Thursday, 22 August 2019

Cotehele

Cotehele, pronounced Coat-Heel, in Cornwall is a very dark place. I don't mean that it was once a brutal orphanage, or that it's run by the Addams Family. I mean it literally: there isn't much light

Cotehele

The reason for this lies partly in the number of tapestries in nearly every room. A lot of NT houses have one or two hanging about, but Cotehele has loads of them. They themselves contribute to the gloom, but they also need protecting, which means that the amount of daylight allowed into the rooms has to be rationed.


If you're wondering why I'm wibbling on about the dark so much, I need to explain:
  • Cotehele had been recommended to me by many, many people and I badly wanted to love it. 
  • It was the 200th stop on the National Trust Scone Odyssey and came on the back of a series of visits to bright, light, airy NT houses that I would live in tomorrow if I could (namely Arlington, The Argory, Springhill).
So having established that, while I appreciated the unique antiquity of Cotehele, its eerie nooks and crannies wouldn't allow me to ever sleep again if I lived there, let's move on and tell its story.

It was the home of the Edgcumbes for 600 years
In 1353 Hilaria de Cotehele, from an old and respected family, married William Edgcumbe. The early Edgcumbes all played a part in modelling the house - Richard I modernised it and his son Piers also made signficant changes when he inherited in 1489. Later on, in the mid 1600s, Colonel Piers Edgcumbe made further changes when he moved the family back to Cotehele for a time.

The antique furnishings were not always quite so respected
There's a great story in the guide book about James Lees-Milne, when he was the Country Houses Secretary for the National Trust. He visited Cotehele to begin negotiations about the NT taking on the estate. He was "incredulous" when Lady Mount Edgcumbe's puppy 'ate a good slice of Queen Anne tatting from the famous needlework sofa in the Punch Room. "You naughty little thing," she admonished in an amused tone as it scuttled off with a mouthful.'

Richard Edgcumbe I was quite a character
In 1483, Richard Edgcumbe decided to rebel against King Richard III. He was put under house arrest but he absconded. He made his way to Brittany and later fought with Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth, where he was knighted. He later built the Chapel-in-the-Wood to commemorate his escape.

It's a big and complex house
In 1450 the house was a fairly simple hall with a chapel and service wing. As various Edgcumbes added new sections to the place, it became a bit of a warren. There are around 18 rooms that you can visit today and they're all spread out in various ranges and towers so you never know where you are (or you probably would - my sense of direction is sadly abysmal). 

It played second fiddle to Mount Edgcumbe House
In 1553, Piers's son Richard Edgcumbe III went to live in a grand new abode that he had built, Mount Edgcumbe House, which is down on the coast about 20 miles away from Cotehele. It became the main residence for the family, which meant two things: a) Cotehele didn't change as much as it might have done had it been a primary residence and b) old furnishings that were no longer needed at MEH were sent to Cotehele, giving it the very ancient atmosphere that it still has today. 

The family returned in 1941
Mount Edgcumbe House was destroyed by bombs in 1941, so Piers, the 5th Earl of Mount Edgcumbe, moved the family back to Cotehele. 

It has a famous Christmas garland
I had seen pictures of the Cotehele Christmas garland of flowers that goes up every year but I had no real concept of its size until I saw the Great Hall for myself. It's BIG. The garland involves an 18 metre-long rope and 15,000-30,000 flowers.


Cotehele Great Hall

The tradition only dates to the 1950s when the National Trust introduced the idea. The seeds for the garland are sown every February and the flowers are cut daily throughout summer. The stems are bunched and hung to dry in the shed. The team then begins constructing the garland in November - the rope is hung and evergreens added and then the flowers are placed individually. It's a lovely idea. 


I didn't see the famous Cotehele garland as it's a yuletide thing,
so I borrowed this picture and will just hope that nobody sues me.
It's hugely impressive and must be quite a sight.
It has a working mill that produces flour for the scones
It's a 20 minute walk down to Cotehele Mill (or you can hop in a little minibus like we did). The mill was restored by the National Trust in 1973 and produces flour that you can buy in the shop. The NT also created four workshops to show how a saddlery, a wheelwright, and a blacksmith would have looked.

While we're on the subject of flour, let's talk about the Cotehele scone. It was a big chunk of a scone and it didn't disappoint. It was well-baked and very tasty. I also loved the tea room at Cotehele - it's in the barn and it's big and light, so a total contrast to most of the house. The staff were also very friendly.

Cotehele scone

I just went to close the guide book and saw a quote from Queen Victoria who visited Cotehele in 1846; "The old rooms are hung with arras [tapestry], & very cheerless I think." So I'm not the only one who struggled with the gloominess. 

However, the house reminded me very much of Knole in Kent - both hugely impressive buildings that could inspire a thousand ghost stories. I'm just not sure you'd want to live there.

Cotehele: 4.5 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5
Bonus marks for local production of flour in the mill: 5 out of 5

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