Lanhydrock, Cornwall – St Hydroc

DSC08872From Blackburn in the north (though still south for northern vicar) we head down to Cornwall in the south. An excellent holiday cottage (16 Brunel Quays, Lostwithiel) through the efficient Sykes Cottages. Lots of trains, steam and diesel. I managed every railway line on the peninsula, the branch lines (especially the ones from Liskeard to Looe, and St Erth to St Ives) are beautiful. On the Launceston Steam Railway – http://www.launcestonsr.co.uk – the wheelchair space is practically on top of the coal! Just one church and one Cathedral.

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Lanhydrock is a beautiful National Trust property, and the weather was soaking. The church is next door, so we went to explore in the rain.

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The church was built in the mid C15 but may incorporate an earlier church or chapel. As early as 1478 Sanctus Ydroc, St Hydroc, was regarded as the church’s patron saint – one of the many Celtic saints who travelled as missionaries between Ireland, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany. The granite cross outside is C13, and there is a Holy Well in the gardens (too wet to go and find it – northernvicar may be dedicated, but Julie was getting drenched). The porch, with lovely roof timbers, dates to 1546.

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These two slate tablets, one in English, one in Latin, record the virtues of George Carminow of Polmaugan in the parish of St Winnow and of his wife Jane. Carminow died in 1599. Family tradition says that a Carminow fought against Julius Caesar!

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Soon after Sir Richard Robartes bought the Estate in 1620 he set about restoring the church. To show his loyalty to the crown he had this plaster panel erected, it shows the arms of King James I – one of very few from that reign.

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This memorial is to Lady Essex Robartes, the youngest daughter of John Robartes, First Earl of Radnor, and his second wife, Laetitia-Isavella Smith, one of the great beauties of Charles II’s court. On 9 April 1689 she married John Speccot of Penheale, MP for Newport. They did not even have one day’s happiness. John did not know it, but he was already infected with smallpox, and rapidly became very ill. He would recover, but Essex had caught the disease and she was not so lucky – she died on 30 April. She was 20.

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The church was restored 1886-88, funded by Thomas Charles, 2nd Lord Robartes, in memory of his parents Thomas and Juliana who died shortly after the 1881 fire (when the house was largely destroyed). The white alabaster reredos was supplied by Earp and Hobbs of Kensington.

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I photoed the memorial to the 11 men of the Estate who did not return from the First World War – one of whom was the heir to the estate.

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The heir was Captain Tommy, Thomas Agar-Roberts (born in 1880). The painting, which I could only photo from a bad angle, is of Thomas, Everilda, Gerald and Mary, and was painted by Anna Lea Merritt, 1885. Before he went to War he went to Oxford, then was MP for Cornwall, described as “the best dressed man in Parliament”. At the start of the War he had volunteered for the Devon Yeomanry, then joined the Royal Bucks Hussars. Finding they were to be stationed in England he joined the Coldstream Guards. On 13 February 1915 he embarked for France. According to a notice in the church he returned from Home Leave with a collection of musical instruments, found musicians to play them, and they accompanied the troops on route marches. On 4 August they were to ‘cover’ the evacuation of the front line, playing (loudly) German favourites like The Watch on the Rhine as the trenches emptied. Tommy advertised this with a poster in German raised above the parapet. The concert was closed by an artillery barrage. The Battle of Loos took place the following month, a battle which saw 20,000 casualties. Tommy was founded on 28 September, but fought on. During the attack on Hill 70 he first rescued a sergeant, then went back for a wounded private. This was when a sniper picked him off. He died of his wounds on 30 September.

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In the house, in his dressing room, is his suitcase. It was sent back from the Front after his death at the Battle of Loos in 1915. Made of crocodile skin with leather fitments by Asprey’s & Sons of London, the case contains fully monogrammed silver-topped bottles, ivory accessories and walnut cases. Some of the bottles contain the original tooth and talcum powders used by Tommy, while one of the walnut containers had the rouge that he would have put on his cheeks to mask the ashen greyness caused by fear in the trenches. When the suitcase arrived home, it was put away unopened – for several decades. They also had his trench periscope, and some letters.

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There are two memorial crosses/tablets to him in church, and the East Window (which I failed to photo) was a gift of the tenantry in memory of him. As you read his story, we must not forget that it was not only the heir died. I wonder how the mothers shared their grief – was there a network of aristocratic women who supported each other? Did grief break down the barriers of class?

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The church has a weekly service – obviously BCP – and is part of the team which also covers St Petroc Bodmin and St Stephen Nanstallon. Today they had had a service for Rogation Sunday – shame I missed that. While in Suffolk I did some Rogationtide processions, including one based on a farm central to my benefice of four parishes. Good fun! Ought to do something agricultural at Milbourne some time.

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