The Early DaysClick to enlarge image
The area between the rivers Wye and Usk is a land full of characters from Arthurian Romance and the Grail Quest. Moccas (the name Moccas probably derives from the Welsh Moch-ros, or swine moor) is reputed to be the site of the residence of Llacheu, son of King Arthur. Also there was the abbey of Saint Dubric or Dubricius, the bishop who crowned Arthur.
Dubric was an actual historical figure with a significant local reputation, and Herefordshire churches at Hentland, Whitchurch and Ballingham are dedicated to him. He died in 612 (or so says a life of the saint written at least five hundred years after his death) but 14th November is still named St. Dubricius' Day. This is also the festival of the Celtic pig goddess – coincidentally called Moccas, or Mochros.
First RecordsClick to enlarge image
We can trace the ownership of Moccas back to the end of the 13th Century. In that time it has been owned by just four families: the de Fresnes, Vaughans, Cornewalls – and now the Chester-Masters, who have lived at the Court for over 40 years.
Hugh de Fresne, a descendant of one of William the Conqueror's knights, was licensed to fortify a manor house near the present deer park in 1294. The site of the original Moccas Castle can still be identified, though with difficulty; it was a small motte and bailey construction that probably did not include any masonry structure. In any case it fell into ruin after it passed to the Vaughans, who lived at nearby Bredwardine Castle.
One Walter Vaughan built a new property at Moccas in 1550; and a hundred years later the estate was acquired by the Cornewalls. In 1650 Edward Cornewall, younger son of the Berrington branch of an ancient family of Plantaganet descent, married Frances, widow of Henry Vaughan.
Edward (pictured above) had actually been imprisoned for poaching in Moccas Deer Park. It is said that Frances was so taken with the man's appearance that she both forgave his offences and also agreed to marry him.
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Their son Henry Vaughan succeeded to Moccas; he married a rich Dutch heiress and was able to buy the rest of the Vaughan property. Thereafter the Cornewalls became significant landowners and important figures in the country and the county – sitting in Parliament and on the Bench, for instance, and serving with varying degrees of distinction in the Navy and Militia.
For instance Velters Cornewall, who died in 1768, was MP for Hereford for fully 46 years and achieved local fame for successfully opposing a tax on cider and perry, both products vital to the Herefordshire economy of the day.
He was also one of the trustees of the American State of Georgia. Unique among the English colonies in America, Georgia's system gave governing power to this group of trustees who decided the laws of the new colony between 1732 and 1754.
Velters Cornewall's brother James, a Captain in the Royal Navy, was killed in action against the French off Toulon in 1763, and "won for himself, by splendid heroism, a place among the English immortals". His monument in Westminster Abbey was erected by the House of Commons as a tribute to his bravery
The Building of MoccasClick to enlarge image
In 1771 Sir George Amyand, Bart, a successful London banker of Huguenot descent, married the sole heiress, Catherine Cornewall.
Amyand was conspicuously wealthy. His grandfather had been a notable surgeon and a member of the Royal Society; his father George Amyand, the first Baronet, acquired a fortune as an army contractor during the Seven Years War. This he used to develop extensive interests in the West Indies and North America, estates worth up to £600,000 per year. He also became a director of the East India Company.
George Amyand's inheritance included a substantial sugar plantation in Grenada. He never visited it, though he did show a keen interest in its workings; and in the period leading up to French-inspired insurrection on the island, he rented it out. Thereafter, confidence was lost in the security of the sugar business on the island and it became difficult to achieve a satisfactory rent.
By 1790, Sir George felt it necessary to take the Estate in hand. He engaged in a lengthy correspondence with his various managers on subjects as diverse as the appropriate make of steam engine, crushing mills, and ways to make the slaves more productive. On this latter point, most efforts to improve their lot would appear derisory by today's standards; but it was a case of 'carrot and stick'. History does not relate what form the 'stick' took, but times were changing and so were the options available to him.
Under the terms of her father's will, Catherine's marriage meant that Amyand took the name and arms of the Cornewall line. Amyand was indeed a great agricultural improver. (He was also a prolific correspondent and documenter: the Cornewall papers are the largest single archive the Hereford Records Office.)
Initially the newlyweds were living in a much earlier house sited near the church at Moccas, but in 1775 the young couple began work on a grander building that we now know as Moccas Court. This was in the height of fashion, employing the services of the most sought-after designers and architects. The plans for the new house were originally commissioned from the brothers Adam; these were subsequently replaced by a design by the Gloucestershire-based architect Anthony Keck, incorporating much of the Adam style. In particular, the ornate classical decoration in the main rooms remains faithful to Adam's designs.
Work began in 1776 and was complete by 1783. Meanwhile the Cornewalls also looked to improve their immediate surroundings; at the time, the 'Picturesque movement' was in full swing – instead of treating gardens and landscape as raw material to be tamed and civilised, nature was viewed as having its own virtues. In practice this meant that gardens and vistas could be enhanced, in theory to bring out their innate qualities.
Landscape designers such as Lancelot "Capability" Brown were in great demand, and in 1778 he was commissioned to produce a design for Moccas Court. His plans incorporated the deer park and the immediate grounds, and is full of characteristic touches – long, sweeping views, studded with mighty oaks and interrupted only by the stream that meanders through the grounds on its way to the Wye.
The lawns in front of the house own much to another famous landscape gardener of the period; Humphrey Repton was called in around 1798 to improve the views across the river from Moccas Court, and his terracing has resulted in a fine outlook both up and down the Wye. Repton's son George, himself a noted gardener and landscape architect, also worked at Moccas.
In 1792 the porch was added to the house below the fine Venetian window, and the distinctive estate lodges were built in 1801 and 1804 to designs from the office of John Nash.
The Cornewalls were an artistic family, starting a tradition of patronage and practice in music and painting that still persists.
Modern TimesClick to enlarge image
The Cornewall family lived in the Court until 1916, when Sir Geoffrey moved to a smaller house on the Estate. The Court itself remained empty until after the last war, when Sir Geoffrey finally sold off the contents and let the house on a long lease. The Chester-Master family inherited Moccas Court in 1962 from Sir William Cornewall, a first cousin, and they re-established the house as a habitable property in 1969. Since then a steady restoration programme has been underway.
Today the house is listed Grade 1 and has been highly regarded by architectural experts and laymen visitors alike as an elegant and harmonious example of a classical Georgian gentleman's home.