For whom the bell tolls

We are used to seeing failing buildings in our neighbourhoods, perhaps so much so that we often pass them by without too much thought. Historic buildings, or ‘heritage assets’ as Historic England refers to them, may vary in design and quality however, the common ground they share is that they all have a purpose. It is this purpose which connects us with our past.

Toll houses once had a distinct purpose. Beyond their original function of collecting turnpike dues these attractive roadside buildings are having to be repurposed, the most likely uses being residential houses, shops and holiday homes. Yet, Cornish toll houses are an endangered building type − it seems only 50 of the original 180 still survive – some might argue not a bad survival rate for redundant buildings.

In 1754 the first Turnpike Act relating to Cornish roads was passed. Sections of the main Post Road were turnpiked in 1760; the Launceston Trust brought a route in from Devon while another route  ran along the northern edge of the county, through Camelford and Wadebridge. In turn, by 1761, town-based trusts were set up Helston, Liskeard, Lostwithiel and St Austell; closely followed in 1762 by Creed, St Just and Saltash; Penryn in 1763 and Callington in 1764. In 1769 Bodmin set up a turnpike trust providing access across the county and over the moor. During the early 19th century new trusts were created to serve the mining industries.

To serve these turnpikes and to collect revenue tollhouses were built. Patrick’s Taylor’s excellent book Tollhouses of Cornwall tells the story of this building type in Cornwall while the gazetteer website helps locate examples in the county.

Grade II listed toll house near Wadebridge.

This early 19th century, grade II listed, toll house, situated close to the Royal Cornwall Showground, near Wadebridge, is in a perilous condition.  The polygonal toll house in rendered stone rubble, partly slate-hung to the rear, has a two-room, central lobbied entrance plan entrance with axial chimney stack and small 20th century lean-to extension to the rear. Of note are the Gothic style windows. It was an attractive and fit-for-purpose building and hopefully will be again once much-needed restoration work is carried out.

King Arthur’s Hall, Tintagel.

Two other intriguing buildings that appear to be getting some attention are King Arthur’s Hall in Tintagel and the Chapel, Falmouth. Both are grade II listed.

King Arthur’s Hall was designed by Frederick Thomas Glasscock and opened in 1933. It was orginally the headquarters of Order of the Fellowship of the Knights of the Round Table, a society set up to promote Christian ideals and notions of medieval chivalry. The building, now a masonic hall,  contains good stained-glass windows by Veronica Whall and, apparently, features 53 different types of Cornish stone in its construction. Work appears to be underway on making the building watertight.

The chapel, Cliff Road, Falmouth

The Chapel, Falmouth (a summerhouse on Cliff Road, built as part of Gyllyngdune Gardens), has a live listed building consent application.  Those who walk along the front on Gyllyngvase beach will either walk around this building or under it, via a subterranean grotto-style walkway. The building  was built in c.1840s for the Revd William Coope, rector of Falmouth (and pioneer of Tractarianism within the Anglican Church in Cornwall) between 1838 and 1870. The small Gothic-style cruciform shaped building is made of rubble-fill with red brick dressings, fish-scale scantle slated gabled roof with exposed purlins, shaped and pierced quatrefoil and dagger barge boards with turned finials and pendants. The application is to repair the brick parapet in order to make it safe. It is a simple repair but a vital one in ensuring its longevity.

Toll houses, masonic halls and summerhouse/ chapels are significant building types. They are tangible reminders of our past. Our hope is that these heritage assets will be sympathetically restored and repaired so that they can remain features in our town- and landscapes.  We will watch progress on these three buildings with great interest.  

Published by buildingsatrisk

Since 1969 the aims of the Cornish Buildings Group have been to stimulate interest, appreciation and knowledge of good building in Cornwall, and to encourage the erection, protection, repair and recording of such buildings. Like any amenities group, we depend on numbers, strength and support of our membership, who provide the force and knowledge that have made us effective for over fifty years. We encourage the protection and repair of historic buildings whether these are listed buildings or simply good examples of traditional building. We aim to encourage good architecture and to raise the general standard of building throughout the county. We hope that our generation may leave behind it buildings which will be looked back on with that same pleasure and enjoyment that we experience when we look at the architecture of past ages.

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