Building Cornwall January 16, 2019 – Posted in: The History of Cornwall

No two people have had a greater impact on the built environment of Cornwall than John Passmore Edwards and Silvanus Trevail. Edwards (1823-1911), the Cornish philanthropist, and Trevail (1851-1903), the architect, collaborated on public works – in particular, libraries – in Truro, Bodmin, Launceston, St Ives and other towns, often with the grudging support of local councillors who thought them a magnet for loungers.

Trevail’s Truro Free Library

Trevail, of course, also pursued his own projects – hotels, schools, chapels, institutes, galleries and domestic buildings – in a frenzy of activity that lasted three decades until he shot himself in the ladies’ toilet on a train at Bodmin Parkway. If you went to school in Cornwall, you probably went to a one designed by Silvanus Trevail.

Boscastle Board School
Silvanus Trevail’s Boscastle Board School for 70 children opened in July 1879
Silvanus Trevail’s King Arthur’s Castle Hotel

I was reminded of Passmore Edwards as I was on my way to the dry cleaners at Bounds Green as I passed by Passmore Edwards House, a sheltered housing development on the site of the now demolished  cottage hospital he bequeathed to the growing north London suburb of Wood Green. London benefited too from Edwards’ philanthropy. Edwards made a fortune, lost a fortune, made another fortune, and gave away 90% of his personal wealth to help the disadvantaged, ‘funding the ladder so that the poor might climb’. 

Passmore Edwards' Wood Green Cottage Hospital
Passmore Edwards’ Wood Green Cottage Hospital
Passmore Edwards’ Miners’ & Mechanics’ Institute, St Agnes, Cornwall

You can support the Blackwater Literary Institute donated by Passmore Edwards to his birthplace of Blackwater https://www.easyfundraising.org.uk/causes/blackwatervillage/

Related books

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    Papers from the 2015 Cornish Buildings Group conference ‘Only a Cornishman would have the endurance to carve intractable granite’

  • Funding the Ladder Book Cover

    John Passmore Edwards was born in Blackwater, Cornwall, in 1823 and went on to make a fortune from publishing popular technical magazines like the English Mechanic and Building News. He used his fortune to establish hospitals, convalescent homes, institutes, art galleries and museums, as well as libraries in London and Cornwall. Edwards was also involved in campaigns against slavery, and was a notable opponent of the Boer war.

  • Silvanus Trevail Book Cover

    This biography is the first to evaluate Trevail’s remarkable life and achievements, with over 150 colour illustrations of his buildings and a comprehensive catalogue of all his projects.

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