When we were farming at Lanhydrock I used to cycle around the country lanes and often passed Boconnoc near Lostwithiel. It was a beautiful country mansion but uninhabited and in serious need of repairs to the roof. Thirty years have passed since then and I was fascinated to stumble across an advertisement for a guided tour of the house….with lightning speed I booked a tour for Dave and myself and his brother and wife.
I did a little research and discovered that the house is set in the largest park in Cornwall, still privately owned by the Fortescue family and has a chequered history. The estate is mentioned in the Domesday book of 1086, the name probably meaning ‘house of Conoc’. It was built on Elizabethan foundations in 1579 by Sir William Mohun and stayed in their family until 1712 when the 4th Baron Mohun was killed fighting a duel. His widow then sold it to Thomas Pitt, a wealthy merchant who made his fortune in India and was the first of a long line of politicians. In 1644, during the English Civil War King Charles 1 used Boconnoc as a base whilst fighting the Battle of Lostwithiel and the King’s bedroom is reputed to be the one he stayed in.
Pitt bought Boconnoc in 1717 with the proceeds of the ‘Pitt Diamond’ which was later set into the hilt of Napoleon’s sword and can now be seen in the Louvre in Paris.
Thomas Pitt and his son began re-styling it into the Georgian mansion you see today.
In 1804 Thomas Pitt was also killed in a duel. His sister Anne inherited the estate and when she married Lord Grenville, it passed to the Fortescue family.
During the Second World War the house was requisitioned and American troops were stationed there and it was left in a bad way, just a crumbling shell with holes in the roof and riddled with dry rot, in need of a massive and expensive restoration.
Anthony and Elisabeth Fortescue bravely set about that task with bold vision and determination in 1997. It took 12 years to complete and they were awarded a Historic Houses Association/ Sothebys Restoration Award in 2012 for their ambitious project.
Our small group tour lasted about 3 hours and we were captivated by Elisabeth’s warm welcome and friendly manner. We wandered from room to room listening to family history and admiring the beautiful furniture made by her late husband Anthony. Their daughter Sarah is a talented and renowned interior designer and the furnishings and fittings are all beautifully made and exquisitely finished. I fell in love with the fabric wallpaper and the enormous slipper baths!
The finishing touch was a fabulous cream tea served in the dining room – we felt like royalty but did manage a Devon/Cornwall feud over jam or cream first on the scones! I highly recommend a visit – it was scored 10/10 by all of us.