Trelissick in Cornwall is filled with family memories, wonderful objects and a historic collection of Spode. Lucinda Bredin meets Will Copeland, whose family has lived in the house for four generations
While he was sailing his yacht on the River Fal in spring 1913, Leonard Cunliffe caught sight of a glorious neo-classical mansion set on a hill surrounded by parkland. There and then he decided he had to have it.
The Edwardians understood leisure. Even though he was the Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, Cunliffe didn't let running the nation's economy get in the way of pursuing his passions for collecting Chinese ceramics and travelling. Like many of his class and means, he journeyed through Europe for months at a time, and when he was in England he moved between houses in Eaton Square and Chester Street, and a mansion in Surrey, Juniper Hill. However, when he saw Trelissick House it clearly filled a gap. Before long, it was filled with the fruits of a massive spending spree around Europe. When Cunliffe died in 1937, the major part of his vast collection of Renaissance bronzes, Chinese ceramics, Limoges enamels, furniture and paintings was bequeathed to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, but his favourite artefacts remained at Trelissick.
The current owner of the house, Will Copeland (his great-grandmother Evelyne, was Cunliffe's wife) looks around the airy drawing room in which we are sitting. "Everything here was bought by Leonard to fill the house. It is a microcosm of taste from the Edwardian era." There are a pair of Iznik vases; marble-topped pier tables, a pair of Buddhist lions; a rare flambé-glazed Qianlong bottle-vase, family portraits of Evelyne and her daughter, Ida, his grandmother; as well as a handsome chandelier. Over the years, this room has been the scene of many memorable parties. "I remember my father giving one cocktail party that got slightly out of hand. A guest brushed his hand against the chandelier which then smashed to the ground."
Leonard Cunliffe left the house to his step-daughter, Ida, who brought a different, but no less rich, family history to Trelissick when she married Ronald Copeland from the Spode china dynasty. The couple were much loved locally for their philanthropy. As Will says, "We still have visitors who say they remember how they had a scouts' tea party on the lawn and how Ida and Ronald passed around the cups."
Ronald was an enthusiastic collector of ceramics. "He loved early Spode, and was greatly influenced by Chinese design. But the real reason that he began a collection was because he thought it was a pity that the factory was producing all these wonderful things and that none of the workers got to see them. So he displayed it in a couple of rooms in the factory." After Spode was sold in the late 1960s, Spencer and Jean Copeland, Will's parents, brought the collection to Trelissick. Now consisting of 2,500 pieces (from 1770 to the present), it has been displayed in a special gallery; along with the rest of the contents of the house, the pieces will be offered in Bonhams' sale at Trelissick in July.
True to their charitable spirit, Ronald and Ida bequeathed the house and grounds to the National Trust in 1955, with the proviso that future generations of the Copeland family could live in it. Will Copeland says that his earliest memory of the house was when he was about six, before his parents made Trelissick their main residence.
(There was also an estate in Staffordshire.) "My father bought a boat and we made a lot of day trips on the river Fal, with uncles, aunts and cousins. I remember dark and dingy corners and feeling a bit creeped out. Where the dining room is now, there was what was called the boudoir. It was my grandmother's sitting room and it had sofas and a TV in the corner with dodgy reception." It also influenced Will's choice of career. He did not follow his father and grandfather into the potteries, but instead became a marine surveyor.
As he says, "There have always been boats in the family. I grew up sailing here, and our children do as well. In the summer they make flapjacks and row out to the yachts that are moored to sell them."After Bonhams sale in July, Copeland and his family will retain a flat in Trelissick. As Will says, "It is one of the best views on the planet. I am always rather proud that if you sit here on a nice day, about the only man-made thing you can see is Falmouth Castle."
Lucinda Bredin is Editor of Bonhams Magazine.