May 2009 - Mawnan Smith

The Manor at Mawnan Smith

May 2009 found me exchanging my usual role of native scout for that of friendly foreigner, as the three Cornish dowsing groups came together to tease out the tangled history of Trerose, a restored Manor House situated a few miles south of the boom-town of Falmouth, at the eastern end of the Helford estuary.

We were the guests of the owner, Piers Phipps, who set the day’s dowsing in motion with an explanation of the history, both recorded and anecdotal, of the current building. The Phipps family have clearly invested a huge amount of time, effort and money in restoring a near derelict structure to a comfortable family home, now partly run as a bed and breakfast business.

The first indication of the significance of the site is the presence of a substantial ley line, over 16 paces across, which strides through the heart of the modern building, virtually at a right angle to the south wall. This indicated that not only was this a well-known site way back in prehistory, but that the architecture had subtly taken account of this etheric band of energy.

In the grounds, a veritable grid of water crossing points and blind springs gave rise to some to unsettled energies. These were likely to reflect the underlying geology of the shale sub-strata, which felt quite different from the usual local dowsing fare of solid and predictable granite.

Across the lawn there was a series of building lines from various incarnations of the manor, of which the Victorian additions and 21st century modifications are but the latest layers. The earliest dowsable habitation was from the Iron Age, with a settlement of round houses, now largely robbed away by subsequent development. However, the outlines of structures dating from the 13th, 15th and 17th centuries had left strong traces and, in some cases, accorded well with the topography of the garden. Only a Time Team trench would confirm this, but the consensus amongst the dowsers was considerable. Near to the house, some traced the outline of a now-filled cellar from a 17th century layout. Towards the south of the current lawn the complex of wall traces shades into former agricultural buildings associated with earlier built forms, and eventually peters out into field boundaries and grubbed up hedges.

Some of us tried to date two fireplaces in the main living area. These had been uncovered during the recent renovations. They dated back to at least the 15th century and, in the case of the eastern hearth, may have been contemporary with an adjacent well-renovated well - this fireplace having been re-orientated at some stage. A string of alterations to the building made dating a complex affair, but the overall conclusion was that there has been a structure on the core of the current site for at least 700 years and that the immediate area had been in human habitation for well over 2000.

Originally a fortified farmstead, the energetic traces of fatalities were found in the garden, seemingly dating from the period of the Civil War - and there was known to have been military activity in the vicinity around that time.

The two current wells are linked by a still-active watercourse and both produce useful, if not powerful, water supplies. The crossing water lines were easily dowsable beneath the gravel of the modern driveway. There were indications of other former well sites in the garden, but definitively disassociating them from the plethora of water crossing points mentioned above, proved problematical.

Trerose Manor is set in an historic landscape of great cultural significance. The nearby church of St Maunanus is a little gem for the dowser. At least three energy centres in the nave give a bright and upbeat feel to the interior. The font dowsed as being of 15th century origin (confirmed by the guidebook) although the carving on it looked far too fresh for this. As often happens, it had been moved at some point, from the south west to the north west corner, presumably for logistical reasons, but in so doing had been detached from the underlying crossing water lines to an energetically neutral location.

In the west wall of the exterior is a fragment of a cross, reputed to date to the time of the 6th century St Maunanus (St. Mawnan). Despite the obvious scepticism associated with such an early date, there seemed to be some sense that it might indeed have had some connection with this period. We struggled to date the actual carving, which again seemed far too well defined for such an ancient artefact. There was some consensus that the existing fragment had come to its current state around the 13th century. It had formerly stood about 70 yards to the north west, but had fallen (or been toppled) a couple of times, before being resited, importantly if incongruously in the corpus of the church. (apparently, it was unearthed when the Lych Gate was rebuilt in 1881. A group of passing Dutch walkers looked a little bemused by the rod-waving activities of the English eccentrics.

A tunnel leading to the church from the mediaeval Sanctuary was easily detected in a nearby pathway and field, though not so easily traced through a herd of inquisitive bullocks. A second tunnel, leading from the church south towards the estuary, was traced beneath the graveyard and down through another adjacent field. This had a much lower head height, but dowsed as having been once used by people, rather than just being an over-engineered land drain. Both tunnels now seemed to be unusable due to landslips, but it is suggested that an excavation would unearth substantially intact structures. Both were originally dug for protective purposes, but may also have been used by smugglers at a later date. The estuary foreshore still bears several remanences of opportunist raiders killed by local people in the 6th & 7th centuries, but we found no trace of an alleged pitched battle with Saxons in the adjacent cove.

Some briefly investigated the minor earthworks at Rosemullion and concluded that this fortification was more of a lookout occupied by a few observers than a defensive structure as such. There was clearly a lot more to sense and see in this fascinating parish than we could possibly handle in a few hours and (as ever) we resolved to revisit the area on another occasion.

Many thanks indeed to Piers Phipps for inviting us to his home, for providing refreshments and information and for giving us the run of the house and grounds.

At least his doting dog, Diesel, seemed to have a quite splendid day. The weather was great, the birds sang throughout, the setting was stunning, the people were friendly and the dowsing was wonderful. Shh! or everyone will want to come.

Nigel Twinn, Tamar Dowsers, May 2009

Details of B & B at Trerose can be obtained from