Why Parish History?
Interest in local history may be sparked by any one of a number of personal triggers, perhaps research into family history, fine buildings or heroic enterprise, but the axiom for these narratives of Feock Parish has been the proposition outlined in the preface of A L Rowse's book “Tudor Cornwall”. He encourages us to “see the history of one's own parish as part of the history of Europe, a moment in the movement of the human spirit”. The history of Feock and the people who have lived here often raises the Parish from relative rural obscurity into the vanguard of events which have formed our nation.
One illustration of this is the designation of parts of Devoran and Point within the Cornwall and West Devon World Heritage Site. This status acknowledges the pioneering technological advances developed in these areas and their support of the Industrial Revolution in Britain. As such they are considered significant for the whole of humanity and whilst Feock may seem remote from the world today, even a backwater, these and other national and international connections developed through the ages belie this stereotype. Access to the internet can now bring Feock's illustrious past to life and also the world to our fingertips.
This summary provides a background to the history of the Parish and the individual narratives that follow fill in the details of places, people and events.
Three landscapes have dominated the parish until quite recently:
The Estuary and shoreline
The important maritime highway provided by the River Fal and its sheltered creeks have been a focus for settlement from the earliest times. The Bronze Age roundhouse discovered during the construction of the Carnon Gate roundabout at Devoran would have nestled beside the shoreline at a time before the creek was clogged with mine wastes. The fort at Roundwood is typical of settlements later in the Iron Age, albeit itself being an exceptional site. Shipping and boating are integral to the Parish's past and present.
Forests and woods
The countryside inland from the river was originally heavily wooded and would have remained so until the twin agents of change, mining and agriculture, caused their demise. These woods have featured strongly in the romantic literature which describes the Dark Ages of the middle of the first millenium after Christ and which told the stories of Celtic Saints and Cornish lords. The many references to woods and trees found within early place names indicate that many early farmsteads were still characterised by their woodland surroundings, Tregoose and Chycoose being good examples.
Well into the 19th century the higher parts of the parish were downlands. The origin of these lowland moors is open to conjecture. They may have been farmed in prehistory and been subject to the pattern of soil degradation which is thought to have caused the depopulation of the high moors in the later Bronze Age. In the medieval period, farms were situated on the periphery of the Downs, for example, Penelewey, meaning head of the downs, was recorded in Norman times and was strategically sited at the threshold of the Feock Downs. In the late 1600s Feock Downs were described as “more smooth and even than any other piece of open ground in West Cornwall” and the area was selected as a suitable site for a county race course, however the enterprise was not a success and enclosure of the area started in the early 1700s. To appreciate how these downs might have looked you might visit the Carrine Common between Penweathers and Baldhu. This site of Special Scientific Interest contains many plant species now listed as rare or endangered. The Downs were brought back into productivity when lime and other fertilisers were readily available in the 18/19th century. Even then, the best use made of much of Feock Downs was as the forestry estates of Wellington, Waterloo and Exmouth plantations which were established by the Trelissick Estate after the Napoleonic Wars.
Early History - The Bronze Age
There is currently no evidence of Bronze Age round settlements within our parish downs as was are typical of Cornwall's high moors, although there are indications that one was situated on Kessell Hill above Roundwood. It is possible that evidence has been obliterated by subsequent farming however numerous small barrows or tumuli from this period do remain. Four tumuli are found near Carnon Downs and a further two in the area of Feock downs. This pattern of tumuli mounds situated on higher ground is continued along the spine of land between Carnon Downs and Baldhu where a further ten can be found. These barrows have long been interpreted as burial mounds but excavations have established that many did not contain any burial material at all and that their function was likely to have been associated with other rituals. Their situation, in what would have been very prominent sites, demonstrates both the importance of landscape to our early forebears and also the capacity of these structures to endure as a striking physical statement.
Place names often provide clues to past settlements, however their interpretation is fraught, as spelling and meanings have often changed over time. The first part “Car” of the word Carnon might have derived from Caer meaning camp (fort or castle) and the name might therefore be translated as “camp on the downs”. In support of this possibility, one of the fields of the Tregye estate closest to Carnon Downs was called Gear field which may also derive from the same root Caer. The former name of Higher Devoran Farm was “Dennis” which may also be translated as hill or fort. The downs above the Carnon River hold a strategic position above this important valley and would possibly have been a suitable position for such a settlement, however no evidence has been found to support this.
Feock and the Manor of Treville
The first record we have of Feock itself is within a document dated at around 1160 AD, the very end of the Norman dynasty. The reference states: “Lanfioc – Fioc nomen sancti illius est”, translated as: "Lanfioc – this is the place of the saint named Fioc". A religious settlement was probably established in the middle of the first millenium, during the strong evangelist period of the Celtic saints. The Roman world was nominally Christian after the religion's recognition by Emperor Constantine in 313 AD, however whilst by 400 A D. the majority of Gaul had accepted the faith, the same could not be said of Britain. It is likely that due to the relative remoteness of Cornwall that it remained overwhelmingly pagan into the 6th century. It was clearly fertile ground for evangelism and tensions between the saintly monks and the local lords and common people are well described within the histories of the lives of our saints. Our parish was centrally located within the Celtic fringe which included Ireland, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany and connections between all these areas were strong.
In the 12th century Feock's secular authority was vested in the manor of Trevilla. The manor house was situated in the area where Higher Trevilla is today and the manor covered the current parochial area of Feock church. The history of landholdings in the parish stems from this time and informs both the landscape and settlement patterns we see today. Trevilla manor was not documented separately in the Domesday Book of 1085, however it is thought to have been part of the larger manor of Tregaire, whose main manor house was near St Just in Roseland and whose lands included the majority of the Roseland peninsula.
Following the conquest, William had consolidated his authority over his new realm by taking ownership of all land under the crown and a feudal system of government was subsequently established. William vested most of Cornwall with his half brother Robert de Moreton who apportioned the land amongst his loyal lieutenants. As was Norman tradition the lord of Trevilla was called de Treville and this family held the manor for the next three hundred years.
The western half of what is now our parish of Feock, including the modern villages of Carnon Downs and Devoran, was at this time part of the manor of Blancheland. This was called Woderon in the Domesday Book and its manor house is believed to have been situated at Goodern near Baldhu. Before the conquest it had been held by Alwine, but after the conquest was given to Richard Fitz Turold, who was Robert de Moreton's steward. Turold also had extensive lands around Cardinham. In 1272 this western part of the ancient manor of Woderon was granted to William de Treville by King Edward I in return for personal service to the crown and was added to the manor of Trevilla. The remaining part of Woderon manor was joined with the manor of Landighe to create what is now the parish of Kea.
In 1421 the heiress of Sir William Trevilla married Laurance de Halep whose family were lords of the manor of Lamorran in St Michael Penkevil. Laurance had two daughters who shared his inheritance, one married into the Boscawen family of Tregothnan and the other into the Trefusis family of Mylor. The manor of Trevilla, was therefore divided between these two great families from 1467 and their dual interests within the parish of Feock survived well into the 18th century.
Across the water, the lords of Cardinham also held the manor of Restronguet and its barton of Carclew. The first record of this appears in 1195 under Robert de Cardinham, however it passed to the Bodrugan family in 1362. Restronguet Manor included the barton of Harcourt, ie both sides of Restronguet Passage, at this time. The Bodrugan estates were again mainly in Roseland, extending from St Anthony to Gorran. In 1472 Sir Henry Bodrugan gifted the barton of Carclew to James Bonython whose family were from the Lizard and it remained with this family for over two hundred years before it was sold to Sir William Lemon in 1749.
The strong family links between lords of the manors in Feock and those of Roseland, Restronguet and Mylor, reinforced the importance to local life of the ferry crossings at King Harry and Restronguet Passage. This was true until quite recently as is clearly shown on the Thomas Kitchen map of 1750 which indicates that the roads to these crossings were the most important routes in the parish at the time. The main route from Falmouth to Truro in fact took a more northerly route, bypassing Feock and crossing at Higher Carnon to follow north east of Killiow and enter Truro via Penweathers. It was at the introduction of the Turnpike in 1754 that a new road across the Carnon Downs and on through Calenick became the accepted route.
A section of the "New Map" showing Feock, 1750.
The Role of the Church
The connections of family were mirrored to an extent by that of the Church. The Parish had been under the control of the Bishop of Exeter at least since Norman times and probably before this being part of the Tregaire manor of Roseland. In 1265 Bishop Bronscombe of Exeter founded Glasney College in Penryn, dedicating it to the martyred Thomas a Becket. The benefice or living derived from Feock and the associated tithes were vested in Glasney College from this time, as was its neighbouring Parish of Kea.
Tithes were originally payments in kind (such as crops wool or milk) which were an agreed proportion of the profit from the manor farm and were granted in support of their parish church and clergy.
At the dissolution of the monasteries in the time of Henry VIII most church land and income was taken from ecclesiastical control and through the crown sold to new secular owners. The assets of Glasney College were sold, together with the tithe entitlements and these in effect became the personal property of the new owners.
By the 19th century the remaining church benefices and tithes had became significant financial instruments which could be bought and sold. Families bought the rights to parishes for their heirs and it was not uncommon for vicars to hold the benefice of a number of parishes, visiting them infrequently, if ever, and possibly installing a curate to satisfy spiritual needs.
By this time the administration of tithes in kind was becoming extremely inefficient and many landowners had already commuted them to a payment instead. This pattern was formalised nationally under the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836, which set in progress a system of commissioners whose task was to record ownership and obligation across the country, a sort of for-runner of the Land Registry. An outcome of this was Tithe Maps which for Feock Parish was published in 1842 and which provides an invaluable record of land ownership. The intriguing patchwork of land holdings reflects the history of the parish from Norman times.
The 1842 Tithe Map, an important document in the history of Feock. Note how much of the land is in the possession of four landowners.
Early place names and settlement patterns
The early names of settlements are still familiar to us today, their Cornish roots having been set in prehistory. Place names of the 16th century are set out below, together with their current spellings and some likely translations:
Trelesick – Trelissick – meaning farm within the bushes or bilberries
Penhal – Penhale – meaning head of the estuary or end of the moor
Trevelle – Trevilla – uncertain meaning, possibly similar to neighbouring Penhale
Nanscageyk – Nancassick – meaning valley of the mares
Harcrak – Harcourt – meaning house above the woods or possibly rocks
Stronguet – Restronguet – meaning valley with deep promontory
Lanffeok – Feock – meaning monastery or religious hermitage of St Fioc
Pylle – Pill – meaning creek
Loo – Loe – meaning pool or pond
Porgwyn – Porthgwidden – meaning whitehaven
Tregoes – Tregew – meaning farm in the hollow or by the best field
Carnan – Carnon – meaning camp on the downs or perhaps rocky place
Tregoose – Tregoose – meaning farm in the woods
Tregie – Tregye – meaning farm of the dog or perhaps within the groves
Killinohan - Killiganoon – meaning house on the heath or within a grove of nut trees
The Cornwall County Council Historic Environment Service website “Flying Through Cornwall's Past” provides an invaluable insight to Cornwall's historic landscape. Examples of field patterns are described within the section dealing with “Decoding the Past” and using these examples it is clear that the fields around Higher Trevilla, the site of the old manor house, are typical of very early settlements, this may also apply to those around Tregye and Tresithick. In contrast the field pattern for land enclosed more recently in the 19th century takes the form of regular rectangular enclosures as can be seen in the area south of Penelewey. The small irregular fields which are common within many areas of Feock may suggest their enclosure throughout the middle to late medieval period.
This aerial photograph shows the fields surrounding Trevilla. The irregular shaped fields fanning out from the central point indicate the likely presence of an early medieval manor house at Trevilla.
This aerial photograph shows the fields surrounding Tregye. The irregular shaped fields fanning out from the central point indicate the likely presence of an early medieval manor house at Tregye.
This aerial photograph shows the fields surrounding Penelewey and Fourturnings. The straight sided fields are a product of much more recent cultivation.
The demise of feudalism was heralded by the Black Death which ravaged the country in the mid 14th century. A third of the population of Europe died in the ensuing tragedy, tipping the balance of power somewhat from landowner towards peasant. By the turn of the 15/16th centuries a new form of land tenancy was replacing the strict manorial system. Land was being leased to tenants for a fixed term often ninety nine years, but limited to the lifetime of the last of three named people. These were often a man, his wife and young child. This new arrangement made the establishing of new properties more straightforward and also appealed to the self reliant and enterprising spirit which has typified Cornwall through the ages, and this system was common in Cornwall until quite recently.
The 1842 Tithe Map, an important document in the history of Feock. Note how much of the land is in the possession of four landowners.
Written by Phil Allen