Memories from one of Trelowarren Retreat’s founding Fathers
There was a chapel in the south wing of the Jacobean mansion at Trelowarren Retreat. It was described by Charles Lyttleton, Dean of Exeter and later Bishop of Carlisle, in 1752:
“You pass thro’ a pair of gates into a quadrangle, the right side consisting of a handsome chapel and a large eating room, the left a huge kitchen and other offices.”
“After the ceremony of kissing both old and young, for this is a Cornish custom,we were refreshed with a glass of sack and then we proceeded in great form to chapel, where prayers are regularly said twice a day”
Early in the 19th century Sir Vyell Vyvyan, 7th Baronet turned the old chapel into the feature of the South wing, which we see today, and decorated it in the popular neo-Gothic “Strawberry Hill” fashion, based on Horace Walpole’s house built in Twickenham in 1749.
The beautiful chapel is a feature of Trelowarren Retreat and one can picture the family and servants attending daily prayers. In the 19th and early 20th century there would have been a large number of servants at Trelowarren Retrear, from the butler and his staff to the housekeeper, cook, maids, gardeners and grooms.
The Trelowarren Fellowship started as a Prayer and Healing Group run by Carrie Oates, which used to meet in the drawing room. When the Fellowship leased the main house the first task was to restore the chapel, which had become a bit of a dumping ground. The chapel was cleared and repainted, the organ was restored and an altar was made.
On 11th January 1975 the chapel was rededicated in unison by the heads of the Anglican, Methodist and Roman Catholic churches in Cornwall and an ecumenical Fellowship was born.
When I became Warden and Resident Governor in 1975, I was able to say daily prayers in the chapel, just as had been done centuries earlier. There was a large campsite at Trelowarren Retreat, and on Sundays in the summer 40 or 50 campers would attend morning worship, which was usually a service of Holy Communion with hymns. Occasionally we would have a visiting choir. One memorable weekend we had the Choir of Wells Cathedral staying in the house. They gave a concert on the Saturday evening and sang two services on the Sunday. The chapel resounded to wonderful music and praise. At other times there were Healing Services and moments of prayer and meditation. The chapel is a very special place.
The chapel was also used for concerts and recitals and, over the three years when I was in residence, there were many memorable events ranging from concerts given by international musicians from Prussia Cove to performances by local musicians and schoolchildren. Many famous artists played in the chapel, including Leon Goossens, Marisa Robles, Christopher Hyde-Smith, William Bennett and George Malcolm. I remember one outstanding piano recital given by Mitsuko Uchida, at that time an up and coming artist, now an international celebrity.
Some of my happiest memories are linked to Christmas Carol Services. Each Christmas we had Cornish Carols by Thomas Merritt, and ‘While shepherds Watched’ to the tune ‘Lyngham’, sung by a local choir and accompanied by the Gweek Silver Band. We also had a Service of Nine Lessons and Carols sung by local choirs.
The chapel was lit by candles in wooden holders and as visitors came up the drive the candles flickered in the chapel windows, portraying the kind of timeless scene pictured by Thomas Hardy or described in these verses of William Thackeray:
One word ere yet the evening ends,
Let’s close it with a parting rhyme,
And pledge a hand to all our friends,
As fits the merry Christmas time…
As fits the solemn Christmas tide,
As fits the holy Christmas birth,
Be this, good friends, our carol still –
Be peace on earth, be peace on earth,
To all of gentle will.