St Uny's Church, Lelant
Part 1, To 1300

© Maxwell Adams 2004

You might wish to read the articles on Uny, The sands of printless foot, and Anta which tell some of the story of the church.

Our earliest records of the church are from the twelfth century. There is no mention of a church building at Lelant before this time, no record of church or settlement in the Domesday Book in 1086. We do not know when or where the first church was built in Lelant or what nonchristian religious places there might have been here earlier and perhaps later. Furthermore, the apparent lateness of the appearance of the name Uny in several places in west Cornwall, the rectangular shape of the present churchyard which suggests a late date, and the possibility that the parish name is based on Anta together point to the possibility that there was a church in Lelant dedicated to Anta before one to dedicated to Uny (Preston-Jones 1992, 111; Orme 2000, 65).

Uny in the past was often spelt Euny or similarly.

Much of the medieval information that we have about the church at Lelant comes from the records of the bishops of Exeter and most of them are about money and power and administration. The records show Lelant church being traded by different owners. In medieval England the church was not only a religious organisation; it was also a political and financial one. As such it was interested in wealth and power and social control and worked hard to keep its share of them and to maintain its role in feudal government. Indeed, it is difficult to see anything that we would call religious or spiritual in any of these records though, of course, you wouldn't expect to find much that was particularly religious in church financial or administrative accounts today. We do not have an account of religious life at Lelant in medieval times.

In 1050 the see of Cornwall and Devon moved from Crediton to Exeter and in consequence the collegiate church of Holy Cross at Crediton lost much of its income. To try to rectify this loss bishop Bronescombe later gave to Holy Cross the church at Egloshayle and the money generated by it (Snell 1967, 90).

However, Egloshayle did not produce enough money for Holy Cross to be staffed as before and these events and exchanges eventually led in 1272 to Lelant.

First, however, there are the earlier local transactions. At an unknown date Robert Fitzwilliam, the lord of the manor of Ludgvan Leaze, and then in about 1150 his descendant Robert de Cardinham, had given the church of St Uny and its possessions and revenue to St Andrew's priory at Tywardreath (Oliver 1846, 37-38; Henderson 1956, 297). The priory had been founded by the Cardinham family (Oliver 1846, 35). The first actual reference to a St Uny's church is in about 1170, and, yes, it is at bottom about wealth and power, St Uny's church as income generation. Thomas Becket, the archbishop of Canterbury, approved these two agreements by which St Uny's had been given to the priory (Oliver 1846, 41). It was sensible to get agreements reconfirmed from time to time; written records of agreements were fragile things and easily lost and with the passing years and turbulence what had been agreed was sometimes forgotten or misremembered. The agreement mentions Lelant and Trendreath and this perhaps suggests that they were seen as separate settlements along the water. The agreement was further validated by a charter of Henry III dated 6 May 1234 (Oliver 1846, 37-38). At some time in the next hundred years the priory gave St Uny's to the bishop of Exeter. In the two hundred years after the Norman Conquest Lelant church had four owners: the Cardinhams, St Andrew's priory at Tywardreath, the bishop of Exeter, and Holy Cross church at Crediton. Additionally around these times, Geoffrey, son of Robert de Trembethow, gave Tywardreath priory half an acre in Lelant which his family appeared to have earlier seized from the church (Oliver 1846, 40). This mentions Luke, a priest.

This last transaction was made for the the sake of justice and for good of the soul of Galfridus and his ancestors, he said. Galfridus presumably believed that restoring half an acre to the church, an honest deed in itself, would help to get him into heaven. I do not know whether it worked.

About the same time as the Cardinham and Geoffrey transactions, the resolution is recorded of a long-running dispute between the priests of Lelant and what we now call St Erth, both priests claiming that the tithes of the area of Gunhen belonged to their parish and to them. The precentor and chancellor of Wells cathedral were appointed by the pope to judge the dispute and, after taking evidence from many locals, awarded the tithes to St Erth. Their decision was confirmed by Bartholomew, the bishop of Exeter (DRO Cartulary, Archives of Devon and Cornwall 3672, folio 53). As the award makes clear, this dispute was about tithes, the income that the church and priest got from working people and landowners in their parish. Gunhen is probably the area near St Erth railway station (Doble 1939, 12). It is from this dispute that we learn the name of a Lelant priest, Valentine, the first recorded for Lelant itself.

In 1272 the trading at Crediton affected Lelant. Walter Bronescombe, the bishop of Exeter, gave St Uny's and the money it raised to Holy Cross church at Crediton in exchange for the church at Egloshayle to try to make up the loss of income at Holy Cross (Hingeston-Randolph 1889, 60-62 and 203).

Throughout these transactions the Lelant church was treated as a piece of valuable property, its money-making aspects to be owned and bartered. There is no apparent concern for the religious or secular well-being of Lelant villagers in these transactions and in truth they would not affect the villagers who paid over tithes and various fees and who went to the same religious ceremonies whoever the church masters were.

The rest of our knowledge to 1300 is largely about the appointment of priests, recorded in the bishops' registers and recorded on this website at Vicars of Lelant. Occasionally we glimpse a story: the vicar of Lelant is accused of murder, a killer takes sanctuary in St Uny's church (both Murders most foul), and in 1305, just outside this first period, the priest from Crowan is accused of assaulting the priest from Trewenna in St Uny’s church (Henderson 1958, 299). However, the everyday life of the church, which was presumably less dramatic, is unrecorded.

Sources for part 1

DOBLE GH (1939) Lananta, A history of the church and parish of St Euny Lelant King's Stone Press, Long Compton. The boundary dispute between St Erth and Lelant.

DRO (Devon Record Office, Exeter) Cartulary, Archives of Devon and Cornwall 3672 folio 53

HENDERSON Charles (1956) [1923-24] 'The ecclesiastical antiquities of one hundred and nine parishes of West Cornwall' in the Journal of the RIC. The boundary dispute between St Erth and Lelant.

HENDERSON Charles (1958) [1923-4] 'The ecclesiastical antiquities of one hundred and nine parishes of west Cornwall: Lelant' in the Journal of the RIC. Henderson recounts some of the early history of St Uny's church.

HINGESTON-RANDOLPH FC (1889) The register of Walter Bronescombe, bishop of Exeter George Bell, London

OLIVER George (1846) Monasticon dioecesis Exoniensis PA Hannaford, Exeter and Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, London. Includes supplements.

ORME Nicholas (1992) (ed) Nicholas Roscarrock's lives of the saints: Cornwall and Devon Devon and Cornwall Record Society, Exeter

ORME Nicholas (2000) The saints of Cornwall OUP

PRESTON-JONES Ann 'Decoding Cornish churchyards' in Cornish archeology 1994. Originally printed in EDWARDS Nancy and LANE Alan (editors) (1992) The early church in Wales and the west Oxbow Monographs 16, Oxford, pages 104-124

SNELL Lawrence S (1967) The suppression of the religious foundations of Devon and Cornwall Printed by Wordens of Cornwall, Marazion

St Uny's church, part 2

St Uny's church, part 3