Trelowarren’s Private Side

Sir Ferrers Vyvyan is the very private man behind Trelowarren, the well-known estate. In our June issue we find out more about this family, including Sir Ferrers' latest role as the High Sheriff of Cornwall

Sir Ferrers Vyvyan is the very private man behind Trelowarren, the well-known estate. Caroline Righton finds out more about this family, including Sir Ferrers' latest role as the High Sheriff of Cornwall

Sir Ferrers Vyvyan is a very private man, which makes it all the more extraordinary that he has welcomed strangers in to share his home, Trelowarren on The Lizard, for the last 20 years and intends to carry on doing so for the foreseeable future.

For a man who is the present incumbent of the 1,000 acres of Cornwall's most romantic ancient estate, with a 600-year Cornish family heritage behind him, Sir Ferrers Vyvyan is also remarkably down to earth. "It's my job to take out and recycle the rubbish and bring in dry logs so the fires don't hiss sullenly," he laughs, when quizzed about his duties at Trelowarren.

In fact, his achievements at Trelowarren have been remarkable. It is hard not to overstate the dramatic restoration of the estate that Sir Ferrers has overseen since he inherited it at the age of 23. Then, although his parents had initiated a restoration, the estate was still very run down and virtually bankrupt. Now it supports 25 local families who are involved in the upkeep of the grounds, running the restaurant and looking after the properties sold as timeshare and let as self-catering. The project, which is entering its next stage of building more properties, has won numerous awards for its eco-credentials and innovative design.

He is also Cornwall's current High Sheriff and is rather amused by the notion that he's not only one of the youngest people to hold the post in the country, but almost certainly also the only one selling timeshare. "I see timeshare for what it is," he states pragmatically, determinedly refuting its association with sharp practice on the Costas. "It provides socially responsible tourism. The houses are occupied for forty weeks a year, bringing benefits to the wider local community and not standing empty as second homes. This also means they and their owners don't contribute to the distortion of house prices in the area."

Timeshare isn't only an attractive financial proposition for the owners of the properties at Trelowarren, it has also helped secure the estate's future - a different situation from that of 22 years ago. "Victoria and I spent a lot of time in the early years of our marriage splitting and bagging kindling wood to sell to local post offices and garages to bring in some cash. At the same time I opened a restaurant here and was working 70 hours a week in that," he remembers. "It was hard work and we made a lot of sacrifices."

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Victoria is Lady Victoria Vyvyan. They met when she was visiting friends in Cornwall. He grimaces at the question, but answers, "Yes, it was love at first sight... and no, she wasn't put off at the prospect of taking on Trelowarren with me. She has extraordinary determination and realism." Testament to this was Lady Victoria's decision early on to take a teaching post in Truro while Sir Ferrers studied Landscape Conservation. Together, they have worked steadily to restore the buildings and landscape and to secure the estate for the next generation of Vyvyans - his five sons.

Ranging in age from 9 to 22, Gabriel, Inigo, Josh, Freddie and Rowan have been brought up at Trelowarren and play their part in the family's hands-on approach to the project. "When I was a child, London was seen as the place to be, but I think children now are better able to understand the value of what we have here in West Cornwall. Increased environmental awareness and the development of the surf culture have played their part but there is something about the rurality of our lifestyle that means the boys aren't materialistic."

But five boys! "Yes," Sir Ferrers says ruefully, "Of course there have been fallings out and thumping each other along the way - justice tends to delivered swiftly amongst boys - but we all get along very well and are a close family. They have an extended network of local friends and there are rarely less than ten people for supper."

Sir Ferrers was brought up as a child in the Dower House on the estate with his sisters, Amanda, a successful interiors and furniture designer, and Tatiana, now a successful film producer in London. "My earliest memories of Trelowarren are visiting my Great Aunt Clara in the main house. I remember exploring the corridors and attic rooms and discovering boxes of antiquities that hadn't been unpacked from grand tours in the 1840s. Trelowarren was just like something out of Sleeping Beauty, it literally had brambles climbing up the walls and the ceilings falling in."

"As a child I didn't appreciate that running the estate was in store for me, or what a huge amount of history is attached to the family. My father used to say, 'Every family has history, the trick is finding it out.' As I have got older I've researched the individual Vyvyans whose pictures hang on the walls in the house. For my post-graduate dissertation I did some primary research and had a thrilling moment when I realised I was holding a picture of an Elizabethan Trelowarren that I didn't recognise."

Researching the political history of Cornwall is something he is looking forward to spending more time doing one day - that and sailing. Currently, for relaxation, he enjoys listening to chamber music when he can find the time and has a keen interest in fine art. He is the current Chairman of The Royal Institution of Cornwall and has helped develop a much more high-brow exhibition policy. This year the RIC has drawings by Leonardo da Vinci from the Royal Collection.

He has a liking for cult movies such as Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill and after attending Charterhouse school, which numbers members of Genesis among its alumni, he also claims to appreciate the current Clash revival and to enjoy dancing to the psychadelic music from his teens. "Although the family will do everything in their powers to stop me from doing so," he laughs.

There is not a lot of time for relaxation, however, especially this year. He will be the sixth Vyvyan to hold the ancient post of High Sheriff. "I think as you get older you start considering the fabric of the society you live in and realise that it is supported by many things. I felt very honoured to be asked to be High Sheriff and am finding the duties and encounters it entails fascinating. It is a privilege to have insight into why society breaks down and to see what keeps it stuck together and to play a part in that."

Feeling part of something greater, one piece of a whole, is probably why Sir Ferrers, despite being a private, modest man, can feel at ease both in his High Sheriff velvet and ruffles and also in jeans greeting timeshare owners at Trelowarren. "It's important for all of us to have a sense of 'place'. I wanted to find a 21st-century structure for Trelowarren and the family," he says, "something that would create a Trelowarren community which others could share in and that would be sustainable and respectful of the environment. To live here is such a blessing."

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