The earliest datable features on the estate go back to the Bronze Age and are found at its highest point. At the top of Godolphin Hill is a rough circular enclosure. It is unsure whether these stones formed part of a settlement or were of ceremonial and ritual importance.
As grazing on the hill continues, the remains of a prehistoric field system is emerging. Excavations in 1878 uncovered an ancient Cornish village but unfortunately this was immediately covered as mining works were improved lower on the hill.
Changes on the landscape started at around the period of the Iron Age. During the mining period many ‘palstaves’ or bronze age axes were found on the site in a coffin. This is the earliest evidence of mining at Godolphin.
1100 – 400 AD
In the medieval period Godolphin hill, possibly known as Trescowe, with its high density of furze, blackberries, turf, bilberries and small game was probably common land to several hamlets within the area. Evidence of surface mining and streaming have been found across the estate dating to this time.
It was at this time that the Godolphin estate, as we know it today, started to form. A rising powerful family called Godolgun acquired the land around the 12th century and around the late 13th - early 14th century built a defended house on the land. At this time England saw a great number of these types of houses being built, usually moated, to protect stock, produce and portable wealth from common thieves.
Evidence for a defended house at Godolghan comes principally from two sources. In 1478 William Worcestre included ‘ruined’ Castle Godollan in the settlement of Lodollan (Godolghan), in his list of Cornish Castles. John Leland, writing in the late 1530s, tells of a ditch, and a pile of principal habitation of the ‘Godolcans’. The ditch was still visible and many stones had been taken from it, presumably for building the later house.
The main period of change, late 15th, 16th and 17th centuries
It was at this time that the family name changed from Godolghan to Godolphin, a more agreeable name to the English elite with whom the family had increasing ties. Mining intensified in the Great Work area as the tin lodes became exploited leading to a great increase in the Godolphin family's wealth.
Subsequently, much improvement work was carried out on the estate. The hill and many fields were given over to a deer park and warren, major roads and minor tracks were diverted, the house was rebuilt and an ambitious garden laid out.
Some of the boundaries surrounding the estate are particularly interesting as they were built by prisoners of the Napoleonic war. The Duke of Leeds had connections with prisoner of war camps and so it was easy for him to source cheap labour on the land.
These boundary styles are very rare and outside of the Godolphin estate they can only be found at Morvah and around Dartmoor prison, where of course other prisoners were held captive.