Tithe barn at Lelant?

Maxwell Adams 2004-2007

Version: 3 February 2007

Today we enjoy the sand hills and the links at Lelant but in the seventeenth century the sand was encroaching on Lelant destructively. St Uny's church officials wrote despairingly in their terrier of 1679 that Thomas Corey, a previous vicar, had some years earlier been driven out by the blown sand which had completely covered the vicarage house and about twenty acres of fields making up the Lelant glebe, the land belonging to the vicar.

The vicar of Lelant, St Ives, and Towednack left Lelant and went to live in St Ives. In 1835 a new vicarage was built in Lelant: it is the house that has in the past sixty years been known variously as Brush End and Chy Coth and now the Old Vicarage.

As you go through Lelant and pass the drive to Brush End, now the name of the settlement rather than one house, look at the little and overgrown track a few yards up the hill. This is what we now call Skidney Lane, called by villagers Skidden Widden Lane and Skiddeny Widdeny Lane in late Victorian and Edwardian times (Hosking 1905), and it is around here that the story focuses.

We have two detailed maps of Lelant in the early nineteenth century, the tithe map of about 1839, which you can see on paper at Cornwall Record Office in Truro and on fiche at the local studies library in Redruth, and a set of maps of some Praed/Tyringham lands drawn in 1820 by Charles Moody. What we actually have at the Royal Institution of Cornwall is not the 1820 original but an excellent paper copy of the set made in 1838 by I. Rutger. Both tithe and Moody/Rutger maps give a number to each field and many other features and these are explained, with the names of the fields and of the owners and occupiers, in reference books at the archives. The tithe map reference book is called the apportionment book and there is a copy at the Royal Institution of Cornwall and the Cornwall Record Office and fiches at Redruth. The reference book at the Royal Institution of Cornwall to the 1820/38 maps was written in 1838, though it is presumably a copy of one made when the maps were first drawn, and we are unsure of its authorship. Taken together the books and maps lead us to an exciting possibility.

We do not know where exactly the disappeared vicarage house was though its destruction by sand means that clearly it was near St Uny's church and the present sand. The tithe apportionment book identifies the area around and beyond the present house Tregilly in Green Lane as the "Old Glebe." This name Old Glebe occurs in that vicinity in the Victorian censuses for 1841-61 too. I think we can see here a remnant of the previous occupation by Corey and his predecessors.

Back to Skidney Lane. An area near here is marked glebe and vicarial glebe on the Moody/Rutger map for Lelant village. It looks as though new glebe was established on land after the old was lost to the sand: but when exactly? We cannot be sure and the tithe map and apportionment, which come very shortly after the building of the new vicarage, do not help us with this question. However, the Moody/Rutger map predates the new vicarage and that timing suggests the new glebe fields were established by or before 1820 when the map was first drawn. The Rutger copy-map of 1838 appears to be a faithful copy of Moody's map of Lelant in 1820 without additions. We know that Tyringham Place was built in 1835 (there's a date plaque on it) and on the 1838 Rutger copy-map at the Royal Institution of Cornwall these houses appear not as part of the map but only as a hand-drawn pencil addition along with the cottage on the towans which grew into the golf club buildings. It looks therefore as though the new vicarage was built in an area already associated with the church through established new glebe lands.

The Moody/Rutger map marks eight fields hereabouts as "Glebe" and "Vicarial glebe"and some of these fields are named in the reference book as Higher Skipper Widden (page 26, item 140), Near Skipper Widden (26, 145), Skibor Widden (27,137), and Skibber Widden (45, 144). Adjoining is a field called Park Skiber (25, 138), part of a collection called Park-an-Skiber. The tithe map does not mark these as new glebe lands but the tithe apportionment book names fields here as Skibber Whidden (two fields with the same name, RIC tithe apportionment book page 79, field numbers 1122 and 1175), Higher Skibber Whidden (79, 1123), and Near Skibber Whidden (79, 1174), all of which it describes as "glebe" belonging to Uriah Tonkin, the vicar. Additionally the tithe apportionment book identifies Park Skiber (two fields with the same name, 25, 1202 and 1203) and Park Skiber Orchard (25, 1206). Some of the glebe fields were owned by the vicar and some by Praed/Tyringham.

Let me sum up so far. Around Skidney Lane we have church glebe land and in that place we have several fields named "Skibor Widden" or a close variation.

What does "Skibor Widden" mean?

I asked Laurence Rule, one of a group of Cornish language bards who meet regularly to discuss Cornish under the guidance of George Ansell - himself a former Grand Bard. He explained that these names were all versions of the Cornish "skiber wynn." Skiber simply means barn. Wynn is derived from the Cornish gwynn, which loses the "g" by mutation after feminine nouns like skiber. There was a change in the sixteenth century whereby a "d" sound was inserted in words ending in "n" so that wynn became wydn or widden. It was at this time that Penn Olva in St Ives came to be pronounced as Pedn Olva. As Cornish fell into disuse from the middle of the eighteenth century people forgot the meaning of placenames and all sorts of odd changes were made and this explains the other versions in the field names.

The common meaning of gwynn is white but as in English there are other meanings beyond the colour. Gwynn can mean fair in colour or fortunate or even blessed - in Cornish the Blessed Virgin Mary is Maria Wynn.

Although barns were not two a penny in Lelant, I think we can reasonably say that the barn (skiber) that probably stood around here was of particular significance to have given its name to so many fields. Barns are infrequently painted white so I think we have to look to the other meanings of gwidden.

Ah, blessed. We have a reference then to possibly a "blessed barn" in an area of glebe land at Lelant. George Ansell has suggested that this could well mean a tithe barn, the place where the tithes of crops that the villagers had in the past to give to the vicar were stored. Such a barn would certainly have been significant to the tithe-giving villagers and would probably have given its name to the surrounding area. Its existence might well have influenced the building of the new vicarage house in the area.

It is a perfectly reasonable in to equate "skiber wynn" with "tithe barn" in Cornish, although it is not what a Cornish speaker would expect at first sight. It may be that Lelant, which has thrown up the unique 1830 waywarden stone, has also given us a tantalising clue to the former whereabouts of the tithe barn and, importantly, the Cornish phrase for it.

Notes and sources

George Ansell's advanced class in the Cornish language, and especially Laurence Rule, without whose help this article could not have been written though the conclusions are my responsibility.

In the St Uny's baptism register there are two references to what I think are the old glebe and vicarage which were near the present house Tregilly. In August 1826 the register records a brewer at "Vicarage" and in December 1839 a mason at "Old vicarage." This latter family in the 1841 census is living at "Old Glebe." These entries suggest strongly that there was an awareness of the place of the sixteenth-century vicarage house and glebe lands which were overwhelmed by sand.

In the lease 5/2 dated 1730 in the RGB Birtill Collection at the RIC there is a stitch of land called Skeeber Widden.

In the transaction recorded in CRO X 473/90 dated 10 August 1749 there is a reference to Skeberwyn.

HOSKING Richard (1905?) Incidents in the life of Martin Hosking.

Moody/Rutger estate map 1820/1838 and reference book: Royal Institution of Cornwall, HJ 5/4/1, 2 (paper).

St Uny's Lelant terrier 1679.

Tithe apportionment book for Lelant: Royal Institution of Cornwall, HJ 5/5 (paper, pages 25 and 79).

Tithe map and apportionment book for Lelant: Cornwall Record Office (paper) and local studies library, Redruth (fiches 5 and 14).