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 Silvanus Trevail 








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Helen Michael-Trust

There were just eight of us for the annual September outing, rather a pity as it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable and memorable tours Hazel has organised. We began at St Day School, on the edge of the village. The windy site offers outstanding views across neighbouring villages, farmland and a landscape once broken and scarred by the intensive mining that generated great wealth for the area. Built for four hundred pupils, an impressively large number for the time, by Trevail in 1878 following the 1870 Education Act. Our Chairman found the design hauntingly reminiscent of his own primary school at Gorran which suffered fire damage in 1965 and was hastily demolished to make way for an ugly modern building. (Yet another fine Trevail building that should have been restored, not destroyed).

St Day School - bt 1878

St Day School, happily, appears much cherished and enjoyed. The single-storey structure with its fine sweeping slate roof, elegant chimneys and lofty gabled elevations is a fine example of the best of his schools, built to last. The local granite fabric, set off with pretty buttresses that appear more for show than strength and elegant hood mouldings confirm the assumption that each stone had been carefully selected to show off the design to its best. The varying shades of the granite itself a veritable mosaic of subtle hues. The narrow trefoil windows on the gable ends are further defined by stone mullions and provide plenty of light. Even the roof has a strip of contrasting slates, a few feet from the top, echoing the line and colour of the terracotta ridge tiles. Bright modern extensions at the back serve their purpose and have a contemporary feel which does not detract from or threaten the appearance and solidity of the main building.

Tucked away from general view we discovered a row of original toilets under and original slate roof, once divided for Boys and Girls – as was the School. It brought smiles to our faces. Now storerooms they are lucky survivors through change and use and provide a charming example of social history. We did not enter the school but admired its pleasing and enduring elevations that have weathered its lofty location for well over a hundred years.

In sharp contrast our next, albeit brief, stop was to view from afar a Cornelius building set into the rugged cliff overlooking Porthtowan beach. The village itself straggles through a deep and narrow gorge that winds its way from the hinterland opening onto a wide sandy plateau, tarmacadamed in part for a car park. This plain, with its hillocks of marram grass, narrows into the half-hidden mouth of the beach. Beyond, the Atlantic with its great breakers dashes down onto the white sands. Porthtowan evolved from mining into tourism in a piecemeal way. Architecturally it is disturbing; a patchwork of random styles, colours and often ugly shapes, an odd mixture of houses, pubs and guesthouses. Here and there are noteworthy or pleasing buildings but few the discerning eye would want to gaze upon again. Sixties and Seventies planners have much to answer for here. The Beach Hotel built by Alfred Cornelius (Silvanus Trevail’s one-time apprentice) in 1913, is one of the exceptions. It commands excellent views across the beach and northwards along the coast. Pleasingly, the third floor which we believe to be a later addition, does not detract from the symmetry of the design. With little time to linger we were off again.

Back up the steep hill for a short distance and we reached Torvean. As we swung into the driveway, the rendered and pebble-dashed seemingly 1930s elevations of this charming home bore all the hallmarks of another Cornelius building. The owner greeted us and escorted the group to the shelter of the back garden where we viewed the documents relating to the house, where he has lived for the last three years. Cornelius built Torvean for Mr JE Webb in 1913. He and his wife lived there for only a short while, since when the property has changed hands many times. Inside, a wealth of detail remains and original pieces of furniture have survived various owners thoughtful enough to ensure they were left in place to complement the building.

There is a general atmosphere of homeliness created by the seemingly low ceilings of the rooms with their picture rails and (a later addition) beams. A tiled area inside the front door (approached from the garden by wide marble steps) opens into the reception hall with arches framing, to the left a window seat and opposite the stairwell. The white-painted Arts and Crafts style stair balusters add to the cottagey atmosphere, as does the kitchen, at the back, with its Cornish range. The reception hall, sitting room and dining room each have curved wooden window seats, complete with original horsehair cushions, following the general lines of the bays.

In the sitting room beautifully painted portraits of Mr and Mrs Webb hang either side of the fireplace with its plainly tiled inset and contrastingly grandiose carved surround. On the other side of the hall the dining room adjoins two further rooms that replace the conservatory. Glass doors complete with original fittings and pretty glazing open into this area, with an original window complete with stained glass and leaded light, incorporated in the design. Outside, a feature wall, again reminiscent of the 1930s, separates the front and back gardens and acts as a windbreak in this lofty location. A block of single-storey buildings at the rear complements the house and is part of the original design. Plans show the use of granite quoins which may be under the pebbledash. Soffit brackets possibly made of mahogany, are an attractive aspect of the tiled roof. Torvean, built just before the First World War, is a design ahead of its time – a forerunner of Art Deco.

Following lunch at a conveniently situated pub, it did not take us too long to reach our next destination, St Agnes. The owner of Penkerris had been told several years ago that the house was a Trevail design. Unfortunately, to date, research has not found any evidence either to support or refute this. Nor have we discovered who spoke to the owner! Mrs Dorothy Gill-Carey, whose home it has been for several decades, was happy to show us around and made us feel very welcome. Penkerris was built in 1903 and has for many years provided homely accommodation for holiday guests. It is a large, many-roomed house with a very comfortable, welcoming atmosphere.

The front elevation with its twin bay windows is rather grand and imposing. Inside, original features such as pretty cast-iron fireplaces in all the rooms, picture rails and bell-pushes add to its charm and authenticity. Like Torvean, Penkerris seems little altered although, in its latter day role, en-suite bathrooms and extra facilities have been incorporated into dressing rooms and cupboards without affecting the basic design. Fire doors are a necessity; the flush boarding lamented by Mrs Gill-Carey, but underneath the original doors are protected and can easily be revealed in the future.

Outside, to the rear of the house a narrow servants doorway led to a back staircase where they could come and go unseen by the prominent members of the household. Near to this doorway we spotted a triangular wooden dovecote set in the wall, adding to the country charm of this mansion near to the sea. Although there are several design ideas similar to Torvean, the architect of this building remains a mystery. After a stroll in the gardens and ‘thank you's’ to our hostess we took the short walk to the local museum. Although a diversion from the Society’s ‘remit’ it would be a pity to exclude it from an account of the outing.

St Agnes museum is housed in a rather pretty disused cemetery chapel. We were delighted it was open on a Sunday – when we visited – thanks to the volunteer, who was most helpful and informative. We had little time to study the displays at length but were very impressed with the presentation and diversity of subjects covered in such a small, free-entry museum. Two of the most valuable exhibits were a striking ship’s figurehead and an original self-portrait of ‘The Cornish Wonder’, John Opie, born nearby at Harmony Cot in 1761. An illustrated account of another Cornish Worthy, John Passmore Edwards from Blackwater, was fascinating. Trevail, of course, designed some of the libraries Edwards funded.

Our final visit was to Perranzabuloe (also known as Piran-in-the-Sands). Our fatigue after such a long day was assuaged on sight of the fine vicarage; a fitting climax to our tour and a joy for any connoisseur of fine architecture to behold. Silvanus Trevail must have been very proud of this building. It is extremely handsome, pleasing in every detail – the choice of stone, brick, colour and texture. 

Perranzabuloe Vicarage - bt 1887

It was built in 1887 adjacent to the church. The following entry in Kelly’s Directory of 1939 is illuminating, "The living is a vicarage, net yearly value £400, with 2 acres of glebe and residence in the gift of the Dean and Chapter of Truro, and held since 1934 by the Rev. Sir John Charles William Herschel bart, MM.M. of Christ Church Oxford" 

The church of St Piran, to which the vicarage is attached, was the third to be built – the first stone laid in 1804. The two former churches, positioned nearer the coast, were engulfed by sand.

Rosa came out to meet us and welcomed us inside. She and her husband brought the vicarage about seven years ago and have spent much time painstakingly restoring this large rambling mansion. Rosa is an architect turned sculptor; her studio is in the former carriage house and examples of her impressive work adorn the house. Her husband is a structural engineer and it is pleasing to know that one of Trevail’s best houses has been renovated with sympathy, sensitivity and professional understanding. A delightful afternoon tea served on the lawn, shared with our hosts, was much appreciated and a superb ending to the day.

A special thanks to Hazel for her tireless efforts to make such an excellent outing. 

** Since our outing I have found the following advertisement in the West Briton, dated April 1902:

"Tenders are invited for a Residence at St Agnes. Plans and specifications may be seen at the offices of Mr G Coulter Hancock, jnr, Solicitor, St Agnes, to whom sealed endorsed tenders are to be sent on or before Saturday 3rd May next. Sampson Hill, Architect". 

Although we do not know for certain that is refers to the same house, it seems quite likely.

                                                                                                                  Hazel Harradence


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Unveiling of Trevail Plaque at West Hill, St Austell

Ronald Perry

On December 7th 2002, Ann and Ronald Perry represented the Society at the unveiling of two plaques commemorating the Central Schools at West Hill, St Austell, now replaced by an imposing housing development. Over forty people attended this ceremony, which was organised by Mr David Stark, Chairman of St Austell Old Cornwall Society. Those present included the former headmaster Mr Archie Smith and pupils of the old school as well as members of St Austell O.C.S. and representatives of the developers, Sovereign Housing Association Ltd, and of the builders, Midas Homes Ltd.

David Stark in his opening speech, explained how he had rescued the plaques from builders rubble. The earlier one, dated 1873 and made of sandstone, had broken into three pieces but had been carefully restored by a specialist conservator, Matthew Heath of Torbay, following in the tradition of the O.C.S. motto of gathering the fragments before they were lost. The later plaque of 1898, had survived intact and has also been re-erected by the developers. Mr Stark expressed the gratitude of the O.C.S. to those involved in installing the plaques in such prominent positions.

Plaque formerly on the Central School in St Austell

The 1873 sandstone plaque, inscribed with the names of the School Board and "S. Trevail arch" can be seen from Trinity Street, while the 1898 plaque has been installed on a specially built wall, surrounded by a flower bed, in College Green, the entrance to the new development. The architect’s name is not inscribed on this stone and unfortunately none of the plans for St Austell School Board buildings are contained in the archives of Cornwall Record Office. It is possible, however, that they were retained by Syd Hancock, whose name is inscribed on the plaque as Board Clerk. Records of the School Board, according to Hazel Harradence, show Hancock as dealing with extensions to a number of St Austell schools and he may have used Silvanus Trevail’s plans for this purpose.

Archie Smith then gave a brief but lively outline of the educational history of the site. The first establishment to be built there was a National School of 1832, run by the Church of England. After the 1870 Education Act it was replaced in 1873 by the Central Schools, designed by Trevail, which were enlarged in 1898. In 1946 the old building was reborn as a Secondary Modern School and education continued there until the school transferred to Poltair, the former St Austell Grammar School. After this the buildings were used as an outpost of St Austell Technical College until they were demolished.

Following the unveiling of the 1898 plaque, the O.C.S. presented an old school photograph to the developers, to be placed in the lounge of the new building. After the ceremony, Ann and Ronald were invited to join the O.C.S. members for lunch, one of the enjoyable features of which was the great interest shown by members in Silvanus Trevail and his works. Archie Smith recalled that he attended another Trevail school at Gorran, while Dennis Bray owned a house in what was once called "Sylvan Terrace" which was said to be named after Silvanus Trevail. This terrace was apparently built around 1898 for a member of the Lovering family, the prominent china clay producers, as a wedding present for his daughter. She lived in the house owned by Mr Bray and received an income from the rest of the properties. This house, he said, was built of the finest quality materials, with reddish pitch pine woodwork, which is of course a characteristic of a Trevail building. Up to now, however, the Society has not found a reference to these buildings.

It is gratifying to know that although one of Trevail’s buildings has gone, its memory is preserved for posterity through the good offices of David Stark and members of the St Austell O.C.S., and of the developers. 


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Hazel Harradence

Some of you may remember that in the Newsletter for 2002, I re-printed some work of the late Peter Laws. From him we had the date of birth for Silvanus of 31st October, which we celebrated at The Headland, and I had always assumed that the event had taken place at Carne, the family home. However, another member told me that he believed Silvanus had been born in Menadue so I decided to do some further research. It seemed more likely to me that if his mother did not stay at home for her confinement that she would have gone to her own family in Atwell, where she had been living in April 1851 with her mother and grandmother. The easiest way to get the details was to ask for a birth certificate, so I duly wrote to the Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths at St Austell, assuming that with the address for Carne being St Blazey that would have been the closest town. Unfortunately the Registrar wrote back to say that the birth was not recorded at St Austell, but my request had been passed to Bodmin. That would have been fine, except that Bodmin then wrote to me stating that the birth did not appear in their records either!

Where was it registered? I checked the St Catherine’s House Index, found it listed under St Austell in 1851 in the 4th quarter of the year (which was correct for 31st October). I also now had the Folio number and page number.

With all this information I wrote direct to the Public Record Office at Kew. It takes a lot longer through the PRO, but I was confident this time that they would find it; it does sometimes happen that the local Registrar’s office has a clerk with little enthusiasm to help a family historian.

The Birth Certificate duly arrived – with the date 11th November. We celebrated too early! I checked with St Austell and it is there – I had requested a certificate for 31st October, which was the reason they could not find it. My original quest had been to find where he had been born; yes, it was at Carne, which became the family home, but I had not expected to find a different birth date. Silvanus was baptised at Luxulyan church on 11 January 1852 at the age of two months.

I can also tell you that John Trevail was living at home in Higher Menedew in April; at some stage between then and November he and Jane moved to Carne. They stayed there at least until after daughter Laura’s marriage to Richard Rundle in 1897, but by 1901 were living at Lower Trevollard, Lanreath, with Laura and Richard.


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Felicity Penneycard

As part of the Celebration of Bells that ran from 13 to 20 October, 2002 at Luxulyan Parish Church, the Centenary Service itself was held on Saturday, 19 October and attended by a full congregation of members of the parish, the Trevail family and the Society.

The Celebration included during the week a display on the life of Silvanus Trevail and a ringing of the Bells on Monday 14 October – the actual centenary date.

On this Saturday, the Centenary Service was both preceded and concluded with Festival ringing by the Federation of Cornish Bell-ringers. It was a wonderful start to the occasion, to walk down the hill towards the church to the sound of the bells.

Lift them gently to the tower

Let our bells be set on high:

There to take their glorious station,

Midway ‘twixt the earth and sky.

The service, led by Father Malcolm, was based on the original celebration. Hymns, in addition to the ‘Bell Hymn’, included ‘For the Beauty of the Earth’ and ‘All People that on Earth do Dwell’ and the Psalms were Cantate Domino and the Magnificat. In his address, Father Malcolm celebrated the contribution Silvanus Trevail had made to the church, with the restoration and re-hanging of the three original bells and the addition of three new ones, all at his own expense, in honour of his parents, "Jane and John Trevail of Carne, in this parish".

No 2 Bell in Luxulyan Church tower (1902)

After the service, a copious tea was provided by the parish, and everyone had the opportunity to look at the excellent display arranged by Hazel Harradence, and some very interesting material lent by Roger Brewer from his family archives. The ‘centrepiece’ of this was surely the wonderful illuminated ‘appreciation’ from the parish to Silvanus Trevail for "your munificent gift to your parish church of the enlarged and re-constituted peal of bells, a day when ‘sounds aerial seem to float’, will you allow the parishioners of Luxulyan to most heartily thank you …….."

A most uplifting afternoon, both in the service and in the furthering of our interest and knowledge. As we walked away from the church, the sound of bells followed us.

And when evening shadows soften

Chancel cross and tower and aisle

They shall blend their vesper summons

With the day’s departing smile


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