A History of St Blaise

The Place

An inquiry into the origin of St Blazey is of primary importance. Now on consulting the oldest English record in existence, the present name of our parish was not mentioned in it, for in the register of the lands of England formed by order of King William I, in the year 1087, and called the Doomsday Book, St Blasey, as a parish, had no existence whatever. The whole district was there rated either under Tywardreath, or under the jurisdiction of the Earl Cradock's Manor of Towington, Trenance, or Treverbyn; in fact there is but one Church or Person named in Doomsday Book, to whom is given the appellation of "Saint."

 

The Name

The name of St Blazey originates from Bishop Blaise, born in Armenia in the third century. A Christian, he became a bishop of Sebaste but was persecuted for his condemnation of idolatry and brought to trial, tortured, imprisoned and finally beheaded. Part of Bishop Blaise's torture was having his flesh torn by an iron comb as used by wool combers, so he was chosen as patron saint of the wool combing industry. It is recorded that he was beheaded on February 3rd, 298 AD. His name had different ways of being spelt, St Blayse, Blaise or Blaze.

The name of St Blazey in Cornwall first appears in the early fourteenth century in official records as BLAYSE, when an early church probably on today's site was dedicated by Walter de Stapledon, Bishop of Exeter, in 1309.

The canonisation of Blaise took place in 1244 and the saint is indebted to the woollen industry for his reputation in England. ln Yorkshire at Bradford and Leeds the festival of St Blaise is celebrated by those engaged in the woollen industry every seventh year. At Lavenham in Suffolk, a great wool producing area, the parish church has a wooden screen dedicated to St Blase.

In the fifteenth century when the present church was built at St Blazey, the area was the centre of a local woollen industry. Mrs Dorothy Rouse writes `the building now known as Whitehouse, near St Blazey bridge, was formerly a woollen factory.' At some time later the business was transferred to the centre of St Blazey, when a woollen factory was set going in the Town Hall premises, next to the Pack Horse Inn, by the Blamey family who owned knitting mills at Moorswater, Liskeard. Mrs Alberta Rouse, born in 1893, recalls that the wool was processed in buildings at the back of the Cornish Arms, then slung in baskets on wire cables to the spinners along the Lawns road. The spun cloth was sent to Bath to be made into the famous West of England cloth, but this enterprise had ceased by 1905.

In the east window of the parish church Bishop Blaise is portrayed holding a staff, book and a wool comb, and in St Austell church, one window illustrates St Blaise being beheaded. When the present church was built in 1445 it was administered and controlled by the vicar of St Austell. Another small figure of St Blaise can be seen in the medieval glass fragments of the west window in the tower.

There is no mention of St Blazey or manors in the Domesday Book, but 200 years later in 1294 in an enquiry by the Bishops of Lincoln and Worcester for taxation purposes, the parish appears to be called FANUM. `The church at Fanum, belonging to Tywardreath in the hundred of Powder.' Two hundred and fifty years later St Blazey is being named and spelt BLASYE. In 1535 a lease made by Thomas Collyns, the last prior at Tywardreath, mentions tithes of St Blasye, otherwise called Landreth. So at that time the parish was recognised by the two names St Blasye and Landreth. The latter name means sanctuary on the sands, in the Cornish language and Henderson says that `there is no doubt that there was a church at St Blazey in Celtic times. The name Landreath indicates this:

In 1536 in a survey of the diocese of Exeter, the parish is recognised as St Blasye. So from the sixteenth century onwards the name has been retained and altered but little, for in 1626 William Couch, gentleman, died possessed of the rectory of St Blasius, or Landreth and the tithes there, late parcel of the monastery of Tywardreath, with the advowson of the church or chapel at St Blasius.

 

The History

An ancient river valley, enveloped by the hills on the south coast of Cornwall, provided the site for the settlement which became St Blazey. The parish spread around the wooded hills and followed the track way which man developed to cross the river. Contours of the land were formed as the river met the sea and the summits of the wooded hills were adapted as early occupation sites.

People of the Bronze and Iron Ages discovered and used the area for refuge and settlement. Streams have always brought life to the valleys of Cornwall, in the form of settlements from the early tin streaming days, when the dark deposits of tin, washed downstream fr6m the highland granite areas, were noticed in the gravel shallows. Early man lived on the highland, safer from enemies because of the vantage point and accessible to the ancient track ways which criss-crossed England and the far west.

The settlements in the vicinity of St Blazey were on the highland at Prideaux, the slopes of Trenovissick and across the valley to the heights of Kilhallon. Evidence of this is most traceable at Prideaux, where earthen embankments of a hill fort dominate the landscape with excellent visibility on all sides. Charles Henderson, the Cornish historian mentions, `a triple entrenchment or hill castle, Pridias may well be one of the few instances in which the true name of the earthwork survived: Today this Iron Age fort is still visible, on a wooded spur, consisting of two concentric earth ramparts and part of a third, with diameters 235 metrcs and 160 metres. Remains of a manor house at the farm of Great Prideaux illustrate the convenience of a prime site which would have been in occupation from 500 BC. All along the ancient highland track ways in Britain are evidences of Early Man in the form of hill forts, with burial places called barrows. The existence of barrows may be evident at Garker on the edge of the parish, in the name 'Burrow' field and in Tregrehan where a feature on a 1736 map was marked as 'Little Hill'.

Across the valley from Prideaux on the ridge at the highest point of Kilhallon was another early settlement site. Ditches containing shells, cockles, limpets, mussels, and oysters, have been excavated and a causeway into the site area suggests an imposing entrance at one time, to an enclosure for occupation and safety. There were other `rounds' at Restineas and Carveor, where the name `Car', castle and `Veor' meaning big in the Cornish language intimates another prime site. At Restineas flint arrowheads have been found and at Cornhill farm on the next spur of land to Prideaux, a Greenstone Axe was found. On St Blazey moor prehistoric wooden picks were found and at Trenovissick three bronze axe heads were unearthed when building development took place.

The next evidence of the early history of the area is the Biscovey Stone. This is the shaft of a Celtic cross inscribed on one side and erected to the memory of a king of British descent. lt is called the St Blaise cross in 1725.

It is a Christian monument, the inscription and ornament indicating that it was erected in honour of an important person. It was sited originally on the south side of the St Blazey to St Austell road near the corner past Biscovey Post Office. In 1726 it was described as `a fine old monument that had been erected and inscribed around 600 AD to show the Saxon advance into the county.' Arthur Langdon's account of Cornish crosses records that in 1870 the head of the cross had been missing for 200 years perhaps as the result of the Reformation in England when many religious monuments were destroyed. Dr Borlase in 1754 assesses its age from around 900 AD and also records that, `in a little meadow near the place where this stone now stands many human bones have been found and I suspect that this cross may have been removed from thence: Perhaps this is a reference to the cemetery linked with St Werry's Chapel?

The shaft remained by the roadside, acting as a, Biscovey gatepost for a field near the tollgate, the St Blazey turnpike gate. The holes for the bars can still be seen. In 1896 it was removed by the Reverend D R Vaughan and erected in its present position alongside the South door of St Mary's Church, Biscovey.

A Celtic cross was often erected by a chapel or oratory and there is evidence that a chapel existed in this area called St Werry. In 1568 Queen Elizabeth I sold to Edward Gruniston a chapel with a small cemetery and a house called the Store (or Stow) House annexed to it, in the parish of St Blaise. It would seem that a chapel originating from Celtic days had survived to that time. Charles Henderson in a letter to the vicar of St Blazey in 1926 described St Weryes as a chantry chapel within the limits of the parish. He enquired whether any field called `Chapel Close' or some such name existed and thought that it would be `rather a find', if the site of St Weryes could be identified!

The Lanhydrock Atlas, a mammoth edition of maps of the Robartes estate compiled in 1696, contains a map of the Biscovey tenement. It shows two fields called Great Chaple Park and Little Chaple Park! These fields are between the lane leading to Whitewater and Tregrehan, and the road to Luxulyan at Leekseed Chapel probably an ancient trackway to Luxulyan, another Celtic site. The Reformation destroyed many private chapels. These had been licensed in Cornwall by the Bishops of Exeter from the thirteenth century. The second earliest to be licensed in Cornwall was in 1283 at Boswythgy (Bodiggo) in Luxulyan parish, where the late husband of the present owner recalled walls and window tracery of a chapel in his young days.

The Domesday Book compiled in 1086 to record all land in England for William I has mention of two manors which would fringe on the land where St Blazey later developed. The whole district would have been rated under Tywardreath, with Bodiggo a little further inland. Tywardreath was the larger manor with six acres of woodland and 100 acres of pasture - Bodiggo had one league of pasture. The value of the manor of Tywardreath before 1086 was £4, whereas Bodiggo rated 40s and the assessment by William's men rated Tywardreath at 40s and Bodiggo at 30s. Between these two manors and Towan in St Austell area there was no other recorded.

The records of Tywardreath Priory reveal that in 1187 a corn mill was established at Ponts Mill. The sea and river estuary extended to Ponts Mill and it served as a small port. As late as 1720 vessels of 80 tons were able to reach there but by 1800 silting from alluvial deposits prevented access by sea this far.

The very early settlers of the land around the St Blazey valley were near the seashore, hence the shells at Kilhallon. The sea extended into the area, with Tywardreath Bay named on ancient maps, and an 1805 map mentions St Blazey Bay. The streams and river flowing into this bay from the granite high-land around Bugle and Luxulyan deposited small amounts of tin, and some enterprising men became the first tin streamers or miners. Lodes of tin and later copper were discovered in the area and the river was developed to incorporate new industrial activity. Inland the farming community of the area utilised the tributaries of the river for power to turn mill wheels for grinding corn, and where the river from the high-land of Luxulyan tumbled to its lower levels, massive wheels were constructed to provide power for stone crushing at Ponts Mill. Gradually the valley silted up and between the cliffs and rocks on either side the valley floor emerged as a land area. "Now St Blazey".