The History of Trewithen

One of the most elegant examples of 18th century architecture in Cornwall

When Phillip Hawkins first bought Trewithen in 1715 he established the estate as home to a dynasty that has, through the centuries, made a very significant contribution to Cornwall.

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 through Mevagissey that thrived for many years.

Phillip Hawkins was a wealthy attorney and landowner who commissioned London architect Thomas Edwards to rebuild Trewithen and lay out the park. When he died childless the estate passed to his nephew, Thomas Hawkins, whose parents lived at Trewinnard – thereby uniting the two branches of the Hawkins family in Cornwall.

Thomas fell in love with Anne Heywood, whose father agreed they could marry on the proviso that his architect, Sir Robert Taylor, was commissioned to re-design and embellish Trewithen House. The work was carried out and, in addition, Thomas had plans drawn up for landscaping the gardens. Many fine specimen trees were planted and the famous vistas around the house were created.

When Thomas died from a smallpox inoculation, the estate passed to his eldest son Christopher.  Although Christopher Hawkins never married, he did an enormous amount for both Trewithen and Cornwall – including opening new tin and copper mines, becoming involved with clay mining near St Austell, re-building the harbour at Pentewan and the great breakwater at St Ives, endowing local schools and building new ones. He also became Richard Trevithick’s patron and commissioned the world’s first steam thrashing machine from him. Trewithen 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’.

On Sir Christopher’s death in 1829, Trewithen passed to his brother John Hawkins (who built and lived at Bignor Park in West Sussex), a man of great learning and intellect who planted many fine trees at Trewithen – including Holm oaks.

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 was responsible for developing 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 and eldest daughter Elizabeth continued his botanical work – with Elizabeth going on to be awarded the Bledisloe Gold Medal for services to Agriculture and Landowning.

Trewithen’s current owner is Michael Galsworthy, George Johnstone’s grandson. Equally committed to the care and further development of both the gardens and the wider estate, he came to live in the house with his family in 1980. Since then, he has overseen 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.