‘Lady Mary, Blessed mother.
Whom we hail as full of grace,
Whom our Cornish fathers honoured
In this green and peaceful place.
Pilgrims from the stony moorlands
Through the rain and wind and dark,
Loving Mary, praising Mary.
Lady Mary of the Park.’
‘Now returning, we will praise thee,
For the peril is long past.
Come again, O blessed Mother,
And reclaim thy shrine at last.
To the promised land in safety
God has brought his sacred ark,
And we praise thee, Blessed Mary
Lady Mary of the Park’
- Traditional Cornish hymn
The origins of the house and grounds of Ladye Park are shrouded in mystery. In his acclaimed book ‘Essays in Cornish History’, scholar Charles Henderson suggests that there were two Duchy parks near Liskeard as long ago as 1302. Who created, owned or tended these parks is not recorded but Henderson suggests there may have been established on top of a much more ancient druidical settlement.
Esteemed historian William Borase wrote of suspected druidical settlements around the county in his 1754 book Antiquities of Cornwall. In the introduction, he wrote ‘In Cornwall we have Karn-Gollewag, that is Karn of Lights and Larn Leskyz, Karn of Burnings both called so probably from the Druid Fires kindled on those Karns. Also there is Laady-Perk, where Perk is the spirit of water.’ Borase elaborates no further and fails to give specific geographical detail, so whether ‘Laady-Perk’ is Ladye Park is obviously open to debate.
Clearly, druids pre-existed the Roman invasion but the first mention of a confirmed settlement in Cornwall dates from 1210, with ‘Drogo’ or ‘Drew’ living on Dartmoor. In his 1848 book ‘A Perambulation of Dartmoor’, scholar Samuel Rowe suggests that (after Emperor Tiberius banned Druidism sometime in the first century) these druids are likely to have been driven by the Romans onto Dartmoor from farther west and identifies Ladye Park as a potential previous settlement.
Soon after Rowe made these claims, the Dartmoor Preservation Association published papers asserting that the layout and maintenance of Ladye Park matches confirmed druidical sites elsewhere around the county – dating from at least the first century AD - and that they believed the area was settled by ‘bloody, decadent, lustful heathens’ who used the natural setting and spring waters for ‘revelry and sacrifice’. They spoke of ‘carnality’ and ‘depravity’ occurring on the land and the water being used to ‘clear away all signs of their pagan atrocities’.
It should be noted that the Dartmoor Preservation Association were typically puritanical Victorians and their opinions should be tempered accordingly. Take all these sources together, though, and It seems likely that there was a druidical presence at Ladye Park somewhere between post-Roman times up to the late Middle Ages. No physical evidence remains, but the settlement would have included some form of place of worship, almost certainly in the shape of a circle. Previous owners of Ladye Park have attested that, in particularly fecund summers, a large, dark perfect circle can be seen in the grass near the lake following heavy rainfall. Modern exploration of the ground has revealed nothing, so the reason for the circle remains a mystery.
Ladye Park goes unmentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 (very possibly because druidical settlements were not included) and so formal records of the land don’t begin again until the 17th of March 1337 with the Royal Great Charter, which established that the eldest son of the monarch would inherit the Duchy of Cornwall and so Edward III replaced the Earldom of Cornwall with the title of Duke for his son ‘the Black Prince’ Edward, Prince of Wales.
Though records of Ladye Park itself are sketchy, the land would have been incorporated in the Duchy and any development overseen by the Prince’s Council. Best estimates suggest that, around this time, approximately 200 deer were being kept at ‘Ladyepark’ and in 1353, parish records state that Richard Wisdom (known locally as ‘The Captain’, for reasons unrecorded) was employed as parker, at a wage of 2d per day. Nothing is known of whether there were house or buildings on the land at this time. The life and working practices of The Captain remain unknown.
The next time Ladye Park pops up in the records is 1547, when the Dissolution of the Chapels and Chantries act passed by Edward VI resulted in notes stating ‘a chapell, a garden, an orchard and half one halfe acre of grounds’ constituted ‘a chapel of our Ladye called Park in ye town of Lyskeard-Certen’. This is the first definitive mention of buildings on the land, although nothing is known of who built them, what they exactly consisted of.
According to the Old Cornish Society, by the late 16th century a shrine and hermitage had apparently developed on the site as there are records from that time of both being ‘closed’ and the chapel stripped. The design of the shrine is unknown, but the appearance of the hermitage suggests the nature of the worship predated the western Christian tradition. The chalice (not necessarily a Christian artifact as they often pre-date Christ) was recorded as confiscated and the bells sold off for scrap. Nothing is recorded of Ladye Park for the following 300 years. There is only rumour and legend.
During this mysterious time, local sources speak of a secretive order of monks living in seclusion somewhere within the environs of Ladye Park. Though no physical evidence exists, word has it that they were traveling French Cistercian monks seeking to return home after the dissolution of Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire. They must have settled in Ladye Park for a reasonable amount of time, however, as they influenced the culinary tradition of the area when they brought with them cheese and beer making techniques still used in South East Cornwall.
To protect their anonymity, the monks apparently took sojourns into nearby villages at the dead-of-night where they traded goods with local businesses. Only a handful of people in the area knew of their existence and several ghost myths told to this day are believed to have begun with these secret nighttime excursions.
The English Civil War came close to Liskeard in 1644 when the troops of King Charles clashed with those of the Earl of Essex at nearby Lostwitheal. Though it is not recorded in any formal accounts, Liskeardians have long insisted that the King sent a delegation to Ladye Park to hunt deer to act as sustenance for the troops. They are also believed to have collected water from the spring specifically for the king. Richard Hardinge, who was born in Liskeard, was Groom to the Bedchamber of the Prince Regent and it was he that delivered the message offering peace from the king to the earl in advance of the battle. Perhaps he knew of the deer available at Ladye Park and informed the king? The battle was the last major victory for the Royalists in the war.
Who, if anyone, was tending to the deer during this time is unclear but ‘Kernow Ladypark venison’, is known to have been available at Spitalfields market in London around the turn of the 18th Century. Did the king or his troops take it back to the capital? Was a trade in the meat established as a result of the battle at Lostwitheal? Nothing more is known.
The next that is formally recorded is that the current house at Ladye Park was built in the 1830’s and extended later that century in the Tudor Gothic style. During this time the grotto and waterfall were created in the grounds. The grotto – typical of the popular ‘picturesque’ style of the time – was built using local rock, seemingly as a shrine to the Lady of the Park. By a remarkable coincidence, the owner of Ladye Park around this time appears to be another Captain, this time mining Captain Richard Boyens (or Boyns) from Penwith. There are no records of who paid for the house to be built but Captain Boyens is know to have been relatively affluent as returns filled with the crown for the period 1825-27 state that he held ‘land and chattels equalling 3,500 pounds’. This would have made him as rich as an earl and certainly wealthy enough to buy land and have a house built.
Boyens died in 1835, leaving just one son (also named Richard) to inherit his estate. It appears that Boyens Jnr was responsible for the extension of the house and the creation of the grotto as he is recorded as still living at Ladye Park on his death in 1887. He died without issue and so the house and grounds passed to the local parish church in Liskeard and seems to have been uninhabited for many years as no details exist of anything happening at Ladye Park for the next couple of decades.
Records in Liskeard town hall suggest that, like many country homes of the time, Ladye Park was used as a convalescent home for soldiers returning from the First World War. There were apparently beds for 12 men and they were sent if they required ‘total silence and rejuvenating surroundings’. The house and land passed back into private ownership sometime between the wars.
In 1955, Cornish historian and theologian Dr Peggy Pollard claimed that a vision of the Virgin Mary appeared before her and (speaking in Russian) told her that ‘Lanherne was not enough for Cornwall’ and she wanted to be taken back to Liskeard. Lanherne is a manor house near Newquay which was then (as now) dedicated as a nunnery to ‘Our Lady’, which presumably accounts for the language Pollard claims she heard. Spurred on, Dr Pollard became convinced that Ladye Park must be the intended destination for a reincarnation of the Holy Mother and took to exploring the land with no little vigour. She soon rediscovered the overgrown and hidden grotto and shrine and thus began her obsession with Ladye Park, which she spent the rest of her life researching, painting and documenting.
Dr Pollard (who, by another remarkable coincidence, was married to a fishing Captain, who she only ever referred to as ‘Pollard’) claimed that the naturally-occurring spring in the grounds of Ladye Park had been a place of pilgrimage since pagan times (which ties in with the suspected druidical links) and set about reinstitution the Christian pilgrimages, which had not taken place since the reformation. The first modern pilgrimage to the grotto and shrine took place in 1979 and continue to this day.