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Trereife House


Trereife House is a fine manor house on the outskirts of the town of Penzance. It has been the home of the Nicholls family since well before 1590 and the LeGrice family ( linked by marriage and inheriting the estate since 1821 ).


The site has been identified by name from as early as 1201 ( Treweruf  ), with other references of 1226 - Treruf, 1284 - Trevruf, Trewruff, 1302 - Treuruf, 1321 - Trefruf, 1588 - Trereiffe and in 1669 as Treruffe and Trereife. The name originates from the Cornish for a farmstead

in the original ownership or working of the original settler of the name of Eruf.

It is as well here to clarify that it is pronounced as if it were spelt "Treeve", ( there are other places of the name in that form of Treeve and Treave, particularly that of Phillack where it was spelt Trerife in 1640 ).


Architecturally, Trereife is one of the most interesting houses in Cornwall, being a fine and typical example of the houses in the beginning of the 18th century, as Arthur Stratton says, "it evidenced on all hands that during the opening years of the 18th century, a very large number of houses were built which exhibited a sane taste and assured feeling for the beautiful; houses comely to look upon and certainly comfortable to live in. The houses contain rooms that were not necessarily built for the highest in the land; they were the homes of country squires, city merchants and particularly of the professional man, who had leapt into prominence during the last few decades." Which precisely describes the house at Trereife.


The House is Listed Grade II* with the Stables and adjoining walled gardens as Listed Grade II.


The family of Nicholls of Trereife is well recorded: The earliest notes in Boase's Collectanea Cornubiensia gives William Nicholls ( known as William Trereife ) who was married in 1590 in Madron, Cornwall to Elizabeth ( daughter of Nicholas Flemynge of Landithy ).  By this marriage the tythes of Madron came to the Nicholls family. His son William ( baptised 1600 ) gave up the use of the old family name of Trereife. From this description it is well surmised that the family have lived at the house for many generations previous. It was John Nicholls who transformed the old farmhouse - Trereife, is a house of handsome proportions rebuilt by John Nicholls, a successful Middle temple Barrister in the early 18th century. Having seen the fine Queen Anne houses being built of brick and cut stone, John Nicholls wanted the main elevation of his own house to be as elegant as granite would permit. He faced the new front of the house with squared rough cut brown granite and used it elsewhere to make features as linings and lintels. The sliding sash window was at the height of fashion and these were now incorporated - these retain the original form of not having window horns. The house now faces in the opposite direction to its original format. It is clear that the present roof was almost entirely from this alteration. John Nicholls also raised the first floor of the earlier house to make the two storeys of the same height. The front is a classical composition of seven bays, the central bay was enhanced with a Doric pedimented porch ( which had since collapsed, and a new larger double columned portico with a flat canopy of similar design had been added, in the late 20th century, which itself has been replaced in 1920 ). The present staircase is one which was taken from another 17th century house, together with plaster cornice ( which has been adapted for use in the house ) from the same period being fitted at the same time. The ceiling has been cut in a peculiar form to allow for the staircase to rise in the roof construction to the attics.


The fireplaces throughout the house are of differing periods. Queen Anne Adam style in the Breakfast Room and early 17th century in the Dining Room, being removed from another house in the area.


The materials, form and detailing of the house and the various parts is clear enough to be able to present a proper historical sequence for the development of the house.


There is a marble memorial monument to John Nicholls in the church at Madron, inscribed with the following - " Near this place in the grave of his fathers whom he honour'd, lyes interr'd the body of John Nicholls of Trereife Esquire who being born in the year of our Lord 1663 was sent to London in the year 1680 and having served a laborious clerkship was in 1688 sworn one of the Clerks of the High Court of Chancery And having with great industry and integrity encreased the Paternal Estate of his family was in the year 1705 call'd to the Bar by the Middle Temple where having for some years practiced with success he retired to the Seat of his Ancestors and having made many improvements departed this life the 3rd day of August 1714 in the 53rd year of his life leaving three sons and one daughter of whom Ikel his daughter and Samule his youngest son ( by whose order this monument is erected ) lye likewise interr'd." The monument was subsequently decorated in Italy, with inlaid fruit, which was at the instruction of The Reverend C V LeGrice. John Nicholls married Frances Foote and their eldest son ( of 5 children ) was William Nicholls who, unfortunately fell into debt and was held at the King's Bench. He married Mary Usticke, having a son William John Godolphin Nicholls born 1789. In Lyson's Magna Britannica ( 1814 ) : Vol III Cornwall, there is the reference as to Madron, describing "Trereife, the seat of William John Godolphin Nicholls Esq. has been in the family ever since the reign of Queen Elizabeth, if not before."  William John Godolphin Nicholls spent some time in London ( he was a Barrister of Lincoln's Inn ) and then returning to Trereife died of ossification of the joints and unmarried, at the age of 26. The estate became disentailed in 1814. His mother, Mary, now widowed, inherited the estate, and in 1799 she married The Reverend Charles Valentine LeGrice, who had before take up a post as tutor to her son. Upon her death at Covent Garden in 1821, The Trereife estate passed on to the LeGrice family. Charles Valentine LeGrice was the son of the Rev Charles LeGrice, lecturer at St James, Bury St. Edmonds, being born 14th February 1773. being descended from a Le Grys ( a follower of William the Conqueror ) who subsequently acquired lands particularly in East Anglia. Sir Robert Le Grys, an earlier member of the family, preceded Charles Valentine LeGrice in Cornwall to become the Governor of St. Mawes Castle in 1633.


William's brother Frank Nicholls born London 1699, became Physician to George II, after practicing in Cornwall - he later took residence in Scotland became an author and produced much ground-breaking research material and techniques, including being the first to give the correct description of aneurism. Frank's son John went on to become an MP and taking stewardship of The Chiltern Hundreds.


The Reverend Charles Valentine LeGrice that he was affectionately known to his family as "CV", and that he was urbane, witty, and intellectual and that he thrived in the company of his school friends William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charles Lamb and Leigh Hunt. He was somewhat of a literary person - writing prolifically on all manner of subjects, he ran the estate efficiently, and played an active part in local affairs, as magistrate and curate.


Charles Valentine LeGrice maintained a very strong friendship with Coleridge and contact continued throughout their lives.  Charles Lamb spoke of him as "my facetious friend Charles Valentine LeGrice".  Rev LeGrice was an early friend of Sir Humphrey Davy, meeting him first on Battery Rocks on the seafront of Penzance, and then speaking with Sir Isaac Newton. In 1806 he was appointed perpetual curate of St Mary's church, being for his time a model clergyman, enjoying good and livley sermon, good company and a hearty wit, being very fond of the use of the pun.


His son Day Perry LeGrice was born March 1800, married Arabella Mary Tuthill and became a magistrate, warden of the stannaries, Sherrif, Commissioner for Taxes, with estates in Madron, Paul and St.Buryan, he was actively involved in the building of the now revered Royal Cornwall Geological Museum and the West Cornwall Infirmary. He died of jaundice at Trereife in 1881, following being knocked down by a cab in London in 1880.


He left two children, Arabella who lived at Trereife and Charles Day Nicholls LeGrice, born 1839, J P for Cornwall, who lived in London, and whose children were Florence, Mary Sophia and Charles Henry LeGrice who was born 1870. The house was let out during 1890 - 1900, during which time the outbuildings behind the house were burnt down and they were replaced with the present brick cottages. Mrs Laura LeGrice, wife of Charles Day LeGrice insisted that they return to Trereife and she financed the modernisation of the house, including the removal of the panelling from the Drawing Room and its replacement with the then fashionable wallpaper. It was Charles Henry LeGrice who then in 1920 carried out further modernisation, including the new panelling and ceiling for the Drawing room, in the correct style, and a new fireplace for the breakfast room, together with the new porch, which more closely resembled the original porch ( as shown on Blackamore's and Laity's drawings of 1766 and 1780 - which are in The House ) and conversion of half of the stable block.



Trereife nestles in woodlands at the head of a valley slope, at the head of Newlyn Coombe, surrounded by small woodlands and tree avenues along the roadside. The grounds are much as they were in 1766, save that a new drive had been formed, and the field known as "The Lawn" and lower fields have been combined and landscaped to provide a wonderful unfolding view of the house, as it appears gradually from behind the enhanced brow of the field, with its collection of planted trees. The drawings of James Blackamore of William Nicholls' Seat in 1766 show straight paths, in two neat rectangles in front of the house, flanked by avenues of trees. The yew hedge against the south face was planted in 1780 and still thrives ( after a severe pruning this last year to clear out wasting growth ). At present there is a flat lawn in the front of the house, and a ha-ha has been formed in the 19th century, with a view down the valley to Mount's Bay, over the extended house field, where horses are grazed on occasion. On the upper side of the garden is a raised bank with flower beds and walks, with roses along the lower walling and climbers along the face of the 18th century kitchen garden walls. On the south side of the house is a shrubbery with fine trees, camelias and rhododendrons, which includes a Victorian pool and cascade, on the site of the original rectangular farm pool ( as can be seen on the map of Alexander Laity 1780 ) and the route of the original entrance to Trereife Farm can still be seen in the hedge and gardens, as it passes the Victorian pool.


The enlargement of the space to the seaward of Trereife, with its landscaping to provide a much improved prospect of the house, by the use of a ha-ha and the alteration of the ground levels to form a "naturalised" landscape must have been encouraged by the sight of others gardens and grounds. In particular there was a movement throughout Britain for a more relaxed surrounding and less of the controlled gravel walk. John Worlidge was one of the first to voice against such a " new useless and unpleasant mode" in 1669, through the ideas of Lord Burlington, Addison, Pope and Southcote our gentry were taken to a new view of the landscape and the garden, with the work of Brown, Repton and Kent, all brought a new attitude which, when properly applied, as Walpole says, "so closely did he follow nature, his works will be mistaken for it" - and so it is here at Trereife, for the landscape has been altered as witness the drawings in relation to the present landscape, and as usual ( save for a few stately homes in the West Country ), the development has taken place later that the rest of the country.


The area is of Devonian rock, or Mylor slates, on the edge of the Granite block. The base of this site is a prime bed of killas shale ( a heavier slate rock ) ( commonly known in Cornwall as "rab" ), the house has been built in the best position, on the hardest rock. There are indications of iron content, and some tin, perhaps. The strata are clear and some is folded. The interstices are filled with argillaceous soil ( clay + decomposed granite ) and some clay particles.

The excavations show that there is little soil, the prime layers between the soil and the shale is of good clay, in places as much as 1200mm thick. Clay is formed of decomposed rock which is swept down in water flow and deposited onto other rock. This clay appears to be largely felspathic ( alumina + silica + potash ) and is a Secondary deposit. There is no evidence of metamorphic rock, in the area of the house, but there are deposits lower down on the paddock and in the rest of the grounds. The clay consists of hydrated aluminium and silicates, with various "impurities" which give it the colour. Again, any reddishness is formed by iron. It is considered to be an impervious rock, holding water well, causing surface puddling - which is the observed case at Trereife.


When the house was first built, the ground was cleared of soil down to the rock to give a firm level footing to the house, this is obvious when examining the immediate topography.


The area in front of the house is largely rock or clay with a bare amount of soil, which is gravelled, in any case. In 1900 the front turning space was larger, being a full circle with a central circular lawn. The raised terrace is a feature which existed in the 18th century and was much the same in 1900, the stone wall and fill added perhaps in the 60s.


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