Trerice Raised Terraces and Water Features

by James Breslin

Report of a survey and archaeological appraisal of land around the property

Engraved by J Grieg, from a Drawing by FWL Stockdale 1824

Engraved by J Grieg, from a Drawing by FWL Stockdale 1824

Trerice, an Elizabethan manor house little changed since its decorative Dutch gables were put up in 1571, is situated 3 miles east of Newquay and is a rare survival in Cornwall.  Retaining much of its superb original decorative plasterwork Trerice was, for over 400 years, the home of the Arundell family including, most famously, John for the King, the Civil War hero and defender of Pendennis Castle.

In 1953, the property was purchased by the National Trust in recognition of the unique importance of its architecture and was largely restored by John Elton, the then tenant of Trerice, during the mid 1950s.  Changes during this time included the sweeping away of many of the existing garden features.  Described by Pevsner (1970) as an ‘Excellent Elizabethan house of the Arundells’ and in St Newlyn East, History of the Parish (2004), as ‘best known for its magnificent Elizabethan manor house, built in 1572’, the property has been largely seen as an exquisite building and not much attention paid to the garden as an area with any historical significance.

The Survey
In 1820, Gilbert, writing on Trerice in his Historical Survey of the County of Cornwall, stated that there was ‘but little appearance of its once fruitful gardens, raised terraces, and expansive lakes’.  More recently in the 1990s, it was suggested by the National Trust’s regional archaeologist that the stepped terraces at Trerice could well be as significant as the house itself as an example of Elizabethan garden design.

It was with this in mind that a decision was taken by the managers of the property, in consultation with Julian Gibbs (NT Gardens Curator) and Bill Malecki (NT Gardens Advisor) in early 2004 to stop any further piecemeal development of the garden until we fully understood what was there.  Cornwall County Council’s Historic Environment Service was subsequently commissioned to undertake a full survey and archaeological appraisal of the environment surrounding the property.  The report was researched and written by Catherine Parkes.  It included a measured survey of the immediate surrounds, a sketch survey of the wider environment, desk based research and comparative studies, which has resulted in a detailed assessment of what has been and what remains at Trerice and proposals for its future management.  It is safe to say that the findings have been truly exciting.

The Findings
Traces of a medieval strip field system have been identified with later field names proving a key indicator of past land use ranging from the obvious such as Culver Close, Warren Field and Chapel Close to the more obscure such as Prick Close.  Thought to be evidence for a Tudor archery ground (targets at this time being known as pricks), this theory is supported by Carew’s (1602) reference to archery when he describes,  ‘one Master Robert Arundell (whom I well knew) could shoot twelve score, with his right hand, and with his left, and from behind his head’.

Adjacent to the house, the garden is currently split into six distinct terraces, three to the front of the house (originally ornamental), and three more recent terraces to the rear of the Great Barn (of agricultural use).  An impressive entrance to the north of the property would have served both these areas.
The upper terrace to the front of the house, thought to be the site of a bowling green created in Tudor times, is overlooked by a mound, perhaps a viewing mound.  The forecourt to the front of the house is likely to have been a very decorative area, probably of symmetrical, geometric form, in sympathy with the ornamentation of the façade of the house.  The lower terrace, now the orchard, contains the form of the earliest garden at Trerice, possibly of medieval origin, and traces of a bank interpreted as a raised walk.

Much of this could have been expected at a site such as Trerice but the findings in the valley below the property were very surprising.  This area, now farmland, has been found to contain the evidence of a mid 18th-century landscape park containing walks, possible pleasure houses, dammed lakes, islands and stepping stones.  The two lower lakes were of considerable size and are now, with the benefit of the information in the report, more than obvious!

It is impossible to convey the full findings of a report of over two hundred pages in such a short article but a series of guided walks and the public availability of the report will enable this information to reach a wider audience.

A Conservation Plan for Trerice
‘A conservation plan helps us to understand the significance of a garden and its components and proposes appropriate management strategies to ensure their preservation and renewal in perpetuity.  The plan describes the ideal, long-term vision for the landscape and then details the practical steps to be taken in the medium term towards achieving this.’  (Fretwell, 1999)

Now that we are in possession of the raw information, and a renewed sense of the historical significance of the grounds, we will be formulating a conservation plan during 2005 to ensure an appropriate and sensitive approach to the future management and development of the garden at Trerice.  It is an aspiration in our Property Management Plan for the garden to be a reason in its own right for visiting Trerice.  The newly published report (January 2005) highlights some major choices.  Should we move our car park from its current position slap bang in the middle of the landscape park?  Should we restore the bowling green, front court and orchard to its Tudor appearance?  Should we restore the system of lakes, dams and islands?  Should we excavate and reveal the 19th-century farmyard and mill behind the Great Barn?  Alternatively, should the garden develop from what it is now and use other methods of interpretation to illuminate its past?  All these questions will be looked at carefully when formulating the conservation plan this year.  However, as the garden develops, we wish it to tell a story, to inspire appreciation and involvement and to bring to life the rich history of this wonderful property.  This is how we are making a start.

Inspiring Tomorrow’s Gardeners at Trerice
The Guardianship Scheme, launched with the support of the Norwich Union 15 years ago and now supporting over 100 projects, forges close and supportive links between schools and their local National Trust property.  Trust and school staff collaborate to develop active, imaginative and unique hands-on education programmes.  The ongoing relationship not only supports curriculum work, but also provides stimulating, practical experience of the great outdoors and conservation work.  A Guardianship’s first aim is to enable, and foster care and understanding for our wonderful natural environment and at the same time have loads of fun!  The Scheme is now well established across the country with both primary and secondary school Guardianships developed.  Some are now in their tenth year and each one has created links that will develop and grow with time.

A Guardianship has been set up between Trerice and St Newlyn East Primary School and it takes two forms.  The first focus of work is in the orchard planted with many old (and particularly Cornish) varieties of apple including Cornish Gillyflower, Pendragon, Tom Putt, and Pigs Snout.  We also have a Flower of Kent, said to be the type of apple that fell on Isaac Newton’s head!  Over the last two years, pupils have planted nearly 4000 native daffodils to create a wonderful spring show and have helped to instigate a more environmentally friendly management approach to the previously mown grass under the trees.  The grass matures to seed and is cut once a year encouraging a meadow habitat rich in wild flowers and insects.  A bonus of this is the more authentic setting adjacent to the Elizabethan manor house.

The second stand of the Guardianship is the development of an experimental Elizabethan garden in partnership with St Newlyn East School.  This project has also benefited from funding from the Central Cornwall National Trust Association and the Cornwall Gardens Trust.  The Gardeners Labyrinth by Thomas Hill has inspired the garden plan containing a series of raised and ground level beds.  He describes the beds thus:  ‘to such a breadth especially troden forth, that the weeders hands may wel reach unto the midst of the a dry ground, the edges of the beds be raised a foot high, shall wel suffice’.

An engraving from the book has formed the basis of the plan for the timber framework for the raised beds.  The children will grow a variety of ‘heritage’ vegetables, herbs and flowers in these beds with the intention that the produce will be used at the property.  The garden will of course contain the now famous purple carrot, a theme the press seem rather keen to focus on!  Definitely not on the agenda are Thomas Hill’s ‘heritage’ methods of pest control.  These include curing problems with ants by killing them in the ground by ‘stopping the mouthes of the holes with the heart of an owle’ or defending your crops from ‘the spoile of great beast’ by watering your seeds with ‘olde urine, in which the ordure of a dog shall be infused for a time’!

Thomas Hill planting beds 1590

Thomas Hill planting beds 1590

It is planned to make the garden accessible to other visiting groups and the general visiting public as soon as possible while still remaining ‘owned’ by the pupils of St Newlyn East, and the school will be at the heart of any future development of the garden at Trerice.

James Breslin Assistant Property Manager

Nikolaus Pevsner, 1970, Yale University Press, The Buildings of England Cornwall
Michael Trinnick, 1991, National Trust, Trerice, Thomas Hill, 1577 (New edition 1987), OUP, The Gardeners Labyrinth, Catherine Parkes, 2005, Historic Environment Service, Cornwall County Council, Trerice, Newlyn East, Cornwall Archaeological Assessment
Katie Fretwell, 1999, National Trust Guidelines for Conservation Plans for Historic Parks & Gardens, Richard Carew, 1602 (re-issued 2000), Tamar Books, Survey of Cornwall