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 Silvanus Trevail 





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Ann Perry


On a damp June evening a group of about 20, members of the Trevail Society and others, met in Truro for a third look at Trevail buildings (or supposed buildings!) including the Triumphal Arches designed by Trevail to celebrate the visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales to lay the foundation stone for Truro Cathedral.

The walk was led by Malcolm Surl, ably supported by Dawn Vivian, and began at the Green Coach Park where we looked at drawings of the arches and tried to identify their positions on the great day. Malcolm gave details of their design, by Trevail, who also organised the making and erection of the elaborately decorated structures in an amazing 10-14 days; another example of his energy and dynamism. As usual, not everyone was pleased, particularly pedestrians who were forced to walk in the busy dirty street where one arch blocked the pavement.

Trevail built the triumphal arches, "rather than dig out the rather tired bunting used in other towns", in wood and plaster to the height of a two storey house; richly decorated with flags, flowers and messages of welcome they must have been an impressive sight.

All research sources agree that there were five arches in total and agree upon the locations of four of them, but now a conflicting story about both the style and location of the fifth has been found. There is agreement on The Welcome Arch at Boscawen Bridge, The Royal Arch at the top of Lemon Street by the Lander Monument, The Masonic Arch at Lemon Bridge and the Cornish Arch in River Street. A book on the building of Truro Cathedral says the fifth was at the entrance to the cathedral enclosure and contains a lithograph showing a procession passing under a tall pointed arch. Contemporary newspaper reports indicate that the fifth arch was by the station and is described as The Peoples Arch. The existence of this arch is corroborated by a photograph in the collection of the late Peter Laws.

Were there in fact six arches, or was the one outside the Cathedral an initial idea later dropped? The question was aired by Chris Blount on Radio Cornwall in 1999 in the hope that someone may have had the answer, but to no avail.

Pondering on these magnificent temporary arches, we then moved on to Lemon Street, stopping to look at numbers 80-81, originally designed as a pair of semis, into which Trevail moved in the 1880s. In 1997 the Society organised the placing of a slate plaque on the side of the building, now Truro Fabrics, to commemorate his time there. Our first glimpse of Trevail’s work was the extension to the Royal Hotel, where in 1898 he designed a billiard room on the ground floor with five bedrooms, bathroom and W.C. on the first and second floors, with stables on the opposite side of the Ope. On the corner of Lemon Street we stopped to admire the exterior of the Devon and Cornwall Bank, built in the early 1890s with an elaborate doorway and roof line providing Truro with one of its "strong corners" which had been pointed out by Alec Wells on a previous walk. Trevail also designed all the interior fixtures and fittings; they were removed during modernisation in the 1960s but we speculated about the function of the interesting looking turret room.

Looking across the road to what is now Samuel’s the jewellers, we had our first shock. The plans for this building, designed for Herbert Glasson, Painter and Decorator, are in the Cornwall Record Office, stamped 4th March 1904, a few months after Trevail’s death. All the controversy about the loss of light which led to using white brick on the upper storey was not Trevail’s problem, although Cornelius might have been using his plans. The group then moved up King Street stopping to admire the ‘Burton’ building, originally a department store that Trevail designed in 1880. The exterior of the building, especially the upper section, is still very fine with three elaborate shields, also designed by Trevail.

We then turned to admire the Passmore Edwards Free Library, the foundation stone of which was laid on 24th March 1895 and was opened on 30th March 1896, both by John Passmore Edwards. The opening was an elaborate occasion attended by 1,800 people. Adjoining the free library are the Central Technical Schools for Cornwall, the design of which won a place of honour in an exhibition at the Royal Academy of "The Best of British Architecture". This recognition helped Trevail to raise funds from the Guilds of the City of London, the Department of Education in London, Cornwall County Council and Passmore Edwards to build and equip the schools. Sir Charles Lemon initiated the idea of Technical Schools in Truro, but Trevail was very committed to technical education and played a vital role in the setting up and equipping of the building. The foundation stone was laid on 3rd May 1897 by Passmore Edwards and the building opened on 24th October 1899 by the Earl of Mount Edgcumbe with a ceremonial key especially designed by Trevail.

From technical education we turned to religious education. St Mary’s Day School, built at the rear of St Mary’s Methodist Church was opened in November 1887 and in 1889 Trevail also remodelled the interior of the church, providing 27 stained glass windows. By 1893 the school proved to be too small and Trevail adapted the Sunday School building opposite, lifting the roof and adding another storey. There proved to be some problems with the sanitary provisions and in 1903 Cornelius made some alterations. From here we walked around the Cathedral, pausing to look at the stained glass window and spot the odd coloured blue pane, the result of an accident by a young boy with a stone, and passed by a tiny building, once used as a ‘comfort stop’ by stage coach drivers, placed conveniently over the river. This led to a short discussion of Trevail’s battle with Truro Council to improve the sewage system and reduce the health risks and unpleasant smells; a battle that went on for many years and made him many enemies, both on this council and those he dealt with as Chairman of the Sanitary Committee for the County Council.

Our route took us through "Squeeze-Gut Alley" one of the many pedestrian passageways which makes Truro an interesting city, into Boscawen Street. In front of us was No 9 Princes Street where in 1893 Trevail designed the imposing curved front stairway and wall, later adding the porch for the owner Samuel Polkinhorn, a local agricultural merchant, who had bought the house in 1885 as his private residence. Next door, now "The Wear House" was designed for Polkinhorn by Trevail as a warehouse, an imposing building with dutch gables.

Moving back towards the coach park we cast a quick look at the "Old Ale House" with its ‘Queen Anne front’ decorated with elaborate terra cotta mouldings, and its ‘Mary Ann back’ (another Alec Wells phrase) designed by Cornelius at the West End Drapery Stores in 1908. Opposite is the site of Oscar Blackford’s Printing Works, reputed to be the oldest house in the area. In 1903 Trevail lifted the roof of the building by about 3ft and lit the attic with skylights which have now disappeared; but a section of his roof can still be seen behind the Royal Bank of Scotland.

By now the group ‘shell-shocked’ by the loss of two of ‘their’ Trevail buildings were just able to thank Malcolm for his interesting narrative, Dawn particularly for her information on the Methodist church and Hazel Harradence who did much to update the research for this enjoyable trip.

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Helen Michael Trust


Since my first interest in The Silvanus Trevail Society, when I saw James Whetter on TV fighting to save Mount Charles Chapel, I have been saddened that many other buildings of significant architectural importance and interest have been demolished in our small county, often before anyone has a chance to speak up for them. Over the centuries we know similar acts of vandalism have taken place.

When I first saw Borlase’s illustration of The Tolmen Stone I was enchanted and excited only to discover that it too had been destroyed more than a hundred years ago. The loss of the stone stirred the nation; as a result The Ancient Monuments Act was passed and The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings was formed.

Situated about five miles south of Penryn on a granite merchant’s estate, The Tolmen was a massive egg-shaped rock which dominated the countryside and coast for miles around. "It was a striking object seen on a distant hilltop from the eastern side of Mount's Bay, about midway between Falmouth and Helston". On Feast Day, Tuesday 9th March 1869, explosives toppled the stone 40 feet into the quarry below.

According to Charles Henderson, "It gave the name of Maen (a rock) to the neighbouring farm of Maen Poll (or Toll), while another stupendous rock gave name to its neighbour Maen Pearn". The Tolmen was 33 feet long, 18 feet 6 inches at its widest and 14 feet 6 inches deep. Although known locally for centuries as the Maen Rock or Maen Toll, William Borlase called it The Tolmen – ‘tol’ meaning hole and ‘men’ stone. The Tolvan Stone is a true example of a holed stone, whereas The Tolmen derived its name from the large hole created at its point of support which a person could comfortably walk through. Borlase attributed its grooves and gullies to the work of the druids though this claim has since been disproved.

For more than a century after Borlase’s visit, The Tolmen continued to be inspected, enjoyed by tourists – it was a popular destination for excursions from Falmouth – and revered as the pride of the parish. In time quarrying edged close to its pedestal and Mr H. Jenkin, approached the Geological Society in London and ‘certain Cornish gentlemen’ offering the rock in return for compensation. Sir Richard Vyvyan was among those to take a keen interest. Estimates to the value of the granite bed beneath ranged from £200 to £1,000 – nothing came of it.

When the land passed into the ownership of Richard Hosken work near the base of the rock was prohibited and fears were allayed for a time. It then became the property of W. Hosken of Penryn, who worked the quarry for many years. By 1849 blasting had eroded granite to within a few feet of its plinth leaving The Tolmen resting on a strip a mere 20 feet wide.

In October of the same year Richard Edmonds, of the Natural History and Antiquarian Society of Penzance, feared that unless The Tolmen "perhaps the most remarkable attached rock in Great Britain" was purchased its future was fated. He suggested that his own society and those of Truro and Falmouth should purchase the stone and cairn for a small sum…. "It would be a lasting honour to them: but" he warned "should it be suffered to perish, the disgrace to our native country would never be effaced".

While men of education and words concerned themselves with the safeguarding of this object of antiquity, the quarry workers considered its very existence (quite misguidedly) a threat to their continued labour. It is easy to understand the mood of insecurity in the light of the times so aptly illustrated in ‘The West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser’ of 18th March 1869, just nine days after the demise of Borlase’s ‘Rock Idol’ The Tolmen: "About a year ago the stonemasons of Penryn refused to allow their wages to be reduced, although unanimously assured by their masters that the result would be a losing of heavy contracts. A proof of this has since then become lamentably apparent. A large number of men have had to leave the town for America to seek for work, some of them leaving long families behind.

The granite yielded by Mr Hosken’s quarry was indeed very valuable, its superior quality used to erect the national buildings in Chatham and Plymouth. In the insecure working climate the quarrymen took matters, according to some reports, into their own hands. The General Superintendent, John Spargo, is not mentioned as having endorsed their actions. The Foreman, John Dunstan, was held responsible.

A new bedway in the direction of The Tolmen had been opened during W. Hosken’s ownership and a few weeks before the final toppling of the rock, a crack was observed near its base. Exaggerated claims as to the position, size and cause of the crack were contrived to convince the public that the rock had been displaced by accident and, fuelled with enthusiasm for its demise, quarrymen cleared away adjacent rocks exposing The Tolmen for blasting.

Between Thursday 4th March and the following Monday morning as many as five blasts were applied to the stone, but it held fast. A fresh borehole was prepared for firing on Monday evening, but by this time a large crowd of indignant local sympathisers had gathered. In view of the emotions aroused, action was delayed until the following morning when an even greater assemblage had formed. Finally another hole was bored and the last charge was blasted. A week later the ‘West Briton’ gave this moving report: "This ancient colossal monument slowly swerved and majestically slid to the bottom of the quarry. A deep feeling of grief and regret, as for the loss of an old friend, pervades the district, a sentiment, that to their credit, appeared to be shared by the workmen employed in carrying on the work of destruction. A great national heirloom, its presence among us was like a still yet mighty voice reaching down from distant ages – a voice now hushed by an act of sacrilege".

It seems somehow hard to believe, as some reports state, that Mr Hosken knew nothing of this action carried out over a period of six days. His letter to ‘The Times’ shortly after the event is very convincing: "I distinctly state that I have always felt too great a pride in this ancient monument to wantonly throw it down, and each member of our family, to whom the estate belongs, very deeply regrets the loss of this fine object of interest. Had it not been for a direct breach of duty on the part of a servant, the rock would have been even now adorning the estate".

A few days later quarrymen were seen on the Helston to Penryn road selling small pieces for a few pence as relics.

Also writing to ‘The Times’ the eminent archaeologist Sir John Lubbock expressed his horror at the "wanton barbarism" of the act. He alluded to the displacement of the Logan Rock some 45 years previously by naval lieutenant Goldsmith, nephew of the poet Oliver Goldsmith, who was compelled to replace the rock in its original position. Sir John speculated whether The Tolmen could be restored to its seat by the same means, but with the primitive lifting gear available it would have been impossible.

Letters to the ‘West Briton’ in the weeks that followed the rock’s demise illustrate the depth of feeling engendered in all those who loved it or knew of its existence. One correspondent asked: "Who has not seen entire rows of barrows destroyed, cromlechs thrown down, stone circles disappear, ancient encamping grounds obliterated, wayside crosses broken up? Now we have our greatest natural curiosity, the like of which England cannot produce, taken from us". He leaves us with a solemn warning: "What will the future historian say, of those who lived in this nineteenth century, when he dwells on the ugly fact that we have robbed him and unborn generations, of those marks of time which we should have handed to him, as our fathers have preserved and given them to us?"


  • William Borlase, ‘Antiquities Historical and Monumental of the County of Cornwall’ reprinted 1973.

  • Richard Edmonds ‘Transactions of the Natural History and Antiquarian Society of Penzance’, Vol. 1, 1845-50, on the Tolmen of Constantine.

  • Charles Henderson ‘A History of the Parish of Constantine in Cornwall’.

  • Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, Vols. 1-1V, 1869 and Vol. XXI, part 4, 1925

  • by W. Boxer Mayne.

  • Peter Stanier ‘The Work of Giants – Great Granite Rocks of Cornwall and Scilly’, St Ives Printing and Publishing, 1988.

  • Thanks to Angela Broome, Librarian of the Royal Institution, Truro, for her help in the compilation of this article and to the Editor of "The Cornish Banner" who first published this article.

  • Illustration: permission to publish by North Devon Athenaeum.

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Hazel Harradence


Tregaddick Lodge in Blisland was designed by Silvanus Trevail as a summer residence for Sir Warwick Charles Morshead of Forest Lodge, Berkshire, and his bride. The Morsheads were local landowners, the 1st baronet, Sir John Morshead, having held the office of Lord Warden of the Stannaries of Cornwall. Their coat of arms is on Jubilee Rock on Bodmin Moor.

Sir Warwick had married for a second time in 1887 and over the porch door the initials S.E. & W.C. were placed. The house, built in 1886 is of granite cavity walls with bath stone facings and Delabole slate roof. The original design was for a south facing porch leading into a 16’ square entrance hall. From here one door led into a 20’ Drawing Room with bay window and a second door led to the inner hall.



From here access was into a 19’ Dining Room, also with bay window. A passage- way led to the back of the house with servants hall, kitchen, pantry, servery, scullery, fuel store and back stairs. From the main staircase in the inner hall access was to two bedrooms with bay windows and a shared dressing room, 3 smaller bedrooms, bathroom and WC. From the back stairs there was entry to two servants rooms on this floor. Both stairways continued to attics containing a further six rooms.

Throughout the house woodwork was pitch pine and heating was by hot water. Above the transoms the lights were leaded and most still contain the original designs of sporting features, flowers and fruits. The staircase window contains County and family coats of arms. A stable block, presumably built at the same time had room for two carriages. An extension was added to the east side of the main house.

The house remained in the family until 1943 and when sold was run as a hotel for about 40 years. It was eventually left empty and became derelict before being purchased by current owners in the early 1990s. By this time the extension had been separated from the main house as a separate dwelling and the stable converted into residential accommodation and now barely recognisable.

The owners of Tregaddick are slowly repairing the structure where necessary, removing the white paint covering the pitch pine, replacing fireplaces, putting back the kitchen range and radiators, rewiring, re-plumbing and repairing the damaged leaded lights. The stair window has had added to it the arms of Trevail, in recognition of the architect’s work. The transformation of the building will take time, but when finished will once again be a comfortable yet impressive family home.


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Ronald Perry

Architects, no doubt, always have to deal with demanding clients, and examples of this abound in the records currently being researched by the Society. Trevail, it must be said, was not an easy man to deal with and, at the time he was building a modest residence for Miss Collins in the late 1890s, he was pre-occupied with many weightier matters – building a hospital in London and a mansion in Dublin, coping with riots around his Newquay hotel, refuting allegations that he was misusing funds for his Technical Schools at Truro. So he was unlikely to have welcomed the frequent letters from Miss Collins, informing him that some of the tiles in her hallway did not seem to fit, or that a short length of piping in the kitchen was rather obtrusive, or that the entrance, which had to be impressive, was perhaps a trifle ostentatious.

Trevail had devised a formula for dealing with such details: he ignored them until the client bombarded him with telegrams. Commercial clients were quick to resort to this procedure, but Miss Collins seemed unaware of it, and so her correspondence consisted of letters, of descending degrees of politeness, requesting replies to her questions. First she would suggest an improvement in her plans. When, eventually, Trevail answered, he would often have a counter-suggestion. Miss Collins would then consult her brother, Vicar of a parish some distance away. When matters were finally agreed, Trevail would send her an estimate of the extra cost, whereupon she would express alarm and plead poverty – "ladies purses are very small" – and suggest a reduction in costs in some other part of the house, involving further negotiation. While improvements normally related to her own quarters, reductions usually occurred in the servants rooms. For example, an old kitchen sink from a former home, she decided, would suffice for the scullery maid.


St. Gurons, Miss M.S. Collins’ house at Bodmin.


Further delays occurred when Trevail set off for a month’s cure at Marienbad. Initially, Miss Collins expresses great concern for his health, but her sympathies wore thin when she discovered that he had cut short his cure after a few days and was enjoying the bright lights and banqueting halls in Prague, Vienna and Budapest. At last, after three years of negotiation and construction, her residence was finished. There is no trace in the Trevail letter books and correspondence files of any letter of thanks either from Trevail or Miss Collins. Possibly their relief that the job was completed was clouded by the size of the final bill – eighty per cent higher than the original estimate.

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