Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt & Princetown
Tor Royal was built in 1785-93 by and for Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt. He had been private secretary to the Prince of Wales until 1796, when he was elected to the House of Commons as Member for Okehampton, on the northern edge of Dartmoor. Between then and 1802, when he lost his seat, he enclosed a farm on Dartmoor which he named Tor Royal. There he managed to raise flax of such a high quality that it won him the Bath and West Agricultural Society’s gold medal. He was also instrumental in having several roads constructed across the Moor and for the creation of a small town which he named Prince’s Town (now Princetown), in honour of the Lord of the Manor, the Prince of Wales (also Duke of Cornwall). Tyrwhitt became Lord Warden of the Stannaries in 1803.
It was his intention to turn what was then an inhospitable and isolated area, Dartmoor, into a thriving place to live and work. His first project was to persuade the government that Prince’s Town would make an ideal location for a depot to house prisoners from the wars with France and (later) America. As a result, he built Dartmoor Prison, completed in 1809, which housed 5,000 prisoners-of-war until peace was declared in 1815.
In 1806 he became Member of Parliament for Plymouth. He was knighted in 1812 having been appointed Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod.
Realising that Prince’s Town lacked good communication with a port such as Plymouth. Sir Thomas had the idea of a railway linking the town with the coast. The plan was to bring in the materials for the reclamation of the land, such as lime, sand, coal, timber and even tea and sugar for the occupants. The journeys back to Plymouth would carry granite from quarries at King Tor and possibly Dartmoor peat, as well as the produce from the farms.
Sir Thomas laid the first rail for the Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway on August 12th 1819 and the line was opened on September 26th 1823.
In 1832 he resigned from his post because of failing health and went to the Continent. He was on his way back to England when he died at Calais on February 24th 1833, at the age of 71.
The original building consisted of what is now the central two-storey section and the parallel single storey wings to the North. The centre consisted of the principal rooms with a stair in a small wing at the rear and the wings were for service purposes. In about 1815-20 the L-shaped single storey wing was added to the South extending to the rear and consisted of a high quality suite of self-contained rooms reputedly for the use of the Prince of Wales.
The interior remains fairly unaltered with an obvious difference in the quality of the principal (or Royal) suite of rooms which retain some very high quality features. The large reception hall (or Atrium) has a domed ceiling with a lantern.
At the base of the dome is an unusual plaster frieze depicting a steam engine pulling trucks (reputedly commemorating the construction of the Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway). In the corners are simple scenes either of a shepherd with his sheep or a carter with his horse. Above is a frieze of corn sheafs and baskets of fruit. The motif of the steam engine and trucks is repeated in the plaster cornice below the lantern. Although the chimneypiece in the hall appears to be contemporary – with its reeded pilasters each with a lion’s head at the top and a frieze of a Greek key motif with a flower at the centre – I was able to prove that it was added later.
At either end of the hall are double arches leading to other rooms. Several doors in this suite of rooms were believed to have come from Carlton House in London when it was demolished in 1827. As a result of microscopic analysis, research and careful observation I was able to prove that this pair once hung in the famous Blue Velvet Suite of Carlton House. Although these doors are now far from a window, I also demonstrated, from sun damage, that one of the pairs actually hung in the Blue Velvet Closet and led into the Prince Regent’s bedchamber.
(For a more detailed account of the investigation see my post entitled The Paint Detective.)
There are also doors which are, or have been, covered with green baize and decorative studwork. The State Room has a coved cornice with applied plaster Prince of Wales’s feathers.
The Drawing Room behind it has an ornate plaster cornice and a marble chimneypiece with classical figure at the centre of the frieze. The Large Office, to the East of the Atrium, is lined in wood with fielded panelling in places up to chair rail level and built-in cupboards with pilasters and decorative frieze. The Small Office to its West has an Art Nouveau chimneypiece with coloured tile surround.
The house appears to have been used by the Prince of Wales, Albert Edward (later Edward VII), from the 1870s. The actress Lillie Langtry (his semi-official mistress) was said to have visited the house during 1877-80, the period of their relationship.
Tor Royal was modified by Albert Richardson in 1912 for Prince Edward’s (later Edward VIII) occupancy. Prince Edward was Prince of Wales between 1910 and 1936 and it is known that he and Wallis (Mrs) Simpson paid several visits here.
I was tasked to investigate the painted surfaces in the Royal Suite.
The house is currently being refurbished and redecorated with the information that I was able to provide on its appearance over the years. It is understood that it will become a very comfortable Bed and Breakfast in the near future. What a unique and magnificent place to stay when visiting this part of Devon!
A short slideshow of the house can be seen here:
Click on the following link for a podcast on Wallis Simpson:
STOP PRESS: Tor Royal is now open to the public – in fact one can stay there. Please see the Tor Royal website.
Largely taken from: Plymouth Data – The Encyclopaedia of Plymouth History, the Listing and an Historic Building Record prepared by Cornwall Council in 2010.
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