Wheal Betsy, the Cornish home of artist Thomas Cooper Gotch, is Listed Grade II
Wheal Betsy in Newlyn, Cornwall, has been listed at Grade II by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on the advice of Historic England.
The Arts and Crafts style house was built between 1909 and 1911 for artists Thomas Cooper Gotch and Caroline Burland Yates by prominent architect Arnold Bidlake Mitchell.
Wheal Betsy became the hub of the Gotches’ life in Newlyn’s artistic community, and the inspiration for many of Thomas’s works. It remained in the family for 90 years.
A dream home
Thomas and Caroline married in Newlyn in 1881, spent time in France where their daughter Phyllis was born, and travelled to Australia in late 1883 before moving back to Newlyn in 1887. The Gotches left again to live in Surrey in 1899 but retained their working and social relationships with Newlyn. By spring 1906, they had decided to return and begin the search for their new home.
The Gotches wanted a house like those they had seen in ‘The Studio’, the magazine launched in 1893 to promote the Arts and Crafts Movement. The work of architect Arnold Bidlake Mitchell regularly appeared in its pages, and when the couple’s search for their ideal home was unsuccessful, they commissioned Mitchell to build one. Gotch was already acquainted with the architect, having recently painted watercolour portraits of his children.
The Gotches named the house Wheal Betsy Cottage, the ‘cottage’ part describing its farmhouse vernacular style with tile-hung walls, overhanging eaves, small-paned windows and prominent porches. ‘Betsy’ relates to the house’s proximity to the Wheal Elizabeth tin mine which had closed in 1853 after only two years.
Despite a few changes, Thomas and Caroline Gotch would recognise Wheal Betsy today as the house they had dreamed of and asked Mitchell to design in 1909. While few historic photographs of the building survive, by comparing it today with Mitchell’s original plans, most of the plan, external features and internal fixtures and fittings survive.
Local materials and building methods
During the construction of the house, Gotch continued his portraiture work, mainly of children, travelling extensively throughout the country. As Mitchell was London-based, Gotch employed local architect and surveyor Henry Maddern to oversee the works. Maddern’s local experience ensured that Cornish traditions in slate laying – both hung and scantle – were properly followed. Carpentry was provided by F R Mudge who signed and dated his name on the underside of the parlour floor on 10 June 1911. The main contractor was Edward Pidwell of Penzance, who drew up the specifications and supplied the materials and workforce.
Mitchell’s fondness for local construction methods and materials is reflected in Wheal Betsy’s Delabole slate roofs and the use of locally-quarried granite, giving the house a distinctively Cornish character. Wheal Betsy was described as ‘a tone poem in white and grey’.
Inside, the house has high-quality joinery and fittings, including exposed ceiling beams and staircase, and a different tiled fireplace surround in almost every room.
An artist's inspiration
Wheal Betsy inspired many of Gotch’s works. The view of Mounts Bay from the front of the house is depicted in several of his sketches, mainly done in later life from the garden, his studio, or the hilltops overlooking the bay. He also sketched the view towards the Lizard including hayricks in the foreground, a view now almost obliterated by post-war housing development.
The garden at Wheal Betsy was an inspiration for sketches for Midsummer Eve (1909), and the painting A Night in June was inspired by the Gotches’ first dinner party at their new home in November 1910.
Thomas Cooper Gotch (1854-1931)
Thomas Gotch was a respected and important artist of the late 19th and early 20th century. His works are held by the Tate and in other public collections across the UK and in Australia and South Africa. Ruby, a well-known portrait, is owned by Penlee House Gallery in Penzance.
Gotch’s work initially focused on narrative subjects, and from 1880 he regularly exhibited at the Royal Academy. Seventy of his paintings were accepted and many of them were hung on the line (at eye level and therefore considered the most significant) during his lifetime.
Following a trip to Europe in 1891-2 where he came into contact with early Renaissance painting, Gotch changed his style dramatically from ‘plein-air’ to Pre-Raphaelite symbolism, with an emphasis on allegorical portrait figures set against lush textile backgrounds, for which he became acclaimed in his lifetime and is most recognised now. Notable works of this period include A Golden Dream (1893), The Child Enthroned (1894) and Alleluia (1896).
At the outbreak of the First World War, Gotch joined the Volunteers and became treasurer to the Newlyn Artists’ Belgian Relief Fund which supported refugees from Belgium; some lodged at Wheal Betsy and inspired paintings such as Chantons, Belges, Chantons (1915).
Gotch actively supported the arts and artists during his lifetime. In 1887 he founded the Royal British Colonial Society of Artists (RBC) and served as its president from 1913 until 1928. He also helped establish the New English Art Club in 1886, which still exists today. In Cornwall, he was a founder member of the Newlyn Industrial Classes which was set up to teach craft work to the local community, and was a committee member of the Newlyn Art Gallery from its opening in 1895. He was elected to the Newlyn Society of Artists in the same year, and later served as its chair from 1924 until his death.
Caroline Burland Yates (1854-1945)
Caroline Burland Yates came to Newlyn in 1879 on a painting holiday with her sister, where they were visited by Thomas and his friend the artist Henry Scott Tuke. She studied at the Slade School of Art, where she first met Gotch, and then at the Academie Julian in Paris in 1880. She exhibited at the Royal Academy, the Royal Society of British Artists, the Paris Salon, and many other shows, academies and clubs.
Very few examples of Yates’ work survive but photographs show sophisticated compositions, often featuring women and children in domestic settings. When Thomas died on 1 May 1931 the lease for Wheal Betsy passed to Caroline and, on her death in 1945, to their daughter Phyllis, who had been the model for many of her father’s works.
Arnold Bidlake Mitchell ARIBA FRIBA (1863-1944)
Mitchell was a respected international architect and Wheal Betsy is a confident example of his work at the height of his career. He went into independent practice in 1886, and his early career was augmented by extensive press coverage, especially in ‘The Studio’ magazine, where the publication of his own house, Grove Hill Cottage in Harrow (1893; Grade II), led to several local commissions. His Arts and Crafts background led to an interest in good craftsmanship and careful detailing.
Mitchell’s foreign commissions included a villa and pavilion in Ostend for King Leopold of Belgium in 1902-03. In 1908 he won the inaugural ‘Daily Mail Ideal Home’ competition. Several of Mitchell’s buildings, mainly in south-east England and around Lyme Regis in Dorset, are listed. In Cornwall, not far from Newlyn at Paul, is Mitchell’s Trevelloe House built in 1911 for W. E. T. Bolitho. It is Grade II* listed, making it one of only eight per cent of listed buildings awarded this grade.
The Newlyn School
An artist’s colony in Newlyn began to emerge in the early 1880s when it was frequently visited by artists for painting holidays and to study under Henry Martin (1835-1908). Thomas Cooper Gotch was amongst those first visitors. The visiting artists gradually stayed for longer periods and settled in Newlyn, which was developing from a small fishing village into a significant port. The most significant years for the colony were from 1888 to 1894, during which time a distinctive ‘plein-air’ painting style unified the Newlyn School artists, unofficially but recognisably led by Stanhope Forbes (1857-1947).