Some of Kresen Kernow’s earliest and biggest collections came from the families who owned Cornwall’s most impressive houses and gardens. These include the Eliots of Port Eliot, the Tremaynes of Heligan, the Enys family, the Fortescues of Boconnoc, the Robartes of Lanhydrock and more.
These families tended to own a lot of land, so the documents within the collections can connect to many topics and themes in Cornish history, such as mining, farming and trade. Deeds, leases, rental books, maps and plans can all help to build up a picture of life in Cornwall in the past, and can be an invaluable resource for family and property history. Many of the family members also held important social positions such as Justices of the Peace and MPs so references to them appear in official records. They were often active in science and the arts too, so biographies of them may have been published. More personal items can also often be found, including diaries, letters and photographs.
These family collections also provide insight into the detail of running large households, and show how a minority of people in Cornwall lived. They contain recipes (including one for a cake made with 30 eggs!) and accounts for elaborate funerals. There are also insights into the lives of servants and other staff.
Kresen Kernow also holds a wide range of guidebooks to many of the houses and gardens that are now open to the public, such as St Michael’s Mount, Lanhydrock and Trelissick. Listed buildings are recorded in the Historic Environment Record.
Cornwall is famed for its glorious gardens and sub-tropical climate. Many historic gardens developed from their owners having an interest in collecting exotic plants. Kresen Kernow holds the correspondence of John Hawkins of Trewithen, who travelled extensively collecting plant specimens for his garden. We also hold one of garden designer Humphrey Repton’s ‘red books’, showing proposed changes to the gardens at Trewarthenick. The scheme was carried out and many of Repton’s features survive today.
The Historic Environment Record contains extensive photographic collections and reports into the formally designated Parks and Gardens in Cornwall as well as details of historic building recording projects and landscape assessments.
Key search terms: family names or individual places, country house, gentry, garden, features of a house or garden (e.g. pond, folly, bedroom, kitchen)
Key collections: EL (Eliot), T (Tremayne), EN (Enys), F (Fortescue), CL (Robartes), B (Basset), R (Rashleigh)
Recommended reads: Houses and gardens of Cornwall: a personal choice by Helen McCabe, 1988; The parks and gardens of Cornwall by Douglas Ellory Pett, 1988
Watch: you can watch films about many items in our collections, including those related to the Bassets of Tehidy, the Arundells, Humphry Repton’s red book and heraldry, on our YouTube channel.