Gyllyngdune Gardens & Falmouth’s Shell House

Falmouth is blessed with beautiful public gardens, many of which were once the private grounds of the town’s wealthiest families. Gyllyngdune (pronounced gillingdoon) is tucked away between the Princess Pavilions and the sea. It is one of the smallest gardens but contains some rather extraordinary features.

In 1837 General William Jesser Coope bought 16 acres of land close to Gyllyngvase beach in Falmouth. Coope was orginally from Middlesex but had spent his army career travelling the world. He had decided to put down roots in Cornwall. He asked the architect George Wightwick to design a house for him which was to be called ‘Summerlands’. Tragically Coope was killed just after its completion in 1838. Quite dramatically he was thrown from his carriage while returning from church on Easter Sunday morning.

Consequently his son, Rev William John Coope, who was the Rector at King Charles Parish Church, inherited ‘Summerlands’. The Reverend renamed it Gyllyngdune. It was him that was also responsible for the imaginative design of the gardens and its unusual, rather quirky features, many of which still survive.

Reverend Coope created a lush playground for his family which included a monolithic arch, secret tunnel and hidden grotto. Before Cliff Road was completed the gardens stretched all the way down to the sea. And here the Reverend built a small building, known as the Chapel, overlooking the water.

The Shell House

But the feature which stands out for me is what I call the ‘Shell House’. It is in fact more of a highly decorative seat, but I think it deserves more kudos for its sheer fabulousness.

Built sometime between 1838 and when the family sold the house in 1863, the shell seat is more than 150 years old.

It was loving restored in 2011, when the whole of Gyllyngdune gardens which had become a little neglected, received a £2.3 million grant for restoration.

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So next time you are in Falmouth, take a moment, take a little detour and come marvel at the wonder of the shell seat. I think it brings out the child in us all as you take in the hundreds of treasures from the sea that were collected to decorate it!

Further Reading:

Things to do in Falmouth

Saint Germoe’s Chair

Captain John Parsons & the Prisoner of War Pass – a hidden story in Falmouth’s National Maritime Museum.

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