable a greater range of people to enjoy the parkland.  Suggested management items focused on improving the quality of the park through carefully considered removal of modern boundaries, the restoration and recreation of a number of ha-has and plantations, and the removal of eyesores. Further advice was provided on future management and access.

Whiteford is a small and fairly simple landscape park laid out in the late 18th century and probably designed by Sir John Call, an engineer newly returned to Cornwall from a colonial career in India.  With Sir John Call’s death in 1802 his son, Sir William Pratt Call inherited the park.  He appears to have maintained the original elements of the park but added further plantations and parkland trees.

The park was designed to take advantage of the broad Luckett Valley with Kit Hill to one side and wide reaching views to the distant hills of Dartmoor to the east.  Scattered trees and clumps framed by plantations were looked over from a country house and a ‘temple’, with a lake at its furthest, lowest point.  The lake was a sinuous canal dotted with islands, with a Palladian style bridge at its northern end with a rusticated arch and blank niches; another bridge to the south together with a number of sluices controlled the water level of the lake.  Every angle and feature of the parkland was a part of a series of controlled views and without the plantations, paths and rides the built features would not have been so nicely integrated into the agrarian landscape.

Bridge looking east

Bridge looking east

The Temple viewed from the west

The Temple viewed from the west

It is of the type of landscape park influenced in a loose manner by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and is thus a small contribution to the heritage of landscape design that is typically Arcadian.  The majority of its original elements still remain and can be identified in the landscape, especially a number of important parkland trees and the lake.  These elements form the framework on which reinstatement could be built.

The origins of the walled garden may date to the 17th century when Whiteford was a small mansion house owned by the Addis family.  Sir John later incorporated the garden into the grander Whiteford Estate.  There are valuable early 19th-century references to the flower garden and garden walks.  For example, painted trellises and arches were erected in the former on Lady Call’s orders between 23rd June and 14th July 1809, and Sir William Pratt Call himself worked in the garden on 15th October 1812.  Tar was purchased for the garden on the 20th May, as was gravel for the walks on 19th August 1809.  A greenhouse with sash windows and painted flower stands in the flower garden was recorded in 11th April 1809.  A mushroom bed and melon frames were noted in 1810, and on 10th March of that year Sir William was digging pits for apples in the nursery gardens.

As a commissioner inquiring into crown lands woods and forests, Sir John Call developed an interest in tree planting from 1782 onwards.  He deplored ‘the grubbing and dressing a few acres, which have heretofore been excellent wood, to convert them to wretched pasture’ and that ‘tellers or standells’ [stands] be left when woodland was coppiced.  Above all, he recommended that mature ‘spreading oak in all his Majesty’s forests, woods and parks be protected for the benefit of a nation whose only protection..are her wooden walls’.  It then seems reasonable to suggest that many of the plantations and parkland trees of Whiteford were seen as an economic investment by Sir John Call, and not planted purely for their aesthetic quality.

The earliest map of the park dates to 1784-86 and records a partially completed major scheme of tree planting in the landscape garden style, along with two swathes of woodland plantations to the north and the south of the house.  This gives us an indication of the importance of landscape framing focal points, the technique that we refer to as ‘the borrowed landscape’.  The earliest plantations created a protective windbreak to the north side of the house and walled garden.  When the Temple was built between 1784 and 1799 a large plantation was planted behind it to provide a verdant western backdrop to the parkland.
The Temple was a folly used for entertainment, and offers incredible views across the Tamar Valley to Dartmoor.  The building has two Coade (artificial cast stone made of ball clay) panels inscribed with reliefs: one a harvest goddess, the other a maritime goddess with a ship, cargo and the words ‘America and India’.  Another folly associated with Sir John Call is the remains of a ‘castle’ on the summit of Kit Hill where Sir John Call intended to be buried.  Temples were a popular feature of eighteenth-century landscape gardens and although positioned to take account of a view or vista were not always visible from the main house.

The Duchy map of 1815 records a number of modifications within the park: a carriage way and a new grand entrance to the south created to give a different approach to the park and house; a further island had been created in the lake, then recorded as ‘Whiteford Fish Pond’.

By the 1840 Tithe Survey of Stoke Climsland, a circular ride had been created around the main part of the park, the route lined with an avenue of trees.  By this time the Call family owned over 2,500 acres of Stoke Climsland parish; the influence of the estate reaching far beyond the main park.

The demise of Whiteford Park was as quick as its rise, and in 1879-80 due to financial problems, the estate was sold to the Duchy of Cornwall.  By 1887 it was recorded that ‘most of the ornamental trees had been cut down’, and by 1924 the Temple had become a cattle byre; its surrounding plantation and landscape setting all but destroyed.

A large central part of the park was then improved for modern agriculture with removal of many of the plantations and several parkland boundaries.  The lake was allowed to silt up, and following a fire in 1912-13, sections of Whiteford House were demolished.  Parts of this were re-used in the construction of the Duchy Home Farm.

What now remains of interest to us gardeners, ecologists and educationalists?  Certain elements are in private hands but the spread of the parkland is farmed and would be difficult to restore as agricultural practices have changed along with the estate over the years.  Areas of semi-improved grassland within the park make Whiteford Park an important area ecologically, and the improvements could give an excellent setting for courses and events of the Duchy College as well as local interest groups.  The continuation of study and the restoration of such features as the drives and plantings might also become a local attraction.

The College was involved through students on the Foundation Degree, Rural Environmental Management course who were invited to accompany officers from the HES on a field visit around the park.  The students observed the methods and practices involved in such a survey and assessment.  They were also encouraged to air their comments on the proposed management items and the future role of the park within the College.

The development of the College has had an impact on the northern side of the park with the construction of dog training areas, an equestrian course and a modern pond to take surface run off.  The silted up lake was recently re-cut with both islands re-created; a number of wooden bridges and stiles close by reflect the impact of the College curriculum on the landscape and do not always seem to be integrated in the surviving parkland character.  Modern services including a gas pipeline, overhead electricity cables and sewage works also have a landscape impact.

This potted history of a small but locally important estate reflects the way many similar landscapes have slipped away and been integrated, covered or completely obliterated by this modern world.  It is good that some like the Whiteford Estate have been singled out for this study and recognised as an important part of our landscape heritage.  It would be good to think that some of the features are restorable and that the estate can become a provision as it can enhance many facets of education.

David Loder, Manager of the RHS courses at the Duchy College

I am indebted to all those who worked on the historic survey especially to Peter Dudley BA MA who compiled the report and gave me permission to present an extract and comments.  Photographs are reproduced with the permission of HES, CCC.  Copy right holder of the Stockdale drawing is unknown.  Every effort has been made to locate the copyright holder.

The College is involved in delivering conservation and environmental courses using local resources and landscapes.  This year the College is planning to use Pine Lodge Gardens, St Austell for delivery of their level 2 and the Advanced RHS courses.  This is a great opportunity and we are indebted to Mr and Mrs Clemo for their cooperation and help.