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History of the Estate

When Phillip Hawkins first bought Trewithen in 1715 he established the estate as a centuries-long contributor to Cornwall.

Shaping Trewithen

John Hawkins was the first member of the family to move to the county in 1554. Originally a courtier to Henry VIII, he settled at Trewinnard, near St Erth, married, and established a maritime trading business based in Mevagissey, which thrived for many years.

In 1715, the wealthy attorney and landowner Phillip Hawkins bought Trewithen from its previous owner, Courtenay Williams. Keen to make his mark, Philip commissioned the London architect Thomas Edwards to rebuild the house and lay out the park. When he died childless in 1738, the estate passed to his nephew, Thomas Hawkins, whose parents lived at Trewinnard – uniting the two branches of the Hawkins family in Cornwall.

Thomas fell in love with Anne Heywood, whose father agreed they could marry, but with one condition. Heywood wanted his architect, Sir Robert Taylor, to redesign and embellish Trewithen House, making it a country residence fit for his daughter. Alongside this work, Thomas Hawkins had plans drawn up for landscaping the gardens. It was at this stage that many fine specimen trees were planted and the famous vistas around the house were created. In 1745, Thomas wrote the short notebook, ‘The Care and Cultivation of Trees’.

The industrial age

When Thomas died from a smallpox inoculation, the estate passed to his eldest son, Christopher. Although Sir Christopher Hawkins never married, he contributed enormously to both Trewithen and Cornwall – opening new tin and copper mines, becoming involved with clay mining near St Austell, rebuilding the harbour at Pentewan and the great breakwater at St Ives, endowing local schools, and building new ones.

Trewithen has always embraced innovation. It was here, in 1811, that Richard Trevithick first tested his steam-powered threshing machine, with Sir Christopher Hawkins as his patron. Under Christopher’s watchful eye, the estate was expanded to the extent that he ‘could ride from one side of Cornwall to the other without setting hoof on another man’s soil’.

With Christopher’s death in 1829, Trewithen passed to his brother, John Hawkins, who built and lived at Bignor Park in West Sussex. John was respected as a man of great learning and intellect, though he also planted many fine trees – including Holm oaks – at Trewithen.

To plant a garden

John was succeeded in 1841 by his young son Henry Hawkins – known to all as CHT – who chose not to live in Cornwall. When he died in 1903, the estate passed to his nephew John Heywood Johnstone, changing the family name for the first time in nearly 200 years. Sadly, John survived only a year after his inheritance – leaving his 22-year-old son George Johnstone in charge.

It was George who significantly developed the gardens and, by sponsoring some of the great plant hunting expeditions to the Himalayas and China, introduced a wealth of new species. When George died in 1960, his widow Alison and eldest daughter Elizabeth continued his botanical work. Flourishing in her own right, Elizabeth was awarded the Bledisloe Gold Medal for services to Agriculture and Landowning.

Following George Johnstone’s death, Trewithen passed to his grandson, Michael Galsworthy. Michael came to live in the house with his family in 1980 and went on to oversee the planting of more than 30,000 trees to enlarge the shelter belts and surrounding woodlands – compensating for the many casualties of the great storm in 1990. Today, Michael’s son Sam Galsworthy has taken the helm as custodian of Trewithen, living in his beloved childhood home with his wife, Kitty, and their own children.

History of the house

Garden Highlights

Sunlight shining through grasses at the Trewithen Estate in Cornwall

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