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News Archive > Sport > Grand estate left to nature

Grand estate left to nature

By Matt Bond 31st March 2004

THE LEGAL wrangling over the once elegant and magnificent Figg-Hoblyn estate at Colan has been well documented over the years.

The reclusive heir to the Cornish estate, which is valued at around £2 million, is thought to be living as a virtual down-and-out on a trailer park in California.

Meanwhile, John Westropp Figg-Hoblyn from California, the man who is second in line to the inheritance, is apparently still attempting to stake his claim.

The estate, called Nanswhyden, at Colan was last occupied in 1904 and has long been a ruin given over to nature and the shadows of the surrounding woods.

Its history, and that of the Hoblyns who lived there, is a fascinating tale that sheds some light.

The earliest reference to the Nanswhyden Estate ('Nanc-widd-on' in Cornish meaning the Valley of the Trees) is in a deed - a feoffment made by John Coam of Nanswhyden to Thomas de Tregays dated 16th Edward II, 1323.

This could mean the gift or grant of a Fief (Fend) of an estate held of a superior on condition of military service but there is no definition given.

The estate was purchased by Richard Hoblyn from the Noye family of Carnanton in 1581 and remained the principal Hoblyn seat for well over 200 years.

The forerunners of the Hoblyn family originated in Liskeard or Bodrane in St Pinnock.

It is not known if the present farmhouse is the one which stood at the time of purchase but it is certainly very old and could well have been the residence of the family until the mansion was built.

The grand house on the estate was built by Robert Hoblyn (1710-1756), who was born in the original house, now the farmhouse.

His father was Francis Hoblyn, born 1687, Justice of the Peace for Cornwall and a member of the Stannary Parliament who died in 1711. His mother was Penelope, daughter of Sidney Godolphin of Shropshire. She remarried in 1714 to Sir William Pendarnes.

Robert Hoblyn was educated at Eton and graduated from Corpus Christi College, Oxford in December 1727. He took a B.C.L. Degree in 1734 and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1745. He was a member of the Parliament for Bristol in 1754 and a speaker of two Convocations of the Stannery Parliament for Cornwall, which was chiefly concerned with the tin mining industry.

He later inherited an ample fortune which was largely maintained by his success in mining.

With his wealth he decided to build Nanswhyden House and work started in 1740 and cost £15,000 with the furnishings costing a further £15,000. The house was 110 ft long, 80 ft deep and 40 ft high.

A historian, Gilbert, gives it the following description: "The basement story was built of granite, the upper part with a light coloured slate, or killas, and the whole lined with brick; the door cases, windows, pediment and balustrades were of the Ionic order.

"The chimney pieces, which were finished in Italy, were remarkably elegant, in respect of the richness of the marble, the delicacy of the design, and the excellence of the sculpture.

"The library occupied two rooms, the longest of which was 36ft in length, 24ft broad and 16ft high; and all the other apartments were equal in design, and finished throughout in a style in which elegance and comfort were alike combined."

The library was built mainly to house Robert Hoblyn's collection of 25,000 scarce books, which were divided into the classes of natural and moral philosophies, many of these books were collected during his travels to Italy.

Another historian Polwhele proceeds: "The books … were designed as a standing library for the county, to which, every clergyman and author, who had the design of publishing, were to have the readiest access, and of this liberty, Dr Borlase in particular, with other authors, and the neighbouring clergy, availed themselves much."

Robert Hobley died in 1756 and the family tree main line stops dead. His widow married John Quicke of Exeter and in 1778 she sold the books, which had been left to her, in London for £2,500 at a sale lasting 25 days.

At one time in St Columb Minor Church a great monument was erected to Robert Hoblyn but it was taken out in 1845 by a past rector.

We are then told that the property moved onto his kinsman, The Rev Robert Hoblyn, one-time curate of Gwennap, who died at Bath in 1839.

This Robert had married a Mary Mallett, of Millbrook. They had nine children, the line being carried on by a son, the Rev William Mallett Hoblyn, who married Frances Laura Pagett, of Cranmore Hall, Somerset. He died in 1846. The only son of the marriage was christened William Paget Hoblyn.

Forty-seven years after Robert Hoblyn's death the mansion was gutted by fire on November 30, 1803 and practically all contents were lost.

The fire is said to have been started by a pantry-boy overturning a lighted oil-lamp.

Sometime after this the Fir Hill House was built (The hill of the firs, Lawyers Hill) but no records exist as to who was responsible.

It may have been Rev. Robert but more possibly his son William Hoblyn who was well known for his liking for Gothic architecture. He laid out the gardens and the plantations of conifers and it became on of the show places of Cornwall.

Nearby Colan Church became the family church after Fir Hill was built and some of the Hoblyns are buried there. The first church was built in 1250 and the present church dates from 1360.

The nearby Barton of Colan originally belonged to the Colan family who owned it until about 1500 when due to the lack of a male issue the estate was divided between the two daughters into the families of Bluet and Trefusis.

The Bluets lived in the Barton and to perpetuate the name several children were given Colan as a first name.

A Major Colan Bluet is said to have distinguished himself as an active Officer in the service of King Charles I.

The part of the Barton owned by the Bluets was purchased by the Hoblyns in the 17th Century and the Trefusis part, which had passed to the Earl of Radnor in 1620, was purchased later by the Hoblyns.

There is a brass in the church to the memory of Francis Bluet and his wife and their 22 children dated 1572.

Today, sadly, little is left of the Nanswhyden house, after it was demolished and much of the ornamental stonework taken to the Vyvyan house of Trelowarren.

Some of the ruined walls exist and you can still judge the site of the house. Trees are growing where there were once floors, there are no signs of any lawns and the large forecourt in front of the house is well on its way back to nature. In fact, the two pavilions at the ends are all that is left.

After the death of William Hoblyn in 1899, the estates were administered by two of William's daughters, Whililmina and Laura, and after their decease, by Mrs Zoe Allen-Hoblyn who died in 1951, after which date trustees were in charge.

In 1939, the contents of Fir Hill were auctioned and the sisters moved into a bungalow at Porth.

The last trustee died in 1975, a Mr E. Hewish, one time manager of Barclay's Bank in Newquay.

During the Second World War the house was used to accommodate an evacuated Girls' School and control of the estate is now under the control of the Official Solicitor.

Its rightful place is thought to be back with the Figg-Hoblyn family and John Westropp Figg-Hoblyn is said to be keen to keep the estate in the family name.

He has visited the area from his Californian home to survey his supposed inheritance and is in legal action, which still hangs in the balance today.

Cornish historian Charles Woolf writes that from the 1953 electoral register it can be seen that there is not, or was not then, a single person living in Cornwall with the surname Hoblyn.

This fact is sad as he adds: "In the family's hey-day it was a name liberally scattered around the county, and one of influence at that."

By Matt Bond 31st March 2004

alan harris 27th October 2009 17:36
I live in the hamlet of bosoughan and more than seven years ago I started to write a book about Fir Hill, squire Hoblyn and the surrounding district, much of which has now been altetred out of all recognition.The smithy at Mount Joy (mungee)has long since been demolished and there now stands a modern bungalow.
My book records the lives of Donna, a housemaid at Firhill and her lover Ned Hawkings, a trainee blacksmith plus the gentleman farmer of Colan Barton and his dissolute son who became a WW1 fighter pilot.
Timing is from 1915, through WW1 and the years up to 1939,through WW2 and finishing in the early 1950s.
One of these fine days I will get down to finishing my work and maybe self publish.If so I will send you a complimentary copy.
Richard Hoblyn 8th May 2010 13:52
This is an interesting article but sadly like many articles on the "Hoblyn´s" & the Cornish Estates there are quite a few inaccuracies.
peter gwynn 2nd August 2010 21:03
Does anyone know if Zoe Hoblyn was the wife of Captain Allen Hoblyn of the Rhydd Hanley Castle Wourcester
Kathleen 17th August 2010 04:27
These are my ancestors and relatives. I would be interested in talking with any Hoblyns.
Richard Hoblyn 14th September 2010 17:51
You´re welcome to get in touch anytime Kathleen. My email is richard@hoblyn.com
Richard Hoblyn 14th September 2010 17:52
You´re welcome to get in touch anytime Kathleen. My email is richard@hoblyn.com
RElliot 1st February 2012 13:01
here is another account of what happened:
http://www.stopguardianabuse.org/johnfigghoblyn.htm
Margaret Sierakowski 16th May 2012 10:51
When I was a child I used to play in the woods at the house at Colan , and pick daffodils there in the spring, and go scrumping in the autumn in the apple orchard next to the church. The house was empty but the doors stood open and one could wander around inside , it was still in reasonable goood order then, there was even food left in the kitchen cupboards . It was a magical place for children then , full of mystery about who owned the house and why it had been abandoned. That was around 1950
bill kelly 26th July 2012 06:11
My grandfather william w. ralph was born at firhill & I would welcome any information on either him, his family or indeed firhill it´s self. I live in queensland australia & it is proving difficult to gather information from here
tony Martin 12th January 2014 15:18
Dear Bill
I went to Tretherras school and was in the same year as your brother Richard and left school in 1963. i doubt if you remember me but i used to go to your mum and dads house at Mayfield and remember your sister Jackie i am 65 years old and i believe you are probably 3 years older and when younger 3 years is a big gap but i remember you going to Australia. Richard and myself use to go to Fir Hill and play, i can remember going to play on a farm before you reach Fir hill and i thought it was Richards Uncle or grandad but i am not to sure. My best friend at school was Keith Solomon and he was born in the cottage alongside the estate house on 3rd May 1948 i believe his mum and dad worked on the farm.I now live in Malpas near Truro and would be interested to hear from you i was just reading about the history of Fir Hill and saw your comments.
Best regards

Tony Martin
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katheriner Hofman 14th May 2016 14:50
Wrought iron carving depicting a golden hand with 18 to the left and 56 to the right. Does anyone know if this once belonged to Fir hill manor ?
Roger Hygate 18th October 2016 23:42
I am researching Rev. Edward Hoblyn, born 22nd April 1782, died 8th February 1868. son of Rev Robert Hoblyn

Edward spent his childhood at Nanswyden.

Any information from a descendant would be most welcome
Hilary King 22nd April 2017 23:53
My mother was an evacuee here in 1939(from Storrington school). She writes about sleeping in the loft over the stables. The building was already derelict. Sounds like they stayed about 6 weeks before finding more suitable accomodation
Richard Hoblyn 23rd April 2017 10:12
Fir Hill - for those interested, my younger brother Charlie purchased around 65 acres from the Estate several years ago and working with the local council & other experts has planning to convert the woodland and some of the old buildings to a self-sustainable Eco-project deriving income from yurts. The quarry at Fir Hill has been resurrected and much of the woodland opened up with rights of way for locals to enjoy. It is a breathtaking project and I must say that my brother has done a superb job to date in revitalising the spirit of Fir Hill. There is a Facebook page if anyone is interested.

I have a lot of history on the Hoblyn heritage. Please feel free to contact me.
Harold Birimcombe 5th June 2017 22:14
My father, PERCY BRIMICOMBE was born in Nanswhyden St Columb Major in 1907. However I am at a loss to find any more info regarding Nanswhyden. At this time, was it a home for unwed mothers or what? his father is not listed on his Entry of Birth.
Any info you could provide would be appreciated.
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