History of St Keverne Parish Council

Extracts from St Keverne Parish Council 1894 to 1994
a booklet compiled by Michael Wearne (then Chairman)

The ecclesiastical parish is the most ancient type of local government in Europe, and in England has been used for some civil purposes since the 8th Century. Our present system is in a continuous line of development since the 16th Century. Then, under Elizabeth I, the parish was responsible for poor law administration.

No doubt most parishes looked after their poor well, but there are plenty of cases on record of resistance to accepting paupers from outside the boundaries. Perhaps this was less likely to happen in St. Keverne than in for example, a parish in Berkshire; fewer people go through St. Keverne on the way to somewhere else - there isn't much somewhere else to go to.

By the 18th Century St. Keverne ran its own affairs through the Vestry, made up of the Vicar, church wardens and a number of overseers elected annually by the rate payers. Their heaviest responsibilities were the relief of the poor and the maintenance of the highways; they were empowered to levy rates to pay for these. They also punished minor offences and generally dealt with the minutiae of local affairs. There were four areas, Turn Trelan, Turn Traboe, Turn Tregarne and Turn Bean (which included St. Keverne village).

It was the poor that demanded most attention and money. For example, in 1764 at a meeting held at the home of Sampson Incledon (now the White Hart) a house was hired at a rent of £6 per year in which one Miles Exelby was to maintain and employ the poor on a 7 year contract. Exelby received 1/6d per week for each person in his charge and was provided with a cow and grazing and a bushel of barley at 12/- a bushel every fortnight. Dr. Incledon was paid £2.2s.0 for setting Francis White's leg. There was an extra in those days before anaesthetics; 9d was paid for 'liquor' at the time of the setting, though it not clear if it was for the surgeon or the patient. Incidentally at about this date Dr. Incledon's wife gave birth to a son, Charles Incledon, who was to achieve great fame as a singer, so great that George III described him as the 'British national singer'.

The Poor Rate was set at 2/- in the £ (pound) on 108 properties, yielding in total of £127.4s.0d.

By 1813, at the end of the Napoleonic wars with all the distress they brought this had increased to £1,338.5s.6d assessed on 200 properties. In 1816 Col Sandy of Lanarth held a meeting of landowners and farmers and they decided that they would meet part of their obligations by giving employment on a sliding scale of rent value. If the latter was £30 the farmer would give 1 day's work per fortnight. At the top end of the scale, £200 required 6 days work per week. There were 35 men involved with 30 wives and 104 children.

By 1834 the poor law authorities began to group parishes into unions, a move which produced the distinction between the civil and ecclesiastical parish. The practical result in the Lizard peninsula was the Meneage Workhouse.

The other main responsibility of the old parish councils was the maintenance of highways and in St. Keverne this meant 'rab' - local and evidently much used in road-making. There is a pit at Dolly's (just beyond the recently made picnic area there) which many local people can remember being worked, but there were others. In 1795 John Pascoe was paid £3 .2s.6d for breaking 300 loads of rab at 21/2d per load, probably between 5d and 10d per ton. Those working on the roads were paid between 1/3d and 1/6d per day with no mention of how many hours there were in a working day.

There were, as today, other general responsibilities. In 1802 Prudence Richards was paid 2/- for cleaning the river at Porthallow 'several' times. 1803 a special parish rate was levied to build a cliff wall at Coverack. The bill for drawing stones was £2.5s.0d and 32 days work on the cliff cost £2.8s.0d (plus 10/11d for liquor). It is not clear if this was the total bill, but we can be fair certain that it was nowhere near the £400,000 that the last addition in 1990 cost.

Over succeeding years other responsibilities were added in a some what haphazard manner so that by the late 19th Century it was possible to find many as six different authorities operating in the same parish - the vicar, church wardens, the overseers, rural sanitary boards, highway boards and the vestry all in various combinations, sometimes overlapping, sometimes separate, St. Keverne, with its vestry substantially unchanged since the 18th Century, was relatively simple.

By the end of the 19th Century the need for some standardisation nationally was perceived as desirable; the enormous improvements in communications (railways, the general post and the telegraph) spelt the end of isolated and independent developments. The 1888 and 1894 Local Government Acts set a standard pattern of local government over the whole of the country. County councils were instituted, some parishes became urban districts, the remainder were designated parish councils and received the civil functions of the councils, the ecclesiastical functions remaining with the church. A clear distinction which continues to this day.

We must beware, however, of thinking that everything after 1894 suddenly became clear and well-defined. Certainly the responsibility for highways was finally taken out of the hands of the parishes, but the poor laws followed a separate line of development and, in fact, the whole process was as piecemeal as any student of English reform would expect.

This is the point at which this short history should start. Unfortunately there are one or two gaps in the minutes and the longest and most damaging is that caused by the loss of the first minute book which covered the years from 1894 to 1911. We can console ourselves with the thought that the changes between those two dates will have been less than in any other eighteen years in the century. The minutes we have give a flavour of that remote world before the First World War.

They can also give a great deal of frustration. Matters appear and re-appear, there is annoyance at delay, disagreement between councillors, the tension builds then suddenly the whole issue disappears and the reader is left with no idea of the outcome, if indeed there was one. Thus we hear of the proposals at a meeting held at the request of the District Councillors on May 30th 1919 for the construction of "workmen's dwellings" and a number of heated arguments about their location and distribution between various parts of the parish, but nothing about what happened in the end. Reading the minutes is rather like being in a goldfish bowl made of some material which allows you only fleeting glimpses of the outside world.

They are, however, the proper basis for a history of the Parish Council. I should emphasise at this point that this is not a history of St. Keverne whether village or parish; it is of the parish through the eyes of the Parish Council.

In what follows I have two main objects.

The first is to give an insight into the customs and atmosphere of that other world by following the history of one or two incidents which make complete and interesting narratives. These are from earlier in the period.

My second object has been to trace developments in the main areas of the Council's responsibility up to the present day.

In following both these I have had to select rigorously and I am aware that I shall have left out matters which many will regard as essential. I can only plead that everything will seem vital to somebody, and everything just could not be included.

My thanks to our Clerk, Brenda Marsh, and to Councillors John Lambrick and Jim Rogers. Frank Curnow also helped initially but was sadly unable to be with us throughout. David Mason made one inspired contribution. I am grateful for what they did but accept full responsibility for any mistakes.

January, 1994 Michael Wearne