Welcome to the National Trust’s Lanhydrock House and Gardens; a beautiful Victorian family home where history comes to life, nestled within 900 acres of meticulously manicured gardens, rolling hills and lush woodland in Cornwall. It is the perfect place to step back in time and immerse yourself in the opulence and elegance of a bygone era. Join us on an enchanting journey through this grand estate, unravelling its rich history, architectural marvels, and captivating stories that have shaped its existence.
Lanhydrock House and Garden is a wonderful place to spend a day out immersing yourself in Cornwall’s rich heritage. Ideally located just minutes from the A30 and less than 10 minutes from Bodmin, it is really easy to get to, and the sort of place you can happily spend a whole day exploring. It stands as a living museum that transports you back to a time when opulence and refinement were the hallmarks of high society. Travel the corridors that once echoed with laughter and whispers, the resplendent drawing rooms where elegant gatherings unfolded, and delve into the intimate details of daily life that remain frozen in time. This splendid Victorian mansion is a treasure trove of historical significance, offering a glimpse into the lives and experiences of the aristocratic families who once called this stately residence their home.
The Lanhydrock estate originally belonged to the Augustinian priory of St Petroc at Bodmin, but it passed into private hands with the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the 1530s. Not much is known about the property over the next 90 years except in 1545, tenants Thomas Glynn and Jane Clicker were evicted for allowing the house to fall into disrepair and for stealing apples! In 1620, Sir Richard Robartes, a wealthy tin and wood merchant from Truro, bought the estate. He was considered the ‘wealthiest in the west’, having inherited a fortune of £300,000 and 40,000 acres of land from his father. Sir Richard began extending Lanhydrock, but died four years later. His son, John Robartes, 1st Earl of Radnor, continued the work, creating a four sided layout around a central courtyard. John was married twice – first to Lucy Rich then to her 17 year old cousin Letitia, who he ‘loved to distraction’ and had 14 of his 19 children with.
Begin your visit walking under the shade of the tree-lined North Drive, taking in the fabulous views of the surrounding Cornish countryside above the river Fowey. As you approach the grand estate, the iconic gatehouse starts to reveal itself in the valley below. The impressive barbican gate was built in the mid 17th century, Take a moment to explore the gatehouse – you can usually go inside and see the latest exhibition and get a different perspective of the main house.
The huge gatehouse is flanked by embattled walls of massive granite blocks inscribed with the dates 1636 and 1642. These walls have a real ‘Alice in Wonderland’ feel about them, and you half expect the Queen of Hearts to come marching around the corner! Two years after the walls were built, it was not the Queen of Hearts that came marching but Parliamentary forces who garrisoned the house in August 1644 when Sir Richard Grenville took possession – a professional soldier who was loathed by many his brutality and greed.
Once you are through the gatehouse, enjoy a stroll around the gardens, with their bold topiary, pretty flowerbeds and immaculate lawns, which are an excellent place to relax after the walk down the hill. The gardens are perfect for a more sedate wander, and are particularly lovely when the magnolias are in bloom. There’s also a beautiful bluebell wood to see in Spring. Here you can admire the main house and Grade 1 Listed St Hydroc’s Church in the garden. Parts of this parish church date back to the late 15th century including one of the bells that has been there since around 1599.
As you walk up the driveway from the gatehouse, you can take in the whole of Lanhydrock House. After the English Civil War, it remained in the Robartes family, though fell into neglect in the late 17th and early 18th century when one heir preferred his extravagant homes in Mayfair and Cambridgeshire and the next went off on a Grand Tour and ended up settling in Venice with his mistress, only venturing back to England to refinance himself to support her! Lanhydrock was inherited by his sister Mary, who hated it so much she wanted to demolish it. Luckily she died before carrying out her plans, and it passed to her son George, who tried to undo some of the neglect. George was plagued by ill health and on his death, Lanhydrock was passed to his niece Anna Maria. She was married to Charles Begenal Agar in 1804 and in the next 14 years she lost her husband and two sons. She devoted the rest of her life to making Lanhydrock a suitable home and providing an income for her only surviving son, Thomas James.
Clearly Anna Maria knew what she was doing and passed this savvy onto her son. By 1872 Lord Robartes of Lanhydrock was listed among the top ten landowners in Cornwall, with estates of 22,234 acres (nearly 3% of Cornwall). It was he who demolished the east wing of the house, leaving the U-shape you see today and started to renovate the remaining buildings. Unfortunately a year later in 1881, a great fire started in the kitchen and was fanned by near-gale force winds, destroying the south wing and damaging the central section. Only the north wing, with the 35m Long Gallery, and the front porch survived. Lord Robartes’ wife died of shock and smoke inhalation and he died a year later of a broken heart. Their only son refurbished the Jacobean house in high-Victorian style. Crippling death duties in the early 20th century caused the house and gardens to be given to the National Trust.
One of the first things you see when you enter through the great door is beautiful William Morris ‘seaweed’ wallpaper in the Inner Hall. William Morris was a founder of the British Arts and Crafts Movement, and especially known for his block-printed wallpaper designs based on native flowers and plants. They had a major effect on British interior designs, and on the Art Nouveau movement in Europe and the United States, and it is a real treat to see his original work in the house.
The ceiling of the dining room is decorated with elegant plasterwork (above) – a theme continued in library (below) and the Long Gallery, which has an exquisite Jacobean plaster ceiling considered to be the finest of its type in the west of England with figures representing the creation in ″bas-relief″.
The attention to detail is wonderful and if helps you really get a sense of what life was like for the families that lived here. As you walk around the dining room, you’ll see the table set for a banquet, with extravagant floral arrangements, silverware, chinaware and glassware. In the library, you can just imagine the Victorian gentleman setting down his glasses here. Lanhydrock is the National Trust’s oldest large library and is one of the most significant private book collections in the country. Many of the books belonged to Hannibal Gamon. The son of a London goldsmith, Hanny bought many interesting secondhand books, one of which was recently discovered to have come from Henry VIII’s library.
There’s a real upstairs / downstairs feel to the house. The kitchens are incredible and you can easily imagine Mrs Patmore in here cooking up a banquet in there. It had all the ‘mod cons’ of the time, so the kitchen staff to produce everything from food for the nursery to fashionable fare for the family’s entertaining. There is a whole complex of rooms leading off the kitchen, each with its own purpose, from the baking bread to butchering meat. You can even visit the luggage room, which is really a sight to behold for travellers!
Famous faces at Lanhydrock
The house has had many famous visitors over the years including Mr and Mrs Gladstone in 1889, the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1903, Lord Roseberry and Winston Churchill. Lanhydrock was also the main setting for the 1996 film version of Twelfth Night, directed by Trevor Nunn with an all star cast including Helena Bonham Carter, Richard E. Grant, Nigel Hawthorne, Ben Kingsley, Mel Smith, Imelda Staunton, Toby Stephens and Imogen Stubbs.
Cycling and walking at Lanhydrock
Once you have looked around the house, there is still the wider estate to explore. If you are feeling energetic, you can hire bikes and try out one of the cycle trails, or pull on your trainers for a two hour walk or 5km run.
Places to eat and drink at Lanhydrock
The Park Café is next to the visitor car park and cycle hire. This is a splendid place to relax on the veranda with a slice of something nice, while your children let off steam on the adventure playground next to the cafe. The Stables tearoom is by the main house and has a sunny courtyard to enjoy a quick bite. There’s also a restaurant in the old servants’ hall, housekeeper’s room and housemaids’ room where you can have lunch or afternoon tea.
Or if you fancy lying down in the shade of the trees on a warm summer’s day, you can roll out your picnic blanket and have a break in the gardens, and there are plenty of places to relax in the grounds. But if you fancy somewhere a little more peaceful to have a picnic, head for nearby Respryn Bridge, a five arched medieval bridge spanning the River Fowey. From A30 or A38, follow the signs to Lanhydrock House. Turn left where you see the brown sign for the car park. Drive past the entrance gates, follow the road down the hill and bear right. You will see the car park on your left. There is a nice meadow by Respryn Bridge and the river for a picnic.
Is Lanhydrock child friendly?
Yes! There’s a playground, plenty of grounds to run around in, and two trails to do in the house. There are also baby-changing and feeding facilities, and front-carrying baby slings and hip-carrying infant seats to borrow.
Is Lanhydrock dog friendly?
Yes! There are lots of dog friendly walks in the estate, but only assistance dogs are allowed in the house and garden. You can sit with your pet on the veranda at the Park Cafe – you’ll find drinking bowls and dog biscuits (for a donation) to keep you pet happy here. Dogs are also welcome in the Stables tea-room.
Is Lanhydrock accessible?
Yes! There’s a shuttle service from the car park to the house, and wheelchairs and a motorised scooter available to borrow. Adapted toilets can be found in the car park and near the house, and there is wheelchair access to the building. A map of accessible routes is available. More information here >
How to get to Lanhydrock
Address: Bodmin, Cornwall PL30 5AD
By Emma Holcombe