top of page

Find out more about Mr Watson, one of the last residents of The Gardeners' House

We've been learning more about one of the last residents of The Gardeners' House in Morrab Gardens - thanks to the kindness of his grandaughter Sue Griffin and a wealth of information stored by our colleagues at Morrab Library.

Here we're sharing the story of Willie Watson, who was head gardener at

Morrab Gardens from 1929 to 1951. He was a founder member of the Cornish Gorsedd, taking the bardic name of Tyrvab – son of the soil.

WCD Watson, Head Gardener at Morrab Gardens from 1929 to 1951. He was a founder member of the Cornish Gorsedd, taking the bardic name of Tyrvab – son of the soil. Photo by courtesy of Sue Griffin.

William Charles Daniel Watson planted many of the ‘sub-tropical’ plants for which the gardens became well known. He corresponded and exchanged plants and seeds with people in various countries. He was an extraordinary person, and during his long tenure in the post he played an important role in the development of the Gardens.

His granddaughter, Sue Griffin, recalls: “I remember visiting Granfer (and his second wife, Ruby) in his house in the gardens when I was a small child. They lived in the end of the range of buildings nearest to Morrab House. He was always surrounded by books.“

Mr Watson, with his four eldest grandchildren, photographed in about 1948/9 outside his house in the Gardens. Photo courtesy of Sue Griffin.

Sue provided this brief account of Mr Watson’s life - which originally appeared on the Friends of Morrab Gardens website.

She told us: “Willie was born on 25 November 1886 in Mylor Bridge, and served his time as a gardener at Rosehill in Falmouth, the house of the Fox family. He later worked at Trevales House, Stithians but he quarrelled with the owner (probably about voting) and lost his job and the family’s home, next working in smelting works in Penryn and living in Budock.

“In the 1911 census, he and his wife, Elizabeth Mary, were living at Trelill, Budock with their baby son (my uncle) John. His occupation was given as jobbing gardener. By 1915 when my father, Sid, was born, they were living at Trevarth, Lanner where the family lived until they moved to Morrab Gardens in 1929. On Sid’s birth certificate, Willie’s occupation was given as gardener domestic.

“Willie was an autodidact, with an enthusiasm for languages and genealogy. He spoke Cornish and was a founder of the Cornish Gorsedd in 1928, taking the name Tyrvab, meaning ‘son of the soil’. It was said that he would talk to the Breton-speaking fishermen who came in to Newlyn in Cornish.

“He played a part in ‘rescuing’ the St. Day carol and his name appears in some hymn books - he had learned it from an old miner, Thomas Beard when he was a labourer and vanner attendant at South Crofty mine, Carn Brea during World War I. He sang it to Canon Doble who wrote down words and music.

“Willie died aged 72 on 5 October 1959 in West Cornwall Hospital, Penzance.”

Roger Watson, one of Mr Watson's grandchildren, told us: "I was still only nine when he died, and I used to visit him every Saturday morning to do the errand of paying his paper bill. Then I would listen to him talking, mostly about Cornwall but many other topics as well. We sat in the front room surrounded by piles of books and papers. It was often difficult to find room to sit!"

He added: "I found my visits fascinating and learnt a great deal from Grandpa Watson. He instilled in me my interest and love for Kernow and all things Cornish for which I am extremely grateful."

William Watson maintained correspondence with horticulturalists around the world, and extended a welcome to any who were able to visit Morrab Gardens. He is pictured here with one of his guests,

standing at the side of the Morrab Library.

There are number of papers, letters and articles that tell the story of the life of WCD Watson. currently held by the Morrab Library.


Notes on WCD Watson appearing in the regional press after his death

From the West Briton 15 October 1959 written by J.R.M.

‘William Charles Daniel Watson, of Penzance, was a gardener. He was also a scholar with a fund of lore not to be found in books, and amateur genealogist in a field where there are no professionals, and a Cornish patriot who worked eagerly for a Gorsedd when hardy anyone else in Cornwall knew what it meant.

‘Enthusiasm was moving towards a Gorsedd, but it was moving slowly …….. no one knows how long the Cornish enthusiasts might have gone on talking had it not been for Daniel Watson.

Mr. Watson did not read rather vague papers to sleepy institutions; instead he planned a gorsedd, drawing at times upon his knowledge of Freemasonry in suggesting the forms to be adopted. In 1928 all was ready and he set out for Treorchy with seven others……. received into the Gorsedd as Tirvab (Son of the Soil).’

‘For some years Tirvab was Herald Bard. The role suited him perfectly, for his accent was recognisable to those who knew not a word of the old language.

Mr. Watson collected dialect songs … He was also greatly interested in preserving the old carols of Cornwall. It is to him that the English-speaking world owes the St. Day Carol…………… Mr. Watson heard the carol sung by old Thomas Beard ….… appeared in the Oxford Book of Carols.’

‘Tirvab taught himself Breton by listening to the fishermen from Brittany. ‘In these days of scholarship,’ said the Grand Bard this week, ‘he would have been able to take up languages at some University and would have been lost to Cornish culture.’


West Briton 15 November 1951

‘… served his time with Mr. W. Jenkin at Rosehill Gardens, Falmouth, owned by Mr. Howard Fox, a member of one of the leading Quaker families of the county.

From Rosehill, Mr. Watson went to Tresco Abbey gardens, in the Isles of Scilly, and from there to Carclew. He came to Penzance in the spring of 1929 as head gardener, after some years with Mr. A.P. Jenkin, of Trewirgie, Redruth. Since he has been there he has made friends with people from all parts of the world …. He is particularly proud of …. a momento from the late President of the Czechoslovak Republic, Dr. Benes.

In 1941 Mr. Watson received the distinction of being one of the first men in Britain selected by Sir Arthur Hill, the late director of Kew Gardens, to grow some South American plants which were being tested in various parts of the country with a view to relieving the sugar shortage.’


bottom of page