Copplestone Cross & his Packhorse Bridge, Porthcothan

One way or another we would all like to leave a legacy. For some people that might be their children. For me perhaps it will be my writing, and for my father, well, one of his legacies will be a large piece of granite. Whatever the case, I believe that most of us would like to think we would be remembered after we are gone. That we have in some way left our mark. Copplestone Cross managed to leave his on Cornwall in a small but perfectly formed way.

Porthcothan Valley

The secluded Porthcothan Bay is one of Cornwall’s most beautiful. On the wild north coast of the county the gorgeous Porthcothan beach was chosen as one of the locations for the BBC series Poldark, in which it is used as Nampara Cove. But it is not so much the beach that informs this story, but the valley leading to it.

‘We come to Port Cothan a knot of cottages at the head of a cove, the sands of which are wet with the waters of a stream coming down the wild half-wooded valley behind. It is up or rather off this valley that we shall find the principal object of interest about Port Cothan. This is a Smugglers’ cave from which it would appear that the little hamlet was not as innocent in the “good old times” as it is now.’ John Lloyd Warden Page, 1897

The little river that tumbles out to sea here has no name, at least no name that I can discover. But just a short walk from the sand, in what is still a peaceful, undeveloped valley, an unbelievably picturesque bridge crosses the clear stream of water. This bridge was built by Copplestone Cross Esq.

Copplestone Cross packhorse bridge Porthcothan

Who was Copplestone Cross Esq?

How does one come by such an excellent name as Copplestone Cross, I hear you ask. Well, I am hoping to provide an answer for you.

In 1777 Anne Lewellyn from St Eval married George Cross. She was the last in the line of a wealthy landed family and inherited the manor of Trethewell. This manor had once been owned by Henry VI and had flourished in 15th century. (But by 1824 it was a farmhouse, which it remains today.) George was a good match. He was the Sheriff of Cornwall, originally from Duryard in Devon, and was well off himself.

Trethewell passed to Francis Llewellyn esquire who thereupon took the name of Leach, in addition to his own. At his death in 1744 it became the property of his daughter, Mrs Cross, who resided for many years at Trethewell. – Lakes Parochial history of the county of Cornwall, 1867

I believe that Copplestone was Anne and George Cross’ son. Various historical documents connect him to them and show him owning land in both St Eval and Duryard, as well as living at Trethewell at Porthcothan. A newspaper also reported his death aged 90 in September 1869.

‘The youngest and last of his family, who lived at Trethewell, died an old man at Porthcothan Mill.’

The Devon Record office holds papers relating to the lands of Copplestone Cross, as well as a mortgage for a property in Exminster dated 1848, the parties named are George Llewellin Cross, Coplestone [sic] Cross and Harriet Cross.

Cornish Connections

Copplestone also appears on the voters list for St Merryn in 1852. He is noted as owning land at New Park in St Columb Major since 1837. In the 1851 census he can be found lodging with a local farming family, Thomas and Mary Hellyar, at Trevethan Farm less than 2 miles from Trethewell.

Trevethan House

Copplestone Cross is known to have begun building Trevethan House in 1850. After his death it was bought and completed by John Andrew in 1870.

As well as starting construction of the house Copplestone is said to have built the little bridge that lies in the deep river valley between Porthcothan Mill and Trevethan.

A Packhorse Bridge?

The bridge is often referred to as a packhorse bridge but may just have been a simple footbridge so that Copplestone could cross the river more easily.

Copplestone Cross packhorse bridge Porthcothan

There was a time when the isolated valleys of Cornwall were almost impenetrable. So deeply wooded travellers had to keep to the coasts and hills wherever it was possible to do so. And of course, for centuries our ancestors’ main modes of transport what were either walking or horse. The packhorse was the only means by which goods could be carried any distance between towns and villages.

The pack horse was the Cornishman’s vehicle and for his convenience the ancient Cornish roads and bridges were constructed. – Charles Henderson, 1928

Copplestone Cross packhorse bridge Porthcothan

Our little bridge crosses the river near Porthcothan Mill in a single arch. A very similar bridge can be found in the neighbouring parish between St Cadoc and Polmark farms. Both are made of chunks of killas slate and are roughly 4ft wide. Wide enough for a heavily laddened mule or a man with a barrow.

Crossing points such as these can date back millennia, is it possible that Copplestone Cross’ bridge is on a much older route through Cornwall?

The bridge today is still on a public footpath and I came across it quite unexpectedly on a walk from Bedruthan Steps. As you can tell it left such a strong impression that day I was determined to find out it’s history. I should add that this spot makes a perfect place for a picnic (which is what I did) or a rest in the shade before tackling the steep valley path ahead. (see below for link to walk.)

Copplestone Cross packhorse bridge Porthcothan

End of the line.

Copplestone Cross died and was buried on 26th July 1869. As far as I can gather he never married or had any children. At the time of his death he was living in Porthcothan Cottage in St Merryn. And Eleanor Hellyar, a member of the family he had once lodged with, was caring for him as his housekeeper.

So, what’s in a name?

Copplestone was born in Duryard in Exeter in 1779, the son of George and Anne Cross. Duryard is just a short distance from the village of Copplestone where you can find the famous Copplestone Cross. A beautiful engraved Saxon cross.

So, could this be how our fine bridge-building gentleman came by his name?

A simple play on words?

And finally . . .

Before we leave this place and say farewell to Copplestone Cross Esq I have one more question that I am hoping someone can help me with. Close to the stile just a few metres before the bridge there is a strange carved stone.

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Can anyone shed any light on this for me?

Walking Opportunities:

Circular walk from Bedruthan to Porthcothan via the bridge

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5 thoughts on “Copplestone Cross & his Packhorse Bridge, Porthcothan

  1. That is a delectable little bridge, in a beautiful spot. Thanks for doing the research to find out about Copplestone Cross, that’s so interesting. I tried to find the name of the stream too, and got nowhere, but did find a map from 1907 which appears to show a parish boundary in the centre of the river. So perhaps the carved stone is marking the boundary in some way?

    I found the map on a really useful website called Old Maps online (https://www.oldmapsonline.org/) which lets you search a particular place and then view maps of different dates.

    Thanks also for the link to the story of your father and his very own standing stone. The world is a better place for people like your dad.

    1. Hi Jay, thank you so much for your comments and the added info. The boundary is an interesting prospect, definitely a possibility for the carved stone. I think I’ve come across that website before. Thanks for the link!
      And yes, my father is the very best of men! 😊

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed this article and photos. On my wish list is to visit Cornwall Devon and Somerset one day and to explore them on foot. Your blog only increases that desire. Thanks!

  3. You come up with very interesting and informative stories about the many different places and things to see in Cornwall. Keep ’em coming!!!

  4. Cornwall has some beautiful walks and this one is now on my list. What wonderful little bridges and the mystery markings on the stone, I hope you find out what it is. I loved the post about your dad and his granite stone. A legacy indeed.

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