The Invasion of Pencarrow

Pencarrow House, between Bodmin and Wadebridge in Cornwall belongs to the Molesworth-St Aubyn family who have lived there since Sir John Molesworth had the splendid Georgian mansion built in 1773-4. The house was uninhabited in the middle of the 20th Century, before being taken on in the 1970s by Lieutenant Colonel Sir Arscott and Lady Molesworth-St Aubyn. They spent decades re-claiming the gardens from an overgrown state and preparing the house to be open to the public in its current form. Today, the family inhabits one wing of the house.

On a May morning in 2017 a coach load of our members were warmly welcomed there by members of the family and their staff.

After an excellent buffet lunch served in the old servants quarters we were divided into groups for our tour to view the paintings, including some by Sir Joshua Reynolds; porcelain including a large Ch’ien Lung famille rose bowl known as the Pencarrow Bowl. This had been specially made by Chinese artisans based on drawings. The outside of the bowl shows farming scenes demonstrating the estate’s connection to agriculture; on the inside is a colourful artist’s impression of Pencarrow and a foxhunt, complete with horses and riders, a pack of hounds and their rather otter-like quarry.

We were later invited to explore the garden and grounds where could be viewed a towering Araucaria araucana, the first specimen of which was bought by Sir William Molesworth for 20 guineas and planted in solemn state before a house party. Noted barrister Charles Austin remarked upon touching its prickly leaves, “It would be a puzzle for a monkey”. His oft-repeated witticism gave the tree its common name of Monkey Puzzle.

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