Have you ever wondered:
Who first designed our parish boundaries, and when?
Why are some parishes bigger than others?
Why are they odd shapes?
For some answers – read on. The following Penwith Paper is based on a talk given as part of our presentation at the Penzance Literary Festival in 2019.
Boundaries often followed natural features such as rivers and valleys. The Ridgeway Route, now called The Tinners Track, forms the southern boundary of Zennor and Morvah.
The Penwith Parishes
St Buryan is the oldest church and had twelve canons when King Athelstan visited it in 932 AD. He granted to the canons seven nearby hamlets, to be free of his taxes, and the church became a royal peculiar. This meant that later - when dioceses were created - the bishop had no control over St Buryan. Needless to say, this led to friction, especially when the bishop's men tried to collect taxes. A circle of wayside crosses was erected a mile from the church, and inside them anyone could claim sanctuary.
The canons of St Buryan would have visited their ‘field churches’, which were dotted about Penwith. Sennen and St Leven were originally part of St. Buryan. Madron, Gulval and Ludgvan originally stretched from coast to coast. Lelant went nearly all around St. Ives Bay. When Towednack was formed, like all parishes it wanted a bit of coast; hence the tongue of land to the north. Sancreed – firmly inland - was the exception, being the only parish with no coast.
Ecclesiastical boundaries were preceded by manors, which were in turn preceded by tithings. To trace these origins we need to go back to pre-Norman times. The Saxons divided Cornwall into hundreds with a line down the middle of the county. Nearest to Plymouth were East and West Wivelshire with Stratton to the north. Next to them were Lesnewth and Trig, then Pydar and Powder. The last two hundreds were Kerrier, for The Lizard - and then, finally, Penwith which stretched down from Redruth. Each hundred was divided into ten tithings. The Saxons used hundreds and tithings to administer the county and collect their taxes.
The Penwith pre-Norman Tithings
The map above shows the ten tithings for Penwith, ignoring later divisions. The most easterly is Tehidy which is white. Connerton (Conner's town) includes Connor Downs, is red and was the most important one. Binnerton, blue, was in two parts. Truthwall, yellow, included St. Michael's Mount and Gurlyn is in purple. Ludgvan, shown with red stripes, stretched from coast to coast. Lanisley, the old name for Gulval, is in orange stripes. Alverton, green, was Alward's town and Alward was a Saxon name. Kelynack, shown in brown stripes, was based on St. Just and Trevedran, in orange, was based on St. Buyran.
All men over twelve years, except lords and clergy, were enrolled in a tithing. They elected a head tithing-man and were responsible for law and order in their area. Tithing courts usually sat twice a year. They appointed officials, dealt with petty offences and organized grazing rights. If anyone was accused of an offence, the inhabitants had to bring them to justice or they were fined at the next court sitting. Every tithing had its pound, and animals found grazing in the wrong place were rounded up and put there. Owners were fined for letting their animals stray.
Penwith manors in 1284
Moving forward in time, we come to the Norman Manors – as recorded in in 1284:
Under the Normans, large tithings were split up. The Normans held their wealth in the form of land and therefore used it to pay debts, endow daughters and perhaps second sons, and provide for widows. By 1284 there were 25 manors, each with its own lys, or court. Some of them were very scattered and Hornwell probably started as a strip along the north coast. The land was taken from the manors of Ludgvan, Gulval and Binnerton (which included north Madron), and may have stretched as far as Land’s End.
The boundaries of the fourteen earliest parishes often followed natural features but the dates when they formed need, in many cases, further research.
A possible explanation for Madron parish being detached (see the parish map above) is that the lord of the manor married twice. When he died, the bulk of his estate was inherited by the eldest son of his first marriage. However he left ‘Madron Detached’, which included the lucrative mining area now known as Ding Dong, to his widow. When she died, she left it to her own son.
This was not the only case where complications arose. By 1345 Zennor, for example, was in three manors, which formed a complicated pattern. Hornwell included the top of St. Ives, the west end of Zennor, the east end of Morvah and bits in other parishes. Rosemorran, which was a sub-manor of Lanisley (Gulval), included Zennor Churchtown and most of the part of the parish which was not in Hornwell. Binnerton also had small scattered interests in Zennor.
Ludgvan was reorganised when Lelant parish was formed. St. Ives and Towenack were originally chapelries of Lelant but when St. Ives grew in importance it petitioned the pope in 1410 and was granted parish status. The church was finally consecrated in 1434. Towednack, as a parish, was not granted burial rights until the 1550s. Morvah split off from Madron parish and was licensed for divine worship in 1400.
Penzance was a chapelry of Madron until the nineteenth century, when the population increased due to the mining boom. For similar reasons Halsetown was made a separate parish from St. Ives in 1846, Pendeen was separated from St. Just in 1843 and the church built in 1851, and Newlyn was separated from the parish of Paul in 1851.
Parish boundaries were important, especially across land that was not seen every day. Zennor folk used the downs extensively for grazing their livestock. Before the days of coal, parishioners depended on the furze and turf for heating and cooking - and were on their guard against neighbours encroaching upon their rights.
Zennor village today - by Jim Champion
The parish of Zennor is bounded on the east by Trevail River, to the north by the sea, on the west, south and south-east it is marked by bound stones. In Rogation week of 1613 William Cory, curate of Zennor, set off with a party of parishioners to make ‘a true note of all such auntient markes or bounds as doe part or bounde out our parish of Senner from all other parishes’. Rogation is five weeks after Easter, so this outing probably took place in May.
The Bishop of Exeter had instructed all parishes in his diocese, which included Cornwall, to prepare a ‘terrier’ recording their boundaries. The Zennor terrier is now in the Cornwall Record Office at Kresen Kernow, Redruth. It is the earliest known record of the parish boundary and is still the same today.
Cory listed nineteen bound marks, starting in the west marking the boundary between Zennor and Morvah with a stone on the north side of the road, as shown on the map below.
Cory’s boundary stones as recorded in 1613
The Zennor boundary stones recorded by Cory in 1613 all have their own meanings:
Gulval was another interesting parish as it belonged to the Bishop of Exeter. Cornwall was looked after by an archdeacon who was endowed with the Manor of Lanisley which contained the parish of Gulval.
Gulval today - by Tony Atkin / Gulval Village
Every year parish boundaries were walked and inspected. Children were picked up by two men and bumped on the stones to impress the location on them. Perhaps they were bumped ‘head and foot’ hence the name ‘Bishop’s Head and Foot’.
About ten smaller stones were added to the Zennor boundary during the 19th century – so for future historians, the quest can continue!
Pool, PAS (Ed) The Penheleg Manuscript RIC Journal 1959 pp 163-228
Pool PAS, Zennor Bounds Revisited, RIC Journal 1997 pp37-41