The history of Tregenna Castle, St Ives

Our history

Our castle may not date back to the Middle Ages, but it still has a pretty colourful history. Read about our beginnings as a family home, our transformation into a railway hotel, and some of the famous faces we've encountered along the way.

An 18th century private home

Way back in 1774, Tregenna was built as a 12-bedroom private home for a wealthy Cornishman with a love for the sea. John Stephens was a descendant of the Stevens family of Zennor, but somewhere along the line, the wealthy Stevenses decided to distinguish themselves from their poorer relations, and so changed the ‘v’ to ‘ph’. Samuel Stephens Esquire commissioned the build of the house from local granite, and the four castellated turrets and original glazed skylight with the family coat of arms can still be seen today.  In 1834, Samuel Stephens left Tregenna Castle to his third and favourite son, Henry. Henry Lewis Stephens was only 24 years old, but he suddenly became one of the most eligible bachelors in the country: not only was he was the owner of the one of the most beautiful mansions in Cornwall, but he also had an income of £20,000 a year.  Sadly, it appears that he was due to be married, but was jilted, an event from which he did not recover. Henry never did marry, and thus ended the line of the Stephens of Tregenna. He died in 1867, and the property came into the ownership of his eldest brother, John, something their father had not wanted. However, John had no desire to live at Tregenna, and the castle was put up for sale and sold to a family of local bankers, the Bolithos, in 1871.


A thoroughly modern railway hotel

The Bolithos acquired the house at the same time that Brunel was building the Great Western Railway from London to Penzance to serve the West of England. It was then fashionable for all the great railway companies to establish destination hotels by the sea. GWR discovered Tregenna Castle with its spectacular views overlooking St Ives Bay and decided to lease it from the Bolitho’s in 1878, before purchasing it in 1895.

With the help of local craftsmen, the original house was extended to include new function rooms, a restaurant, adjoining kitchens, and a hallway leading to the main reception area. Thanks to the exceptional quality of the work, and our show-stopping location, it wasn't long before Tregenna became the 'Jewel in the Crown’ of the GWR hotels for upperclass. Guests were met by bus from the station, as can be seen in this 1930s photo (below). It would be some years before ordinary working-class folk could afford to travel by train or, indeed, take holidays.

A secret tunnel?

An article in the GWR Magazine for August 1926 stated that at one time a tunnel passed under the wine cellar of Tregenna Castle, leading to “a secret room large enough to hoard many a smuggled hogshead”. Long before the land was laid out as the Tregenna Estate, the area was extensively mined. The rich alluvial tin was very near the surface, so it is possible that the ‘secret’ passages were originally made by miners. The well at nearby Tregenna Farm, at one time part of the estate, is said to have originally been sunk as a shaft.

The Tregenna Castle you see today

The hotel saw further developments throughout the early 1900s. The West Wing was completed in 1932 around the same time a certain guest was ‘touring’ and stayed at the hotel - Hitler’s Ambassador, Herr Von Ribbentrop. It’s said that he later sent a message back which stated that on no account was St Ives to be bombed as he wished to live in Tregenna when ‘they’ had won the war.

The Great Western Railway Company was nationalised in 1948 and the management of Tregenna passed to a number of different owners: British Rail, Sea Containers Ltd and finally to Crown Hotels. Then, in 1992, the current owner took possession and once again it became a family-owned estate and hotel.

The G7 Summit 2021

In June 2021 after months of secrecy, preparation and sheer hard work, our resort was transformed for the G7 Summit. It was an incredible honour to host and accommodate the world leaders in our beautiful part of the world. The Resort saw 6ft fencing erected around the perimeter of the estate, with over 5000 additional police officers sent to Cornwall for the event. Huge structures were placed around the Resort hosting international media and leaders from across the world. We really were on the world stage!

Here's just a small timeline of events below;

On the 7th June the Resort closed for exclusive use. Delegations and staff began to arrive via the most secure access St Ives had ever seen.  Sealed busses into the Resort from St Ives Rugby Club (converted into an airport style security setup) were available to vetted staff, journalists and delegates.  Pedestrian searches also took place by police at the access point  into the Resort. All approved personnel and staff wore mandatory photo I.D on lanyards and police lined the street every couple of metres.

On 8th June – President Biden and USA delegation arrived at Tregenna in the early hours of the morning by motorcade.  Foggy conditions meant that Marine One was not safe to fly.

Also on the 8th June the Sherpa Meeting (where the main decisions are made) began in the Godrevy Room at Tregenna.

On 9th June, the US helicopter’s arrived (Marine 1 & 2 and 3 Ospreys).  Lots of burn marks were left by the Ospreys on the golf course causing significant damage at the time.

On the 10th June the Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Tregenna. Susie Excell, Marketing Manager took photographs of him arriving and he met with James Parker, Operations Director followed by a meet and greet with Paul Hugill - Revenue Manager and G7 Event Lead, Sheila Barker - General Manager, Ross Cook - Exec Chef and James Wambeek - Accounts Manager as well as impromptu elbow bumps (covid friendly) with the wider team too.

On the 10th June, other world leaders arrived and the excitement and buzz continued with a huge amount of press and live broadcasts being made in the temporary structure overlooking St Ives Bay at Tregenna.

Tregenna accommodated the President of the United States and his entourage, the United Nations, the Australian Prime Minister, the South Korean President, the South African President and EU Council.

Over the course of the week, the marquee setup on the golf course served over 6,500 meals to contractors, FCDO staff and the Secret Service by our amazing team.  This was in addition to meals served by our team and the Royal Navy for the Delegates in the Trelawney room  and all takeaway meals provided to the media/Press at the Brasserie.

On the 13th June, the Summit meeting at Carbis Bay ended. Press conferences were held at Tregenna by some of the leaders and all of them departed by helicopter.

On the 13th June the disassembly of the G7 structures began.

By the 17th June, Tregenna was returned to us. We were all buzzing but very tired and sad it is was all over. However, we still held a wedding the very next day, a testament to the teams resilience!


A few other famous faces along the way

Over the years, we've had the pleasure of hosting several famous faces at the hotel. These include Prince Phillip, Prime Minister John Major, David Attenborough, Dame Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, Joanna Lumley and Peter O’Toole, and David Bowie. More recently, we've welcomed Bear Gryls, Aiden Turner with the cast of ‘Poldark’ and, world champion boxer, Anthony Joshua.

Photo credit - Susie Excell.  USA President Joe Biden arrives for G7 Summit in Marine One on Tregenna's golf course surrounded by armed police.

Where to next?