17th April 2016

At home in the castle – Tregenna’s history

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There is something incredibly romantic and exciting about staying in a castle. Our guests – of all ages – love the hotel’s castellated appearance, and dramatic setting.

We know that we’re not a “real” castle; however the hotel’s story is just as interesting as if those famous battlements had ever seen siege action… Here’s a potted history of Tregenna Castle.


Tregenna Castle – “home-like feelings”

“Home-like feelings” is how a Victorian visitor described the hotel in the guest book. A comment we often receive about Tregenna Castle these days is that although it’s a large hotel, it has the welcoming atmosphere of a home.

We like that – it’s lovely to think our guests feel so comfortable – and it could also be partly because that’s how Tregenna started out. It was built in 1774 as a private house for wealthy St Ives man, Samuel Stephens Esquire. A twelve-bedroomed house, it was built from local granite, and named after the hill it stands on.

How the Stephens family came to afford such an impressive estate is an incredible story. John Stephyn, an Irishman of uncertain profession, was shipwrecked in Wicca Cove near Zennor in the late fifteenth century. Not a promising start; however John decided to settle here. He and his descendants, through hard work and strategic marriages, rose up to be one of St Ives’ wealthiest families.

The Stephens family lived there until the 1880s when it was bought by prominent local family the Bolithos. Then the railways came…


Tregenna Castle – the railway hotel

For the discerning Victorian traveller, the railway hotel was the place to stay in a town. Ever since a grand hotel had opened next to Euston Station in 1838, the railway companies had been falling over themselves to build the biggest and best hotels. A smart station hotel became a must-have for any aspirational town; and by 1913, the railway companies owned 93 hotels between them.

Tregenna was an unusual railway hotel. For a start, it was not purpose-built. When the Great Western Railway company leased Tregenna Castle in 1878, Tregenna had been standing for over a century, and need a few alterations to convert it from home to hotel. Tregenna was also the first hotel that GWR marketed as what we’d now call a destination hotel, rather than a convenient stop-off for travellers.

You can imagine the excitement when the new branch line to St Ives opened in 1877. Even these days, when we take visiting beautiful places for granted, that arrival above Porthminster Beach really is something special. And from there – a very quick trip through the trees to Tregenna Castle…

GWR’s chairman, Sir Daniel Gooch, stayed at the hotel just after it opened, writing “The house feels more like a private house than a hotel; the views from it are very fine, looking over the town and bay of St Ives…”

It’s nice to know that some things never change.


Tregenna Castle – a place for leisure

As Tregenna was a destination hotel, it naturally followed that it had more to offer its guests than a standard railway hotel. Plans for a golf course were discussed from 1888; however until 1929, guests wishing to tee off were bussed to the links course at nearby Lelant.

The first golf course at Tregenna was a nine-hole course, and was swiftly followed by a croquet lawn and three lawn tennis courts. The badminton and squash courts also date from this period, and are still popular today. They have that wonderful, old school gymnasium feel to them – far more evocative than a faceless leisure centre!

Today, the golf course has expanded to an eighteen-hole course, The President’s Course. There are two pools, one in a conservatory, the other outdoor (heated!), with gorgeous views over the grounds and bay. There is also a state-of-the-art fitness suite; and the team at Castle Beauty are poised to pamper guests. It’s a shame that the Victorian ladies missed out on that much-needed “me time” – but in many other ways, Tregenna was a resort ahead of its time for its fortunate guests.

That’s just a brief history of the Castle. We could go on – the stables, the old petrol pumps, the addition of turrets, the former Magistrate’s office… But the best thing to do is discover Tregenna’s history for yourself. A walk around the grounds reveals all sorts of glimpses into the hotel’s past (even down to the railway-branded manhole covers), and each different piece of accommodation has its own story.

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