Lelant Methodism

© Maxwell Adams 2005

Version: 18 December 2003

There were two Methodist chapels in Lelant village, a Wesleyan and a Primitive Methodist one. Neither building is today used as a chapel. The Primitive chapel is the village hall and the Wesleyan chapel is now a private house.

For, oh, two hundred years the two chapels at Lelant were important in the lives of many of the villagers here. In these chapels many individual Lelanters perhaps found in their religion the strength to get on with the hard slog of daily living while waiting for justice to roll down like waters. In the Lelant chapels, too, they found enjoyment in company and in the little, narrow pleasures of a village. Administrative records of the chapels over the years, along with some baptism registers, have survived and are at Cornwall Record Office. From these we know, for example, the names and worldly jobs of some of these early Lelant Methodists, ordinary working people mostly, tin miners and artisans and farmers and labourers. Additionally, Cedric Appleby has detailed much of the knowledge of Methodism in Lelant in his invaluable unpublished essay Some glimpses into the history of Lelant Methodist Church [Appleby 1984].

Most of what we know is about the chapels rather than the lives of the Methodist Lelanters. We know most about the Wesleyan chapel and only a little about the Primitive Methodists in the village. We know little about the religious life of individual Lelant Methodists and nothing of their inner lives; the records are of them as a group in group activities.

Religion is a chiaroscuro story, spurring individuals differently. One local story from the 1930s shows how religious fervour can sometimes be destructive of generous impulses. Harry Coulam (from Lelant but then living in Plymouth and visiting the village) was walking to Hayle along the Causeway when he was picked up by Nat Beckerleg in his pony and trap. When Nat discovered in the ensuing conversation that Harry was no longer a Methodist local preacher but now a Unitarian, he told him to get out of the cart as "I only give lifts to Methodists" [Wills 1996]

It is notable that in the nineteenth century in Lelant women, as well as providing food and drink for Methodists parties, usually called teas or picnics, played a large part in the activities of the chapels, though not as leaders.

Early days

Charles Wesley first crossed the River Hayle on 15 July 1743 and probably passed through Lelant on his way to St Ives although he does not mention the village in his account of this journey. John Wesley visited Lelant several times. I have put a list of the visits of the Wesleys to Lelant at the end of this article.

We do not know when the first Methodist group of worshippers was formed but the earliest written reference to a possible Methodist 'chapel' in Lelant is in 1766. John Wesley records in his Journal that on 10 September "the rain drove us into the house." What is meant by "house"? We cannot be sure but it might have been a meeting house, that is a regular meeting place specially for worship in Lelant village, or a Lelant Methodist's home used for worship. We do not know how old its use was at this time.

The earliest record of a Methodist religious society, an organised group of worshippers, at Lelant is 1767, though there might have been one here earlier. There is a record of the names of the people associated with this Lelant Methodist society at July 1767 [CRO AD 350].

There is a deed of 17 May 1791 for a "Lelant Preaching House" [Appleby 1984]. This is about an expired lease on land on which, the deed says, had been "lately created...a Methodist Preaching House." The house was built on land known as "Peters." This might be the 1766 house that Wesley took shelter in from the rain if twenty five years is seen as "lately." The deed says the lately created house was fifty six feet long and twenty six feet in breadth. These measurements are remarkably similar to those of the Primitive chapel rebuilt in 1859: perhaps we are looking at the same site. It was on a ninety nine year or three lives lease. In 1795 the Anglican authorities granted a licence to a Lelant Methodist meeting house and John Glasson, John Cundy, Sampson Hoskin, and William Allen are named on it [Probert 1961, 63]. Thus we can be sure that by the end of the eighteenth century there was a Methodist chapel in Lelant; there might have been one thirty or more years before but we cannot be sure of that.

In 1821 Cornelius Cardew, the vicar of Lelant, said there were two Methodist meeting houses in Lelant parish, the parish being more than just the village [Cook 1956, 86]. The 1820/38 map of the village marks at the site of the present village hall a preaching house, and the map schedule records that the former tenant was Sampson and the present tenant is now William Chellew [Moody/Rutger 1820/38].

The membership records that have survived show that the early Methodists in Lelant were ordinary working people. From the start the numbers of members fluctuated over the years, but was around two dozen or so most of the time. Many lived far out of the village and eventually they built chapels at the hamlets outside Lelant such as Polpeor and Lelant Downs.

Methodism became a separate church from the Anglicans after John Wesley's death in 1791 but before that the Methodists often attended Anglican services. The vicar of Lelant at the time (who was also vicar and St Ives and Towednack), William Symonds, was fiercely opposed to Methodism and denounced it so perhaps Methodists did not go to his services.

In Victorian Lelant people at the two chapels embraced teetotallism and a village Band of Hope and organisation of Rechabites were based around them, though Wesleyan Methodism did not officially accept teetotallism until the 1870s. Absent from the Lelant Methodist records is any vigorous involvement in politics except for the snug tepidity of the parish council and street lighting committee, though perhaps it is the record that is absent rather than the involvement. In the first half of the nineteenth century Cornish Methodists, unlike Protestants elsewhere in England, appear not to have embraced democratic politics. From what we know of the story of chartists in the west Cornwall in 1839 and the next decade, Methodist leaders at any rate opposed political and social reform [Adams 2000]. Opposition to Catholic emancipation, opposition to chartism, and opposition to Charles Bradlaugh's membership of the House of Commons is a reactionary record. In Lelant, as in Cornwall generally, the ordinary early Methodists seem to have acquiesced in their earthly miseries, looking only to an afterlife for justice though we simply do not know what they privately thought about the issues of the day and the issues that have always taxed people. Lelant individuals like Edward Mitchell did play a part in the local Liberal Party [St Ives Weekly Times 21 November 1903] and there is evidence of a strong link between Liberalism and Methodists in the area in the second half of the century.

Lelant Primitive Methodist Chapel

After John Wesley's death Methodists split into various groups and one of these was the Primitive Methodists.

In 1829 Joseph Grieves, a Methodist minister, brought Primitive Methodism to St Ives. Exactly when Primitive Methodism was established at Lelant is unknown but in 1833 they propagandised in Lelant and in 1834 they bought a chapel in Fore Street from the Wesleyan Methodists who were moving to a grander building at Trendreath in the south of the village. Driffield [cited in Probert, undated] records that the Primitive Methodists opened their ex-Wesleyan chapel on 14 December 1834.

Primitive Methodism tended to appeal to working class people and many of the members of Lelant chapel would be miners from the rural part of the parish. The 1851 religious census reported that there was no service in the morning. Afternoon attendance was twenty, with no Sunday scholars. Evening attendance was one hundred and forty, with no Sunday scholars. The chapel said that it had made no count at the date of the census so the numbers were "as correct as our memory enables." The absence of any specific provision for young people pointed to eventual failure.

By 1859 the chapel building was run down. It was demolished and on 31 May a new foundation stone was laid. A sealed bottle with administrative and religious information was put under the stone [Probert, undated]. Relations with the Wesleyans must have been cordial because they had a celebratory tea at their chapel at the other end of the village. The Primitive one was opened on 15 December 1859. It cost 210 and Probert says that Messrs Hall and Son gave the glass, Mrs Beckerlegge the pulpit cushion, Mrs Harris the hymn book, Mrs R Hampton the coconut matting for the aisles and the carpet for the pulpit stairs, and others gave the harmonium.

This new Primitive chapel was forty eight feet long, twenty five feet wide, and twenty feet high. The basic measurements and shape remain in the present village hall but there have been some architectural changes. The original chapel had a gallery above the entrance door on Fore Street. Probert says that the gallery was removed as unsafe in 1902 but Dorothy Meade recalls that at least part of it still existed after that, writing that the village brass band kept their instruments "beneath the gallery that was then in place by the entrance" [Meade 1972]. The pulpit was at the end farthest from the door.

In 1888 the Primitive Methodist chapel had six members but presumably more worshippers. It closed in 1909, presumably because its membership had shrunk away. I have not found any account of the closure.

The local newspapers from time to time report the activities of the Primitive Methodists of Lelant and give the names of the villagers involved with the Chapel. These are bare accounts and tell us nothing of the careful pleasures that must have been experienced.

On the evening of Whit Monday 1876 there was a lecture on self-government at the chapel whereas at the Anglican National School the same evening there was "song, jest, and farce" [Cornish Telegraph 13 June 1876]. This shows a lasting division in the interests of people. In the end the jesters won and the earnest and solemn chapels and churches closed or dwindled.

In autumn 1896 there was a harvest festival and the names of several people involved in the various activities are mentioned: J Howes, John Nankervis, Mrs Woodward, Mrs Williams, Mrs Nelson, Mrs Nankervis, Mrs Hicks, Miss BH Hawes, Miss M Hawes, Miss R Whatty, and Miss M Whatty [Cornish Telegraph 8 October 1896]. John Nankervis, who played the organ at that harvest festival Sunday evening service, was a prominent Methodist in Lelant and a grocer. His daughter married William John Polglase who kept the shop in Tyringham Road after Nankervis gave up. Nankervis died 1919.

In June 1901 the Primitive Methodists, who had been collecting for the past few weeks, gave a tea and entertainment to the poor and the children. The tea was held in a field lent by William Olds and was followed by games. Towednack Band played [St Ives Weekly Summary 22 June 1901]. In November 1901 there was an anniversary tea with Mr J Harry presiding and a choir under the direction of Miss N Andrew [Cornish Telegraph 27 November 1901].

While the National School was being altered it met at the Primitive Methodist chapel from 14 May 1893 at a rent of 1 a month. The school reopened in its Church Road building on 3 December 1893 [Minutes of the Managers CRO ].

When Charles Burt, who had been the Lelant postmaster, died in 1902 he was described as a Primitive Methodist local preacher, class leader, and steward [St Ives Weekly Summary 3 May 1902].

Lelant Wesleyan Chapel

We do not know when the Wesleyans built their first chapel, the one the Primitive Methodists demolished in 1859. In 1834 they moved from that old one and built a new one at Trendreath at the southern end of the village. This followed one of the periodic upsurges of religious emotion and commitment, called revivals by the churches, with consequent increased membership, in 1832. Membership (distinct from worshippers, most of whom were not members) was clearly volatile and fluctuated vastly: in 1834 there were 171 members (including some in other Lelant rural chapels), in 1838 it was down to 140, and in 1839 up to 348. The 1851 religious census reported a morning attendance of fifty three, plus sixty three Sunday scholars; and an evening attendance of two hundred. There were no afternoon services. The chapel said that the numbers had been counted. If the adult attendance figures for both chapels are added together, and the figures for St Uny's church put in too, they come to 553. Even with unknown duplications and doubts about both the reliability of figures and the representativeness of the figures for the census Sunday, they mean that many adult villagers were at Christian services. Many were not, of course. The chapels and St Uny's church also ran apparently well-attended Sunday schools for the young.

The Wesleyan chapel had many activities for its adherents and these are discussed in the article on this website, Organisations in Lelant.

About the structure of the chapel, we know much. Appleby suggests that at first there was probably a lime-ash floor, a gallery, but not a rostrum for the preacher. There might have been a small pulpit. The chapel was lit by candles. A harmonium to accompany the singing was acquired before 1862. Probert says the ten commandments and the Lord's prayer were painted in 1896 on the wall at the front of the chapel [Probert 1962, 126].

The building was topped by a bell turret with a clock. We do not know whether the first turret was built with the 1834 chapel or later. The clock was originally inside the gable of the chapel but was later put on the turret and it was troublous:

"Our village boasts of a clock which ought to give people the right time, but it is worse than useless because it varies from twenty minutes slow to about the same time fast! At present and for some days, it has been fifteen minutes behind the proper time, and not only is it likely to lead people astray who have to catch the train, but also to give rise to irreverent jokes. The clock is on the Wesleyan Chapel" [Cornishman 13 February 1879].

A quarter of a century later H Edmonds, a chapel trustee, was collecting money for the clock which had been "idle for some years" [St Ives Weekly Summary 24 June 1905]. Later, Charlie Gregory used a bone from his mother's corset to mend the clock, and no doubt there were more irreverent jokes [Tonks 1996].

Kathleen Gregory says that eventually the clock could no longer be repaired and the bell turret became unsafe and was dismantled in the 1950s [Gregory 1995]. The clock, or at any rate its face, is still there in its small tower.

In 1869 the chapel was renovated for 50. A desk for the minister was put in and a new communion table with a rail. Additionally, the outside was painted, a new and more elaborate bell turret was erected, and the clock dial gilded.

The last years of the nineteenth century and the early ones of the twentieth were confident days for the Wesleyans and in 1893 a new Sunday school extension was begun; it was opened in March the next year. In 1923 the harmonium was replaced with a pipe organ which cost 450 and electric lighting put in. Electric heating was put in about 1934. The first organist was S Cleve of Hayle who was succeeded in 1937 by Kathleen Gregory of Lannant, Lelant. She was paid 12 a year on appointment.

There were intermittent revivals. For example, John Hosking, a Methodist minister from Montana, who originally came from Lelant, ran a mission in the chapel at the beginning of the twentieth century [Cornish Telegraph 20 January 1904].

There was a fortunate escape in 1911 when a beam beneath the gallery floor caught fire because it was too near a flue. The chapel was found full of smoke [Cornishman 11 February 1911].

The Methodists and Anglicans held some joint events. This was a change from Victorian animosities: for example, in 1881 the Anglican vicar barred two young Lelant sons of a widow from the St Uny's Sunday school tea because they had been on a picnic organised by the Wesleyans [Cornish Telegraph 29 September 1881 page 8].

Some Lelant children were baptised at the Wesleyan chapel; and apparently some marriages were celebrated there too, for example that of James Old and Edith Pearce in August 1903 [St Ives Weekly Summary 15 August 1903].

After these days of glory the numbers shrank as the chapel experienced the decline in worshippers that affected much of Christianity in Britain. When the chapel closed in 1988, three years after the hundred and fiftieth anniversary, there were ten members: Ivan Gregory (society steward), Kathleen Gregory of Lannant (organist and treasurer), Peggy Watson (secretary), Frank Gregory, Morwenna Gregory, Joan Gregory, Hilda Stevens, Kathleen Gregory of Chapel Cottages (caretaker), Margaret Courtice, and Cyril Hawes. Some of the chapel furnishings went to Carbis Bay chapel.

The chapel Sunday school room had already been let from June 1981 for seven years for an annual rent of 500 to McMullen who had an upholstery business.

The chapel was sold by auction on 19 February 1988 at the Badger, Lelant. Penwith district council had granted planning consent for its conversion to a house on 24 November the previous year. The chapel was bought by Studio Operations South West for a film studio and residential film school, but that did not flourish. The next years saw chapels all over Cornwall close as the number of Methodists dropped.

In her reminiscences Kathleen Gregory of Lannant emphasises the importance of music and choir, which numbered about thirty across the vocal range when she joined in 1927, and the celebration in May of the chapel anniversary. Interestingly she says that the chapel made much of the weekend of St Uny's feast, with services and a concert, something earlier Methodists would never have done. She warmly remembers the quartet of Gregory brothers who sang well [Gregory 1995].

The Wesleys at Lelant
Information from their journals and John Wesley's Sermon register:

Charles Wesley passed through Lelant on his way to St Ives, July 1743. John Wesley passed through later that year.

John Wesley preached at Lelant, all in September:1755, 1757, 1760, 1762, 1765, 1766.


Records of the Lelant Methodist chapels at Cornwall Record Office (CRO):

Lelant Primitive Methodists

Baptism register of Primitive Methodists of St Ives Circuit (includes entries for Lelant) for 1832-1866, MR/I/140
Baptism register of Primitive Methodists of St Ives Circuit (includes entries for Lelant) for 1866-1924, MR/I/141
Preachers' plan for Primitive Methodists of St Ives Circuit (includes entries Lelant) for 1865-1866, MR/I/135
Preachers' plan for Primitive Methodists of St Ives Circuit (includes entries for Lelant) for 1898, MR/I/136
Plan for Primitive Methodists of St Ives Circuit (includes Lelant) for June-September 1898, MR/IHY/417
1861 return of Primitive chapel attendance at Lelant at myprimitivemethodist.org.uk

Lelant Wesleyan Methodists

Baptism Register of Wesleyan Chapel, Trendreath, Lelant for 1906-1977, MR/IHY/416
Closure and sale of Trendreath Chapel for 1985-1988, MR/IHY/529
Wesley Guild Minutes for 1924-1927, 1932-1941, and 1942-1954, MR/I/56-58
Wesley Guild membership book for 1937-1945, MR/I/59
Wesley Guild account book for 1940-1956, MR/I/60
Trustees of St Ives (Wesleyan) Circuit (includes Lelant) for 1939-1976, MR/IHY/50
Lease of land in Lelant in 1834 (lists names of trustees of Lelant Wesleyan chapel and gives details of the plot), MR/IHY/93

ADAMS (2000) 'Mad dogs and mackerels: chartism at St Ives' in St Ives Times and Echo 11 February 2000

APPLEBY Cedric (1984) Some glimpses into the history of Lelant Methodist Church Manuscript at RIC

COOK Michael (1956) The diocese of Exeter in 1821: Volume I Cornwall Devon and Cornwall Record Society

GREGORY Kathleen (1995) Remembering Lelant Chapel 1927 onwards CRO AD 1102/4. This was published in St Ives Times and Echo 5 January 1996.

MEADE Dorothy (1972) Lelant that was: 1909 onwards CRO AD 1102/3

Minutes of the managers of Lelant National School 1869-1911 CRO DDP/120/2/50

MOODY/RUTGER (1820/38) Maps and book of tenants etc for the Praed Trevethow Estate, includes Lelant (Original maps made by Charles Moody in 1820; this a copy by I Rutger in 1838), AKH Jenkin Collection, RIC HJ 5/4a, 4b (Royal Institution of Cornwall)

PROBERT JCC (1961) 'Methodist meeting house licences extracted from Anglican sources' in the Journal of the Cornish Methodist Historical Society, May 1961, 63. Licence of 15 November 1795 (Devon Record Office).

PROBERT John CC (1962) 'Cornish chapels: comments on architecture and arrangement' in the Journal of Cornish Methodist Historical Association, October 1962, 126

PROBERT John CC (undated) Primitive Methodism in Cornwall Cornish Methodist Historical Society. In a letter to me in April 1996 Probert identified the sources of information in this book about Lelant Primitive Methodist Chapel: the Journal of WM Driffield is in a "private collection in the USA. I used a transcript. Neither would be easily available now. I used all in my book... Primitive Methodist Magazine 1859 page 502, 1860...Document MR/I/139 in the [CRO]. Also other Primitive records there."

TONKS Peter (1996): talk given to Lelant History Society, February 1996

WILLS Mary: oral reminiscence told to Maxwell Adams in 1996