Neglect and demolition: 1685-1798

Portrait of Charles Bodville, a previous owner of Lanhydrock

John Robartes outlived his immediate heir and was succeeded by his grandson, Charles Bodville Robartes (1660-1723). Although Charles was a Cornish MP, Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall (twice), Lord Warden of the Stannaries and High Steward of the Duchy of Cornwall, he spent little time at Lanhydrock, preferring his extravagant homes in St James Square, London and Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire, the latter of which he inherited through his marriage to Elizabeth Cutler.

A negligent owner

Charles was succeeded as Earl by his nephew Henry (1695-1741). In 1724 Henry ventured on a ‘Grand Tour’, finally settling in Venice with his mistress, ‘a singer lately on stage in Naples’. His only visits back to England were to refinance himself in order to support his mistress, who, it was reported, ‘does not care much what becomes of his person…but continues to touch his pence’.

Both Charles and Henry neglected Lanhydrock during their 56 years of ownership, leading john Loveday to observe the house ‘extremely out of repair and utterly destitute of furniture’ following his visit in 1736.

Unloved and unwanted

On the death of Henry in 1741 the estate passed to his sister, Mary Vere Robartes, great granddaughter of John Robartes, the 1st Earl of Radnor. Mary rarely visited Lanhydrock, writing ‘It’s impossible to have a more disagreeable estate to manage’ and in a letter of 1754 considered demolishing the house and selling off its contents with the building being valued at £1,500 for architectural salvage. She valued the whole estate at £110,000.

Demolition

Lanhydrock was originally built in a quadrangle
Drawing of Lanhydrock house from the 17th century

Mary died before she could carry out these plans and her eldest son, George Hunt (1720-98), inherited in 1758. Like his predecessors he rarely lived at Lanhydrock. However, Hunt made efforts to modernise the old house; demolishing the east wing, bringing in good quality furniture, making alterations to the interior and painting the external walls red (to replicate the fashion for red brick). His most astute move was engaging William Jenkin as estate steward in 1792, a man who did much to overcome previous neglect.

George Hunt suffered from ill health and often travelled abroad and in Britain seeking cures. On his death in 1798 the Lanhydrock estate passed to his niece Anna Maria Hunt.