Trelowarren Retreat’s History

Trelowarren Retreat is situated in the middle of the Lizard Peninsula (lizard meaning high court) in an area of outstanding natural beauty, and is in the Parish of Mawgan-in-Meneage (land of the monks) having a rich and varied history. It is the Trellewaret of the Domesday survey when Earl Harold owned the house before the conquest.



The first recording of established worship at Trelowarren Retreat was in 1086 where a freestanding chapel stood. In 1427, Richard Ferrers and his wife Elizabeth were granted a license for divine service in their mansion. The chapel which was subsequently built was dedicated to St Mary Magdalene. Falling into disrepair during the Reformation, in 1636 Richard Vyvyan was granted a license by the Bishop of Exeter to erect the present chapel. The Civil War subsequently interfered with the building programme, which was finally finished later in the Reformation period (approximately 1660).

The stained glass windows in the chapel date from this period and come from the medieval priory church in Bodmin, which was demolished to make room for Priory House. The arms are all of Thomas Vivian, with the three fishes representing salmon swimming in the Camel estuary and river, they were a prized possession of the Priory.

In 1750, Sir Richard (fifth Baronet) extended the chapel and it is a very good example (as is the house in general) of the Gothic revival during the latter part of the eighteenth century. The Gothic style influenced both domestic and ecclesiastical architecture from the 1740s onwards, and was deemed an English reaction to the Italian-inspired Classicism, which was prevalent at the time, placing emphasis on symmetry and proportion. It is speculated that James Wyatt (a contemporary and rival of Robert Adams) was the architect responsible, though other schools of thought believe Thomas Edwards, who also designed Helston Church, was the architect.

The beautiful Strawberry Hill Gothic plasterwork in the chapel was created during the lifetime of the 6th baronet, The Reverend Sir Carew Vyvyan (1781-1814).


Strawberry Hill Gothic was so named after one of the prime movers of this style, Horace Walpole (4th Earl of Oxford), who lived at Strawberry Hill Cottage, Twickenham (1750). Walpole took many of the decorative elements of exterior medieval gothic and moved them into his home. Strawberry Hill plasterwork was also a ‘coded’ way of showing loyalty to the Jacobite King James the 7th of Scotland and 2nd of England, who had been deposed and replaced by the Hanoverian King, George. James believed in his divine right as King and attempted to create religious liberty for English Roman Catholics, against the wishes of the English Parliament. This tension made James’ four year reign a struggle for supremacy between Parliament and the Crown, resulting in the passing of the English bill of rights and his eventual replacement by George 1st. Many aristocrat and land owning families were Roman Catholic, displaying their allegiance to their faith and King through coded architecture. It also becomes understandable why these families had their own chapels, enabling them to hold private services, with many employing their own Priest.



In the nineteenth century, Sir Richard Vyvyan 8th Baronet and an agnostic turned the chapel into a music room, by pulling down part of the dining hall which stood across the present drive and making the two rooms into one. He believed the best acoustics could be achieved by designing the room to precise measurements, which truly worked, and the results can be heard today! He also added a further nine feet to the music room, which housed the organ.

At some point the chapel was dedicated to the Patron Saint of Music, St Cecilia, and a magnificent painting of her still hangs in the Chapel with the original by Raphael in Bologna, Italy. Pictured with St Cecilia are Saints Paul, Augustine, John and Mary Magdalene.

In 1973, the 12th Baronet Sir John granted a 99-year lease to Trelowarren Christian Fellowship to use the chapel and part of the Mansion House as a Christian Retreat and Resource Centre, and for visitors to experience the creative power of God through the Arts.

Since that time a further nine years has been added to the lease.

From the very beginning, the Fellowship has sought the presence of God practically for healing both spiritual and physical. In the 1980’s the retreat became known far and wide for a healing outpouring that was recorded both in the local and national press. This anointing continues to the present day.








In 1427 Honour Ferrers married John Vyvyan and brought Trelowarren Retreat into the possession of the Vyvyan family, where it still remains today. During the last 600 years the house has been continually sympathetically remodelled and extended, which was almost commonplace when a new heir inherited, signalling a fresh start in the history of the estate.


This room is thought to have been added in the late eighteenth century and originally used as a drawing room. The woods used in this room are of various types and are thought to have come from ships wrecked on the manacles at Coverack of which the Vyvyan family own the wrecking rights. In the Second World War the army requisitioned the house and the library was used as an apple store.


This was originally the entrance into the house. The fine doors were made by an estate carpenter with mahogany sent from London. The eighteenth century carved wood fire surround was found in the chapel behind a stove in the 1970s. The Greek key plasterwork was used liberally in Georgian interiors. This design was popular in ancient Greece and was considered one of its most important symbols, symbolizing infinity and unity.





The Georgian plans show that this room was once two. The 8th Baronet turned it into a library with the panelling dating back to the eighteenth century and the fireplace Regency.


This is all that remains of the large, lofty great hall, which existed in the seventeenth century. The great hall originally stretched right through the house from East to West.


In 1831 Sir Richard (8th Baronet) reordered most of the interior of the house. He cut what remained of the great hall in half and made the West end into a dining room. The front door was made into a bay window and the present front door relocated to the East. He installed the Regency staircase (the first cantilever staircase in Cornwall) and raised the level of the ballroom to accommodate it. The original level of the first floor is where the passageway leads off half way up the stairs.


Clara Coltman Rodgers who married Sir Courtney, the 11th Baronet, was herself a published author and continued to write after her marriage under the name of CC Vyvyan. Clara was passionate about travel, nature and Cornwall and her books, of which there are many, reflected all three, for example:

  • Random Journeys
  • Letters from a Cornish Garden
  • Temples and flowers: A journey to Greece
  • Echoes in Cornwall
  • Bird Symphony.

Daphne du Maurier was a close friend of Clara’s and a frequent visitor to Trelowarren. Some of her best-known works are Rebecca and French Mans Creek.