Revitalising Godolphin House

It is hoped that the acquisition of Godolphin House by the National Trust last year, and the sale of selected contents by Bearne's Auctioneers of Exeter on 1-2 July, will ensure a safe future for both the family and the property. In this Ju...

Surprising though it may seem to most of you reading this, I must confess that despite it being open to the public for nearly half a century, I was previously unaware of the existence of Godolphin House in Helston. Standing on the gravel drive in front of the impressive colonnaded North Front, which once boasted twin towers, I could see it was both an impressive and important house. How could I not have known of its existence? Whilst I suspect this speaks more about my ignorance, I comfort myself that I am not the only person to have overlooked it. Despite the fact that the first house was built on the site shortly after 1300, it is only in recent years that the house has been rediscovered for the architectural gem it truly is.

In 1937 Sydney Schofield, the Suffolk-based son of Walter Elmer Schofield the American impressionist artist, heard that Godolphin was for sale. Perhaps it was seeing some photographs of the slightly 'down at heel' stately pile that so enamoured him, because it seems that almost on the spur of the moment he sold his house in Otley and moved lock, stock and barrel to Cornwall with his parents. He was accompanied on the train journey by his Suffolk Punch horses, their heavy wagons and his pedigree milking herd of Red Poll cattle!

Despite its rather grandiose and important appearance from the outside, the interior had suffered from neglect and what might best be termed as 'running agricultural repairs'. On arrival, he found that what is now retrospectively identified as the King's Room (so called because the future Charles II stayed here in 1646) functioned as a grain and potato store and was home to a thriving colony of rats oblivious to the holes in the roof, the treacherous state of repair and the previous royal inhabitant.

In 1940 Sydney Schofield met and married local girl Mary Lanyon, the daughter of a family friend and sister of the late St Ives artist Peter Lanyon, and together they set about bringing Godolphin back from the brink. An early stroke of luck led to the chance discovery and subsequent purchase of the original carved oak doorway of the King's Room in another local property. Since then a number of other original architectural features have made the journey home, having temporarily resided in other Cornish buildings. Other early discoveries include the graffiti of an early workman, James James, coupled with the date 1666 and a drawing of a fire. These curious scribbles have now been left exposed and on view.

The Godolphin association with Cornwall certainly precedes this date. It was Sir Alexander Godolghan who first purchased the mineral-rich Manor of Trescau around 1300. One gets an idea of his power and influence in the area as shortly afterwards he established the first manor on the Godolphin site. This was a small administrative castle directly and deliberately across the course of the public highway. By 1475 the Godolphin family had amassed a fortune, founded on the minerals and particularly the tin found beneath their soil.

The new owner, John Godolphin, felt the need for a more innovative and architecturally striking building, which he built a short way down the slope from the original castle that he demolished. This largely is the basis of what exists today, apart from the extraordinary North Front which was completed by Sir Francis Godolphin I in the 1630s. Whilst the size and scale of this seven-bay loggia of robust Tuscan columns was relatively modest, its effect was seriously classical and very grand, and you had to travel as far as Wilton to see anything else quite like it.

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Back in the 20th century, while Sydney and Mary Schofield spent much of their time on the restoration project they still found time to acquire carefully chosen antiques to complement the collection at Godolphin. This was at a time when it was still possible to pick up 'bargains', which is just as well as the project began to subsume increasing amounts of their capital.

It was in 1958 that the first major repairs were carried out, with the aid of a grant from English Heritage. A condition of this grant was that the house was opened to the public for the first time. Since then it seems, despite the best efforts of several generations of the Schofield family, the assistance of further grants and the sale of farmland and Godolphin Hill to the National Trust, the task has proved to be insurmountable. The now elderly Mrs Schofield has found it increasingly difficult to shoulder the financial burden and a decline in health has hastened the need to find a solution.

It is hoped that the acquisition of Godolphin House by the National Trust last year, and the sale of selected contents by Bearne's Auctioneers of Exeter on 1-2 July, will ensure a safe future for both the family and the property. It was Sydney Schofield's long-held wish that his work would be completed and the house he fell in love with would not remain quite so much of a secret to future generations.