Things to do in the house at Cotehele

Visitors in the Great Hall beside giant whale bones at Cotehele

The Edgcumbe family preserved Cotehele as a historic talking-point, rather than a comfortable family home. Built in medieval times, the current house is mostly Tudor and is full of stories about the family who owned it for 600 years. This year, the National Trust is celebrating 75 years of caring for Cotehele.

 

Visiting the house at Cotehele

The house at Cotehele is currently open daily from 11am with last admission at 4pm. Each day we try and open as many rooms of the house as we can, but their might be days were some rooms might be closed. Our lovely volunteers on the front door will let you know what is available when you visit.

Access to the King Charles and Queen Annes Bedrooms in the North Tower is restricted due to the narrow steep staircase to reach this part of the house. To help us manage visitor numbers in these rooms, we ask all visitors to pick up an access token from the Old Drawing Room.

 

75 years of caring for Cotehele 

We're celebrating the 75th anniversary of the National Trust caring for Cotehele with an exhibition looking back at some of Cotehele's significant moments over the last 75 years.

This exhibition is open daily from 18 May - 30 October, 11am-4pm in the breakfast room of the house. Normal admission applies.

 

Medieval origins 

Originally built in the medieval times, Cotehele’s fortified manor house is set on a high bluff on the Cornish bank of the river Tamar. This chosen spot gave natural protection from skirmishing armies that might approach from the east.  

The house is an architectural hotchpotch, predominately re-built in Tudor times. First consecrated in 1411, the chapel was then re-modelled in the early 1500s. Around the same time, the Great Hall was widened and the south wall was moved forward. This ‘squashed’ the chapel into a corner.  

 

Visitors exploring the house at Cotehele
Visitors exploring the dining room at Cotehele
Visitors exploring the house at Cotehele

 

Georgian antiques  

Inside the rambling walls, Cotehele houses an impressive collection of tapestries, armour and fine oak furniture. Its fascinating collection reflects the Edgcumbe’s fondness for antiques during the Georgian era.  

The family developed Cotehele’s interiors between about 1750 and 1860. They were deliberately attempting to evoke a sense of nostalgia and recreate the atmosphere of the ‘good old days’. 

 

Turret clock 

Found inside the medieval chapel is the turret clock. This set of wrought iron mechanisms began ticking more than 500 years ago around the start of the Tudor era.  

With no face, dial or even hands, it simply strikes the hour on a bell in the chapel roof. While the clock can run for 24 hours, winding it requires considerable strength and agility. Until it was restored in the mid 20th century, it’d likely stood unwound and silent for centuries.  

 

The clock in the chapel at Cotehele
The clock in the chapel in Cotehele House, Cornwall
The clock in the chapel at Cotehele

 

The whale’s jawbones 

Flanking the doorway in the Great Hall, and at more than 2.5 metres high, are a whale’s jawbones. While whalebone was commonly used to produce a variety of objects throughout history, it’s unusual to find intact jawbones. In fact, this is the only example in the National Trust’s collections.  

The jawbones’ origins were a mystery until recent research and DNA testing revealed that they belonged to a common rorqual whale. At 18-metres long, the marine giant washed up at nearby Colona Beach, Mevagissey in 1875.  

 

The mechanical arm  

Among the stranger objects inside Cotehele’s house is a mechanical arm from the late 16th or early 17th centuries. Terrible injuries on bloody battlefields during the Tudor and Stuart eras led surgeons of the day to design prostheses for lost limbs.  

Some prostheses, like the elaborate one that calls Cotehele home, were made with moveable fingers in a mechanical vambrace. They can lock into place, which allowed an amputee soldier to grip his reins or sword.  

A modern replica of this mechanical arm was created, thanks to a generous donation. This means that visitors can usually get up close and touch the prosthesis to see how it works. 

 

Boars’ Heads tapestry 

Cotehele is known for its impressive collection of tapestries. It includes one of three surviving fragments, dating from the late 15th or early 16th centuries. These are some of the earliest English tapestries in the Trust’s collections.  

The fragments inside Cotehele’s house feature fearsome wild boar heads with sharp pointed tusks and a wreath of leaves. These were designed as part of family heraldry and can be associated with Sir Piers Edgcumbe, who inherited the Cotehele estate in 1489.