Carnon Downs Methodist Chapel
The Civil Parish of Feock is divided into two Ecclesiastical Parishes, Feock and Devoran.
The original Parish Church was in Feock, the much more recent Parish Church of Devoran being built as recently as the middle of the 19th century, when Devoran became a growing community in its own right with the coming of the mineral railway and port.
Other religions have flourished in the parish, in particular the Wesleyan Methodist Church.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church came to Cornwall many times. His most famous preaching platform being at Gwennap Pit. There is no record of him actually coming to Carnon Downs, but it is known that he did preach to a large congregation in nearby Perranwell on one occasion. He wrote in his journal on June 29th 1747, ‘I preached to a very large congregation at seven; and the word was as rain on the tender herb.’
No doubt many residents living in the scattered farms and small holdings where Carnon Downs now sits, walked the couple of miles to Perranwell to hear him, but it was to be almost another eighty years before we see the beginnings of a Methodist Congregation in Carnon Downs itself.
The first record of a Methodist service in Carnon Downs comes from 1824 when Edward Budd, the editor of the West Briton newspaper and a local Methodist Preacher, came to the village and held an open air service, probably somewhere near the present day Chapel as that was the focal point of the local road and track network. Mr. Budd was supported on that occasion by Edward Olive, a local shoemaker, known to all as Captain Olive, although I can find no record of any military or other connection to substantiate the title.
Edward was born in Gerrans and baptised there on 17th May 1787, son of Samuel Olive.
He moved to this area as a young man and leased a parcel of land from Lord Falmouth where he built his house, calling it Ebenezer in what we now know as Valley Lane.
The original house has only recently been knocked down in favour of a new dwelling.
He married a local girl, Honor James in Feock Church on 25th February 1809 and they had at least ten children, many of whom remained in the local area for their whole lives. One son, Samuel died as a young lad of thirteen years and a daughter, Phillipa, emigrated to Australia with her husband Peter Dunstan and died in the mining area of Ballarat in 1877.
Edward Olive became the leading light in the local Methodist movement, he obtained another lease from Lord Falmouth, this time on land believed to have stretched originally from the present day Chapel down the road, perhaps as far as Staggy Lane, for the purposes of building a Chapel and also creating a Methodist Burial Ground. The land at the time was all open downland. The original lease for the land was a “three lives” lease, common in those days where the lease ran until the death of the last of those named in the lease. In this case the three were all children, one of whom was Honor, the six year old daughter of Edward Olive.
Money to build the Chapel it was hoped could be raised by donation and subscription. Subscribers paid £1 for a seat, a custom which carries on to this day in many Churches and Chapels as a means of fund raising. Subscribers were also expected to keep their seat in good repair during the time they held it.
The total cost of the new Chapel was £186.00, of which less than half was actually raised from donations and subscriptions, the balance being taken out as a loan, repayable on expiry of the lease. The burial ground idea never came about and parcels of the excess land were later sold or leased to others for housing. The Chapel grounds were on the open downs until being enclosed by a wall in 1833 at a cost of a further £15.00. Access then, it seems was only by means of a stile on Bissoe Road, no “disabled access” considerations in those days!
A further small piece of land was acquired a few years later to build the stable at the rear of the building. The terms here including the fact that the new building should never be used as a Public House or Kiddleywink.
The original building has seen much alteration since it was first built. Within twenty years of the first recorded open air service by Mr. Budd and Mr. Olive, the Chapel’s west wall was taken down to expand its capacity. Following this extension, it boasted a seating capacity of 537 and it is said that Mr. Olive held services in the open air amongst the building materials during the building work. Subsequent alterations saw it again redesigned internally and the seating capacity lowered and much later, in 1895, the south wall collapsed and had to be rebuilt at a cost of £320.
Mr. Olive also held a Sunday School at his home at Ebenezer for a couple of years before the Chapel was built. When this transferred to the new Chapel, numbers attending are said to have risen to around 200.
Edward Olive was a lifelong member of the Chapel community but in addition to this and his shoemaking business, he was also the collector of the Parish Poor Rate, a task he performed for nearly fifty years. The West Briton records that he retired from the post in 1872 at the age of 85 years and that as a mark of the respect in which he was held he was presented with “a purse of fifteen sovereigns” upon his retirement. He died on 26th September 1874 at the age of 88 and was buried on 28th September in Feock Churchyard. His daughter, Honor, now Honor Dunstan, was the last surviving “name” on the original 1824 lease and when she died on 14th August 1886, there was a period of uncertainty as the insurance company who should have paid off the original loan on expiry of the lease, had gone bankrupt. An agreement was reached which saw the Trustees continue to pay the loan until it was finally all paid back by 1916.
The Methodist Chapel continues to this day to be a focal point in the middle of the village and today (2016), plans are at an advanced stage to refurbish and modernise parts of the old buildings and expand their community use and appeal.
Plans which I am sure would meet with the full approval of Edward Olive and the other founders of the Chapel nearly two hundred years ago.
Written by Bob Richards