A story in 100 objects

03: Electric Fire

What can a mid-20th century electric fire tell us about the history of Mount Edgcumbe House and the Edgcumbe family?

Mount Edgcumbe House was originally built in the16th century and was extensively remodelled and enlarged throughout its history. By the early 20th century it was between two and three times the size it is now.

Tragedy struck in 1941 when the house was hit by incendiary bombs and badly damaged by fire. The 5th Earl died childless in 1944 and was succeeded by his second cousin Kenelm, an eminent electrical engineer.

As a young man Kenelm had trained as an electrical engineer when the electricity industry was in its infancy. In 1900 he and another young engineer founded their own company, Everett Edgcumbe and Co. to design and manufacture test equipment for the growing electricity industry. The company grew rapidly and soon became world renowned. The company was sold in 1957 and thereafter changed hands several times. It is now High Voltage Instruments Limited (HVIL). This company kindly donated archive documents and a number of historic instruments to both Mount Edgcumbe and Cotehele in 2016.

Despite being 71 years of age when he became the 6th Earl of Mount Edgcumbe Kenelm was determined to rebuild the historic family home on its original footprint, utilising the Tudor walls and 18th century towers which were still standing. He and his wife Lillian lived above the stables during the rebuild from 1958 to 1964.

Kenelm oversaw the work on the house personally but also found time to pursue his own interests. He created this fire using odds and ends recovered from the site. The feet probably came from a table and the decorations are old door and bed knobs. The heating elements are below the coal effect grate, the back plate of which is now displayed elsewhere in the house.

So this 20th century electric fire is a small but very personal reminder of the tragedies of the 1940’s, the determination of one man to preserve his historic family home and his life as an eminent electrical engineer.

Despite being 71 years of age when he became the 6th Earl of Mount Edgcumbe Kenelm was determined to rebuild the historic family home on its original footprint, utilising the Tudor walls and 18th century towers which were still standing. He and his wife Lillian lived above the stables during the rebuild from 1958 to 1964.”

More objects: