Helstonia – The Rodney Inn, Meneage Street, Helston
The Rodney Inn is named for George Brydges Rodney, 1st Baron Rodney of Rodney Stoke, Somerset. Rodney was perhaps the most celebrated naval hero of the mid-18th century. Born in 1718 and baptised at Walton-on-Thames in February of that year, his family were well-connected but became comparatively impoverished following his father’s loss of a substantial portion of his wealth through speculative investments in the notorious South Sea Bubble of 1719-’20. Rodney joined the Royal Navy at age fifteen after attending Harrow School. His naval career included engagements during the war of the Austrian Succession; the Seven Years War; and, most especially, as a Commander in the Caribbean against the French during the American War of Independence. Among other accomplishments Rodney is credited with devising the naval warfare tactic of “breaking the line”. It was in recognition of these latter exploits that he was given a peerage and a pension of £2,000 per annum in 1782. Previously, in 1762, using a portion of his prize money – which he was said to pursue avidly – he purchased a seat in the House of Commons and was M.P. for various constituencies, including Penryn. He died in May 1792, aged 74, having suffered ill-health for some years. The signboard of Helston’s Rodney Inn is a copy of a portrait painted in the last year of his life of a frail-looking Lord Rodney by the French artist Jean-Laurent Mosnier.
It has been claimed that the house is 500 years old and was once a coaching inn. I have no idea what the basis of this notion is and can only speculate that the present inn was being conflated with the neighbouring Bell Inn, which does have a history that may go back to pre-Reformation times. Both inns would in their time have been posting houses as distinct from the often misused term ‘coaching inn’. In terms of British land transport history a ‘coaching inn’, strictly speaking, is one where stage coaches, usually in conjunction with the Royal Mail, called at regularly scheduled times. The only Helston inn that performed this fuction was the Angel. Several other inns including the Rodney, Bell, Star and Duke’s Head were posting houses. These offered horses and horse-drawn vehicles for hire in cooperation with other houses along a given route. Some also operated horse-drawn omnibus services usually to surrounding towns and to locations on The Lizard. Naturally accommodation for such vehicles would be required. Those used by the Rodney were located in the present Trengouse Way.
Architecturally the two inns are not dissimilar, some portions being quite old and others more modern. Their frontages both appear to be of the early-mid 19th century. In common with many inns, including its neighbour, the Rodney Inn kept stables well into the 20th century and horses were walked right through the pub to and from the stabling at the rear. Although it may previously have existed under a different name, the earliest documentation found to date is contained in the Helston Borough Licensing Recognizances of 1777-’79 when the inn was known as the Admiral Boscawen. The landlord was William Pappin.
By 1780 – such is the fleeting fame of naval heroes – the name of the inn had changed to the Admiral Rodney, the landlord from that year until at least 1783 being listed as Thomas Dale. For a period in the early 19th century the inn was called the Lord Rodney before settling on its present name of the Rodney Inn.
The late Mr. H.L. Douch, author of the book Old Cornish Inns, compiled over 40 years an index of the Duchy’s public houses that is held at the Courtney Library of the Royal Cornwall Institution and Museum, Truro. The entry for the Rodney Inn records a number of newspaper advertisements concerning the house, usually offering for sale the lease or Fee Simple and Inheritance. Their tone may be gathered from the following notice carried in the 1st April 1809 edition of the Royal Cornwall Gazette:
“On Tuesday the 2nd day of May next, by four
o’clock in the afternoon a PUBLIC SURVEY
will be held in the house of James Richards,
Innkeeper in the borough of Helston,
FOR SELLING Two Third Parts undivided
of the under-mentioned TENEMENTS and
PREMISES, in Lots.
Lot 1. All that well-accustomed INN or PUBLIC
HOUSE and Garden, situate in Meneage-street, in the said
Borough, now in the occupation of the said James Richards…”
The ad goes on to offer “Properties 3&4 (dwelling house & alehouse in Trewennack-)…” belonging to John Richards. Those interested in further particulars are direct to apply to Messrs Grylls, Borlase & Scott, Attornies.
By 1820 the inn had new proprietors, the Royal Cornwall Gazette of 15th April carrying this:
“TO BREWERS and PUBLICANS
To Be Sold
The Fee Simple and Inheritance of and in
all that well-frequented
with its appurtenances
situate in Meneage-street in the borough of
Helston, known by the sign of the Lord Rodney,
now in the occupation of Elizabeth Harris,
widow, whose term therein will expire
at Michaelmas 1823…”
The ad goes on to inform the public that the auction for the property would be held at the inn and interested parties are again advised to apply to the solicitors Grylls and Borlase, who during the time since 1809 lost Mr. Scott through his having been found guilty of embezzling clients’ money, but gained as partners Trippet and Trevenen.
Pigot’s Directory of 1823 names the inn as the Lord Rodney and lists Mary Harris as landlady. The Royal Cornwall Gazette of 1st May 1824 announced the death of James Richards “…for many years proprietor of the Admiral Rodney.”
The Harris family continued as holders of the Rodney with Mary Harris again listed in Pigot’s Directory of 1830, and [another?] Elizabeth Harris listed in Robson’s Directory of 1840. It is assumed that either the first-named Elizabeth or Mary would be the Mrs. Harris, aged 70, “…of the Rodney” whose death was reported in the Royal Cornwall Gazette of 10th October 1845.
Subsequent directories of c.1844, ’52-’53, ’56, and 1862 name William Harris as landlord.
The Royal Cornwall Gazette of 28th May carried the following notice:
“Desirable Family Residence, and Inn
Lot 2. All that old and well-accustomed
INN or PUBLIC HOUSE, situated in Meneage-street
aforesaid called or known by the name of “THE
RODNEY INN”, kept by Mr. Wm. Harris, who holds
the same under a lease for 7 or 14 years from 24th June 1844.”
The 1851 Census lists William Harris, 44, Innkeeper as Head; Susan Chenoweth, 19, Barmaid; Elizabeth Scholar, 24, and Florence Stephens, 20, as House Servants; and John Jones, 21, as Lodger & Tailor.
The following report appeared in the Royal Cornwall Gazette of 20th February 1852:
“Walter Perry, a vagrant, and John Doe, a sweep, were brought before M.P. Moyle, Esq., one of the borough magistrates, charged with stealing a copper boiler from the Rodney Inn, in Meneage-street, which they afterwards sold in Helston, and immediately decamped, but were taken into custody at St. Columb, by Coombe, the policeman of that place. Proofs being conclusive, they were committed to the town prison to await trial at the next Quarter Sessions for the borough.”
The 1861 Census continues to name William Harris, 54, as Landlord. Susan Chenoweth [who seems to have aged only eight years since 1851], 27, as Housekeeper; Elizabeth Scholar, 34, Cook; and Elizabeth Davies, 18, listed as Chambermaid.
The Royal Cornwall Gazette of 1st November 1861 carried the following notice:
“To Be Sold by Auction
By Mr. Alexander Berryman Junr.
On Friday the 8th day of November next, at 3 o’clock in
the afternoon, at the Rodney Inn, in the borough of Helston,
Lot 1. The Fee Simple and Inheritance in possession of
all that old and well-accustomed inn or public house situate
in Meneage-street in the said borough, called or known by the name of the
for many years past kept by Mr. Wm. Harris, who holds same
as tenant from year to year.”
A similar advertisement appeared in the same newspaper a little over a year later.
While the inn was apparently in the same hands, the West Briton of 27th April 1866 carried the following:
“Borough of Helston Eligible Inn & Premises For Sale.
To Be Sold by private contract with immediate possession,
the Fee Simple and Inheritance of and in all that
old established and well-accustomed inn called the
situate in Meneage-street in the borough of Helston,
with the brewhouse, stables, yard and premises
thereto belonging, now and for several years past in the
occupation of Mr. William Harris, the proprietor.
The above premises are replete with every convenience, in
excellent repair and well-situated for business (being in one
of the leading thoroughfares of the town) and in which a good
and lucrative trade has been carried on by the proprietor for
the last 30 years and who retires on account of ill-health.
The purchaser will be required to take the furniture,
fixtures, brewing utensils and Stock-in-Trade therein at a valuation to be made in the usual way.
For viewing the premises and other particulars apply to the said Mr. Harris or to
Mr. Richard Kerby
Auctioneer & General Agent, Helston
Dated 17th April 1866”
Barely ten months had passed when the West Briton announced: “Deaths – At the Rodney Inn, Helston, on the 29th ult. Mr. Wm. Harris, aged 50 [sic].” This appears to be a misprint as previous Census returns indicate that Mr. Harris would have been nearer 60 at the time of his death.
Not quite three years later – and rather poignantly – mortality struck at the Rodney again as in October 1870 the West Briton announced: “Deaths – At the Rodney Inn, Helston, on the 10th last, Sidney, younger son of Mr. Thomas Jewell, innkeeper, aged 10 months.”
The 1871 Census indicates that Mr. Jewell and his wife were not left childless by Sidney’s early demise, listing Thomas J. Jewell, 30, Head & Innkeeper; Emma L. Jewell, 28, wife; Caroline Jewell, 8, daughter; Edith Jewell, 5, daughter; and Thomas J. Jewell, 2, son. Alice Griffin, 20; Emma Phillpott, 19; Mary A. Davies, 22; and Sarah Phillpott, 16, are all listed as General Servants.
The inn was again up for sale the following year, the West Briton of 1st February 1872 carrying this quite informative notice:
“Freehold Inn in Helston For Sale
To be sold by private contract, the Fee Simple and Inheritance of and in
all that old established and well-accustomed Inn or Public House called
THE RODNEY INN
in Meneage-street, Helston, for many years in the occupation of Mr.
Wm. Harris, deceased, and now of Mr. William Jewell. The stock-in-trade,
fixtures and brewing utensils will have to be taken and paid for by
separate valuation in the usual way, and possession will be
given at Lady Day next, on or before which day
the purchase must be completed.
The above inn is well-known as one of great respectability and
does a sound general business, and has enjoyed the benefits of an extensive
connection with the farmers of the Meneage district, and the inhabitants of the
mining parishes visiting Helston on Market Days.
The premisies have been repaired and improved within the
last two years to the extent of £200.
Application to be made before the 24th day of February next to
Mr. Jewell on the premises, or to
Mr. J.G. Plomer
Dated 29th January 1872”
The inn was apparently acquired at this time by William Curnow, who is named as landlord in Kelly’s Directory of 1873. In his years as licensee of the Rodney Mr. Curnow seems to have had his ups and downs coming to the attention of the borough magistrates twice in a little over a year. The West Briton of 8th April 1875 reported:
“HELSTON PETTY SESSIONS – The Session were held on Saturday before Messrs F.V. Hill (Mayor), F. Penberthy, R. Kerby, and Captain Daniell. Wm. James and Samuel Cross were charged with being drunk and disorderly in Meneage-street on Sunday evening, March 21. Both men had been drinking at the Rodney Inn, and Cross, who is of a very excitable temperament, soon became violent: James, who said he had but one-half the quantity of beer he had ordered, did not commit a breach of the peace. P.C. Wedlock, in his evidence stated that James was drunk, but on being questioned by the Bench, said he was told so. He could not say so from what he saw. Cross was fined 5s and costs; the charge against James was dismissed. A brother of Cross asked the bench why Curnow, the landlord of the Rodney Inn, was not summoned for supplying his brother with drink while he was intoxicated. A great deal of Sunday drinking in closed hours goes on in Helston public houses in spite of the Mayor’s recent order of police inspection on Sunday mornings.”
Sadly, later in the same year the West Briton of 16th September announced: “Deaths – At the Rodney Inn, Helston, on the 13th inst. The wife of William Curnow, formerly of the First and Last Inn, aged 38.”
The following year Mr. Curnow found himself before the borough magistrates, the West Briton of 26th June 1876 carrying this report:
“HELSTON BOROUGH PETTY SESSIONS were held on Saturday before Mr. F.V. Hill (Mayor), Messrs T.H. Edwards, H. Roberts and F. Penberthy. Mr. William Curnow, landlord of the Rodney Inn, Meneage-street, in the borough of Helston, was summoned for selling to Thomas Vile, not being a traveller, a pint of beer on Sunday the 18th inst., in illegal hours. Richard Chappell, borough constable, stated that on Sunday the 18th inst., at half-past six in the morning he went to Mr. Curnow’s public house, where he saw a man named Vile drinking from a pewter pint. Curnow said, ‘This is nothing; he was up very early.’ Witness said, ‘This is wrong; I shall report it to the Mayor.’ At nine o’clock the same day Curnow said to him, ‘I hope you will not report me. I only gave a pint of beer.’ Witness replied, ‘I shall report you and the man.’ Defendant stated that the door was opened by a servant. Vile came in and asked for a pint of beer as he had been up since three o’clock. He said I will give you a pint of beer,’ for which he received no payment. He saw Chappell come in. He had committed the offence innocently, and would have refused to draw anything if the person had been previously drinking or bore a bad character. – In reply to Mr. Plomer witness said, ‘My defence is that it was a gift and not a sale.’ The Mayor said that the Bench were unanimously of opinion that the defendant was guilty of the offence. As this was the first case that had been brought before them, they would inflict a fine of 40s and costs, and would not endorse the license, and defendant ought to be very grateful for this decision. – Thomas Vile pleaded guilty to a charge of being found drinking at the Rodney Inn, in prohibited hours, on Sunday, the 18th inst., and was fined 5s and costs.”
After appearing again in the 1878 Harrison, Harrod & Co.’s Directory, by the time of the 1881 Census Mr. Curnow had apparently married again, the listing being William Curnow, 45, Innkeeper; Elizabeth Curnow, 48, wife; and Mary Curnow, 21, General Servant (Domestic).
Mr. Curnow was named as landlord in directories of 1883 and 1889 but the West Briton of 4th July 1889 announced: “Deaths – At the Rodney Inn, Helston, June 29th, Mr. William Curnow, aged 53.”
A relic of Mr. Curnow’s tenure survives in the hands of a private collector resident on Helston. It is a small earthenware jug, typical of the 1870s-‘80s, with the inscription “Wm. Curnow – Rodney Inn – Helston”. Two larger jugs of the same kind are held by the Helston Museum. One has the above inscription, the other names E.C. Curnow – presumably Mr. Curnow’s widow. Another item displayed in the museum is a poster dating from 1947 that reads as follows:
The Rodney Inn
Will be held here
Friday, October 7th
To Be Conducted by
The Rev. A.D. Moon
Vicar of Helston
Harvest Gifts will be Thankfully Received
A Sale of Gifts
Will be conducted by Mr. R. Coad
All Proceeds will be given to the Blind Institution
This was the first service of its kind to be held in the town. The Rev. Moon was himself blind.
Another item indirectly connected is the following letter written by Lord Rodney to Sir Francis Bassett of the Camborne mine-owning family, the original being held by the Cornwall Record Office, Truro.
Hertford Street July 16th 1783
My Dear Friend
Many many thanks for the kind attention you have shown to me and my family which I hope they will never forget how much they owe to Sir Francis Bassett and to have the opportunity of knowing how much I feel the obligation will make me happy.
The affair, ‘tho delayed by the Shelburne Administration, has been handsomely done by the Duke of Portland and, what adds greatly to my satisfaction, with the unanimous consent of both Houses of Parliament.
I sincerely condole with you on the death of our friend Mr. Boscawen but rejoice that you have obtained ascendency over the House of Falmouth at Truro. May all the Boroughs return to their natural friends and those gentlemen whose Estates who having Estates in their County have the superior right to represent them.
May I also beg leave to desire you will be so good as to present my best Respects to Lady and the Misses Bassett and to believe that I am, and ever shall be, with the utmost gratitude most sincerely, sir
Your faithfull and most obedient Humble servant
p.s. excuse my late answer I have been a time in the Country upon business
The handwriting and rather garbled syntax of the letter seem to suggest that it was written hurriedly, and that Sir Francis would understand which ‘affair’ Lord Rodney refers to, presumably connected with the recent fall of Lord Shelburne’s government.
The Kelly’s Directories of 1893, 1897, 1902 and 1906 confirm that Mr. Curnow’s widow carried on as licensee of the Rodney. By 1910, however, William Edward Oates is listed as landlord, as well as being Clerk to the Commissioners of Taxes. Mr. Oates continued as licensee until at least 1923. In 1926 Telfer Hartley Tyacke is named as landlord. By 1930 the license had passed to Ernest John Shillabeer, who continued to be named as landlord in directories of 1935 and 1939. By 1942 the license had passed to Mrs. Elizabeth Shillabeer – presumably Mr. Shillabeer’s widow – who continued as proprietor until 1966 when succeeded by her son, also Ernest John Shillabeer. Subsequent licensees include: Lancelot Adams, 1969-’77; G. Swordy, 1977-’83; G. Luvaglia, 1983-’96; K.D. Kelly, 1996-2000; S. & S. Brownsword & Malcolm Ryde, 2003; Stacie Wardle & Mathew P. Harrison, 2008-’12; Kirk Ward, 2012-’13; and Neal Hicks, 2013-’16. In early 2016 the Rodney Inn was acquired from the St. Austell Brewery by the present proprietors and licensees, Terry Ealey and Emma Littlejohns.
Through the kindness of the new proprietors I have recently been given access to a bundle of documents that came into their possession upon taking possession of the Rodney Inn. These various deeds, assignments, mortgages, leases, conveyances &c. dating from 1762 to 1855, curiously, make no references at all to the inn. The property concerned is described in all of them as “…formerly a Malt House, subsequently cellars and a warehouse, and later as a woolen manufactury.” The documents chronologically are as follows: John & Susannah Basoch (sp.?) Release in Fee to Mrs. Mary Brewinny. Consideration £138 – 23rd February 1762; Mrs. Mary Brewinny lease to William Freeman – 1773. [This document is listed in a schedule but no deed is included in the bundle]; James & Edward Freeman Yeomen, Release in Fee and one-year lease to Henry Penberthy, Mercer, Consideration £280 – 23rd & 24th June 1809; Lease for one year, John Rogers, Gentleman, Hannibal Curnow Blewitt, Gentleman, John Sylvester, Innkeeper to John & James Hitchens and Conveyance of 2/3s of property Mortgagees & Assignees of Henry Penberthy & brothers, mercers, bankrupt [Mr. Penberthy apparently was declared bankrupt owing money to, presumably, Bolithos’ Bank] to John & James Hitchens, Druggists and Trustee. Consideration £220 – 25th & 26th August 1812; Release in Fee of 1/3 of property Mr. William Hendy & Wife to John Williams, Clothier. Consideration £100; Release in Fee of 2/3s of premises and appointment of Joseph Harry to stand possessed of a residue of of a term of 1000 years in Trust for the said John Williams. Consideration £288 – 30th June 1815; Lease for one year John Hitchesn, Comptroller of H.M. Customs, and James Hitchens, Druggist, to John Williams – 29th & 30th June 1815; Lease for one year & Mortgage in Fee of Premises Mr. & Mrs John Williams to James Trethowan – 10th & 11th July 1815; Lease for one year James Trethowan, shipwright & Ann Williams, Widow to John Lenderyou, Innkeeper and Release in Fee on Dwelling House and Premises and an assignment of a term of 1000 years to attend the inheritance, James Trethowen, 1st part, Ann Williams, 2nd part, Joseph Harry, 3rd part, John Lenderyou, 4th part & Humphrey Millet Grylls 5th part. – 22nd & 23rd July 1825; Demise by way of mortgage of premises John Lenderyou to William Pengilly. Consideration £300 – 25th July 1825; Assignment by way of mortgage of leasehold premises for securing £500 & interest William Pengilly, 1srt part, John Lenderyou, 2nd part & Hugh Oliver Olivey, 3rd part – 23rd November 1843 [Mr. Lenderyou apparently defaulted on his loan from Mr. Pengilly and borrowed money from Mr. Olivey to pay Pengilly.]; Mortgage in Fee of Dwelling House and premises to secure £120 & interest John Lenderyou to Richard Kerby – 22nd January 1853; Conveyance of premises John Lenderyou to Richard Kerby. consideration £260 – 1st January 1855 [from this one assumes that Lenderyou again defaulted on his loan and sold the entire lot to Kerby, who was a prominent Helston auctioneer of the period.]
It is notable (and curious?) that none of the individuals named as proprietors of the Rodney in the trade directories and newspaper advertisements of the 19th century appear in the above cited legal documents. Therefore, although various of the newspaper advertisements appear to offer ownership of the inn, it is not entirely clear as to whether the Harris, Jewell and Curnow tenures were as free- or leaseholders. It is also, without sight of further documentation, a matter of speculation as to whether the inn was a portion of the property referred to in the 1762-1855 deeds or had some other relationship to it. In any case, by the 1890s freehold had come to be held by Christopher Ellis & Son, whose interests included, most importantly, the Hayle Brewery. Other members of the same family, including Christopher’s cousin, Thomas Ellis, operated the Ellis & Co. Brewery established in Helston in 1803 and continuing until the 1890s. In 1935 the Rodney Inn was acquired from C.Ellis & Son by the St. Austell Brewery, who continued as freeholders until completion of the most recent transaction.
Note of Acknowledgements: I am indebted in preparing the above sketch to the staffs of the Courtney Library at the Royal Cornwall Institution, Truro; the Cornwall Record Office, Truro; the Cornish Studies Library, Redruth; Helston Museum; the archivists of the St. Austell Brewery; and Charlotte McKenzie, historian of the Ellis family and their various enterprises. And finally to previous landlord Neal Hicks and his staff at the Rodney Inn.
P.T.C., Helston, July 2016