Bought with the proceeds of the famous Pitt Diamond in 1717 and home to three Prime Ministers, Boconnoc remains one of Cornwall’s best kept secrets. Visitors can view architecture influenced by Sir John Soane, visit the Georgian Bath House and examine the conservation of the 18th century wall and ceiling paintings which line the double staircase of the house.
The superb parkland was first laid out by Thomas Pitt 1st Lord Camelford from 1760 and has been steadily improved by the Grenville and Fortescue families. The magnificent woodland garden contains rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and a collection of magnolias.
Luminaries, royals, and other famous personalities have all found their way to Boconnoc: from King Charles I, who is said to have spent the night in what is now the King’s Bedroom, to Thomas “Diamond” Pitt, the former Governor of Madras, the ‘Great Commoner’ William Pitt, Lord Chatham. The Prince of Orange, the poet Thomas Gray and Sir Josiah Wedgwood.
The Boconnoc story begins thousands of years ago. Since the days of the Domesday Book, people have inhabited this beautiful tract of Cornwall—and the estate itself is alive with centuries of history.
Boconnoc Estate and Manor were taxed in the Domesday Roll in 1086. After the De Cancias, Carminows and Courtenays, Sir William Mohun bought the property in 1579 from Francis Russell, the 2nd Earl of Bedford, who had been granted Boconnoc as part of the Earldom of Bedford as reward for helping to crush the Prayer Book Rebellion of 1550.
Sir William rebuilt the house which had formerly been a medieval tower known as the ‘Tower of Boconnoc’ dating from the 13th Century. He passed it to his son, Sir Reginald Mohun, who was made a Baronet in 1612. In 1644, the Earl of Essex for Parliament, marched into Cornwall followed by the armies of Charles I and his nephew, Prince Maurice. The King made his headquarters at Boconnoc. The Royalists defeated the Parliamentarians in Cornwall, but after the final victory of Cromwell and the Parliamentarians and the execution of the King, Warwick Mohun had to pay over £2,000 to retain Boconnoc. It remained in the family until Charles, 4th Baron Mohun was killed in a duel with the Duke of Hamilton in 1712.
Baron Mohun’s Estate passed to his second wife, who in 1717 sold it to Thomas Pitt, late Governor of Madras, for £54,000. He raised the purchase money from the Pitt Diamond bought in India in 1701 – which he sold to the Regent of France for the sum of £135,000 to be set in the crown of Louis XV for his coronation. It was subsequently set in the hilt of Napoleon’s sword, which is now on view in the Louvre in Paris. Thomas Pitt remodelled the main East side of the house and the gallery wing, facing south, was built by his great grandson, Thomas, in 1771.
The House and Stable Yard were improved by Sir John Soane, a unique architect who developed artistic techniques for his clients who often had fascinating houses to be restored and improved but little money. He worked at Boconnoc from 1786 with Thomas Pitt, 1st Lord Camelford, nephew of Lord Chatham and cousin of Pitt the Younger.
In 1804 the heir, Thomas Pitt, was killed in a duel with Captain Best. The Estate passed to his sister, Anne Pitt, who married William Wyndham, Lord Grenville, later the Prime Minister who was famous for abolishing the slave trade. In 1864 on Lady Grenville’s death the Estate was bequeathed to George Matthew Fortescue, younger son of Lord Grenville’s sister, Hester, who married the first Earl Fortescue of Castle Hill, Devon. It has remained in the Fortescue family ever since.
In 2000, Anthony and Elizabeth Fortescue embarked on an ambitious renovation project to restore the main house to its former glory, and at the same time impart a magnificent new contemporary feel to the Estate.