St Uny's Church, Lelant

Part 3, 1600-today

© Maxwell Adams 2005, 2006

Version 19 September 2006

At the beginning of the seventeenth century St Uny's had been an Anglican Protestant church for forty years. After the long reign of Elizabeth I England was largely Protestant though that included not only the Church of England but some more enthused religious believers and there were some Roman Catholics.

The apparent religious and civil peace fell apart under the Stuarts in the turbulent seventeenth century. Protestants of various sorts and Catholics vied in hate for supremacy. Laud, archbishop of Canterbury, and the other Anglican bishops tried to catholicise the Church of England; Henrietta Maria, the queen, twice asked the pope in vain for an army to overthrow the Protestants in Britain. Laud was executed, a civil war fought over who should rule, though religion was involved too, the king was executed, and a monarchical despotism replaced with a Puritan republican one. Subsequently, another king was replaced and the turmoil subsided. How this turmoil affected Lelant, is unknown. Where the worshippers at St Uny's confused and irritated by the toing and froing in religion? Did they experience the bitterness between Christians found elsewhere? Were there conventicles? As for the priests here, did the satirical song about the vicar of Bray, who repeatedly changed his Christian beliefs to fit the prevailing version of the rulers and keep his job, reflect Lelant too?

In 1631 Thomas Corey became vicar of Lelant. We do not know what happened to him and to the form of the services at St Uny's and to the office of vicar during the war. Matthews records ministers, presumably Puritans, at St Ives from 1638 ( Matthews 1892, 205 following). In December 1660, after the restoration of the Stuart monarchy and the Church of England, Robert Fowler became the Anglican vicar of Lelant.

In 1679 the vicar and church wardens reported in their terrier that the vicarage house and much of the glebe land had disappeared under advancing sand during the vicariate of Corey who was forced to abandon the vicarage house. The exact date of these events is unrecorded.

The Anglican church sank into lethargy. The shameful indifference of John Hawkins, the priest at St Uny's, to his work shows what this meant practically to many people. In 1680-1681 he had a dispute with a parishioner over the refusal to pay a tithe but during the case some parishioners in Towednack complained angrily about his neglect of them: children had died unbaptised, he had failed to conduct the burial of some parishioners, and he held services erratically. The story of the dispute is recounted in Matthews (1892, 261-268) and the complaints are recounted, briefly, in Lelant in Matthews's history 1892. In 1678, just before the dispute, the last church service at Towednack in Cornish was held.

When we reach the eighteenth century we have detailed records for the years 1722-1800 in the churchwardens' accounts of the work of the churchwardens who looked after the fabric of St Uny's church and doled out monetary and material relief to the poor of Lelant living in their homes or in the poorhouse. Anne Pool has written two articles with extracts from these. The accounts show that church services were still held at St Uny's, the encroachment of sand was still a problem, repairs to the fabric were made in 1723, 1727-1728, and 1759, a gallery was added in 1751, the bells were looked after, and, in 1725 at least, a singing master employed. There is a list of the churchwardens at Lelant parish officials 1770-1802 and some details of the poorhouse at The poor in Lelant. For 1727 and 1746 there are terriers which list St Uny's religious artefacts.

In 1743 Charles Wesley passed through Lelant on his way to St Ives and John Wesley made several visits to the village and held services here in 1757-1766, as their journals record. A Methodist church was established at Lelant and the rise and fall of Methodism here is recounted in Lelant Methodism. This set up a religious division between Anglican and Methodist Christians in Lelant that lasted into the twentieth century, relations being sharp at first but cooperative as the last century advanced and the numbers of Christians attending services fell. Methodism was a response to the lethargy of the Church of England and its disregard for the poor of England. Although Methodists were politically radical in much of England, those in Cornwall, or at least their ministers, were apparently much more conservative. There is no evidence of revolutionary zeal at Lelant.

In the nineteenth century the tithe payments due to the vicar, Cornelius Cardew, were challenged (Jenkin 1988, 195-196) and this shows the hostility that existed between the Christian groups, though tithes, a church tax in effect, seem to have always been a contentious question.

Writing in 1814 Lysons said, "So lately as the year 1780, the sand was almost as high as the churchyard wall and its boundaries scarecely discernible; but by planting rushes, the sands have become stationary, and the fence now visible." Despite this the church itself physically deteriorated during the nineteenth century. In 1821 a lightning strike damaged the church (Royal Cornwall Gazette 15 December 1821) and in 1872-73 major repairs were undertaken which cost nearly £1200. Tyacke, the vicar in 1873, is quoted in Matthews as saying that during this restoration old oak benches, which had previously been buried beneath the church floor, were disinterred and on exposure crumbled away (1892, 91). He adds that the chancel screen similarly suffered. The present pews date from the 1873 restoration.

The Cornish Telegraph records that St Uny's was reopened on 31 July 1873:

"The chancel roof, which is one of the prettiest and best in the two counties, is elaborately decorated from the design of the architect, JD Sedding, Esq, who was allowed to carry out his plan to the full extent. The opening services were mattins and celebration at 11.30 am...After morning service a luncheon was held in the National Schoolroom, of which about seventy persons partook...the meeting broke up, and luncheon was then given to the choir and workmen" (Cornish Telegraph 6 August 1873, 2/7).

The lunch - a "plain luncheon" - was provided by J Bennets and the tickets cost 2/6d (Cornish Telegraph 23 July 1873). I suppose the workmen should be grateful for any recognition though their names are unrecorded anywhere.

During the restoration church services had been held at the National School.

This restoration provoked dissent, not about its esthetics but about money. A letter was published in the Cornish Telegraph 30 July 1873 from "Churchman, Lelant," objecting to being asked to take up Hollow's guarantee for £50 for restoration work at St Uny's church, especially since Hollow was a Methodist. Additionally, in 1876 someone wrote anonymously to complain, without details, about the state of the churchyard: "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" (Cornish Telegraph 31 October 1876). See The burial grounds for more about this. In 1889 the font, discovered previously by Uriah Tonkin broken in a farmyard, was repaired and restored for use in the church (Cornish Telegraph 25 April 1889). It is unknown when it had first disappeared from the church but Anne Pool suggests that it was possibly discarded during the 1727-1728 restoration (Pool 3:106-110).

The church suffered damage from a distressing incident in 1841: "On Thursday last a man called Uren, who for some time past has been insane, broke upwards of seventy panes of glass in the parish church, with a shovel. He has been apprehended, and on Saturday was sent to the Asylum" (Penzance Gazette 17 March 1841, 4b).

St Uny's organised many activities for villagers in the second half of the nineteenth century. There are accounts of them at Recreation in Lelant. There were social events that entertained and possibly educated villagers, and kept them out of mischief, all three being the motives of the church, I think. The church also seems to have been involved in some schemes of self-reliance for the village poor and a provident savings club and a Coal and Blankets Fund existed:

"The [St Uny's] Church Provident Club parcels were distributed last week. A considerable number of hard-working folk and old people can now look forward to the coming winter with the prospect of warm blankets and clothing to keep out the cold, and several young people at the day and Sunday schools will also feel the benefit of the very large percentage which has this year been added to the members' deposits" (Cornishman 6 November 1879).

See also The poor in Lelant.

In the twentieth century the activities of the church were mainly social and fundraising for maintenance of the church building. In 1903 there were several physical changes at the church which suggest a confident institution. A new oak altar rail from Jones and Willis was put in, new seating was being put in the southeast corner of the church, a new gamba stop for the organ, costing £55.16.0 from Hale and Company of Plymouth, was purchased, and new kneelers was provided throughout the church. The church council hoped to restore the interior of the tower and rehang the bells (St Ives Weekly Summary 28 February, 14 March, and 18 April 1903). The bells of St Uny’s were rehung in 1904. These six bells date from 1836 and were made by John Taylor, bellfounders, at the time at Oxford but since 1839 at Loughborough, Leicestershire. The bells are:
(1)diameter at mouth 26 5/8 inches, weight 4 hundredweight 18 pounds plus, (2) diameter at mouth 27 ¾ inches, weight 4 hundredweight 23 pounds plus, (3) diameter at mouth 29 ¾ inches, weight 5 hundredweight 9 pounds plus, (4) diameter at mouth 32 inches, weight 6 hundredweight 7 pounds, (5) diameter at mouth 34 11/4 inches, weight 6 hundredweight 2 quarters 22 pounds, and (6) diameter at mouth 38 inches, weight 8 hundredweight 3 quarters 9 pounds (Dunkin 1878, St Ives Weekly Summary 16 July 1904; weights given by Taylors).

Lelant became a village of largely prosperous people in the second half of the century, and any relief was for people in distant places like Africa.

Of most vicars we know little or nothing apart from their names and dates. However, Jenkin gives an interesting account by a parishioner of the vicar Uriah Tonkin, who appears a stern and unbending man of little understanding of the realities of the life his poor parishioners (1988, 197-198). In Lelant vicar jails Cinderella I tell the story of the dealings of Tonkin with a family of gipsies which shows an unsympathetic and cruel man, again indifferent to the realities of everyday life for ordinary people. And in Victorian justice in Lelant the next vicar, Tyacke, appears to have little understanding of or patience with youthful folly. There is nothing of love or compassion in these stories and they give an unattractive picture of two nineteenth century Christian priests at Lelant. Tyacke's own family life was troubled. His daughter Eleanor married her dead sister's husband, forbidden by Anglican rules, and this seems to have led to an estrangement; at any rate there was an estrangement. Tyacke wrote that after her death her husband and children did not reply to his expressed wish to keep in touch with them.

After Tyacke's death a commemoratory chalice and paten were commissioned. They were designed by Archibald Knox, a Manx artist, and in 1903-1904 made by Liberty and Company.They are still in use.

It is difficult to tell how many villagers went to church, or chapel, out of serious religious conviction. Many, no doubt, but the others - those who did not go and those who went for the company or to keep warm and whose numbers we have no way of counting - have not left any marks. They seem to have kept their mouths shut. The 1851 religious census suggests large attendances but as secular activities became more readily available attendance fell so that today in a village of about eight hundred people there are no worshipping Methodist chapels and the registered Anglicans number about sixty five Lelanters with usual attendance at St Uny's church much lower. St Uny's church is still there today but it plays no part in the life of most Lelanters.

Sources for part 3

Terriers for St Uny's for 1679, 1727, and 1746: on this website. CRO ARD/TER/285, 648, 649

Lelant churchwardens' accounts 1722-1800 CRO P/120/5/1

Plans for the restoration of the church in 1854 CRO P/120/6/21-23

Repairs of 1873 CRO P/120/2/43 (bishop's permission to use the National School for services while the church is repaired)

DUNKIN Edwin HW (1878) The church bells of Cornwall Bemrose and Sons, London and Derby

JENKIN AKH (1970, 1988) Cornwall and its people Dent [a composite book of three works which were published 1932, 1933, and 1934. A paperback edition was published by David and Charles, Newton Abbot in 1988 and the page numbers of the references are to this.]

LYSONS Daniel and Samuel (1814) Magna Britannica: Topographical and historical account of the county of Cornwall volume 6 in the Magna Britannica series.

MATTHEWS JH (1892) A history of the parishes of St Ives, Lelant, Towednack, and Zennor Elliott Stock, London The official papers of the dispute are at the National Archives: Exchequer Deposition by Commission, 31 Charles 11 (1680) Michaelmas, No 6; 32 Charles 11 (1681) Easter, No 29]

POOL Anne 'Some notes on the church of St Euny Lelant' in Old Cornwall Federation of Old Cornwall Societies, Volume 3 (1937-42), 106-110

POOL Anne 'St Uny Lelant churchwardens' accounts' in Old Cornwall Federation of Old Cornwall Societies, Volume 3 (1937-42), 252-255

St Uny's church, part 1

St Uny's church, part 2

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