This article first appeared in The Cornish Banner in 2008. It outlines the connection of a branch of the Trelawny family – a family with strong Cornish connections – to the bordering parish of St. Budeaux in Devon. I have long held a fascination for the Budshead Manor, and hope at some point to release subsequent research.


For the Cornish, the Trelawny name evokes a proud image. Sir John Trelawny famously received the family coat of arms for valour at the battle of Agincourt, while Payton quotes ‘the old Cornish adage’ in his Cornwall – A History: ‘a Trelawny was never known to want courage, a Grenville loyalty, or a Godolphin wit’. The most popular member of the line, as if an introduction is needed, was Bishop Trelawny, a name which every year gathers plaudits. Most recently, Maurice Smelt, in his book 101 Cornish Lives, places the Bishop under the reference of ‘National totem’.

A great connection, then, binds the Trelawny name with Cornwall. Yet it is with their activities east of the River Tamar which this article is interested in. References of the family are found in abundance in around the St Budeaux (north west of Plymouth) area. In particular, are the Trelawny’s who owned Budshead Manor, which for centuries was the principle manor of the St Budeaux area.

The first known reference to the manor, like many others in the country, is found in the Domesday Book of William the Conqueror’s time. A local historian at the opening of the twentieth century, H Montagu Evans, dived through numerous records to paint a more accessible view of these far-flung times. In his booklet, St Budeaux: Its Manors and First Church, he records the name as Bucheside. At time of conquest it was held by a Saxon named Alwin, who made way for a Breton, Alured Brito (in what was a common trend throughout the country, with the old rulers the Saxons disposed by those from across the Channel).

The manor’s worth was 30 shillings (a small sum today, however a whooping amount in comparison with close by manors, such as Witelie valued at 5 shillings). Domesday records the area as comprising ‘320 acres of ploughland, 4 acres of meadow, 2 furlongs of coppice, 3 ploughs, cattle, 4 serfs and 5 villeins’. A rough translation is stated to equate this to meaning four slaves (serfs) and five villagers (villains), while a furlong is estimated at around 200 yards. The historian Cripsin Gill suggests that 5 ploughs can equate to 5 farms.

The line of tenants from Domesday to the arrival of the Trelawny’s is uncertain. Even the spelling of the manor changed constantly, from Bucheside to Bodekishide, Budeokshed, Bottockishide down to the modern day spelling of Budshead. The origin of the name lies with the supposed founder of the area, St Budoc, a monk from Brittany who’s hand, according to Evans (although writing almost one hundred years ago) is ‘still preserved’ in the church of Plouin, his first parish. It is from which the area, St Budeaux, takes its name. This modern spelling and pronunciation, however, as an Evening Herald writer once reported, is itself ‘a Frenchified elegant form’.

The family that came to own Budshead for an estimated fourteen generations named themselves after the manor. It is with the last of this line, Roger Budokshed, in which the majority of information lies. He gave much land and money to the building of St Budeaux Church, which was completed in 1563 (and played host to the wedding of Sir Francis Drake and Mary Newman six years later). His son, Philip, an adventurer, fought in the defence of Vienna at a time when the Ottoman Turks overrun Eastern Europe, and later lost his life during an expedition to aid the Huguenots in Rochelle.

The estate passed to Sir William Gorges (related to the famous Ferdinando Gorges), who in turn passed to the Plymouth merchant, Richard Treville, during the ill fated reign of Charles I. Lysons, in his early nineteenth century History of Devonshire (Part 2), gives us the first found reference of the Trelawny association with property at Budshead. It is noted that the co-heiress of the Treville’s married Brigadier-General Harry Trelawny, and the couple resided at Budshead.

The Brigadier-General’s father was Sir Jonathan Trelawny, the 2nd Baronet. Sir Jonathan was the fourth child and eldest son of the 1st Baronet, Sir John, a High Sheriff of Cornwall, and succeeded to the baronetcy in 1664. He was a MP for various boroughs in Cornwall (including Liskeard), and married Mary Seymour, with whom he had an array of children. These included the eldest son, Captain John Trelawny, who was killed at Tangier in 1680. A second Jonathan died in infancy, while a third Jonathan became the 3rd Baronet and became history’s darling as the figure much noted today. The Brigadier-General was the junior of the Bishop by eight years, being born in 1658.

Confusion surrounds the details of the wife of Sir Harry. As already stated, local sources (including that of the authoritative figure of Lysons) states that he married the co-heiress of the Treville family (presumably with the surname ‘Treville’, however, no actual name can be found). Internet sources, meanwhile, confidently state that his wife was Rebecca Hals (or Hales). The clue may indeed lie in the birth dates of the Brigadier-General’s offspring. His eldest son, Sir Harry, was baptised in 1687, a year before Budshead Manor was in the hands of Trelawny. Perhaps Rebecca Hals passed away, and the Treville co-heiress then married the Brigadier. Nothing is certain. Adding to this question mark is the birth place of Sir Harry – it is stated to have been in Eggbuckland, in the Plymouth area, and thus placing the Brigadier closer to Budshead Manor (by a distance of four miles, rather than the longer distance from the other side of the Tamar).

What is more concrete are the details of his military and political career. In 1692 he became colonel of the Queen Consort’s Regiment of Foot, replacing his brother Charles, who resigned in disgust at what he perceived to be King William’s (a Dutchman) favouritism to foreign officers. He served in Tangier and Flanders and later became an MP for Plymouth (the city in which Charles became Governor). Whilst serving in this latter political post, he is stated to have died (1702).

His son, Sir Harry, as previously stated, was born in the Plymouth area in 1687. In 1716 (other sources say 1720) he married his cousin, Letitia (1698-1775), the daughter of Bishop Trelawny. They had four children together; Anne, Charles, Rebbeca and Letitia (also spelt as Laetitia in family documents). He followed the family tradition of becoming a Member of Parliament, representing the nearby rotten borough of East Looe, however is best known for his becoming an aid-de-camp to the illustrious Duke of Marlborough. Sir Harry appears to have served in the British army for the bulk of his working years, however, found the time for a much settled retired life at Budshead. Lysons writes how he ‘amused himself with planting and gardening’, stating how he was: ‘the first person who brought ornamental gardening to any perfection in the West of England’. He continues: ‘His gardens, which abounded with American and other exotic plants and shrubs, were much resorted to by the curious’.

It was towards the end of his life that he succeeded to the Trelawny baronetcy. It seemed likely that this title would have been distanced from this younger branch of the family for all time eternal. The famous Bishop Trelawny held it until his death in 1721, when it passed to his eldest son, Sir John Trelawny, who held it between 1721-1756. This baronet continued the tradition of becoming an MP for the close areas to Menheniot House, such as West Looe, East Looe and Liskeard. However, he had no children in which to pass the baronetcy, and his younger brother died before him. The title therefore passed to the younger branch, and it was Sir Harry who benefited at the old age of 69. He held it until his death just six years later in 1762.

Letitia, the daughter of this botanically keen Sir Harry, became the heiress of Budshead. Two of her siblings did not outlive either father or mother, Charles being buried in 1740 and Rebecca in 1743. She was born in 1728 and married her first cousin, another Trelawny – Sir William – in 1754 in Maker Church, Devon. William was born in Falmouth to William Trelawny, Letitia’s father’s younger brother, and Mary Bisset. The couple had two children, Laetitia-Anne (who died in 1845), and Harry who was born in 1756 (and more on whom in a little while).

Just how much time the couple spent at Budshead is unknown. Harry was born there, which must place Sir William and Letitia in the locality for a period. It is perhaps fanciful to imagine them feeling a bond with the manor, especially due to Letitia’s father having dedicated so much energy into beautifying the grounds. However, such bonds were not forever, and in 1767 Sir William took up the post as Governor of Jamaica – a post held by a nearby relative, Edward Trelawny, from 1738-1752. Such employment thus separated him from the manor by a whole ocean.

It is said that at first Sir William ‘quarrelled’ with the Jamaican House of Assembly. However, soon afterwards he proved himself the ‘excellent and much respected Governor’ that Lysons gave him credit for, by brokering and fostering a peace between both House and himself until his death. Indeed, upon his death his stock within the House had grown enough for the Assembly to vote a thousand guineas for his funeral. ‘And ye Council and Assembly there’, states the St Budeaux church registers (as quoted by the Rev T.A. Hancock, vicar during the 1930s), ‘by a public vote, bore ye expense of his burial as a testimony of their approbation of his conduct in the administration of his government’. Sir William also had the added distinction of having a parish on the island titled after his family name, Trelawny – an area much noted for his connections with the sugar trade.

It was a tragic time for the Trelawnys of Budshead. Sir William’s sister-in-law, Anne, had died in Jamaica a few months before Sir William, being buried at Spanish Town. Sir William’s wife, ‘Lady Letita’ (as stated by Hancock), soon followed the pair, passing away on 28 May 1775, and was buried at Eggbuckland.

False information is cited in local references involving Sir William’s role at Budshead, placing him there in retirement a whole generation before he became Governor of Jamaica. This can be traced back to the work of local historian, H Montagu Evans in the early twentieth century. In what is otherwise much valuable research for the St Budeaux area, Evans makes a gross error when stating that it was Sir William who ‘on his retirement, lived at Budshead, say 1730-50, and devoted himself to beautifying it, spending lavishly on the terraced gardens and rare trees he planted, so that the place… became famous in the country’. Obviously, Evans confused Sir William with his uncle, Sir Harry, as the former never reached the age of retirement.

Such confusion was cleared up by Rev T.A. Hancock, vicar of St Budeaux Church in the 1930s. He used the direct source of the church register, and published his findings in an essay. The register had this to say on the matter: ‘Sir William Trelawny, nephew of Sir Harry Trelawny, of Budshead, died in Jamaica 11th December, 1772’.

This clarity should have solved the matter, however, despite this correction many local historians have since been dubbed by the earlier mistake. In The Tamar Valley and its People (1984), R.T. Paige states that ‘Budshead Manor’s terraced gardens had just been laid-out by its new owner, Sir William Trelawney [sic], on his return home from Jamaica at the end of his spell of duty as Governor’. Even Chris Robinson, the leading light of local history of Plymouth, has been fooled. In a 1988 Evening Herald Time Draws On article, he states: ‘Sir William Trelawny laying out fine gardens and many rare trees here in the mid-18th century’. Robinson repeats the mistake in the second volume of his As Time Draws On collection.

The Rev Henry (again another Harry) Trelawny became the 7th Baronet and owner of the Budshead home on the death of his father, Sir William. Henry received his early education in (relatively) nearby Plympton Grammar school, continuing on to Westminster School in 1770. He followed the path of religion early on during his education, and his ‘dissenting principles’ barred him from gaining access to further education at Oxford. In 1777, in what became a flurry of religious activity, he built a Presbyterian Chapel in Looe and was ordained minister, however within four years had converted back to the Anglican faith and was ordained Deacon and Priest in the Church of England.

His converting was still not complete, and in 1810, in a reversal of Bishop Trelawny’s exploits a century before, he became a Roman Catholic. Twenty years after this, towards the close of his life, he became ordained a Catholic priest – making it three times ordained in three different faiths! He ended his days in the Catholic heartland of Italy, dying in Laviano in 1834.

His name is not strongly linked in the locality of St Budeaux as his ancestors. He was the last Trelawny to tend to the estate, selling parts of the Budshead manor, as well as the ‘rights and presentation of the church of St Budeaux’ to the then vicar, the eccentric and eclectic Reverend Thomas Alcock. References can be found for Henry living many other places but for Budshead, mostly connected with his religious career.

Alcock himself did not hold onto his possessions for long, dying in 1798 at the grand old age of ninety. The estate passed onwards, becoming the possession of Lord Graves, which then passed into the hands of Richard Hall Clarke who partially rebuilt the house in 1810. It passed on this way, through various hands until it became primarily of use as a farm house. It continued into the middle of the twentieth century, during which time the surrounding area was drastically changed by the building of the Ernesettle housing estate. Interestingly, it was converted for a time into the local branch library, lasting for less than a decade in this fashion. In 1975 it was subject to a fire, and the restoration cost was too hefty to foot the bill and the council ordered the levelling of the site. All that remain are a few archways and old brick walls.

Although it was the end of the Trelawny’s association with Budshead Manor, it was not the end of this proud family connection with the area of St Budeaux. Trelawny’s continued at Ham House, albeit in various forms (such as Trelawny-Collins and Trelawny-Ross) well into the twentieth century. This line, as well as the holdings of General John Jago Trelawny (who helped push through the beginnings of St Budeaux Square) were the main local landowners into the early 1930s, when at which time their possessions were snapped up by a greedy Plymouth Corporation looking for land to expand.

The majority of the green landscape of Sir Harry’s time is now a memory. A housing estate, erected in the aftermath of war in the 1950s, now overlooks the remains of the Budshead building. However, towards the Tamar River, where it splits in two, much greenery can be viewed – a picture, perhaps, almost exact as the time when the Trelawny’s first came into connection with the manor over three hundred years ago.


Photo-credit: Matt Gilley/Plymouth Live