Lanhydrock House, Bodmin, Cornwall, England

The house was rebuilt after a devastating fire in 1881 as a home for the Agar-Robartes family

P A Thompson/Getty


Top choice in East Cornwall

This magnificent manor, 2.5 miles southeast of Bodmin, offers a fascinating insight into Upstairs, Downstairs life in Victorian England. The house was rebuilt after a devastating fire in 1881 as a home for the Agar-Robartes family, complete with mod cons such as radiators, roasting ovens, warming cupboards and flushing loos. The centrepieces are the drawing room, packed with artworks and antiques, and the enormous kitchens, complete with a pioneering refrigerator room. The ornate Long Gallery is famous for its plaster ceiling.

The house was established in the 1620s by Sir Richard Robartes and his son, John Robartes, 1st Earl of Radnor. It originally had a four-sided layout, arranged around a central courtyard, but following the 1881 fire, the East Wing was demolished, leaving the U-shaped plan of today. The Long Gallery was the only significant part of the original house to survive undamaged, although the 17th-century gateway also still stands.

The present house is largely the work of the local Liskeard architect Richard Coad, who had worked as an assistant to Sir George Gilbert Scott on the house's redevelopment during the 1850s. No expense was spared by the house's owner, Lord Robartes, who by that time was one of the richest landowners in Cornwall, commanding an estate that covered more than 20,000 acres, or nearly 3% of the county. The house was equipped with all possible luxuries and furnished at lavish expense.

It's a living museum that also manages to feel like a family home. The most fascinating aspect of the house is the division between the two worlds which coexisted here: the 'downstairs' servants quarters and kitchens, and the 'upstairs' family rooms, from the gentlemen’s smoking room (lined with old Etonian photos, moose heads and tiger-skin rugs) to the children’s nursery, movingly strewn with abandoned toys belonging to the Robartes children. It's a real-life Gosford Park, and one of those magical National Trust properties that really does still feel as though the inhabitants have all just popped out for the afternoon, and might return at any moment.

Sadly, the family story proved to be a sad one: the family's beloved eldest son and heir, Tommy Agar-Robartes, was killed in WWI while trying to save a comrade from no-man's land. The family never quite recovered from the loss; the estate dwindled in both size and fortune over the following decades, and the house was gifted to the National Trust in 1951, along with 160 hectares of parkland.

Like many wealthy Cornish families, the Agar-Robartes made their fortune predominantly from mineral mining – particularly tin and china clay.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby East Cornwall attractions

1. Restormel Castle

1.78 MILES

High on a hilltop above Lostwithiel, 9 miles from St Austell on the A390, the ruined castle of Restormel was built by Edward the Black Prince (the first…

2. Charlotte Dymond Courtroom Experience

2.26 MILES

Located inside the Shire Hall, Bodmin's old county courtrooms house an exhibition retelling the story of Charlotte Dymond, a local girl who was found…

3. Bodmin Jail

2.61 MILES

Once the county's main prison, this forbidding place is now notorious for the numerous ghosts said to haunt it. Though much of the original jail has…

4. Cabilla & Redrice Woods

3.14 MILES

While most people head for the better-known woodlands of Cardinham, there's actually another wonderful patch of forest near Bodmin, much older and much…

5. Cardinham Woods

3.31 MILES

Just outside Bodmin, this large public forest is a great spot for a woody wander, and also has a network of mountain-bike trails if you're feeling more…

6. Camel Valley Vineyard

4.51 MILES

Cornwall might not seem an obvious place for winemaking, but father-and-son team Bob and Sam Lindo have been producing award-winning vintages at this…

7. Lerryn

5.32 MILES

Four miles southeast of Lostwithiel is another quaint and ancient village, Lerryn, which sits on the banks of the picturesque creek with which it shares…

8. Pencarrow House

5.45 MILES

Belonging to the well-to-do Molesworth-St Aubyn family, this wonderful Georgian manor was remodelled in the late 18th century in the best Palladian…