From Watchmakers to Monkeys – Cornish charity celebrates its heritage

The home of internationally renowned primate welfare and conservation charity Wild Futures is Murrayton House near Looe, Cornwall. Famous as the site for the Wild Futures flagship Monkey Sanctuary, the beautiful Victorian mock gothic house is a gem in itself. Of course every old house has its mysteries and legends and Murrayton is no exception.

Wild Futures Director Rachel Hevesi explained: “Many years ago one of visitors introduced herself as a relative of the Murray family who built what is now the charity’s headquarters. She told me stories of sunny holidays at Murrayton, pillow-fights, stirring the clotted cream made in the estate dairy, playing in the children’s nursery and donkey rides along the coast-path. It was wonderful to share in her memories and imagine how the house and estate once were.”

One element of the story did not make sense at the time. The adopted grand-daughter, of William Murray after whom the estate and local area is named, described a large tower or folly of which there appeared to be no evidence.

Rachel continued, “Sometime after the visit, we received a package of the most wonderful photographs of the house and family and among them was a picture of the mysterious folly tower! It was also amazing to see the faces of the original inhabitants of this house. We have always known that the package was a gift of treasure and now, at long last, we are making them available for visitors to our Sanctuary.”

A little research has uncovered a mine of stories, enabling the charity to celebrate this part of its history with displays and a trail giving people a glimpse of times past. William Murray was a self-made man, a watchmaker who became an auctioneer, Liskeard town councillor and bailiff of the court. His private life was far from conventional: He married an unmarried mother from a wealthy family, then set up house with his housekeeper with whom he had ten children, eventually marrying her when his first wife died. There is a local legend that Murray died after an altercation with one of his sons who had to be spirited out of the country to evade justice. There is no evidence for this, but the Murray descendants are spread around the world, from Canada to South Africa.

Wild Futures is delighted to share its heritage. Rachel said, “Murrayton is an important part of the Cornish story, from the Murray family, to its time as a health farm, to when it was briefly owned by Great Western Railways, and now as the home of our primate welfare and conservation charity. We are proud to be the guardians of such a beautiful place.”