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Kenelm Edgcumbe

(1873-1965) - Searchlight operator

A renowned electrical engineer, in the First World War Kenelm supplied equipment and commanded a battalion operating searchlights around Plymouth Sound. The purpose was to search for enemy warships and submarines trying to enter the Sound. In 1944 he inherited and later rebuilt the burnt-out Mount Edgcumbe House.

Credit: Mount Edgcumbe House and photo from Cotehele House (National Trust)

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Born in 1873, Kenelm Edgcumbe was a renowned electrical engineer who, in 1900, co-founded a company manufacturing electrical instruments which went on to become world famous. His company contributed to both world wars by manufacturing parts for electrical equipment that could no longer be imported.

During the First World War Kenelm commanded the battalion charged with operating searchlights around Plymouth Sound, the purpose of which was to search for enemy warships and particularly for enemy submarines trying to enter the Sound.

On the Cornwall shore there were searchlight stations at Penlee Point on the Mount Edgcumbe estate, Fort Picklecombe, the Breakwater Fort and Drake’s Island. Other searchlight stations were located on the Devon shore.

Kenelm became the 6th Earl of Mount Edgcumbe in 1944,.after his son (the designated heir of the childless 5th Earl) was killed near Dunkirk in 1940. He inherited Mount Edgcumbe House, which had been severely damaged by fire, during the Plymouth Blitz in 1941 and was determined to rebuild it as the family home.  It took many years to organise the rebuild and was not completed until 1964 – just a year before Kenelm’s death.

Credit: Mount Edgumbe House and photo from Cotehele House (National Trust) with Kenelm centre front