Fascinating episodes in the history of Cornwall can be traced through a handful of its marvellous buildings. Embedded in the bricks and mortar are centuries of the intrigues, wars and exploits of the Cornish people.
The Old Duchy Palace in Lostwithiel, which is thought to be the oldest non-religious building in Cornwall, is one such structure. It was built by Edmund, Earl of Cornwall in 1292 when the town was Cornwall’s principle port. Also known as the Stannary Palace, it was once the centre of Cornish power and administration, and home to the Duchy Parliament. There is an enormous amount of history within its ancient walls.
In 1337, when the Black Prince was Duke of Cornwall, the palace was used as the courts, treasury, prison and the administrative offices for maritime affairs as well as for the vitally important tin industry. The Tinner’s Parliament was held here for some 500 years, the last being held in 1751.
What can be seen today is undoubtedly impressive. The palace is a grand, study structure, with buttressed walls built of local killas stone and granite frames on the doors and windows. But the remaining hall was just a small part of a huge complex of buildings that once covered more than two acres of ground. Situated beside the old quay Lostwithiel’s ‘Duchy Palace’ was considered to be the grandest and most impressive structure in all of Cornwall until it was badly damaged in the Civil War.
Seige of Lostwithiel
During the so-called ‘Siege of Lostwithiel’ in 1644 the complex was ransacked by Parliamentary forces and the Great Hall burnt to the ground. Sadly the fire also destroyed thousands of precious records dating back many hundreds of years.
The building that remains today was known as the ‘Exchequer Hall’ and this was where smelted tin was weighed and valued and the taxes due were collected. One part of the complex was still used as a prison up until the 19th century and the hall was even a Freemason Temple for a while. In recent years the palace has been used by Lostwithiel’s Town Band.
Lostwithiel is such a quiet backwater it is hard to image it being part of such important political and cultural events. Today the little town makes an interesting and picturesque place to stroll around, there is a small museum and several lovely cafes. And for a taste of what the Old Duchy Palace was once like you can visit one of the antique shops it now houses and imagine the events that once took place within its walls.