Sir Goldsworthy Gurney
One of Bude’s most distinguished – and multi-faceted – historical figures was Sir Goldsworthy Gurney, born on St Valentine’s Day, 1793. It’s an unusual first name, which he allegedly earned from his godmother, daughter of General Goldsworthy, who was maid of honour to Queen Charlotte. He was actually born in Treator, near Padstow, in 1793, and educated at Truro Grammar School, where he was heavily influenced by local culture and events, but also by the work of Richard Trevithick, the visionary Cornish mining engineer and inventor, who sadly died penniless, as so many did in those times.
Gurney started his career as a lowly surgeon, practising under a Dr Avery in Wadebridge. By the age of 21, he had married Elizabeth Symons of Cann Orchard, Launcells, then 33 years old, who came with a substantial dowry and went on to bear two children, a daughter and a son. It would be interesting to know more about their marriage and family life.
Cutting a long story very short, he moved to London, where he designed an apparatus for propelling carriages and, pleased with his success, decided to build a home in Cornwall, near to his wife’s country home. He chose land leased from Sir Thomas Acland, a sand dune site, where he built Bude Castle. He switched his interests to lighting and heating, due to economic demands, and The Bude Light followed. This was adopted in the House of Commons.
It is said that people told Gurney he could not build a house on sand but he was the kind of man to enjoy proving people wrong, it seems, and he managed to build it based on foundations of a concrete raft.
Having built the Castle, it seems his wife didn’t like it there, so he sold the lease and bought Reeds at Poughill. Elizabeth died around this time. He married again around the age of 60, was knighted in 1863, and then cruelly struck by illness, a form of paralysis. He died at Reeds, in 1875, and was buried at Launcells, having been cared for by his devoted daughter, Anna. Anna, it appears, was his loyal companion, who took a deep interest in his work. There is little mention of his son, Goldsworthy John, who died without heirs.
As engineers go, he was rather forgotten and unacknowledged. His inventions included the oxy-hydrogen blowpipe, the Gurney Stove (still to be seen at Ely, Chester, Hereford and Tewkesbury cathedrals), and, of course, the Bude Light (limelight). So, if anyone has more information to fill out the Gurney story, that would be well received.