It is the house standing at a right angle to the road, presenting its gable and crenellated wall of outstanding workmanship, which attracts attention, and through the secluded courtyard gives glimpses to the field beyond and the heights of Dartmoor in the distance.
The Landmark Trust bought this delightful building which formed part of an endowment by Dame Thomasine Percival, the widow of Sir John Percival who was Lord Mayor of London in 1498, and because of its importance as one of the earliest free schools in England to be founded by a woman. It also architectural similarities with Wortham Manor, another of the Trust's properties, which lies about 12 miles away on the Devon side of the Tamar.
Thomasine, whose maiden name was Bonaventure, was born in the village of Week St Mary in 1450 and the romantic story of her meeting and eventual marriage with Richard Bunsby, a wool merchant from London, followed by the improvement of her position and fortune by two later marriages has been told by many Cornish writers, including Parson Hawker (in 'Footprints of Former Men in Far Cornwall', which is on the College bookshelf) But Lady Percival must have been an unusual woman of her time, because we are told that soon after the death of her third husband in 1504 she returned to the village to devote the remainder of her life to charitable work in the neighbourhood. Her will, which is dated 1512, made her cousin John Dinham of Wortham, who had married her niece Margaret Westmanton, the residual legatee and left to his discretion on the chantry and grammar school which she had established in her lifetime, whilst the deed which she settled the foundation stated the stipend of the manciple, the laundress and the schoolmaster, who was also to be a graduate of Oxford or Cambridge and to pray for her soul in the parish church of St Mary.
The Commissioners of 1546 assigned to enquire into chantries, hospitals, colleges, free chapels, etc. reported that 'that ye sayde Chauntrye is a great comfort to all ye countries, for yt they yt lyst may sett their children to borde there and have them taught freely, for ye wch purpose there is an house and offices appointed by the foundation accordingly'.
Unfortunately two years later another Commission reported that the school at St Mary Week was 'now yn decaye ...' and this was followed with a declaration by the Lord Protector Somerset that the school should be moved to Launceston.(see "Tudor Cornwall" by AL Rowse, p260ff)
We will never really know what happened in the 16th century to turn, within a few years, a flourishing school which was serving the local community well into such an unwanted and unmanageable liability that its assets had to be transferred to the similar foundation of the adjoining town, but it is not difficult to surmise.
The buildings which remain of the former College have been partially demolished to suit changing functions but also to provide building materials for other village buildings. Dressed granite jambs, heads and tympani can be seen built into the walls of many neighbouring cottages, although enough survives of the College to give us some idea of the imposing group which stood on the site in the reign of Edward VI.
The similarity of the granite dressings of the windows, with the slightly ogee form of the head of the lights and the arch of the porch doorway, to those at Wortham Manor has already been touched upon, but there are other details which suggest that the same designer and craftsman were used on the two buildings, possibly under the direction of John Dinham. The granite plinth with the single course of dressed ashlar in brown sandstone immediately above it and the remainder of the walls in coursed freestone, tympanum over the entrance doorway, the stair turret with its granite quatrefoil window and the lintel of the chimney piece are all features which can be seen in the house that John Dinham enlarged in the first quarter of the 16th century, probably to provide accommodation for his son William on his marriage. There are similarities, too, between the beautiful granite chimney with its scalloped cap on the south elevation at the College and that at Trecarell just south of Launceston which was also built at about the same time.
Unfortunately there is nothing to suggest the form of the Tudor roof, floor beams and screen of the original building, but it is probable that they were as those at Wortham, Trecarrell and Cotehele, all buildings in the locality which were extended at the end of the 15th century or beginning of the next. The present roof trusses are not difficult to date and are of rough carpentry which the builders always intended to conceal above the ceiling, but it is probable that the first floor was inserted and the roof replaced in the late 17th or early eighteenth century when the windows on the north elevation were also changed to wood casements and a culm oven built into the medieval fireplace.
The early history of The College and how it came to the Landmark Trust is described in the Landmark Handbook. The four hundred and twenty odd years in between are an almost total blank. From 1549-1725 it was owned by the Prideau family and was part of the Manor of Simpson. A rental of Week St Mary dated 1709-1728 mentions 'Scholler's Parl' and 'dwelling house Schollar's Park', presumably referring to the College.
At the beginning of the 18th century the Prideaus sold up to Thomas Pitt, first Lord Londonderry, and a first cousin to the Earl of Chatham. His sister Lucy married the first Earl of Stanhope, one of the most distinguished soldiers in the reign of Queen Anne, and the property came through her to the Stanhopes.
The 7th Earl of Stanhope sold it in 1910, together with his Holesworthy estate. Mr Colwill, from whom the Landmark Trust bought it, had lived at the College all his life and so had two generations of the Colwills before him.
For a short history of The College please click here.
To read the full history album for The College please click here.