Lelant parish council 1894-1934
© Maxwell Adams 2003
Version 30 January 2009
For nearly forty years, from December 1894 to the spring of 1934, Lelant had its own parish council. This covered a much larger area than the present village, stretching into Carbis Bay and into the countryside. In this article I shall focus on the village of Lelant and not the wider parish.
The two Minute Books of the Council have survived and are in the County Record Office. In recording the Council's debates and decisions they tell a story that is occasionally exciting and that inadvertently reveals much about the geography and life of the village a century ago though there are details that the Minute Books often tantalisingly leave out.
The Minute Books are handwritten but, unlike many handwritten records, are easily decipherable. In them you will find details about the War Memorial, the troubled departure of the first parish clerk, suggestions as long ago as 1898 for a village recreation ground, the advent of street lighting, the closing of the well at Lelant Cross, the Dead House, the problems with the refuse, "overcrowding" and "the need of working class houses for Lelant village," and schoolchildren throwing stones at notice boards. Some things don't really change: a hundred years ago in 1895 the Council was worried about the "scarcity of water in the village."
At the start the parish councillors fell into squabbles. Can you believe that the Council and Mr Tyacke, the vicar of Lelant, rowed over who should have custody of the old parish minute book? This ill-tempered dispute rumbled on for months and at one point the Council more or less apologised to the vicar for some unguarded comments. Eventually, after others had been dragged in, custody was given to the Council. The secular parish council only came into being in 1894 and I suppose they were anxious to establish themselves as the parish's voice in place of the previous "council," the church vestry. The irony is that the old book seems to have disappeared.
For years the Council even squabbled over where they should meet. It reads like a silly game of schoolboys. The Council served the village of Lelant and the surrounding rural area. At their very first meeting just before Christmas 1894 they decided to meet alternately at the Church of England school in Church Road, Lelant and at the board school at Trevarrack (now the Tyringham Arms). One was in the centre of the population and one was in the more geographical centre. It sounds sensible, doesn't it? It was obviously too sensible. Even at that first meeting some councillors wished all the meetings to be at Trevarrack and they kept trying. Eventually in 1899 they won the vote: all meetings were to be at Trevarrack. The village members bided their time and then two years later the Council voted to have all the meetings at Lelant. Next year they voted to meet alternately. Then only at Trevarrack.. Then they decided to have two meetings at Trevarrack for every one at Lelant. A decade later the councillors were still battling. In 1913 they voted for all meetings at Trevarrack. In 1914 for all meetings at Lelant. As Europe slid toward World War I, Lelant Parish Council fought their own little war. They even moved the village map between the wall at Lelant Church School and the wall at Trevarrack. Partly it was geography: councillors who lived in the village and councillors who lived in the countryside tended to take different views as to where they should meet, with some councillors taking a broader view. However, I wonder how far this was an unspoken religious war between Anglican and Nonconformist Christians?
Sometimes the squabbles were melodramatic. In the summer of 1898 the Council was told that one of its members, Thomas Treweeke, was an undischarged bankrupt and therefore disqualified as a councillor. The councillor was at the meeting and responded warmly to this, saying that he wasn't disqualified and threatening to take action against anyone who voted against him. Letters from an official receiver and the county clerk were read. Harsh words were exchanged. There had been some sort of difficulty at the Clerk's house too. In the end they voted to declare his seat vacant. At the next meeting there was an unsuccessful attempt to overset the decision. The Minute Book suggests that this meeting was disorderly, with the now ex-councillor, who was present, frequently interfering and being threatened at one time by the Chairman with ejection by a policeman who was also present.
That appears to have blown over but five years later banter among councillors discussing footpaths and beating the bounds deteriorated into disorder which led the Chairman to ask one councillor to leave the meeting. The Clerk records baldly: "to which he asked who was going to put him out and that it would take a better man than him the Chairman."
The Minute Books record complaint after complaint by the Council. Their relationship with the then district council was always difficult and often disputatious. They complained about the colour of the signposts (called "directing posts"). The complained about visitors removing fern plants. In 1913 they complained about "the ever increasing traffic especially the motorcars," and the next year about "the speed of motor traffic through the village." They complained about the state of the roads: for example, the first complaint they made about Church Road appears to have been in 1898 and they were still complaining about the road in 1931. They even disputed about the "class of stone" that was used on the roads. They wrangled inconclusively for years about various water schemes for Lelant and Carbis Bay and the cost to the ratepayers. They complained about the way refuse was dumped on the Saltings. They complained about the state of the wall of Trendreath Chapel. For four years in the 1920s they complained about the infringement of a right of way over Lelant Quay but nothing seems to have happened in the end.
Broadly, the parish council had the power to talk but not the power to act, and I suspect that this partly explains the depressingly negative tone that pervades the Minute Books. Had the Council had the power to do much more they would probably have been much more positive and effective. What I see from reading the Minutes are an unattractive querulousness and pettiness at times, a Council with a largely provincial cast of mind, and often an ineffective pursuit of the trivial. Nevertheless, all this might well be seen as in fact a serious concern for the community. Undoubtedly the councillors did see it that way though we cannot now know their minds and motivations; we can only read the limited records and reflect. It is difficult to find a record in the Minutes of anything much that pleased the Council. An exception is Brewery Shoot which Councillor Millett congratulated in 1901 as a "great boon" during a water crisis. Incidentally, the Shoot is still there. It would be good now to mark it with an identifying plaque.
There is cause for depression for local historians too. The first Minute Book has at the back an inventory of parish documents that were in the custody of the Council. As early as April 1898, only three and a half years after their establishment, they decided to destroy some old documents as "useless." In 1913 the Minute Book records further vandalism by the Council. The Council decided that some should "go through the books in the cupboard and burn the one that they thought was of no use." Subsequent minutes do not record any report from the burning party so we cannot know what was destroyed then or indeed in the next two decades. We can only ask plaintively, Where are the documents about the celebrations of the jubilees of 1887 and 1897, and the papers about the reception of Lelanters returning from the Boer War? All these once were in the Parish Council's care. All now seem lost and do not appear to be with the County Record Office.
For us, however, looking at the history of our village, there are some positive things in the Minute Books. There are references to Skidney Lane, Sea Lane, and Ann John's Lane (all of which we can identify) and to long-gone wells. Brewery Shoot and Lelant Quay mattered. The absence of any reference to Brewery Quay, though, suggests that by then it had more or less disappeared. To my pleasure, I saw people sunbathing on the sands of its ruins this summer. Does not this site also deserve an identifying plaque? There was, and perhaps still is, a village charity, the Polglase Bequest. In 1898 John Polglase left £200, the annual income from which was to be given to the poor of the village who stood "most in need." Every year, usually just before Christmas, the Council drew up a list of villagers who were, as the Minutes of 1904 put it, "the deserving poor," and gave them the money. Their names and the amounts received are recorded. The first distribution gave them a shilling each. In 1934 between six and ten shillings was given to each of them. Polglase had apparently for some years before his death given a present at Christmas and at Lelant Feast to poor Lelant villagers. Who now remembers this benefactor's name? Who now honours him? Perhaps a road or lane in the village could be named after him?
Incidentally, around Christmas 1925 something unsavoury was going on in Skidney Lane. The Minutes are extremely circumspect as though the Clerk had neither the language nor the taste to record the details. The sanitary inspector went round and sorted out the problem whatever it was. In Jonathan Holmes's book St Ives Bay I recently saw a picture of "Lelant Fair" that used to be held on 15 August in Church Road, on the grassy bank by the Church and down towards the old Towan Farm. This fair moved in the mid-1930s to the western end of the village because of the traffic. However, the Minute Books show that the fair was originally held at Lelant Cross (the roads near the Badger) and moved to Church Road, probably in 1901, because of the traffic. Actually, "fair" seems to be a glamorously misleading word to describe the event for those of us used to modern funfairs. But all is not lost. Now every summer there is the Produce Society show at the village hall and St Uny's Church raises funds through a village garden visiting scheme. In the 1990s there was a Lelant Tory fete at The Plantation, and a fete for St Uny's Church at Littlewood. The last two are very close to the fair site in Church Road, the show not far from Lelant Cross.
Perhaps the railway station gates best symbolise the parish council's story. In 1899 the gates at the station leading to the slipway (easily now mistaken for merely a broken effluent pipe) were found locked by workmen putting up telephone wires and could not be opened. It was a right of way on to the sands. The Council began an annual inspection of the gates to ensure that the gates could be opened and that the right of way was protected. The inspection became almost an office of the Council. Today you will look in vain for the gates which exercised parochial minds for three decades. Now there are stiles and an unattractive wire fence but you can still see the stone gate posts. It is difficult, looking at the fence and stiles today, and the absence of gates, to remember that for years councillors walked down here, solemnly inspected the gates, solemnly reported back to the Council, and the Parish Clerk solemnly recorded it all in the Minutes. It mattered to them then.
So who were these councillors whose minds and concerns are shown in the Minute Books? Well, all of them were men from the beginning in 1894 to the end. By the time the Council came to an end sixty years ago we had women in Parliament and had had a woman in the Cabinet but not a woman parish councillor in Lelant.
There were eleven parish councillors and the Minute Books only record their election by show of hands at the annual parish meeting. Often there were only eleven candidates anyway. Their names are recorded, along with some of their addresses and jobs. They were mainly farmers or middling people like auctioneers and merchants. The working class didn't get their houses and by and large didn't get to be parish councillors either. The majority was usually from outside the village. In the early years meeting after meeting was inquorate with no business transacted. In the end they pragmatically reduced the quorum and the frequency of meetings. But "the past is a foreign country" and getting to meetings was not easy along unlit and poor roads. In 1913, for example, they resolved that winter meetings should be held on "the nearest Monday to the full moon." No doubt their way was lit and perhaps their minds were too.
At the end they appear to have simply given in. In 1931 they were told by the County Council of a scheme to incorporate Lelant Parish into the Borough of St Ives (and Ludgvan). They were asked if they wished to make any representations. The Minute Book suggests that they said and did nothing with effect to keep the separate parish council but apparently gave in without a real fight: "after a long discussion," Lelant Parish Council told the County Council that "they had no alternative scheme." It does not give us their reasoning or even record any regrets at the Council's going. Three years later, with neither a bang nor a whimper, they were abolished. At their last meeting on 28 March 1934 at Trevarrack School they signed their names in the Minute Book, showing some commendable sense of history, and made their very last decision which was - to inspect the Station gates.
Cornish Telegraph 30 January 1896 reports on the bankruptcy case of Thomas Henry Treweeke at Truro. He had been unsuccessful in mining and flower-growing businesses. "He lost everything and his health broke down twelve months ago." See this article about him on the website.
The Housing and Town Planning Act 1919 gave subsidies to councils for building council housing.
Lelant Parish Council Minute Books 1894-1934, Cornwall County Record Office, B/St Ives 12 and B/St Ives 13. There is a summary of the minutes on the website.