The Penwith Papers

Parish Boundaries - and some boundary stones

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 ParishesThe 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 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 1284Penwith manors in 1284

Moving forward in time, we come to the Norman Manors – as recorded in in 1284:

Roseworthy (B)

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

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 1613Cory’s boundary stones as recorded in 1613

The Zennor boundary stones recorded by Cory in 1613 all have their own meanings:

  1. Meane an toll, 'which in English is a stone with a hole'. Perhaps a natural stone marked with a hole or indent
  2. Carrack an na Valla, rock of the...[unintelligible]
  3. Carrack an Deeber, the saddle rock. It was on the saddle between Carn Galva and Watch Croft
  4. Meane Crouse, rock with a cross. Now called the ‘Four Parishes Stone’ where Zennor, Morvah, Madron and Gulval meet. The stone has a small cross on it Having come inland, the Zennor boundary turns east and follows the Ridgeway Route now called the Tinners’ Way.
  5. Meane Toll, stone marked with a hole
  6. Carrac Vurose Dan Ventan Ego, now called Venton Nigga. Great rock below cave with a well or spring, from ‘venton’, a well or spring, and ‘nigga/fugoe’, for cave
  7. Carrack Pedden Mellen, yellow head rock
  8. Peele Myne, heap of stones
  9. Meane West Ta Cridge Toll. Cridge might refer to the barrow which used to be on the south side of the road, in which case this might be the stone with the hole by the barrow. It is opposite Heather Brea and was called ‘A Blew Stone’ in 1696
  10. Toll an Creene, pond stone. It is in the lane at Higher Kerrow. ‘Creen’ is Cornish for pool and here is the Trye spring at Kerrowell. The spring is in a little stoup with a shelf for a pitcher and a hollow in front of it several feet across.
  11. Meene Crouse an Especk, now called the ‘Bishop’s Head and Foot’. It is a large stone slab but no cross remains. It is where the three parishes of Zennor, Gulval and Towednack meet. The trackway divides here, one following the parish boundary the other going towards Ludgvan.
  12. Meene in Poole Dower, stone in a pool of water.
  13. Poll an in Toll, pool in a hole.
  14. The Radell, rubbish or mine waste
  15. Meane an Toll, stone marked with a hole.
  16. Meane Glase, green stone.
  17. Meane Gen Bush Ithen, stone with a furze bush (on Boscuben Carn).
  18. Carne an Watch, rock pile where watch was kept (on Trendrine Hill).
  19. Carrack an Bargeess. Carrack an Bargos was the buzzard's rock by Trevail River.

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 todayGulval 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


The Penwith Papers:

Penwith Local History Group
The Penwith Papers:

Growing Up in West Cornwall. A Publication by the Penwith Local History Group

"Growing Up in West Cornwall"

Edited by
Sally Corbet

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