The estate of Trevarno was in existence in 1296 when a Randulphus Arundell was mentioned as the Lord of the Manor. The Arundell family held great power over much of south-west England, having close links to the Earls of Cornwall. The western tip of Cornwall was almost their personal fiefdom. Successive generations were to lease the property at Trevarno to other well known Cornish families, the Killigrews, Carminows and Courtneys until the time of the Civil War.
The Arundells were staunch royalists and supported the king financially to the point of bankruptcy, the family lost much of their land to the supporters of Oliver Cromwell. At the 'Restoration' the monarchy was re-instated but those holding forfeited land were often allowed to keep possession. Thus it was with the Arundell family and the monarchy failed to reimburse them for their financial support. Moreover, they were out of favour with those now in political power for refusing to renounce their Roman Catholic faith. Condemned as recusants the family fortunes were such that they were forced to sell-off much of their remaining property. They were never to rise to such prominence again and Trevarno passed from the Arundells to the Olivers.
John Oliver of Ludgvan bought the property either from the Arundell family or the crown and he came to live here sometime c 1685. John's wife was a Mary Harris and although her baptism around 1660 is unrecorded, she is connected to William Harris of Kennegie, Gulval. Whether this was the "Wild Harris" of the legends, recorded by Bottrell, I could not say but otherwise it was a well connected family. A Lydia Harris married Borlase of Pendeen and another Mary Harris married into the Fleming family of Madron.
William Harris himself married Phillippa Noye of St. Buryan. A member of this Noye family was Chancellor of the Exchequer to Charles I. His advice to the king to levy certain taxes, despite parliamentary opposition, was partly responsible for the kings unpopularity. The Harris family originated at Hayne in Devon and a Harris had married an heiress of the Arundells, thereby acquiring Kennegie.
So, did the Olivers bail out a fellow family member in trouble?. The only other recorded claim to fame of these Olivers was a son, William, a doctor who moved to Bath and invented the biscuit known as a Bath Oliver! John Oliver senior corresponded with Alexander Pope, the poet, who John Betjeman claimed visited Trevarno. I wonder if he wrote "An Ode" during one of those visits:
"How happy he, who free from care
The rage of courts, and noise of towns;
Contented breaths his native air,
In his own grounds."
It is interesting to note also that John Oliver junior married a Lydia Harris daughter of Christopher Harris and his wife Wilmot Daniel of Kennegie, Gulval.
By 1839 the Olivers were no more at Trevarno and ownership had passed to Christopher Wallis Popham. There appears to be no direct link to the previous owners except that, despite her marriage to Joseph Lamb Popham at St Martins in the Fields in 1801 his mother, Phillippa Wallis, was from Wendron parish and her father was a Christopher Wallis b 1744 Madron. This Wallis/Walishe family originated in West Penwith in 1645 so may have had family connections
Christopher W. Popham built the walled garden and a Gothic Folly Cottage, later utilized as a potting shed. He was also probably responsible for the planting out of the 50 yard long, yew tree tunnel. By 1871 he had died and the house was sold to William Bickford Smith of Illogan in 1874.
William's grandfather was William Bickford a leather merchant of Illogan At the time the setting of a charge to blast away the rock in the tin mines was a hit and miss affair. Goose quills or straw were filled with the powder and bundled together and ignited. There were many accidents. William was visiting a rope-works one day when he had the idea of enclosing the black powder inside the fibres of the rope as it was twinned. This would make for a safer, slower burning fuse.
Things were slow in developing and before he could see his idea put into practice he died. His only daughter Eliza had married George Smith in 1826 and it was left to this son in law to see the safety fuse go into into production at their factory in Tuckingmill in 1836. The first and only son born to this couple in 1827 was christened William Bickford Smith. He was to be the beneficiary of his grandfathers invention and to purchase the property at Trevarno.
I believe William Bickford Smith married twice. He had three daughters by the first and a son and daughter by his second wife, Anna. The son, George Percy Bickford Smith b1873, died in South Africa from wounds received at Heilbron in the Boer War.
There is a link to Livermore in California where a road is named after the Estate. See Link and use your back button to return.
The house remained in this families' ownership until 1994 when it was offered up in 33 lots to make it more manageable to sell. By this time it had dwindled down into a state of benign neglect and even the shadow of its former glory was hard to detect
Luckily, the prospective purchasers of the house were sufficiently moved to contemplate saving the whole and as a result prevent the break-up of yet another ancient Cornish estate into holiday lets , time-share or apartment conversions. I wonder if they had fully understood the mammoth task they set themselves whether they might not have attempted this. With over a 1000 acres the estate needing a great deal of investment in time and money for it to succeed as a self sufficient entity, sustainable from its own resources. We wish them well and thank them for letting us glimpse another beautiful and well kept Cornish garden which together with the National Museum of Gardening make this one of the most interesting to visit and great value for money.
Home - Forward
Photos Copyright 2003
Sandra & George Pritchard
You may use photographs from this site for non-commercial purposes but please give a credit. For high resolution photos for commercial use please contact the
George P Design