HISTORICAL NOTES AND BRIEF GUIDE
TO CAMBORNE PARISH CHURCH
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by DAVID H. THOMAS, B.A., D.A.A.
President of Camborne Old Cornwall Society
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The Parish Church in Camborne is dedicated to two saints, St. Martin, Bishop of Tours in France (died A.D. 397) and popular mediaeval saint, and the Celtic St. Meriadoc (Meriasek in Cornish) who may have lived around the seventh century, and is also honoured in Brittany, where his bell is preserved and his holy well is situated at Stival. He was also Bishop of Vannes. In mediaeval times both saints were honoured in Camborne, but it was only in 1958, following a period of disuse of the dedication to St. Meriadoc, that the Church became officially known as the Church of St. Martin and St. Meriadoc. The life of St. Meriadoc, rediscovered in Wales in 1869, as the play "Beunans Meriasek", tells the story of the saint coming to Camborne and founding a church beside the chapel of St. Mary of Camborne.
DEVELOPMENT OF THE CHURCH BUILDINGS:
Until the seventeenth century (1671) two churches stood within the churchyard walls, the main parish church as well as a chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, which was once an important shrine. The chapel fell into disuse at the Reformation, but was renovated in the 1630s and again neglected in Cromwell's times. In 1671, the stones from it were used to build the parish poor house in what is now Pendarves Road.
It is uncertain when the present parish church was first constructed, but the site could well date from the Celtic and pre-Norman period. The church appears to have been originally cruciform with transepts leading off what is now the present nave and chancel aisle and may date from the 12th. or 13th. centuries. The north and south aisles and tower were added probably in the 15th. century, in the perpendicular Gothic style. From evidence in the Churchwardens' accounts it would appear that the east end of the north aisle was not added until the late 1530s, when the east wall of the chancel was also rebuilt to incorporate a new window. The lower exterior walls of the chancel and its side wall to the north exhibit rubble masonry from the pre-15th. century church. In 1735, the Basset family of Tehidy added a small transept onto the south aisle for use as a family pew. This was swallowed up by the new outer south aisle, added in 1878-9. The existing church was gutted and the box pews and galleries removed, together with a new roof built in the great restoration of 1862, costing £1,500. The vestry was erected in 1879 and the modern church hall in 1963.
Printed postcard of Camborne Parish Church, c.1905-10, from a photo by Ernest Argall of Truro.
A WALK AROUND THE CHURCH AND BRIEF GUIDE.
The South Porch:
The porch dates from 1879, but incorporates much 15th. century stonework. Notice the 1793 sundial over the outer door and the timber roof which incorporates 15th. century carved timbers from the roof of the old south aisle. Over the inner doorway is positioned a mediaeval image bracket.
The outer South Aisle:
This aisle was added by J.P. St. Aubyn in 1878-9 with a matching arcade of arches to the main nave. To the left of the door is a polyphant stone holy water stoup, found under the tower in 1862. Below this lies a small Cornish cross discovered at Crane Well in 1896. Walking eastwards up the aisle note the beautiful kneelers, worked in the 1980s by parishioners and friends. Near the vestry door may be seen several memorials from the old south aisle in memory of John Stackhouse (1819), Grace Percival (1763), Tryphena Wynne Pendarves (1873) and William Pendarves (1683). The Pendarves family, along with the Bassets of Tehidy, were important local squires and landowners in past days.
The inner South Aisle:
We pass through the screen from the 1879 south aisle into the original south aisle of the church and into the Lady Chapel. This was also at one time the Pendarves aisle, and their family vault lies beneath this floor. The present Lady Chapel dates from the early 1920s and was renovated and restored in 1989. As part of the 1914-18 war memorial scheme it was chosen as the site for the LEUIUT altar slab, which was placed on a slate pillar, modelled on an altar at Venasque, in Provence, France. This celebrated ecclesiastical relic is the church's greatest treasure being a tenth century altar slab which came from the chapel of St. Ia, near Troon. It is inscribed "Leuiut iusit hec altare pro anima sua" (meaning Leuiut ordered this altar for the sake of his soul). Underneath are five consecration crosses, suggestive of a reconsecration in Norman times. On the altar slab stands a wooden cross made from portions of oak taken from the 15th. century south aisle roof. Left of the Leuiut stone is the memorial to Sir William Pendarves (1726), M.P. for St. Ives. Tradition tells how Sir William had a copper coffin made from the first copper raised from the South Roskear mine and on som special occaasions this was used as a drinking vessel for punch at Pendarves House. When Anne Acton, widow of Sir William, died in 1780, the vault and copper coffin were both opened and Sir William's beard and nails were found to have grown after death.
To the right of the Leuiut stone is a red banner in a wall case. This was originally a frontal given to the church by Mrs. Grace Pendarves in 1734. By the 1860s it had found its way to Kea Church but it was restored to Camborne in 1904.
Walking back down the aisle we notice on the west wall the brass plaques listing the men of Camborne and the Camborne School of Mines who gave their lives in the Great War and the Second World War.
Nave and Chancel:
To the left of the tower arch a brass tablet records the restoration of 1862. The granite and serpentine Font also dates from 1862 and replaced a marble bowl. The original 15th. century font may be seen in the daughter church of St. John the Evangelist at Treslothan. On the two pillars furthest to the west of the nave, on each side, may be seen the marks of repaired cement indicating the position of the 1725 gallery for the choir and organ, which was removed in 1862.
The brass eagle Lectern, modelled on the one at Balliol College, Oxford, was given in memory of Squire G.L. Basset of Tehidy in 1888, while the magnificent brass Candelabra were the gift of the Rev. George Hooper in 1912. In the nave can be seen another of the church's great treasures, the ornately carved Pulpit. Generally believed to be of the late 15th. century, it may not have been constructed in fact until the reign of Edward VI. in 1550, since the church accounts refer to the making of a pulpit in that year for £3. The panels are carved with the symbols of the Passion, while on the base are executed a quaint face and the date 1711, when the structure was again rebuilt. The canopy or sounding board has vanished. The pillars on either side of the chancel entrance bear marks which indicate the position of the former Rood Screen which once crossed the church at this point. In the Chancel itself, the oak choir and clergy stalls and screens were erected in 1938 to the memory of the wife and children of Canon W.P. Chappel, Rector 1858-1900. The fine brass Processional Cross was the gift of the parishioners in 1901, while the beautiful patronal Banner of St. Martin, designed by one of the Kempe School of Artists, was given in 1904. Below the chancel floor lies the vault of the Arundell family of Menadarva. Their funeral hatchments once adorned the church but vanished in the 19th. century. Other memorial tablets relate to the Harris family of Rosewarne in Camborne and Roseteague in Gerrans parish.
In the main Sanctuary the massive marble Reredos, containing the Ten Commandments, the Creed and the Lord's Prayer, as well as the Hebrew characters for the Divine Name, was erected in 1761 by Samuel Percivall of Pendarves, at a cost of £300. Another member of this family, Spencer Percivall was assassinated as Prime Minister in the lobby of the House of Commons in 1812. The brass altar Cross is a memorial to the 34 years ministry of the Rev. George Hooper, 1900-34, while in the south wall of the sanctuary can be seen two Piscina or drains for washing the sacred vessels. The Sedilia or bench, along with the dado to the sanctuary walls are all constructed of bench ends from the church's late 15th. century pews. Many people have heard of the Mermaid of Zennor, but a Camborne mermaid can be seen here in these bench ends, along with many other mythical beasts such as the unicorn. To the left may be seen the huge tablet to Edward William Wynne Pendarves (1853) and to the right Anne Acton (1780). The latter epitaph is worthy of special note.
The North Aisle:
The fine three manual Organ, containing 33 speaking stops, was originally built by Nicholsons of Worcester in 1868. It was enlarged and augmented in 1900 and 1929, then rebuilt by Heles of Plymouth in 1956 and again renovated by Lance Foy of Truro in 1976. In the vestry hangs a photograph of the old church organ which stood upon the western gallery until 1862, which was at one time a barrel organ. Obscured by the platform for the present organ is the slate memorial to Alexander Pendarves (1655). In the north wall by the organ can be seen the entrance to the roodloft, or roodstairs, unblocked in 1910. The stairway once led to the top of the roodscreen, upon which were the figures of Our Lord, St. Mary and St. John. The screen survived until the 18th. century and may have been destroyed in 1725.
Further down the north wall is the memorial to Parson Hugh Rogers, Rector 1816-58, carved by the Cornish sculptor Neville Northey Burnard (1818-78). A genius with slate and marble, Burnard was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave but a memorial stone was erected by the Camborne Old Cornwall Society in 1954. Parson Rogers was an early advocate of Sunday Schools and was at Cambridge under the great Divine Charles Simeon.
The North Door is still known as the Devil's Door by some people and in former times was left open at Baptism for Satan to take flight. To the left of the North Door hangs a framed rubbing of the brass to Edward Sheffelde (1522) from St. Mary's, Luton, Bedfordshire, and also Rector of Camborne, 1508-22.
Tower and Bells:
The 60 ft. high granite tower dates from the 15th. century and now contains eight bells, the tenor weighing 17½ cwt. The church accounts mention only three bells in 1542 and these were re-cast into a new ring of six by Rudhalls of Gloucester in 1767. Two further bells were added by John Taylor & Co. in 1882 and the fifth bell re-cast. New ball bearings were installed in 1934 while the bells were again re-hung in 1977-78 to commemorate the centenary of the Diocese of Truro. Fuller details are available in the book "Camborne Bells" (1977).
On the tower wall hangs a 1736 painted copy of the King Charles I.'s letter of thanks to the Cornish for their loyalty in the Civil War (1643), as well as the memorial to Parson John Richards (Curate, 1778-1816). He was a noted layer of ghosts in his day. A further board of 1852 lists benefactions for charitable purposes.
(working clockwise round the church from the window in the North Aisle directly opposite the South Door)
The Church possesses 15 stained glass windows:
1. The Holy Family with the Arms of the Diocese of Truro and St. Martin: In memory of Winifred Lillie Dyne (1965).
2. The Marriage at Cana: In memory of Lily Rowling (1963).
3. Christ and the Children: In memory of Canon Sandfield, 1945-65.
4. The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem: In memory of Caroline Rodda, 1881-1952 and Frederick Rodda, 1885-1962.
5. East window of the Chancel; Christ in Majesty: Erected in 1960, in memory of George Rawling Odgers and his wife Louisa.
6. East window of the Lady Chapel: A fine heraldic window of 29 shields illustrating the genealogy of the Pendarves family: In memory of E.W.W.Pendarves (1864).
7. East window of outer South Aisle: The Works of Mercy: Given by the congregation and friends to commemorate the 40 years of Canon Chappel's incumbency in 1898.
Outer South Aisle:
8. St Peter, St. Andrew and St. James Major: In memory of Canon W.P. Chappel (1900).
9. The Last Supper and Institution of the Holy Communion: In memory of Vincent, Sarah and Mabel Anne Gundry (1969).
10. The Washing of the Disciples' Feet: In memory of Catherine Pellew, 1883-1966, and Alexander Pellew, 1884-1978.
11. The Commissioning of the Apostles: In memory of Canon D.E. Morton, Rector 1934-44, and his wife Enid.
12. West window of Outer South Aisle: The parable of the Vine and the Branches: Christ & the Twelve Apostles: In memory of Louisa and George Rawling Odgers (1961).
13. West window of Inner South Aisle: Christ and the impotent man at the pool of Bethesda: A brilliantly coloured window erected in 1864, in memory of Edward Lanyon (died 1861).
14. Belfry window: St. Martin dividing his cloak with the beggar, and St. Martin's Baptism: Given in 1862 by the young men of the parish.
15. West window of the North Aisle: The Oddfellows' window: Given to celebrate the marriage of the Prince of Wales in 1863, by the Loyal Basset Lodge; n.b. the cost of this window was 9s. 6d. per foot of glass in those days.
THE PARISH REGISTERS AND CHURCHWARDENS' ACCOUNTS:
The Camborne Parish Registers comprise 54 volumes and record baptisms from 1591, and marriages and burials from 1538 when registers were first ordered to be kept by Thomas Cromwell, Vicar General of Henry VIII. It is one of the largest collections of such records in Cornwall and reflects the growth and prosperity of Camborne with the mining industry in the 19th. century. The older records are housed at the Cornwall Record Office, Truro for safe custody.
There are three volumes of Churchwardens' Accounts covering the period 1535-1657, 1675-1780 and 1819-1922. These form a very fine series for tracing the parish's religious and social history. The first volume contains Guild Accounts for the Tudor years. There were some eleven religious Guilds in the pre-reformation period. An early volume of Overseers' Accounts for 1647-1717 is also at the Cornwall Record Office.
THE CHURCH PLATE:
The parish church is fortunate to possess a very varied selection of Communion Plate, there being six chalices and six patens in all. The oldest pieces consist of a silver chalice of 1732 and a silver paten of 1707 (inscribed 1710), and a large silver flagon of 1727. Other items date from the 20th. century, the most recent being a chalice and paten of 1987. There are also two brass alms basins and a handsome box for the sacramental bread, as well as two private communion sets.
ANCIENT CROSSES & MONUMENTS:
The tall Cross by the South Porch was discovered by Joseph Holman at the head of Crane Well in 1896 and was erected in a cross base already in the churchyard; the top of that cross may be that now built into the exterior east wall of the outer south aisle. This can be seen by turning left at the church gates and by going round to the rear of the church. Attached to the base of the cross by the south porch is an iron staple to which the parish stocks for the correction of offenders were once fastened.
Opposite the belfry door is another Cross which was originally a parish boundary stone between the parishes of Gwinear and Gwithian. It was brought to Camborne in 1904 and erected in its present position. This stone was called the Meane Cadoarth or battle stone in 1613. Its name may indicate a far off battle at Reskajeage in Camborne parish. The stone has panels of dots and the tradition is that each dot represents one life killed in the battle.
By the tower door also rests a mediaeval Lych or Coffin Stone, which was moved from the south entrance of the churchyard in 1815, when the graveyard was extended. Bodies were rested here by the bearers before proceeding into church for the funeral service. In a large parish such as Camborne, long walking funerals were once common-place with bodies being carried underhand quite long distances.
The original mediaeval burial ground only covered the area immediately around the church and under the church hall. It may have been circular in shape, as shown by the curved wall on the east side. With the rise of the population, encouraged by the growth of the mining industry, the graveyard had to be extended to cope. The first enlargement took place in 1816, with subsequent additions in 1839, 1875, 1907 and 1955. The older parts of the churchyard were closed by Order in Council in 1874 while today the entire churchyard covers nearly four acres.
The oldest headstone dates from 1761 and may be found east of the Church. Close to the south porch lies the large tomb of the Vivian family, while south of the modern church hall is the grave of Andrew Vivian, who was a partner with Richard Trevithick in the making of the first steam locomotive, which ran through Camborne on Christmas Eve 1801 and was patented by them in 1802. Other memorials, some beautifully executed, refer to mining accidents and deaths of Cornish emigrants in foreign mining fields. Perhaps the saddest memorial of all, is that of 1868, to the three children of William and Ann Walter, who were all killed by an explosion of gunpowder at Dolcoath Mine, whilst at play. The stone lies against the East wall due south of the Parish Vestry Room.
THE PARISH VESTRY ROOM:
Built in 1820 on Glebe land. The upper room did duty as a school as well as for parish meetings while the ground floor area included a "clink" for the temporary incarceration of malefactors. Rates were also paid at the Vestry room at one time.
In the pre-reformation years, apart from the parish church, there existed seven chapels or oratories in the parish for religious worship. These were the Chapel of St. Mary in the churchyard, St. Meriadoc's well-chapel at Rosewarne, St. Mary's chapel at Penponds, St. James' chapel at Treslothan, St. Ia's chapel at Troon, St. Derwa's chapel at Menadarva and a further chapel at Crane. The churchwardens' account book for 1535-1657 refers to nearly all these chapels and their guilds by name.
THE 19TH. CENTURY:
With the immense growth of the population, the parish of Camborne had three new ecclesiastical districts taken out of it in the 19th.century. This led to the building of the churches of St. John the Evangelist at Treslothan in 1842, All Saints at Tuckingmill in 1845 and Holy Trinity, Penponds in 1854. In 1884 a mission room was also opened in Trelowarren Street, but this ceased to be used for worship in 1919, doing duty as the Church Hall until 1963.
In conclusion, it should be said that our Parish Church, though the focal point for the history of the Parish, is no museum. It is the place where Sunday by Sunday, and week by week, the truths of the Christian Gospel are proclaimed, the Word is preached and the Sacraments are administered. This is its proper purpose and for which it was raised to the Glory of God.