Notes on the History of Penponds Church - David Thomas, 1983




Real photographic postcard by William J Bennetts of Camborne showing the exterior of the Church of the Holy Trinity, Penponds, postmarked 1905.

As a small inscription on the wall, close to the pulpit of the Church, states, "The ecclesiastical district of Penponds was formed out of the parish of Camborne by an Order in Council at the Court at Windsor, December 19th 1846. This Church of the Holy Trinity was consecrated by Henry, Lord Bishop of Exeter, on the 15th day of May 1854." So begins the history of Penponds Parish Church, one of the most beautiful Churches in Cornwall, and yet relatively young in years. The rather plain exterior betrays little of the richness that lies within for here is one of the finest early twentieth century Church interiors in this Country; as Sir John Betjeman has said, "a complete period piece of the high Church good taste".

First Vicar was William Wright Butlin, B.A. (1814 - 1902) holding office for exactly fifty years from 1846 - 1896. His wife Julia Crowther died in 1898 aged 83. They are both buried together on the south side of the Church and as the epitaph says of the Vicar, he was "peaceful, trustful and large hearted, a loving husband and father". In the Vicar's Vestry his photograph still hangs, picturing him in venerable old age - truly the father of his flock.

W.W. Butlin's daughter, Julia Frances (1848 - 1933), still referred to locally as Miss Butlin, is remembered for her missionary zeal both in the Parish, and also furthering the cause of Foreign Missions in which she took a keen interest. She used to hold meetings in the Parish Church, but later on these were held at Church House at the other end of the village. Miss Butlin lies buried close to her parents, with her friend Louisa Gregory. Close by also lie two of the Vicarage servants of the Butlins in separate graves, Louisa Clarke (died 1891) servant for 42 years, and Grace Luke (died 1908), who served for 45 years with the family. Indeed these groups of headstones form an interesting example of a nineteenth century social document in themselves, the paternalistic cleric and the faithful domestic.

With the advent of James Sims Carah as Vicar in 1896 began the process of the enrichment of the building, as we know it today. During the course of the next forty years the Church, which consisted of nave, chancel, north aisle and vestry and which was barely furnished with deal pews, was transformed with the introduction of carving, gilding, marble and many elegant fittings, all under the inspiration of the Vicar, who was a great antiquarian and a leading figure in the Old Cornwall Movement. Some £3000 was spent on this process between 1896 and 1935, some of the items even being brought over from the Continent.


Real photographic postcard by H D Wootton of Redruth of the Reverend Canon James Sims Carah, 2nd Vicar of Penponds, 1896-1935, and first President of the Camborne Old Cornwall Society.

Canon Carah first embarked on the restoration of the Chancel coupled with a new Vestry. The building was re-opened on Trinity Sunday, June 13 1897 with the organ being now removed from the west to the east end of the North Aisle. Shortly afterwards on September 5 1897 the first fully choral Celebration of the Holy Communion was held with the preacher being Fr. Harry Chappel, of St. Philip's Mission Plaistow, and son of Canon Chappel of Camborne. Canon Carah wrote in the Register, "Large reverent congregation - beautiful service. Music Caleb Simper in E flat. Sung by Choir and Catechism. Laus Deo." The first choral Evensong was held on September 16 1897 and the first Confirmation on December 9 1898.

With the progress of the Carah Incumbency went the gradual and systematic enrichment of the Church. On December 7 1899 the Dedication of the restored Nave and Baptistry and Screen was held along with the Good Shepherd Shrine on the North side of the Chancel, the preacher being Chancellor Worlledge. We note also in passing that on Rogation Sunday May 20 1900 a Solemn Te Deum was sung for the Relief of Mafeking in the South African War. At Harvest Festival September 12 1901 the new High Altar of Marble was dedicated, though the magnificent Reredos was added at a later date. On October 17 1901 the new pulpit, bearing the words "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts", and incorporating a modern copy of a triptych by Memling was Dedicated by the Archdeacon of Cornwall, while a new organ was opened on March 13 1902. In the Lady Chapel on the western side of this Organ the Altar was Dedicated on September 18 1902 and its Reredos, with the opening words of the Magnificat on March 13 1904. The Jubilee of the Church was celebrated on May 16 1904 with a Sermon by the Archdeacon of Cornwall. The Vicar's pastoral ministry seems to have had a far reaching effect in the meanwhile for on 21 August 1904 he recorded that in his Catechism Class there were 86 present, including 61 Sunday School children. "A record," he wrote, "Laus Deo."

Neither was the work of advancement confined to the Church. On June 28 1905 the foundation stone of a new Vicarage was laid (which still carries its gable cross denoting the Vicar's private chapel), which was blessed by the Bishop of St. Germans on February 22 1906. Similarly an extension to the Churchyard was consecrated on May 10 in the same year.

As the Edwardian years rolled by with their long hot summers into the abyss of World War I the Vicar was undeviating in his zeal for the House of God. The Reredos of 1909 necessitated the raising of the East window, the whole scheme being paid for by himself. The tablet on the south Chancel wall records his gift. "To the Glory of God and in honour of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, the East windows were given by the Vicar of this Church, in memory of his friend Elizabeth Browne who fell asleep 1905, and the Reredos in memory of his parents, William and Mary Carah, who, after 62 years of happy married life, fell asleep, 1909, R.I.P." Other work continued in the Chancel until after the Great War this whole area was finished and a commemorative tablet affixed. "The decoration of this Chancel, a work of love, which extended over a period of twenty years was completed as a humble Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the blessings of Victory and Peace. A.D. 1919."

Other features worthy of note are the front rails of the Nave and Lady Chapel pews, formerly the three-sided Altar rails of Camborne Parish Church and modelled in the same shape as the early Tudor arches of the mother Church, being ejected from there in 1878-9; the 1569 brass Flemish Alms Dish; the Font Ewer; the painted boards at the west end of the Creed and Lord's Prayer; the candelabra before the Lady Altar inscribed "The entrance of thy word giveth light"; and also the ancient mediaeval bench-ends and woodwork by the Lady Altar, on the door of the wall-safe, on the lectern front and in a cupboard at the west end, all collected by the Vicar.

What impresses one most in the Church is the attention to detail; for example the organ bench, carved with an Angel with a Trumpet and King David with harp and St. Francis preaching to the birds—all a memorial to Frederick William Sara, 40 years Honorary Organist who died 13 November 1934. Similarly at the west end on a Bench back in memory of Esther Williams, of Treveor, (1845 -1932) a great benefactress to the church and Parish, is carved the scene of the King and Esther, "The King held out his golden sceptre". The skilful use of marble and oak for the wall panelling, is another unique feature, making for a rich effect.

Canon Carah's final scheme was the provision of a magnificent series of carved benches in the body ot the Church, between 1929 and 1934, to replace the unworthy deal pews. These are outstanding examples imitating fifteenth century Cornish work, and would themselves repay an afternoon's study, with the pamphlet, now again out of print, produced by the Canon himself. The inscription on one catches the eye, "In proud memory of Richard Trevithick 1771 - 1833. Inventor of the locomotive engine and father of railways who was brought up in this village. Also of Jane (nee) Harvey, his wife 1772 - 1868. This seat is the gift of three of their great grand children." Another bench depicts St. Endelienta, who was the Saint of Canon Carah's stall in Truro Cathedral being given by Alice Pendarves. Many others are memorial gifts from various donors.

Canon Carah retired in 1935 and died in 1936 having seen the completion of his great scheme for transforming a plain mid-Victorian building into one of the ecclesiastical treasures of Cornwall. It is sad to think that on a recent visit to Crowan Churchyard his grave could scarcely be found and the inscription difficult to locate, for it was due to his vision that Penponds Church became what it is today; a place of pilgrimage for many. Since his death no major changes have been made in the fabric, though successive Vicars have upheld his traditions and principles.

In researching for this article I have been struck by the wonderful records kept by Canon Carah in the Service Registers, Churchwardens' Accounts and Ledgers which have survived since Easter 1897. Numbers of coins given are meticulously recorded, as well as donations and special funds for even the smallest item such as a Tea-Treat or Prizegiving. The whole could well form the basis for a full-scale book at some future date, for indeed the Church is worthy of a proper History, although it is in itself a Sermon in Stone for the Christian Religion of Faith, Hope and Love, and proclaiming the greatness and glory of God.

The original article appeared in Camborne Festival Magazine, November 1983, pp15-17.