Sketch of St. Ives from Porthminster Point

Historical Sketch

IF there is one respect in which the present age may be said to be an improvement on the past it is the intelligent appreciation now shown by a large and increasing number of people for the remains of antiquity. It is only of late years that we have come to realize the immense historical value and the interesting character of our ancient Parish Registers and books of Municipal Record, and although modern research has proved only too clearly that very many ancient documents of the highest historical value have been lost or destroyed for want of ordinary care and appreciation yet we may well be thankful that so much has been preserved. The early history of St. Ives, like that of most towns, is obscure, but although undoubtedly of very great antiquity it did not rise to anything like importance until towards the close of the fourteenth century, when it appears to have shared in the general prosperity during the long reign of Edward III. The best account of the place at this period has been gleaned from the Manuscript History written by Mr. Hicks, and finished in 1722, at which time the Author appears to have been very aged. Mr. Hicks was a member of an old St. Ives family, and had been Mayor on several occasions, which office procured for him free access to all writings and documents relating to the transactions of the Borough. He gives extracts in his Manuscripts from an article written in the reign of Elizabeth and preserved at that time among the records of the Borough referring to the building of the Church:—

“As it had pleased the Almighty God to increase the Town inhabitants and to send down temporal blessings most plentifully among them, the people, to show their thankfulness for the same did resolve to build a Chaple in St. Ives, they having no house in the town wherein public prayers, and divine service were read, but were forced every Sunday and holyday to go to Lelant Church, being three miles distant from St. Ives, to hear the same, and likewise to carry their children to Lelant to be baptized, their dead to be there buried, to go there to be married, and their women to be churched, whereupon the inhabitants of St. Ives did about the year of our Lord 1408 petition the lord Campernon, lord of St. Ives, that he would be pleased to petition his holiness the Pope, to grant his licence for a Chaple to be built within the Borough: so the lord Campernon on his petition did obtain from his holiness the Pope Alexander the fifth Anno 1410 his bull to build a Chapel in the Borough: and likewise obtayned a licence from the most reverend father in God the archbishop of Canterbury, and a licence from the right reverend the Bishop of Exeter for the building of the sayde Chaple which, together with the tower was began in the reign of King Henry V and finished in the reign of King Henry VI, being six[et]een and a half years in building.”

It is a matter for deep regret that of all these ancient documents there is now no trace. The Manuscript History was seen and made use of by the historian, C. S. Gilbert, nearly 100 years after the death of Mr. Hicks, but all attempts to discover its present whereabouts have entirely failed. The stones for building the Church are said to have been brought by water from Zennor, in itself an exceedingly difficult and somewhat dangerous task, but the building of their Church was clearly a labour of love with the small community, numbering at that time, I should say, not more than 500 all told. Tradition says that where money could not be given the people gave cheerfully of their labour, so that in due time, after many delays, and disappointments arising from want of funds, their pious aspirations were realized, and the stately thankoffering to Almighty God for temporal blessings was erected in their midst. Of all the builders’ names only one now remains, that of Ralph Clies, the master smith. The front panels of a seat now in the Church have shields bearing:—

  1. Hammer, Pincers, Nails, and Horse Shoe.
  2. Hamer and Anvil.
  3. A Head.
  4. A Head.
  5. Pair of Bellows.
  6. Ladle, Trammers, and Clefts.

These are said to represent the smith’s implements, and the figures 3 and 4 to be intended for Master Clies and his wife. When they had built their Church the St. Ives people aspired further, viz., to get a market. Till then they had to go to Lelant to do their marketing, but St. Ives was resolved to have a market of its own. Accordingly we find that in the third year of Henry VII Sir Robert Willoughby, afterwards Lord Broke, who had obtained the Manor of St. Ives through marriage with the heiress of Lord Campernon, and who appears to have entered into a spirited resolution of making the Town of some importance, obtained a Charter in 1488 for a weekly market to be held on Saturdays, with two annual fairs. A market house was built in 1490, which remained until 1832, when it was pulled down and the present one erected on the same site. There are many persons still living who can well remember the ancient building. Lord Broke also erected and armed a fort for the protection of the Town, which is still known as the Castle. In the month of August, 1497, Perkin Warbeck, pretender to the throne, and his wife the Lady Catherine Gordon, came to St. Ives from Ireland with four ships of war, and landed here with about 150 men. The leader was addressed by the title of King Richard IV. Proceeding from St. Ives to St. Michael’s Mount, where the lady was placed in the castle, whilst her husband and his followers, including, probably, some fresh adherents from St. Ives, marched toward Bodmin. The fate of these unfortunate adventurers is a matter of history.

Fifty years later the County was again in a ferment, this time from religious motives. It is curious that in the County where the Reformation was the most entirely accepted, it was at first the most resisted. In the reign of Edward VI the old service books were abolished, the new Prayer Book ordered to be used, and all images were removed from the churches. The Cornish people determined to resist these innovations, the King’s Commissioner being killed at Bodmin, and the County was soon in open revolt under the leadership of Sir Humphrey Arundell, Governor of St. Michael’s Mount.

The Cornishmen declared:—

“We will not receive the new Service because it is but like a Christmas game, but we will have our old Service of Mattens, Masse, Evensong, and procession in Latten as it was before. And so we the Cornish men whereof certain of us understand no English utterly refuse this new English. We will have Holy Bread and Holy water made every Sunday, Palmes and ashes at the tymes accustomed, Images to be set up again in every Church, and all other ancient old ceremonies used heretofore by our Mother the Holy Church, we will have every preacher in His sermon and every Priest at his Mass pray specially by name for the soules in purgatory as our forefathers did.”

At that time the ancient Cornish language was the one spoken by the people. and it is probable that in St. Ives only a few could speak the new English; they clung to the old ways and to their ancient belief, and so entered heart and soul into the desperate venture of the Catholic Rebellion. The people of St. Ives rise with the rest. John Payne, the Portrieve or Mayor, is made captain in the rebel army, which marched victorious into Devonshire and laid siege to Exeter. Had Arundell pressed on to London there could be nothing to resist him, but the six weeks delay at Exeter saved England. It gave the Lord Protector Somerset time to gather the royal forces, and after a series of desperate battles the Cornishmen gave way before superior numbers and retreated across the border. John Payne and his St. Ives men doubtless thought to escape notice in the quiet of their homes, but Sir Anthony Kingston, the Provost Marshal, rides into the Town, and is entertained with much ceremony by the Mayor at the old “George and Dragon” Inn, in the Market Place, recently demolished. The story runs that a little before dinner Sir Anthony Kingston took the Mayor aside and whispered to him in the ear that an execution must be done that day in the Town, and therefore required him that a pair of gallows should be made and erected against the time the dinner should end. The Mayor was diligent to fulfil this command, and no sooner was dinner ended than he demanded of the Mayor whether the work was finished. The Mayor answered that all was ready. “I pray you,” said the Provost, “bring me to the place.” The Mayor therewith took him friendly, and beholding the gallows he asked the Mayor whether he thought them to be strong enough. “Yes,” said the Mayor, “doubtless they are.” “Well,” said the Provost, “get up speedily, for they are prepared for you.” “I hope,” answered the Mayor, “you mean not as you speak.” “In faith,” said the Provost,“ there is no remedy, for you have been a busy rebel.” So presently the Mayor was hung up. The arms of John Payne are still to be seen in one of the foreseats in the Church, two kneeling figures support a shield on which are the words “John Peyn.” These events happened in the year 1549, and nine years later — in the reign of Queen Mary — St. Ives was invested with the privilege of sending two Members to the House of Commons.

Up to this time we are entirely dependent upon the printed pages of history and upon tradition for our knowledge of St. Ives, but from the year 1570 we are in possession of the actual manuscript records of the Borough, with the ink almost as fresh looking as when the words were inscribed upon the pages — more than 300 years ago. Until very recently the volume which commences in 1638 was believed to be the most ancient of our books of record, but about five years ago I was fortunate enough to discover in my researches amongst some old and musty documents a bundle which exieted [sic] my curiosity, and on looking more closely I saw that it was a manuscript record of the Borough of an earlier date than the one in the possession of the Corporation. The bundle was so tattered and crumpled, so damp and decayed, that I feared no use could be made of it, but on taking it to London for examination by experts it was most skilfully restored and re-bound. The manuscript is entitled “A Booke of Recorde belonginge to the Parish of Sainte Ives, in Cornwall, beinge made the 23rd Daye of November, 1570, in the thirteenth yeare of the Rayne of our Soverayne Ladie Elizabeth by the Grace of God of England, France and Ireland, Queene, Defender of the Faith.” It will thus be seen that this book carries back the Manuscript records of the Borough to a much earlier date, and it is especially interesting from the fact that it pours a flood of fresh light upon the early history of our Town. It is interesting to note that the names of persons taking an active interest in the little town 300 years ago have survived, within occasional differences in the spelling, until the present time. The name of Hain first occurs in 1573, and Williams, Woolcock, Hamblye, Jenckyn, Hauke, Paynter, Nole, Toman, Rosewall, and many others.

Unfortunately the various writers were not careful to carry their entries straight on from one page to the next, hence the accounts of the various years are muddled together in a very confused way, and the written date has in many instances disappeared owing to the decay of the upper margin of the leaf. I shall, therefore, not take the pages in consecutive order, but shall deal only with what I consider to be the most interesting and suggestive entries in the volume.

Although no direct reference is made to the Armada, many entries are to be found relating to preparations for receiving the Spaniards, and for giving them a warm reception if they came. From what we have seen of the character of the people it is not too much to believe that a number of St. Ives men, sons perhaps of the very men who had taken part in the Catholic Rebellion, were with Drake and Hawkins and the rest of the Elizabethan heroes in that great sea fight against the Spaniards, which decided beyond all question that England and the future English speaking race should be of the Protestant and not of the Catholic faith. In the year 1595, seven years after the destruction of the Armada, the Spaniards recovered somewhat from their great defeat and made another decent upon the Cornish Coast with four galleys. Landing at Mousehole they burnt that village, and the parish Church of Paul, and set fire to Newlyn and Penzance. Rallying from their first surprise the Cornishmen assembled on Marazion Green, under Sir Francis Godolphin, who had gathered together the armed men of the neighbourhood including, without doubt, the trained band from St. Ives, and prepared to give battle to the enemy. The Spaniards, however, seeing the forces arrayed against them went off to their galleys and sailed away. In connection with this event, there are several entries in the old records. At this time a rate was levied for the defence of the town against the Spaniards, and it was afterwards ordered that those who had not paid their share of this rate should pay it towards the repair of the Church.

Carew in his Survey of Cornwall first published in 1602, thus refers to the Cornish Guary or Play :— “The Guary Miracle is a kind of interlude compiled in Cornish out of some scripture history. For representing it they raise an earthen amp[h]itheatre in some open field leaving the diameter of the enclosed plain some forty or fifty feet. The country people flock from all sides to see and hear it, for they have therein devils and devices to delight the eye as well as the ear. The players speak not their parts without book, but are prompted by one called the ordinary, who followeth at their back with the book in his hand and telleth them softly what they must pronounce aloud. The dramas were acted at one time, for several days together and were similar in character to the English mysteries of the same period.” That these Miracle plays were performed by the people of St. Ives we find from numerous entries in our book of record.

The Kinge and Quene of the Somer games were annually chosen from among the handsomest lads and lasses of the parish. It was their duty to preside over the summer sports and Maypole dances and to hand over all monies received for the relief of the poor.

The Play was continued for a whole week as we find the receipts for each day carefully entered. One entry in the manuscript is most curious:— “Spent upon the Carpenters that made Hevin” (Heaven). This making of Heaven doubtless refers to stage scenery for the Miracle Play. The government of the little town was vested in the twelve men and the twenty-four, as they are described in the records, meaning the twelve capital and the twenty-four common burgesses, but the person in chief authority was the Portrieve or Head Warden. Every department of public life in the place was ruled by him, and he appears to have been a kind of final court of appeal in all disputed cases. The little harbour with the small pier running out from Carn Glaze, the fisheries, the Church, in fact all the affairs of the Borough were under his control. Some of the entries in the records relating to the Church are most curious and interesting:—

“Paid to the parish of St. Uny for one year’s rent £l — 2 — 6.” This was probably an annuity paid to Lelant as the Mother Church.

“Paid for a barrell of lyme and six bundles of lathes for to dress the Church.

“Paid John Williams for helling stones and lathe nayles for the Church.

“Paid to the Vicar at Ester.

“Paid for a collar for the belle

“Paid for a book for the Vickar.”

In the year 1575, Thomas James and Pearse Nole give notice that they would gather fourpence from every householder for the Communion bread and wine.

Every page of the records contains some account of money given in charity, and of assistance to poor persons passing thro’ the town on passage to or from Ireland, St. Ives at this time being the chief port of departure in the west for passage to Ireland.

“Paid William Otes for putting forth the Ireland Soldiers. That is to the constable for escorting out of the parish certain soldiers who had landed here from Ireland.

“Paid for the dyett of 6 poore soldiers coming from Ireland.

“Item paid for mending the lazerns house.

“Lazer, Leper i.e. Pauper.

“Paid for a hundred and a half of reede to thacke the Lazares’ house.

“Item paid for a peare of breeches for John the Lasar.

“Item to buie the poore maide clothes, 1/2.

“Paid for watching of Henry Peter and his son in the stocks.

“Paid for harde woode to burn amongst the coales.

“Paid for tember, nayles and to a labourer to mend the poore house door by the Churchyard against Christmas, and afterwards again broken by Soldiers seeking their way in.

“Paid to William Wolcock for straw for the clome wall of ye penthouse.

“Paid two poore men to carrye the coffyn up to Treloyhan and bringing William Hill to his grave, being a poor man of the parish.”

We have now brought the history of the quaint little community to the end of the sixteenth century. The shadow of the coming days of trouble was drawing very near. Already the stern Puritanism which proceeded the great rebellion in which the men of St. Ives were to play their part, had put an end to the innocent gaiety and laughter of the summer games. The King and Queen of the May had been chosen from amongst the lads and lasses of St. Ives almost for the last time, but perhaps a tradition of these summer games still lingers in the practise of our young people who get early afoot on May morning to gather garlands of flowers. At the opening of the seventeenth century the long and brill[i]ant reign of Elizabeth was drawing to a close. The defeat of the Spanish Armada had finally secured the kingdom from the fear of foreign invasion, and the people were free to turn their attention to burning questions at home. There was a growing dissatisfaction and disappointment with the results of the Reformation, all the fre[e]dom of opinion and of religious worship which had been expected had not been realised, the teaching of Calvin and other reformers was having its effect, and the people chafed against all authority, whether exercised by the throne or by the church. A stern puritanism sprang into existence which put an end to much of the life and colour and gaiety which prevailed during Elizabeth’s reign. It was now accounted a sin to hang garlands of flowers on the maypole or to take part in the summer games, and the solemn peal of the organ in religious worship was considered a superstition.

Elizabeth knew how to reconcile contending factions, or at all events to keep them in check, but at her death in 1603, the long struggle for supremacy between the parliament and the throne, which was to end in civil war and the execution of a king, commenced in real earnest. These are all matters of history, and need not have been referred to here, but for the fact that St Ives was deeply affected by the changes which took place in the national character. Cornwall, generally, was loyal to church and king in these troublous times, but St. Ives, as usual, was the exception to the rule, and under its Puritan leaders became, as we shall see, the local head-quarters of the revolutionary party.

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