Case Study: Polvellan Manor, Looe (not listed)

Polvellan Manor, Looe, photo taken in 2014. The building has declined significantly since.

Polvellan Manor, Looe, was built by the Lemon family and later leased to the Bullers of Morval, both families being notable MPs and significant players in the rise of Looe as a commercial town during the 19th century.

John Lemon built a cottage-style house on this site in 1787 soon after his election as member of parliament for West Looe (later MP for Saltash and then Truro). Lemon was a composer of chants and sacred music. C.S. Gilbert described the house in 1820 as a ‘gothic cottage’, which, if accurate, would make Polvellan a good early example of the renaissance in picturesque Gothick cottage orné design. The house was set within a modest designed landscape with a bathing house attached (KK CA/B42/65).

On the death of Lemon in 1814, the house was leased to the influential Buller family. Charles Buller MP was a notable barrister and reforming politician of his day supporting the abolition of his own parliamentary seat as part of the Reform Act of 1832. He held his seat as MP for Liskeard until his premature death in 1848. Amongst his friends were John Stuart Mill who recorded his visits to Polvellan in his diaries, now published. By 1840, John Buller was resident at Polvellan but the building passed out of the family by 1851. Around this period the house was enlarged and refurbished.

In 1840 the symmetrical frontage of the house faced east towards the mill pond and to the estuary beyond. It was surrounded by designed ornamental landscaped pleasure grounds, recognised in the late 20th century as a garden of ‘distinction and outstanding importance’ (KK BWLO/233).

From 19th century map

Inside, the house had good plasterwork, some still in evidence in the early-2000s. Plans were produced in 1881 to alter and extend the house, however it was eventually altered in 1898 by Liskeard architect John Sansom (previously with Richard Coad’s practice in London) (KK AD 1563/5/6). Many details introduced by Sansom had been deployed in the post-fire refurbishment of Lanhydrock house, near Bodmin. Sansom worked with Richard Coad and James MacLaren at Lanhydrock between 1881 and 1885. His work at Polvellan drew on the popularity of the Arts and Crafts and aesthetic movements. Sansom later built the Victoria Hotel in Newquay and the town hall and reading rooms in St Germans, he also did major alterations at Liskeard church and less major interior changes at Port Eliot. The grounds also appear to have been redesigned at this time.

During the 20th century Polvellan was used as a maternity hospital and, from 1938, a private hotel which tracked the rise of tourism in the area, a number of extensions and alterations were made to accommodate the changed use. Work was begun to convert it into apartments, but in 2016 this work is incomplete pending the agreement of a new redevelopment scheme.

Polvellan is important as a 18th villa/ house overlooking a designed landscape and for its 19th interior refurbishment by a notable Cornish architect. The Cornish Buildings Group were unsuccessful at getting the building listed on the following grounds.

Architectural interest:

‘while the building was originally of some architectural merit, and included a late-C19/ early-C20 refurbishment by the architect John Sansom, this has been almost completely compromised by later alterations’

Degree of survival:

‘the building has been comprehensively altered to the extent that the C18 and C19 layout is no longer legible’.

Interior:

‘there are very few historic fittings and those that remain no longer form part of a complete scheme’.

Historic interest:

‘while of some note, the historic associations with John Lemon and Charles Buller is not sufficient to raise the interest of the buildings as a whole to merit listing on this basis alone.’

Today the building is a shadow of what it was 10 years ago, the building continues to decline.

Polvellan Manor as it stands today. (pictures taken from Urban Exploring website)

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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