Map of the St. Ives district


A Physical Description of the District.

The town of Saint Ives is situated in the Hundred of West Penwith2, on the northern coast of Cornwall, 277 miles south-west of London, and sixteen miles from the Land’s End. The older part of the town stands on an isthmus which separates a small peninsula from the mainland. Some centuries ago this peninsula was entirely surrounded by water, and it is still called The Island.

The parish of Saint Ives is bounded on the north and east by the sea; on the south-east by the parish of Lelant; and on the west by the parish of Towednack, which is bounded on the west by the parish of Zennor.

From the highest part of the Island at Saint Ives we have a view which embraces the most prominent natural features of this district. Let us begin by describing the coast line. The farthest points which we can see westward are the jagged headlands of Clodgy and Carthew, between which last and the Island is the cove called Porthmeor. The extreme point of the Island is called Pendinas, or Saint Ives Head. Between this and the town are the cove of Porthgwidden, the rocks of Carn Crowz, and the Quay or pier. The shore close to the town is called the Foresand, and is separated by Penolva Point from the sands of Porthminster. Still looking eastward around Saint Ives Bay we trace in succession the headland of Porthripter, separated by Carrack Gladn Point from those of Porthkitny; Hawk’s Point; the sand-hills or towans of Lelant, and the mouth of the Hayle River; and then, on the other side of Saint Ives Bay, the black cliffs and yellow sand-hills of the eastern shore, terminating with the island and lighthouse of Godrevy. Beyond this we see the headland of Saint Agnes, and still farther to the north-east we may dimly discern the far-projecting promontory of Trevose Head. Westward stretches the vast Atlantic.

Inland the district is hilly. Near the town are the eminences called Barnoon and the Stennack, and the hills of Penmester and Tregenna. Further to the south and west are Carn Stabba and Trencrom Hill, the Rocky Downs, Rosewall Hill, Worvas Hill (on which stands Knill’s Steeple), Trink, Trendrean and Trevalgan Hills.

The following figures are taken from Wallis’ ‘Cornwall Register,’ 1847:

St. Ives contains statute acres, 1850
Lelant 4240
Towednack 2880
Zennor 4640
The height of the ground at Lelant Church is 110 feet.
Trencrom Hill 550
Trink Hill 652
ground at Knill’s Steeple 545

From these heights several streams flow into Saint Ives Bay. The Trenwith stream, locally known as the River, rises by Rosewall Hill, in the parish of Towednack, runs down the Stennack through the village of Trenwith, and so into the harbour of Saint Ives. The Tregenna stream rises on the hill of that name, flows through the grounds of Tregenna Castle, and loses itself in the sands of Porthminster, near the foundations of an ancient chapel. Both these streams, but especially the latter, supply good drinking-water.

In the south-eastern end of Saint Ives parish there is another stream (used for tin-streaming) which rises near Knill’s Steeple, and flows through Carbis Valley into Carbis Bay.

The Hayle River is the only considerable stream in this part of Cornwall. It gives its name to the manufacturing town of Hayle, and separates the parishes of Lelant and Phillack. This river and the valley of Saint Erth form a continuous, though irregular, depression stretching from north-west to south-east across the narrowest part of the West Cornwall peninsular, and separating the Land’s End district from the rest of the county. Recent geological investigations conclusively demonstrate that this depression was, ages ago, a marine channel, and the island thus formed was probably chief of the Cassiterides, or tin-bearing islands.

Quaint, laborious old Holinshed found out all about these rivers, and thus describes them:

‘The soile also is very hillie here, as for saint Ies towne, it is almost (as I said) a byland, and yet it is well watered with sundrie rilles that come from those hilles unto the same. S. Ies baie is full ten miles from the lands end, & rather more, if you reckon to the fall of the Haile, which lieth in the very middest and highest part of the baie of the same.’

The ‘Itinerary’ of William of Worcester, written in 1478, has a good deal to say as to the geography of the Saint Ives district:

‘Villa Lalant super mare boriale per tria miliaria de Mont-Myghell.’ (The town of Lelant is on the northern sea about three miles from St. Michael’s Mount.)

‘Villa Seynt Hy sup: mare borial: circa 12 milia ab ulto fine occidentalis regni Anglie.’ (The town of St. Ives is on the northern sea about 12 miles from the extreme end of the west of the Kingdom of England.)

‘Le North sea. Ville pcipales sup: mare boriale site. Primo Seynt Hyes villa usus oriente ex pte: boriali maris distat a Musholt 8 mil. De S. Hyes usque Lananta 2 miliaria.’ (The North Sea. The principal towns situated on the northern sea. First, St. Ives, a town towards the east, on the northern side of the sea, is distant from Mousehole 8 miles. From St. Ives to Lelant 2 miles.)

‘Mem. de Seynt Hyves villa, et omnes villæ proxime sequentes sunt scitæ sup: mare boriale vsus oriente preter vill: de Launceston.’ (Mem. From St. Ives town and all the towns near to it, are situated on the northern sea towards the east, except the town of Launceston.)

‘Mem. from Pensance to Seynt Yves jette 6 myle.’

‘Item from Seynt Yves usque Lalant havyn 2 myle.’

Leland’s ‘Itinerary’ (3rd. ed., Oxon., 1769) has these geographical notes:

Hayle, flu. nunc, ut quidam putant, absorptum a sabulo; it was on the North se.’ (Hayle, a river now, as some think, absorbed by the sand.)

At Lelant there is ‘passage at Ebbe over a great Strond: and then over Heyle River.‘

‘S. Iës a 2 Miles or more from Lannant. The Place that the chief of the Toun hath and partely dooth stonde yn is a very Peninsula, and is extendid into the Se of Severn as a Cape. This Peninsula to cumpace it by the Rote lakkith litle of a Mile.’

‘The Town of S. Iës is servid with fresch Water of Brokettes that rise in the Hilles therby.’

‘The shore from S. Iës is sore plagued to S. Carantokes [Crantock] with Sandes.’

Holinshed calls Saint Ives a

‘Little Byland, Cape or Peninsula, which is not to be counted of in this place. And yet, sith I haue spoken of it, you shall understand, that it is called Pendinas, and beside that the compasse thereof is not aboue a mile, this is to be remembred farder thereof, how there standeth a Pharos or light therein, for ships which saile by those coasts in the night. There is also at the verie point of the said Pendinas, a chappell of sainte Nicholas, beside the church of saint Ia, an Irish woman saint. It belonged of late to the Lord Brooke, but now (as I guesse) the Lord Mountioy enioieth it. There is also a blockhouse, and a peere in the eastside thereof, but the peere is sore choked with sand, as is the whole shore furthermore from S. Ies unto S. Carantokes, insomuch as the greatest part of this Byland is now couered with sands, which the sea casteth up, and this calanitie hath indured little aboue fiftie yeares, as the inhabitants doo affirme.’ (Edition of 1586.)

Writing of the accumulated sands on the eastern shore of Saint Ives Bay, Halliwell says:

‘Their further progress is now retarded by the extensive propagation of the common sea-rush, the Arundo arenaria of Linnæus, or, as some have it, Calamagrostis arenaria. This rush grows rapidly on the sand, where it mechanically opposes all motion on the surface. The result is that these huge sandy hillocks, instead of being nuisances, are in the process of becoming fine grassy undulating promenades, the reed favouring the growth of turf. Here also may be seen the common eringo, which was cultivated on the sands at Hayle in Elizabeth’s time for the sake of its roots, as recorded by Drayton. From the Hayle Towans, note on the right the Godrevy rocks and lighthouse; at low water, the St. Ives fishermen casting their launce-nets for bait; but only at high water turn your eyes in the direction of Penzance, when the wide expanse of the estuary is then a beautiful lake, rendering pretty the rural village of Lelant, with its woods to the water-edge. But above all is from this spot the unique prospect of St. Ives. No one could fancy, as one sees that town as if it absolutely glittered in the sun and ornamented the sea—a sort of minor English Constantinople—of how squalid a character is the mass of buildings there, and how an anticipated romance will be dissipated by a visit.’

In a maritime parish of Cornwall the rocks of the shore are an important feature, and are all the more interesting on account of the ancient names which they bear, names which, for the most part, are now unknown except to the older generation of fishermen. A full list of these coast-rocks will be found in another chapter.

In the ironstone cliffs to the east of Porthminster are several caves. Just under Tregenna is an old house known as the Vow Cot, meaning ‘the cottage by the cave’; and in Carrack Gladn Cove is the cave called Zawn-Abadden.

The piles of rock called ‘carns’ are exceedingly numerous in the neighbourhood of Saint Ives. They are nearly all composed of granite, but in the immediate neighbourhood of the old town this gives place to a very hard, dark-green slate-rock. This might be expected from the geological formation of the district, the north-east part of Saint Ives parish being, according to Dr. Borlase composed of compact and slaty felspar rocks, while the other part is of granite. Both these rocks, he adds are traversed metalliferous veins.

Hunt in his ‘Popular Romances of the West of England,’ p.201, thus describes the geological formation of the Island:

‘The so-called Island is now a peninsular mass of clay slate-rocks, interpenetrated by very hard trappean masses. Between this, and the town of St. Ives, is a low neck of land, which consists cheifly of sand and gravel, with some masses of clay slate broken into small angular fragments. On either side of this neck of land are good examples of raised beaches. Everything, therefore favours the tradition which is preserved in the name. One statement is that the Island was brought in from the sea; another, that it rose out of the sea.’

The mines in the Saint Ives district were formerly many and prosperous; but the general decadence of Cornish mining during the last fifty years has seriously affected them. Wheal Providence, which a century ago, was one of the most fortunate of mines in West Cornwall, has long ceased working. Its remains still cover many acres of ground between Knill’s Steeple and the highroad from Saint Ives to Lelant. This mine has given its name to the hamlet of Chy-an-Wheal, i.e., ‘Mine House.’ Another old, but now disused, mine is that named Saint Ives Consols. It is situated at the top of the Stennack, and the buildings connected with it are very extensive.

‘St. Ives Consols tin-mine has been at work some thirty-eight years, and is very rich for tin, and has made large profits. The monthly cost was £2,400, and the number employed was 450 persons; but if tin be at a low price, the mine barely pays expenses. The formation of the tin-ore in this mine is very singular, and is provincially termed carbona.’ (‘Cornwall: its Mines and Miners,’ 1855, p.40.)

Below Saint Ives Consols, on the Stennack, are the Trenwith Stamps, first started about a hundred years ago. On the rocks of Pednolva is seen the engine-house (now an artist’s studio) of a mine which was made some thirty years ago, and which proved a failure.

Much tin-mining has been done on the eastern side of Rosewall Hill, which is dotted with engine-houses. The district of Halsetown, near Saint Ives, was built to afford dwellings to the hundreds of miners formerly employed in the neighbourhood.

1 [Note that the parish boundaries on this map are very approximate. Ed.]

2 [I can find no other evidence that ‘West’ Penwith existed as a separate hundred. Ed.]