Hugh Gun and the founding of Coombe

As a visitor walks through the gateway into Old Kea churchyard the first gravestone is on the right and remembers Hugh Gun. But who was Hugh Gun?

The gravestone reads:

In Memory of Hugh Gun Who Died 29 March 1804 Aged 76 Years

[Photo: Author]

[The first burial in the churchyard at All Hallows took place in August 1805 so this was one of the last burials at Old Kea, with the exception of the Cragoe family and Susanna Warren.]


We know that Hugh was born in Kea and was baptised on 6 August 1727, one of only seven children baptised in Kea in that year.


Hugh was the second child of John and Grace Gun. He had an older sister, Ann, who was born in 1725 but the records say nothing more about her.

On 5 October 1760 he married Prudence Pryor who also lived in Kea. The Marriage Register shows that he was able to sign his name, but Prudence was illiterate, she could only sign the register with her ‘mark’. Prudence had been born in Kea in 1739 but when baptised her surname was spelled ‘Prior’.

It is unclear where Hugh and Prudence lived during the early part of their lives together but there are clues that can be found in the records that exist about their sons Hugh, born in 1761, and John, born in 1764. In 1798 a new Land Tax was imposed but owners were given the option to pay a lump sum or buy government bonds to free themselves from future liability. Using the Land Redemption Tax of 1798 is frustrating in that it neither gives detail on the holdings which are being taxed nor has a map. Yet with John Gunn we do know he held land from the Reverend Mills, the rector of Kea, and the holding is named as ‘The Glebe’, this was the Glebe farm at Old Kea churchtown.

In the table above the first name is the landowner, the second the tenant and the third – if given – the name of the holding or tenement. Finally, there is the sum to be paid to redeem the annual tax given in £ s d.

More information can be found in the Coryton Estate map of circa 1770 for the manor of Landy Gay, see below. The surveyor showed the location of the ‘Gleeb’ and adjacent to it a small plot of land named ‘Pryers’. Did this tenement have any relationship to Prudence Prior?   

The Manor of Landegay, was owned by the Coryton family who were based at Pentillie House on the river Tamar. Their extensive estates were centred around the Tamar and the Manor of Landegay was probably their most distant holding. They had bought Landegay in about 1620 when they bought many manors, including manors in Probus, St Ewe and Cuby, from the estates confiscated by the Crown from the Catholic recusant Francis Tregian of Golden, near Probus. The place-name ‘Landegea’ at Old Kea is first recorded in 1068. The name is Cornish and contains the element lan, ‘enclosed cemetery’, with the saint’s name, Kea.

    [Kresen Kernow ref no CY6673 Map of the Manor of Landy Gay c.1770]













In the extract above both the positions of the Glebe (then spelled Gleeb) and Pryers are clear.

It seems very likely that in 1798 John Gunn farmed the Glebe land and was also the tenant of a much smaller plot of land, Pryers, which has a hatched red area indicating a house. It was customary for tenancies to pass from father to son so Hugh Gun may well have been the previous tenant , though by 1778 the 71 year old Hugh lived at Coombe.

The Kea Parish Register contains details of the Glebe house and Glebe land in a 1727 Terrier [terrier meant survey of land, from the Latin terra for land]

It says ‘There is a little house containing two little ground rooms and a little Chamber over …., and a little stable built against the end of the House. There is about sixteen acres of ground belonging to the Glebe undivided [without hedges, probably open field divided into substantial strips to allow crop rotation], the greatest part of which is arable, the other part is furze [furze or gorse was widely used as a fuel, especially for firing cloam ovens in which it produced a very rapid heat]. It is bounded wth Sr John Curriton’s land as to the greatest part, and wth the sea on the other. There is a small Homestall with a Garden and a few apple trees in it & it is bounded with a Hedge and a Gate for the coming in to it’.

It is clear that John Gunn, 1764-1856, farmed the Glebe land and probably lived in the ‘little house’ mentioned in the 1727 Terrier, and it is quite probable that his father Hugh farmed the Glebe before him.

Yet John was only the second son of Hugh. What of Hugh’s eldest son who was also called Hugh? He was baptised in 1761 and buried in 1850 so led a long life, but there is no record of him marrying, having children or of being a tenant. Perhaps he had a disability, and perhaps he lived in Pryers, of which his brother was tenant?

We know that Hugh senior had moved from Old Kea before 1788 as in a lease for Lower Lanner dated 1788 [Kresen Kernow CY 1937] various fields were specified but ‘except Coomb Cottage, in occupation of Hugh Gun’. In addition, the Land tax Return for 1798 lists him as tenant of ‘Coombe tent’ [tenement].

In the Landegay rent roll of 1803 Hugh held the ‘Royalty of Fishing’ for the manor, for which he paid one guinea [Kresen Kernow ref no CY5021]. In the rent roll of 1807 his widow Prudence held the ‘Royalty of Fishing’ [Kresen Kernow ref no CY4353] but by 1809 it had passed to another family. Perhaps after ‘retiring’ as the farmer of the Glebe land, and allowing his younger son to take on the Glebe tenancy, he ‘downsized’, built a cottage at Coombe and turned his hand to fishing? Whilst at Old Kea he may also have been a fisherman.

When Hugh Gun moved to Coombe the only houses that existed were two thatched cottages which lay on the southern side of the valley. One (on the left in the photo below) belonged to the estate of the Arundells of Lanherne who owned Trelease farm, and one (on the right) to Lord Falmouth. These cottages, pictured left, survived in a very dilapidated state and were pulled down in the period between the two World Wars.


[Photo: Coombe after 1908 From the Collection of the RIC TRURI: KEAgv 16]






On the land owned by the Corytons, on the northern side, the fields stretched down to the creek. The exception was a cottage shown on the map below and confusingly named Coombe Cott [cottage]. This was almost certainly the ‘cottage now in ruins’ referred to in the 1809 lease mentioned below. It is not known when it was built.


[Kresen Kernow ref no CY6673 Map of the Manor of Landy Gay c.1770]










Where exactly did Hugh live in Coombe?   Hugh Gun enclosed an area of land from the Great Bounder field, marked as Bounder Cott on the map above, planted a small orchard and built the cottage which soon took on the name of Coombe Cottage. There is good evidence for this. Coombe was first mentioned in a lease for Lower Lanner farm in a Coryton document of 10 June 1788 [Kresen Kernow ref no CY 1937] when John Hoskin junior, a yeoman of Kea, and George Warren, an assayer of metals, took the lease of Lower Lanner farm including the fields called Vounder [an alternative name for Bounder], Turrets, Beef Closes, Cross Closes but ‘except Coomb Cottage, in occupation of Hugh Gun’. Then in April 1809 a new lease was offered for Lower Lanner and Lanner Hills [Kresen Kernow ref no CY 5705]. The advertised details specify that the lease would exclude an ‘acre of land to be fenced out of Great Bounder in Lanner by Prudence Gun’s premises on the Boundary of the River with liberty of cutting turf on the outside to make that side of the hedge and all cottages and premises now held by Prudence Gun, William Harris and Charles Knowels and the cottage now in ‘ruins’ and the garden belonging and all wastes belonging to the said several premises’. 

Hugh Gun had died in 1804 but his widow Prudence lived until January 1821 when she died aged 81. The description of the land to be fenced suggests it was next to Prudence Gun’s land, bounded by the river and about an acre in size. This suggests the area about to be taken in was the orchard in which the presently-named Beach Cottage now lies. It was common practice in this part of Cornwall to build a hedge by taking turf from the field side. The result of this was usually a ditch being formed on the field side, and the ditch created would have run on the north side and in the present orchard of the presently-named Lanner Cottage. This is all very strong evidence for Hugh Gun and then his widow Prudence living at what is still called Coombe Cottage. It is very probable that it was built for them or even by them in about 1770.

In 1781 Lord Arundell sold Trelease and a few years earlier, the exact date is unknown, he commissioned a survey of Trelease farm as he would soon advertise it for sale. An extract from the survey is below.



[Plan Trelease, Kea

Kresen Kernow ref no GHW G5]









The survey only shows in detail Arundell land but the surveyor also drew in properties on adjacent land. Coombe Cottage is clearly shown on the left facing south, though in reality it had two storeys. The building later described as a ruin is also shown but with its end facing the creek, thus on a different footprint to the presently-named Riverside. A cottage belonging to Lord Falmouth is also sketched in and would have been the right-hand cottage shown in the photograph above.


The Land Redemption Tax of 1798 shows the occupier as ‘Wm Pryor’. A William Prior of Coombe died in March 1839 aged 66, and a William Pryor was born in March 1774 the son of William Pryor. When Hugh Gun’s wife Prudence was born in December 1839 her father was listed as William Pryor. It is likely that Prudence and William were siblings, and one of the reasons for Hugh moving to Coombe was that his wife could live closer to her brother.

William Pryor, Prudence’s brother died in 1839 but when the first Census was taken in 1841 his son, another William and born in 1799, still lived in Coombe together with his wife Maryann and their six children – one of whom was called William. By 1851 the family had moved to Roundwood.

Hugh Gun’s cottage would have been built on the ‘three life lease’ system which was the normal way for building houses in rural Cornwall. The landowner retained ownership of the land and it was leased for a nominal annual fee or ground rent. The cottage would then have been built at the expense of the lessee who would have paid only the ground rent until the three lives nominated had died. When the last life died the cottage then ‘fell in’ to the hands of the estate and a commercial annual rent would then have been payable. It was usual practise to nominate two healthy young men, and it was usually men, and when one of them died for a small fine or fee another life could be added. In a period of high infant mortality the system was often a large gamble and if an epidemic swept through then sometimes all three lives were lost within months and the cottage would have reverted to the landowner, but with luck a family might live in a cottage rent free for three generations, perhaps a hundred years.

This photograph [Private Collection] dates from 1904. It shows a very attractive building built of local slatestone, especially at the front, and cob, especially at the rear. It has slate sills and wooden lintels. The main windows are sixteen-paned hornless sashes. On the left is a small outhouse with what was probably an apple loft on the first floor. The plan is of two equal rooms flanking a central cross passage which leads to a flight of stairs. To the left is a quay. The situation would have been ideal for a fisherman such as Hugh Gun.






Coombe Cottage retains many of its original features [Photos Author, 2019] but the roof is now corrugated asbestos and may once have been thatched. The porch was probably added early in the 20th century and is an attractive feature. The chimneys over the gable ends are set back and may once have been more substantial.





The gable end to the right of the cottage shows very clear evidence of how it was built. All the front and the lower part of the gable ends and rear walls were built of stone. The rest of the walls were built of cob, a mixture of earth, clay, dung and straw. The cob was laid in layers and the layers varied in depth according to the weather on that day or the amount of time available. The layers would then have been left for one or two weeks to dry out. The left photograph shows very clearly the different layers. Cob is best maintained by regular coatings with limewash.

David Gunn is seen in the photo below applying a fresh coat of lime wash.


David Gunn is the great-great-great-great grandson of Hugh Gun. Although owned by Tregothnan Estate, Coombe Cottage  has never passed out of the tenancy of the Gunn family since it was built in the 1760s.






Both Hugh and Prudence Gun’s sons, Hugh and John, remained at Old Kea most probably farming the Glebe until their deaths in 1850 and 1856 respectively. As mentioned above, Hugh never married but in 1791 John married Elizabeth Penna and had eight children though at least three died very young. Their eldest son, confusingly another John born in 1796, married Emma Harris in 1827 and in the Census of 1841 they lived at Coombe Cottage and John worked as a bargeman. It is likely that he took over the tenancy from his grandmother Prudence when she died in 1821.

John and Elizabeth’s second surviving son was born in 1810, and in the family tradition named Hugh. Like his grandfather he always spelled his name Gun. In 1833 he married Elizabeth Tank whose family farmed as lessees the substantial farms of Trelease and Treloggas. It may have been a reflection of this fortunate match that many of their children bore the second name of Tank, a tradition that continued into the years between the World Wars. It is very likely that when John and Elizabeth married they moved into the newly built house presently called Bounder House. It was a substantial house, larger than the traditional Coombe cottage and may have reflected a dowry from Elizabeth’s Tank family. The locations of Coombe Cottage and Bounder House are shown on the map below based on the Tithe Map of 1844. The site of the ruined cottage, now Riverside, is also shown as well as the location of the two cottages later demolished – Moor Close and Bunny Thatch.

Thus, by the middle of the nineteenth century Hugh Gun who died in 1804 had grandsons living in Coombe Cottage and Bounder House. John at Coombe Cottage had ten children and Hugh at Bounder House had six children. This veritable population explosion of Gunns, all the grandchildren of Hugh Gun, resulted in many more houses being built in Coombe for the rest of the nineteenth century and created much of the present Coombe.

Many of these houses were built whilst the Manor Of Landegay was in the ownership of the Coryton family of Pentillie but in 1844 the Coryton family sold the land to the Tregothnan estate of Lord Falmouth, the Boscawen family.

Gunns continued to farm the Glebe. John Tank Gunn, 1843 – 1922, was the last person to farm the Glebe. He was the great grandson of Hugh who died in 1804 . John and his wife Ellen had four children and their third child, Joseph Evelyn, was born at the Glebe just before Christmas 1877. By 1881 his father had left the Glebe and moved to Coombe, to Bounder House

 His son Joseph Evelyn moved to Coombe Cottage when he married in 1904  and lived there until his death in 1975. The author remembers him well.  It is his grandson, David Gunn, who still lives there.

One mystery remains. Prudence Gunn was buried on 11 January 1821 but it is not known where she was buried, in the old churchyard at Old Kea or the new churchyard at All Hallows. It seems unusual that her name was not added to Hugh Gun’s gravestone as space appears to have been allowed for it.


Hugh Gun was also the author’s great-great-great-great grandfather.


Nigel Baker July 2021


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