The burial grounds

© Maxwell Adams 2003-2007

Version 17 May 2007

There are four adjacent burial grounds in Lelant now. It is not always clear which of the burial grounds is referred to in some writings and I have therefore given them distinct names.

Original churchyard

The graveyard immediately around St Uny Church was the only known burial ground for Lelant until the late nineteenth century. Only a few stone gravestones now remain in this graveyard from the nineteenth century and even fewer from the eighteenth century. However, the small number of surviving gravestones hides the large numbers of people buried in the ground, many of whom had no memorials or wooden ones that have long rotted. There might have been an earlier graveyard in what are now the sand hills: see the article on The sands of printless foot.

All over England in the nineteenth century the churchyards became full and the rise in the number of the dead made the customary reuse of old graves impractical and insanitary and indecent. Cemeteries were established to meet the need for new burial grounds. Lelant experienced this too.

There may have been an additional problem at Lelant. The state of the churchyard was criticised in a letter signed "Observer, St Ives."

"It is being continually dinned in the ears of Nonconformists and supporters of the Liberation Society that the churchyard is the vicar's freehold, and that they have no more right to interfere with that than with private property. I was present at a funeral in Lelant churchyard a few days since, and contrasting the interior of the church with the state of the burial ground, I could not help thinking that a great deal of the money spent in useless decoration in the church might have been spent to advantage in making the burial ground decent. 'Property has its duties as well as its rights' " (Cornish Telegraph 31 October 1876).

The Liberation Society argued for the disestablishment of the Church of England and the letter writer has other disagreements with the Anglicans as well as the churchyard; indeed, those religious differences might have coloured the way he saw the churchyard. However, although he criticises the "state of the burial ground" he unfortunately does not describe that state for us so we cannot easily judge for ourselves.

The original churchyard was closed on 30 June 1877 by Order in Council, the bishop of Truro having consecrated the Anglican part of the new cemetery on 28 May (CRO DDP/120/2/30 and Cornish Telegraph 5 June 1877). Burials were to be in the new cemetery but the burial register shows that widows were sometimes buried with their deceased husbands in the original churchyard after its closure (eg Wilmot Rogers, May 1885). In 1979 Horace Tempest of Trevethoe was buried in this churchyard and in 1988 two men from the boat Gillian Claire who had drowned on the estuary bar were buried here, overlooking bar. Since the 1980s small ground-level memorial tablets, many recording people who have been cremated, are to the west of the main southern door and some are now by the western wall. By Order in Council of 20 November 2002 all burials were to cease immediately in the original churchyard except in vaults and walled graves and for family members in existing earthen graves.

There are two memorial benches in the original churchyard: to Horace Tempest (1902-1979) and Albert Weaver (1940-1997).

Church Lane cemeteries: Eastern Anglican and Western non-Anglican

In 1876 land to the west of Lelant churchyard, across the path to the ferry beach and with the main gate in Church Lane, was obtained for a cemetery. The Cornish Telegraph of 9 February 1876 explained why:

"The churchyard has become so full that the necessity arises for the provision of a cemetery; to this end the parish vestry are arranging with the trustees of the manor for the granting of an acre and a half of ground to the west of the churchyard; a part to be left unconsecrated. A committee of ten has been formed to represent the different sections of the parish. The estimated cost is under £100."

A week later the newspaper on 16 February carried a letter from the vicar, Frederick Tyacke, stating that the cost was so small because "the land is the munificent gift of a churchwoman, Mrs Higgins, the guardian of the Trevethoe Estate." In his celebration of Mrs Higgins's generosity the vicar carefully included the fact that she was an Anglican. On 22 May 1877 the Cornish Telegraph reported of the cemetery that "the total cost of levelling, returfing, making, and gravelling walks and enclosing one and a half acres of land has been under £80."

The Lelant vestry minutes show Lelanters working practically towards establishing a new burial ground (CRO AD 867/1). On 28 January 1876 a vestry meeting unanimously resolved, "Additional burial ground is required for this Parish. That if possible ground be acquired near the present churchyard. That Mrs Higgins's generous offer of land be accepted and that taking her offer into consideration the parishioners shall for their part enclose and prepare the ground by voluntary subscription and without the formation of a burial board. That a portion of the ground be left unconsecrated for the use of those who do not wish to avail themselves of the services of the Church of England. That a committee be formed to arrange with the representatives of the Trevethoe Estate as to the quantity of land required and the system of management of the unconsecrated portion, to settle the portion to be left unconsecrated, to price out the cost of enclosing and preparing the ground for burial, and to bring their arrangements before the vestry for approval."

The committee comprised: Captain A Arthur, Mr Bartlett, R Hampton, Mr Harris (miner), Mr Hicks, J Hollow, Captain W Hollow, Mr La..., S Michael, Captain R Perry, C Richards, H Sandow, and Richard Frederick Tyacke (vicar). I do not know why Harris was identified as a miner: perhaps they wished to demonstrate that the working classes were included. At any rate there was unusual and constructive cooperation among the Victorian Anglicans and Methodists, even though they wished to be buried in distinctly separate ground.

The committee produced plans: the five trustees for the unconsecrated part were to be three Nonconformists, one from the Trevethoe Estate, and one from the Church of England.

On 3 March 1876 another committee was formed to "mark out the ground, prepare the specifications of work to be done, procure estimates, collect money, and if necessary, arrange with the Guardian of the Estate [Mrs Higgins] as to the trust deed for the unconsecrated ground" (CRO AD 867/1).

The Church Lane cemetery was in fact in two halves and perhaps still is. The part in the east, nearest to the church, is the Anglican cemetery; the westernmost part is for non-Anglicans. In Victorian times that was mainly Methodists here. To avoid confusion I have called these the Eastern Cemetery (Anglican) and the Western Cemetery (Non-Anglican).

Eastern Cemetery

This Anglican cemetery is three quarters of an acre and was consecrated on 28 May 1877 (CRO DDP 120/2/30). It is now full and not used for burials.

Western Cemetery

This part is unconsecrated and is still used for burials. The Cornish Telegraph reported on 22 May 1877 of the new cemetery, "The unconsecrated portion of the ground...may be used by all persons having a right to burial in the parish...Any religious service may be used in this part of the burial ground, provided only that it is decent."

Divisions among Christians about the burial ground continued and when some Penzance antiquarians visited in April 1889, their report of the visit said, "The burial ground adjoining the church the vicar described as the freest in all England, for anyone might be buried there with any rites, Christian or otherwise" (Journal of Penzance Natural History and Antiquarian Society 1889, page 111). He was presumably referring unflatteringly to the unconsecrated part of the cemetery and perhaps also expressing an oblique resentment about the Burial Laws Amendment Act of 1880 which allowed non-Anglicans to conduct a burial in the parish churchyard. Previously only Anglican priests could do this even if the deceased was, for example, a Methodist.

Mortuary Chapel

A mortuary chapel was built in the new Western Cemetery for the Nonconformist Christians. The chapel was the dying wish of a local Methodist, Richard Perry, who put up the money for it. Perry died in 1878 and by March 1879 the chapel was completed and the vestry recorded a minute thanking Perry posthumously for it (Cornishman 18 July 1878, Cornish Telegraph 1 April 1879). C. Praed added to the money from Perry for building the chapel (Cornishman 3 April 1879). A mortuary chapel was built in the new Western Cemetery for the Nonconformist Christians. The chapel was the dying wish of a local Methodist, Richard Perry, who put up the money for it. Perry died in 1878 and by March 1879 the chapel was completed and the vestry recorded a minute thanking Perry posthumously for it (Cornishman 18 July 1878, Cornish Telegraph 1 April 1879). C. Praed added to the money from Perry for building the chapel (Cornishman 3 April 1879). There is also a note in the burial register that explains that the inscription on the mortuary chapel "is incorrect." The note, signed by Tyacke, the vicar, and two churchwardens and dated 2 January 1880, continues: "The money was not all provided by the late R Perry. The sum left by him would not have erected such a building as the Trustees could have permitted and the balance to make the fabric sufficient they were given by C. T. Praed..."

In 1909 the chapel was enlarged at a cost of £69 (St Ives Weekly Summary 3 April 1909). In 1914 the parish council minutes record that the burial trustees could get a new mortuary bell (Lelant parish council minute book 15 April 1914, CRO B/St Ives 13. Much later electric radiators were put in to heat it, the first time the chapel was heated (St Ives Times and Echo 25 September 1987).

The religious disputes of the nineteenth century involved the stone crosses around the church. The article The stones of Lelant explains the disposition of those crosses that are in the burial grounds.

Southern cemetery

Within thirty years of the western cemetery's opening, the church vestry expressed concern that the Anglican part was "rapidly filling up" and tried to tackle this by raising the burial fees for those unconnected with Lelant from £2 to £5 (St Ives Weekly Summary 17 April and 1 May 1909).

Another burial ground was subsequently opened immediately south of the old churchyard. This was consecrated on 10 December 1935 (CRO P 120/2/36) and the earliest visible grave here is dated 1938.

This southern burial ground has a memorial bench with two plates commemorating Jim Gage and Margaret Davies.


The burial grounds were at the centre of two distressing events in the nineteenth century. In the article Victorian justice in Lelant I explain the taking of flowers from a grave in 1879 and the vicar's response. Six years earlier a report in the Cornish Telegraph of 18 July 1873 commented acidly on an unsavoury incident in the original churchyard:

"Since the burial of a little child, who was a member of the church choir, her friends have been in the habit of placing flowers on her grave. Much annoyance has been given to these persons by some 'enlightened Protestants' (as they call themselves) who have discovered a new mare's nest, viz, the placing of flowers on a child's grave is popish! Some of these...on Sunday last, in the course of the afternoon, destroyed all the flowers and tore up and defaced the surface of the grave. A reward will be given to anyone who will give such information as will lead to the conviction of these ignorant bigots." The editor, clearly disbelieving, asked "Is our correspondent sure that the desecration was not the mischievous action of boys or the thoughtless deed of children..."

In the St Uny's burial register the vicar recorded his concern and relief, "On September 7 1880 the Churchyard Desecration Act came in force, thank God... RF Tyacke, September 18 1880."

Additional sources

Closure of churchyard September 1876: CRO P 120/2/29
Lelant Burial Trust, deed of constitution 1877: CRO P 120/24/1