Pentillie castle and grounds

by Old Plymouth Society
Published March 2012

One of our summer visits this year was a trip to Pentillie Castle and grounds which is near St Mellion. An abridged version of its history follows.
Pentillie Castle was built as a castellated mansion house in 1698 by Sir James Tillie � an eccentric, flamboyant man of dubious character. He was rather fond of himself, commissioning not only a full sized statue of himself that still stands in front of the castle, but also a rather squat looking mausoleum, 30 feet high made from uneven rough bricks, from which to watch over the estate after his death! He was born on 16 November 1645 and died 15 November 1713. He had emerged from humble beginnings to become the agent for Sir John Coryton who owned a large estate called Newton Ferrers that bounds Pentillie land.

Sir John Coryton died suddenly and in great agony aged 42. James Tillie married his widow, Elizabeth soon afterwards. There were allegations that James had been too familiar with Elizabeth before her husband died and there was suspicion that Sir John may have been poisoned!

Through marriage, Pentillie became part of the neighbouring Coryton estate. It greatly improved James’ wealth and it is stated in Hal’s History of Cornwall that soon after King James 2nd came to the throne, by a great sum of money and false representation of himself, James obtained the favour of knighthood, this being bestowed upon him in 1687.
It was about this time he commissioned the commanding, classical statue of himself not unlike the King Charles 2 statue at Royal Hospital, Chelsea. Tillie died childless in 1713. He was placed in the three storey mausoleum he had had built for himself, situated on a high hill which went by the name of Mount Ararat, which overlooks the river Tamar and the castle. He left instructions that he be placed in this mausoleum dressed in his best clothes, wig and fine hat. He asked that his hands be placed on his knees and be secured with iron bands. Around him was to be placed a chest of oak containing his books and other personal effects, including port and cigars! He intended to sit there and wait for his resurrection which he thought would be within two years after which he could return to Pentillie. His loyal staff carried out his instructions and there he sat for two years while his remains and the roof of the mausoleum slowly deteriorated. His staff became increasingly dismayed at the decay until eventually his mortal remains were buried. A seated statue of him, made of marble, complete with wig and hands on knees, was erected in his place in the mausoleum which remains in the same commanding spot today.

The story of how the Coryton family came to be the owners of Pentillie is complicated. Neither the Tillies or Corytons had direct heirs to whom they could pass on their estates. Sir James left Pentillie to his nephew, James Woolley who changed his name to Tillie. He had a son, James, who married and had a daughter, Mary Jemima, who took over ownership. The Coryton estate had been left to a cousin, Peter Goodall. He changed his name to Coryton at Crocadon, a farm at St Mellion, which is part of the Pentillie estate today. The families joined when Peter married Mary Jemima. The Coryton family prospered through the 18 century and their lands extended almost to Liskeard they owned more than twenty thousand acres!
It was during this time that they commissioned Repton to draw up plans for remodelling the castle and landscaping the gardens and parkland around the building. He produced one of his famous Red Books describing and illustrating his proposals. Repton was convinced that, were the slopes of the river heavily wooded, the position of Pentillie would lend itself to becoming an impressive castle. The architect, William Wilkins was employed to implement these proposals in 1810. His Gothic flair shows on buildings such as The National Gallery in London and the Tregothnan Estate in Cornwall. As a result, Pentillie was rebuilt with the addition of three wings to form a central courtyard on the west side of the original house, making it a Gothic style castle. The gardens extend to some forty acres.

Pentillie remained a commanding castle for more than two centuries, under the constant ownership of the Coryton family. Memorable happenings include a visit by King Edward VII in 1902, when William Coryton was the owner. He died in 1919, when the estate passed to his son, John. It was during WW2 that the South wing of Pentillie was requisitioned as a Maternity ward many prospective mothers being sent from Plymouth to give birth in relatively peaceful surroundings, even if the amenities were lacking! John died in 1965, but by then the house had fallen into a state of disrepair and was antiquated one bathroom for eighteen bedrooms and a kitchen at the other end of the building to the dining room! Jeffrey, his son, inherited it. He and his wife, Kit decided to demolish most of the 1810 construction. The building was listed after this in 1968. In 1977, being neither farmer nor estate manager and having no children, Jeffrey offered the chance of running the estate to his cousin, Ted Spencer. Ted had to learn fast as at that time, in his early thirties, he ran a helicopter company. Plans were disrupted though when Jeffrey died suddenly in 1980. Under the terms of the will, Kit became life tenant of the estate. She appointed Ted as heir, providing he changed his name to Coryton. Not long after, Kit cancelled the agreement and withdrew into the castle accompanied by her chef, Roger Langsford, who had lived all his life on the estate. He looked after her until her death in 2007. 

Ted, his wife Sarah and their three children had never visited the castle during these years, although they lived and worked one of the estate farms only a mile away. The story is told that the family sat at the kitchen table in the castle on Christmas Eve 2007 and decided they would make a business venture out of their property to raise much needed money to pay Inheritance taxes. Today, it is possible to hire the complete Castle with its nine beautifully furnished bedrooms and living rooms for weddings, conferences and private parties. We wish them well.

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