Symbols of wealth on the estate

Francis Godolphin

Godolphin House was as much a symbol of status as a dwelling, being as large, up-to-date and fashionable as any building in Cornwall. The Godolphins, with tin beneath their feet, could look confidently to a future of increasing wealth, power and status. Not only could they afford to wrap further symbols of status around their house, but probably felt obliged to in order to reinforce the perception of themselves as a family of national importance to their new and intended peers.

Successive generations of Godolphins were responsible for establishing a large deer park and rabbit warren, rerouting a public road, developing the garden, enlarging and improving the house and planting sycamore avenues around the estate.

The deer park

In earlier years, the deer park was more than a venison farm. It would have been used extensively for sports such as hunting, coursing and shooting. The park was surrounded by a large ‘pale’, still evident today. This is a massive stone-faced hedge with a steep bank on one side and a vertical-faced ditch on the other. This allowed the deer to leap into the park, but the sheer wall on the other side stopped them from escaping. The park has since been brought down right to the edge of the garden and orchard. It is clear that it is partly ornamental, a status symbol for eminent visitors.

The rabbit warrens

Further up the hill can be found several ‘pillow mounds’ or rabbit warrens. These rabbit breeding grounds were a source of high-status meat and fur. The warrens are oblong-shaped mounds built with stone-lined tunnels within them and often surrounded with a small moat to prevent them escaping, as rabbits do not swim and avoid water. The mounds such as those on Godolphin hill had two entrances; to extract the rabbits a ferret would be inserted into one end, to chase the rabbits out the other side and into the waiting net.
Cornwall's finest set of pillow mounds are within Godolphin's warren. The two highest pillow mounds are distinct skyline features when the hill is viewed from the house and may, again, have been positioned to display status in the landscape. In Elizabethan times, rabbits were highly prized and their meat only graced the tables of the wealthy and powerful.