Cornwall  Smugglers


Coast Guard / Revenue / Salt Officers



Norway House Home of a Smuggler

By D. de L. Nicholls

First published in Old Cornwall Autumn 1981  

Photos by Ann Tumser

Immediately overlooking the quay at Lostwithiel stands Norway House. The imposing late Georgian building, with the unusual feature of two wings, was strategically sited above a garden 50 yards wide, sloping down to quay level. Thus was Captain Norway assured of concealed access to his impressive vaulted cellars. On retirement from the East India Company in 1753, Captain Norway, great great uncle of Nevil Shute Norway, the author, planned the entire outlay.

But regretfully the Captain whose masterly plan was to have rewarded him with a new way of life, died in 1757 before the building was completed. A very wealthy man writes his great great nephew. The Captain had no son. In his will the whole was bequeathed in trust to his nephew, Nevel (sic) Norway, then aged 17, with a request that he continue to carry out the plan. Nevel Norway, a competent young man, had the house and cellars completed before he came of age in 1761. We may imagine the long and fruitful talks between uncle and nephew disclosing the motive in the siting and fore planning.

In 1763 Nevel Norway married Sarah Arthur, daughter of John Arthur of the Crown and Sceptre in Lostwithiel. By then he was accepted by the town as Merchant and Banker. In the 18th century the appellation merchant, albeit with no visible sign of merchandise, proved acceptable, and presumed respectability. As Banker, Nevel Norway, with innate aptitude, centred his public life on the east wing, having there a direct outdoor entrance. Here above his vaulted cellars, with a massive safe, he reigned supreme. Later he became Mayor of Lostwithiel, had a large family, and died in 1814. He was laid to rest in the family vault under the aisle of the church. May we now with hindsight, guided by family letters and records set down the findings?

Along the quayside the garden is bounded by a low stone wall, 2-3ft. high. From the entrance gate, the drive runs parallel to the wall to the furthest corner of the garden. Here, under 2ft. of soil, a level platform of stone, 6ft. square, was discovered. This was presumably the landing stage for �tubs.� Even the remaining course of the drive falls into place, being angled at the landing stage to run diagonally toward the house. Tubs were carried along this drive to a low doorway in the east wing. Within was a sorting space and two granite stairways. Of these one led up to the Bank, the other, a spiral stair, to the house. An arched entrance led eastward, which brings to light a further motive in Captain Norway�s adoption of the particular site. Parallel with the east wing at 60 yards distance runs South Street. Down one side, under a granite culvert runs the small river Cober, dividing Lostwithiel parish from the country parish of Lanlivery. This watercourse thus ensured complete freedom from any jurisdiction raised by Lostwithiel.

Under the long archway at the rear of the Stannary building the culvert fills the entire space leaving no side track. To overcome this obstacle the Captain planned a tunnel. So the arched entrance leading eastward from the sorting space is 8ft. high, and leads into a tunnel of the same height. This passage runs 4ft. underground toward South St. Well built and arched throughout it runs beneath the stables and under two back gardens, for 60 yards before reaching South St. at ground level. It rose now hidden under a heavy mantle of ivy, on unused land. I was shown a length of the pasage by a young man building a greenhouse directly above.

Through the second arched doorway one enters the cellars. Here sixteen pillars stand in rows of four. All are 10ft, high, of red brick, with capital and base of granite. Between the pillars four wide passages lead away into darkness, quaywards. In either side-wall are set 3 rows of wine bins, each with arched roof, blending withvaulted roof of the cellar.

The sorting of tubs took place beneath the wing. Tubs to go north went through the underground passage. Those for farmers to the courtyard before the east wing. These would have been cleared by night or before sunrise. The rest were stored in the cellars. Each tub weighed 36lbs., and contained 4 gallons of brandy. In 1775 Nevel Norway took over the Kings Arms Inn. At a Mayors dinner held at the Arms 89lbs beef at 3 pence a lb. and 9 qts. of brandy at 5/4 a gallon were consume Since 1690 the Norways had been established in Lostwithiel. Nevel Shute Norway, writing of his great great uncle says a grand old man, much respected in the town. I have two bank notes of  Nevels Bank, unissued, of  5 each, dated 1805.



    Copyright George Pritchard of Penhalvean 

Last modified: Saturday July 06, 2019

George P Web Design