The Sole Society, a Family History Society researching Sole, Saul, Sewell, Solley and similar names

The Sawle Family of Penrice, Cornwall

By Tony Storey

This article was originally published in the April 2002 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.

Part 1 – The Cornwall County Record Office, Truro

According to family tradition the first Sawle arrived with William the Conqueror and was posted to the manor of Tewington which includes what is now the town of St Austell. The centre of the manor was Towan, which is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as follows:

Towan, 3 hides, but it paid tax for 1 hide before 1066. Land for 20 ploughs; in lordship half of 1 hide; 2 ploughs; 9 slaves, 16 villagers and 40 smallholders with 16 ploughs and 2 and one half hides. Meadow, 2 acres; pasture, 3 leagues long and 1 league wide; woodland, one half league long and 3 furlongs wide. It pays 100 shillings weighed and assayed. 1 cob; 5 unbroken mares; 17 cattle; 200 sheep.

In 1887 Lt Col J L Vivian published Visitations of Cornwall with the Author's Additions, based on the evidence recorded by the College of Heralds in 1530, 1573 and 1620. The heralds had visited the head of each prominent Cornish family, primarily to verify his right to bear the arms he claimed, and genealogical details were given in order to prove descent from the ancestor to whom the arms had been awarded.

Penrice HouseAt the time of the 1620 visitation Nicholas Sawle was married to Alice Rashleigh of Fowey and was living at Penrice House near St Austell. Nicholas declared himself to be the son of Oliver Sawle whose wife was Jane Kendall of Pelyn, near Lostwithiel. Oliver lived at Towan until his death in 1589, after which the family acquired Penrice House and rebuilt it in 1596. Nicholas was the grandson of Richard Sawle and Rose, the great grandson of Thomas Sawle and Constance Tremayne, and the great great grandson of John Sawle who married Joane, the daughter and sole heir of Roger Loggeston. It seems that the original grant of arms was to John Sawle who was probably born around 1450.

Of the earliest known home of the family in Towan nothing apparently remains although between the farms now known as East Towan and West Towan stands a holy well which would have been well known to the Sawles. A chapel once stood nearby and the entire site was part of the Sawle estate. The well, which dates from 1500, has been restored and is now designated a 'building of special architectural or historic interest'.

When Nicholas Sawle died in 1637 the estate passed to his eldest surviving son, Oliver. Born in 1601, Oliver became Sheriff of Cornwall in 1663. His wife was Jane, the daughter and co-heiress of Sir Francis Glanville, their only son Joseph inheriting Penrice and the estate on Oliver's death in 1670.

Joseph died in 1708 and his will and inventory dated August 1708 survives in the County Record Office.

…To my wife Amy Sawle eighty pounds and all the several chambers and rooms hereafter mentioned lying in and parcel of Penrice: the kitchen chamber, the Pastry chamber, the chamber where I do lye, the chamber between my lodging chamber and the closet, the closet, the chamber over where my son Sawle lyeth, the cellar under the chamber which lyes between my lodging chamber and my wife’s closet and the chamber over the cellar in my garden … and one large plot in my garden next adjoining to my said wife’s closet together with all ways leading severall rooms and garden plot and also liberty and power to take water for her and her servants at my Pump …to have and to hold all said chambers etc from my death during her life if she shall see fit to live in the said rooms and continue a widow … executor to repair roof of said rooms. Also the bed, one high bed in the Pastry Chamber, one high bed in son Sawle’s chamber and one low bed in the kitchen chamber with the furniture to the several beds belonging to be enjoyed during her life. Also I give to her, furniture belonging to the Closet, one of my silver tankards, my silver Stow Cupp or Skillet, one silver porringer and twelve silver spoons … plus fourteen pounds to buy mourning for her servants …

Mary SawleOn Joseph’s death, the estate briefly passed to his oldest son John, mentioned in the above will as ‘my son Sawle’, but John died in 1715 and Penrice passed to Joseph’s second son, also Joseph. Joseph the younger became Member of Parliament for Tregony but died in 1737, his only son John then becoming master of Penrice at the age of just 13.

John died childless in 1783 and was succeeded at Penrice by his sister, Mary. A portrait of Mary Sawle painted by John Opie, R.A. can be seen in Truro museum but she was to die unmarried in 1803

Part 2 – A Trip to St Austell

Over the road from the station is what used to be the town cemetery but is now a park. Most of the gravestones have been cleared and placed three deep around the edge but a few stones remain in situ and just inside the park gate is a memorial to Thomas Graves-Sawle (1826-1911), his wife Juliana and their young son. Thomas and his family had disappeared from our view and the reason was now clear - the hyphen resulting in records indexed under G rather than S. The main branch of this wealthy family incorporate Graves into their given names, but to find out why we need to stroll down the hill to Holy Trinity, the parish church of St Austell.

The church is late-Norman in origin, the oldest surviving part being a chapel south of the chancel with access from the south aisle. The chapel is dedicated to St Michael and beneath its stone flags is the family vault of the Sawles of Penrice. Around its walls are numerous memorial inscriptions relating to the family, the most significant for our story being the following:

Departed this life May 6th 1811 John Graves Esq. Rear Admiral Royal Navy, aged 68 (second son of the Reverend John Graves of Gravesend in the county of Derry, Ireland) who married Elizabeth youngest daughter of Richard Sawle Esq. of Barley House in the parish of St Thomas the Apostle in the county of Devon by Bridgett Vyvyan daughter of Sir Richard Vyvyan Bart. of Trelowarren in the county of Cornwall whose four children by the said Elizabeth his wife lie entombed in the family vault of Richard Sawle Esq. in St Thomas church near Exeter, namely John Samuel Graves, Carew Sawle Vyvyan Graves, Mary Sawle Graves and a daughter unnamed.

To the memory of her dear husband this monument is erected by his afflicted widow and only surviving son Joseph Sawle Graves Esq. lineal descendant and heir to the late John Sawle Esq. of Penrice House in the county of Cornwall.

We concluded part one with the death of Mary Sawle in 1803. Her grandfather Joseph had died in 1708 and the estate had passed to his eldest son, John. When John died without an heir, Penrice was inherited by Joseph’s second son, also Joseph. Now Joseph the younger’s children, John and Mary, had both died without issue, the heir to Penrice would be the descendants of Joseph senior’s third son, Francis.

Francis had married Grace, the co-heir of Sir Thomas Carew of Barley, Devonshire. Their only son was Richard Sawle of Barley mentioned in the inscription above, whose daughter Elizabeth was the wife of Rear Admiral John Graves. Thus, when Mary died in 1803 aged 76 she willed the estate at Penrice to Elizabeth’s son, Joseph Sawle Graves.

Joseph was born in 1793 so was still a child when he inherited Penrice. However, in 1815 at the age of 21 he took the name and arms of Sawle by royal licence, resuming the name of Graves before Sawle and combining the arms in 1827, thus becoming Joseph Sawle Graves Sawle. He was made a baronet in 1836. At his death in 1865 the estate and title passed to his elder son, Charles Brune Graves Sawle, baronet, who at various times was a Justice of the Peace, Special Deputy Warden of the Stannaries, Honorary Leiutenant Colonel of the Royal Cornwall and Devon Miners Militia and Member of Parliament for Bodmin.

On the night of the 1881 Census, Sir Charles was at Penrice with a housemaid, a scullery maid and a groom. His occupation is shown as ‘baronet, magistrate’, his age 64 and his place of birth Padstow, Cornwall. At his London home, 39 Eaton Place, St George Hanover Square, was his wife Lady Rose, their daughter Rose Dorothea and a housekeeper, two lady’s maids, a housemaid, kitchenmaid, butler, footman and page.

Their elder son Francis, a Captain in the Coldstream Guards, was serving in Ireland and second son Charles was at sea, a lieutenant on HMS Superb.

Part 3 – A Walk in Porthpean

In the tiny seaside village of Porthpean a steep lane leads up from the beach. At the top of the lane, perched on a corner facing the village square, is the church of St Levan, the Cornish patron saint of fishermen. The site, and indeed the whole village once formed part of the Sawle estate and the church was built by the Sawle family at its own expense as a private chapel. The foundation stone was laid in 1884 in the presence of Sir Charles Brune Graves Sawle and Lady Rose Caroline Graves Sawle and the building completed using local stone and slate.

Sir Charles died in April 1903 and the estate was inherited by his eldest son, Colonel Sir Francis Aylmer Graves Sawle. However, Sir Francis died in August that same year and the estate passed to Sir Charles' younger son, Rear Admiral Sir Charles John Graves Sawle.

Admiral Sir Charles' only son, Lieutenant Richard Charles Graves Sawle was killed near Ypres in November 1914 at the age of 26 so Admiral Sir Charles' surviving daughter, Joan Rosemary, who had married into the Cobbold brewing family, succeeded to the Sawle estate on her father's death in 1932.

Porthpean ChurchMrs Cobbold-Sawle, as she became, died in 1971 without an heir. Under the terms of her will, Penrice House and much of the proceeds of the estate went to establish a rest home for the elderly. She also left land for the Roman Catholic church, the rugby football ground (now a supermarket) and the Penrice Hospital complex.

The church of St Levan, Porthpean became part of the diocese in 1973 and in its small private graveyard are granite memorials to:

Rose Dorothea Graves Sawle, 1847-1901

Sir Charles Brune Graves Sawle, 1816-1903

Col. Sir Francis Aylmer Graves Sawle, 1849-1903

Rose Caroline Graves Sawle, 1818-1914

Richard Charles Graves Sawle, 1888-1914

Rear Admiral Sir Charles John Graves Sawle, 1851-1932

Constance Mary Graves Sawle, 1859-1942

Joan Rosemary Cobbold-Sawle, 1890-1971

Amongst the memorials in the church is a slate tablet which reads:

In memory of Joan Rosemary Cobbold-Sawle 1890-1971, the last of the family of the manor of Penrice who built this place of worship.

So ended a family’s association with Cornwall which had spanned nine centuries.

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