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THE MOUNTAINOUS parish of Zennor is entered by the road which, at the top of the Stennack, branches off from that leading from Rosewall Hill. Passing by a succession of farm hamlets, each of which is a perfect picture, with dark, craggy hills to the left, and the boundless ocean on the right, we are soon in a country which, for wildness and loneliness, is the Connemara of Cornwall. Railways, telegraphs, nervous maladies, and all blessings of our advanced civilization, are here alike unknown. Imagine that this benighted region is so far behind the age as not even to find employment for a parish doctor! A London physician recently said of Zennor, that he knew of no place where a man had so good a chance of completing his four-score years; a judgment which is fully confirmed by the actual physical state of young and old in the parish. The village is picturesquely situated in a green hollow which descends from the hills to the shore, and which is strewn with rounded blocks of all shapes and sizes. Here, to complete the landscape, a sparkling brook is crossed by a rustic granite bridge; and hard by is the busy forge, at the entrance to the “churchtown” (as every parish village is termed, in Cornwall). A prominent feature in this view is the grey old church, dating from the early part of the fifteenth century, at which period most of the Cornish churches were rebuilt, Zennor church will repay a visit, as it has many points of interest. The font is coeval with the fabric, and of great beauty, though just at present (like the whole building) sadly in want of judicious repair.
Zennor church is one of the very few in Cornwall which remains unrestored, and it is interesting as preserving, for our instruction, a picture of the surroundings in which our great grandfathers were content to worship. The original carved oaken seats have all (with one exception) disappeared and been replaced by family boxes. The only carved bench-end remaining is on the southside, near the tower. It is known as the “mermaid of Zennor”, and represents a syren with the conventional fish’s tail, comb and mirror. Such a subject is not out of place, in the church of a parish bounded by the sea; but folklore has constructed a marvellous story to account for it:
The squires son, says the legend, sang so beautifully in the choir, and a mermaid came up from Zennor cove to listen to his melodious voice. Falling passionately in love with him, she enticed him to return with her to the sea, and the ill-sorted pair were never seen again.
The people of this parish, be it observed, were once so renowned for their beautifull [sic] singing, that no wedding, funeral, or other “merry making” was considered perfect unless a Zennor man was there to raise his tuneful voice. Like the Bards of old, the Zenorians at length became so over-bearing in the pride of their harmonious powers, that their ancient fame sank into a joke, and they became a bye-word and a reproach among the western parishes. In the vicarage garden, opposite the church, is the round head of an ancient cross. A few hundred yards to the back of the church is a very good specimen of a logan-rock, which visitors may examine without the fatigue of hill climbing, for (unlike most rocking stones) it is on a comparatively level plain. No matter how many persons may be sitting on the top, the slightest pressure on the part of anyone who pushes, with short even effort against the side, will set it rocking like a cradle.
Gurnard’s Head with its romantic promontory and ruined chapel, is in this parish, to the west of the village, and on Zennor Hill, to the south-east, is the celebrated Zennor cromlech. But as these “lions" are amply described in the Penzance guidebook we will confine ourselves to naming them. Several ruined houses will be seen in the church-town of Zennor, due to emigration which of late years, has deprived this and other once populous districts of some of its best blood.
The contiguous parishes of Zennor, Morvah, and Towednack are called the “high countries”; natives of these places once considered themselves vastly superior to the inhabitants of St. Ives or Lelant, and every bare-legged infant thanked the goodness and the grace that made him a happy Zennor, Morvah, or Towednack child. But the times are altered now; tea and slops have supplanted the old fashioned wholesom diet, flimsy hats and dresses have taken the place of comfortable homespuns; country dances are condemned as not sufficiently genteel; the fiddler is extinct, and quadrilles and polkas are politely warbled by the popular though execrable concertina. However, much of the “auld warld” still lingers in the high countries, visitors will here perhaps see for the first time the immense open chimney with dried furze and heat turf piled up on the earthen floor of the kitchen.
More about St. Ives and Zennor
IS IN many respects a very interesting parish. The visitor will wonder at the great distance between the church and the village. This is accounted for by a tradition that the church is all that remains of a once important maritime town, which was overwhelmed, within a short space of time by the vast sand-drifts which cover the spot. These hillocks of sand more or less cover the shore, from St. Ives to Crantock.
Constantly encroaching upon the good meadow-land, the invasion of the sand was at length arrested by the wholesale sowing of the arundo arenaria, or sandy rush, but not until fields and farm-houses had been buried to the depth of many feet in some places. Lelant church was barely saved; and that of Phillack. on the opposite side of the Hayle estuary, is quite overshadowed by the high towans (as the sand heaps are called) which rise to the height of the steeple, at a very short distance from the church.
The modern village of Lelant consists of struggling rows of pretty cottages, often adorned with rich growths of the fuschia and honeysuckle and other flowers which in this part of Cornwall flourish in the open air. On a wall opposite the “Praed Arms" inn, is an ancient cross of granite. There are no less than six of these ancient crosses in Lelant parish. One is fixed in a hedge at the foot of the ascent on the road to St. Ives.
The church of Lelant, which is the mother parish of this district, originally served for the whole of the present parish of St. Ives until a church was built in that town in 1410. However, with the exception of one Norman arch with its pillars, the present fabric of Lelant church dates from the fifteenth century. Norman features are very rare in the churches of West Cornwall. In the tower is preserved the original font, but too much battered for use. On the wall inside the tower the visitor will also see, painted on a black board, the text of King Charles’ letter of thanks to the people of Cornwall. It is to the effect that the King would be ever mindful of the great services rendered by the Cornish people to the royal cause, during the Civil War. It ends thus; “Commanding copies hereof to be printed and published and one of them to be read in every Church and Chapel, and to be kept and erected in the same, that as long as the history of these Times and of this Nation shall continue ye memory of how much that county hath merited from us and our Crown, may be delivered with it to posterity. Given at our camp at Sudley Castle, September the 10, 1643”. Nearly every Cornish church once possessed a copy of this document, though of late many unfortunately disappeared. That of St. Ives never had one, as our ancient borough enjoys the doubtful distinction of having been one of the few towns in Cornwall which supported the Parliament. This disaffection, however, says more for the attachment of the St. Ives people to their leaders (who happened to be Roundheads at the time) than for their disloyalty to the sovereign.
In the wall of the south porch is a holy-water stoup. Other points of interest are the slate tablets, in the wall of the south aisle, to the Praed and Pawley families. That of William Praed, Esq., of Trevethoe, dated 1620; bears full length kneeling effigies of his wife and children. The sons kneel behind the father, and the daughters behind the mother, all arranged in order of their respective heights, like the pipes of an organ. The details of the costume are very interesting. Each figure has the christian name displayed on a scroll above the head. The epitaph, in “black letter”, containes the lines:
“Think, gentle friend that now dost view this tomb,
To-morrow must thou go to thy last home.”
The other slab commemorates Hugh Pawley, gent of Gunwin, date 1721, and bears his arms quartered.
In the churchyard is an ancient cross, yellow with lichen. Two others may be seen in the adjoining new cemetery, one, in the midst of a clump of shrubs, is very high. At Brunnion or Brunian Carn in this parish, where there was an ancient chapel, is another stone cross.
By crossing the St. Ives railroad, close to Lelant church, one reaches the shore of Hayle estuary, by the formidable bar. The line at this point frequently gets covered with sand, after a gale, and needs constant attention. It is very interesting to watch vessels coming in across the bar, at high tide. Here one may cross in a little ferry-boat to the breakwater, a short walk along which leads to the busy and rather dirty district of Copperhouse.
More about St. Ives and Lelant
THE VISITOR is probably aware that, on crossing the Tamar, he entered, what was for him, practically a foreign land. A short stay in the west of Cornwall soon impresses this fact upon the mind of an observant traveller, he leaves a pale complexioned, phlegmatic people, and finds in their stead a race with dark features and sanguine temperament. In no place is he likely to notice more clearly the distinctions between Saxon and Celt, Englishman and Briton, than in the neighbourhood of St. Ives. The natives of this district are generally short, thick-set and swarthy, with dark eyes and expressive features, excitable and warm-hearted.
The ancient Cornish language, akin to that now spoken in Brittany, is indeed extinct as a spoken dialect, but remains in the names of places, of which the reader has already seen examples. St. Ives was one of the last strongholds of this venerable tongue, which was remarkable for combining all the richness of the Irish (an allied Celtic speech) without its cumbrous grammatical forms, and free from the harshness of sound observable in Welsh. As a specimen of Cornish, we here present to the reader the Apostle’s Creed in that language, as it was formerly to be seen on the east wall of many a parish church. Those acquainted with Welsh, Breton or Erse will read it easily:
THE APOSTLES’ CREED IN CORNISH
Me a credgy en Dew an Tal olgallusac, gwrêar an nêv ha an oar, hasen Jesus Chrêst e mab honyn, an Arlûth my leb, vye a humthan der an Sperys Zanz, gennes an Gwerches Varia, galarowedgez dadn Pontius Pilat, vyc a crowzes, marro ha inclythez, ef gath en dor do iffam; an fridga dyth of deravas artd dort an marro, ha gath man do Neaw, ha setha war dom dyhow an Tâz olgallusac, ha a lena ef ra doaz do ry brez war bew ha marro. Me a credgy en Sperys Zanz en Egloz Zanz Cadhyleg, an cowtrhyanz an zansow, dhewyllyanz pehouso, an deraffa arta an corph, ha an bewnanz heb dywaith. Amen.
This Celtic language was spoken by the Britons of Cornwall ages before Julius Caesar set foot in Briton, and, as a spoken tongue, expired only at the end of last century.
Antiquaries of the old school made a great point of the Phoenician element in West Cornwall, which they believed to be very considerable. Many facts confirm this theory. Not a few learned men declare that the Ictis of the ancients was simply the whole Cornish promontory west of Hayle river, which, they say, was then a channel of the sea, extending along the St. Erth valley to Marazion. That the Phoenicians had colonies in this region is highly probable, considering the importance of their tin trade.
An old Cornish tradition affirms that the tin used in the construction of Solomon’s temple was brought from what is now the parish of Godolphin. Certain it is that the inhabitants of West Cornwall enjoyed a high degree of civilization at a time when the rest of Britain was sunk in barbarism.
More about St. Ives
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