Canon Diggens Archive

Goonhilly Down

Some idea of Goonhilly in ancient times may be gathered from the name applied to it by Leland (who died 1552) "The Naemaen 'Wood" on Cornwall, he said, "was formerly very full of wild beasts".   "St. Runon made an oratory for himself in the Naemaen Woods" (the exposed beaten prominence that shoots out into the Lizard and Ruan Minor and Ruan Major are named after him).

Formerly the Church of St. Grade, tithed all the estate of St. Keverne which runs from the valley of Ruan parishes westward. Both Ruan Major and Ruan Minor were then included in the parish of St. Keverne. The wild beasts, however, had departed when Malmesbury wrote the Saint's life in 1100 A.D. and the wood which had defied the blasts which now sweep this region is no more.

Borlase says "There is a tract of land (Whitakers Ancient Cathedrals) nearly three miles across consisting of a loamy soil, but having not even copse wood, at present on which are those little horses "the memory of whom is preserved in the appellation of Gunhylle".

Referring to ancient implements Borlase writes "Hundreds of flakes I found in the course of a few hours" showing that the St. Kevernites were a stone using people - the flakes being either ancient weapons or waste pieces struck off the weapons by artificers.

Leylands Itinery 1533-1550

Also wythyn III miles of the south se betwene Haylford and the eat syde of Mountes Bay is a wyld moore cawled Goonhilly i.e. hilly hethe where ye brood of catayle. Also yn the west syde of the poynt of Hayleford Haven and withyn the land of Mancke or Manegland is a parish church of St. Keveryn otherwise Piranus and there is a sanctuary with X or XII houses and thereby was a sel (all of monkes but now goon home to ther hed hows). The ruins of the monastery yet remaineth.

The Cornish Language

Quoting from the diary of a Royalist soldier - written about 1644 Cumming gives the following:

"The Cornish language is spoken altogether at Goonhilly in Meneage not far from the Lizard; and about Pendennis and Land's End they speak no English." Appropros of this Sit. H. Jenner, says that the ancient language of Cornwall stood in much closer relation to Breton than the Welsh.

Richard of Cirencester 680 A.D. writes, "By royal privileges and the retention of its ancient language, Cornwall retains some semblance of a distinct sovereign even after it had been conquered by King Athestan.

The language, which was a dialect of ancient British, was generally spoken till the reign of Henry 8th when the introduction of the English Liturgy paved the way towards its gradual disuse.

After the departure of the Romans, it became one of the last retreats of the Britons, who seem to have been sometime under the dominion of the Kings of Wales and sometimes governed by independent sovereigns. It is said to have been at the desire of the Cornish that the English Service was enjoined in preference to that of their native tongue, whilst in Wales, a contrary system has proved the preservation of their language.

Horses in Cornwall

Norden's Speculi Britannica (written 1593. Edition pub 1728)

Their horses are of small growth being fed and brought up upon the high colde and harde mountaigne. There is a kind of nagges bredd upon a mountainous and spacious piece of grounde called Goon-hilly, lying between the sea waste and Helston, which are the hardest naggs and beste of travaile for their bones within this kingdom, resembling in body for quantitie and in goodness of mettle the Galloway Naggs.

Horses in Cornwall, Tonkin.

This writer says "We formerly had a very excellent breed of Barbery horses on Goonhilly in Meneage, put there in the first place by the Erisey family, What tended to exterminate this excellent race of horses was the statute of Henry 8th, which permitted any person to seize on horses below a certain standard at the time of the rebellion. Though this breed is in a manner extinct, we still call our small western horse Goonhilly, being very strong.

Horses. Goonhilly. History of Cornwall. Hitchens & Drew. 1530.

It has been asserted that prior to the days of the Romans the saddle horse was unknown in England, although previous to that period the wild hobbies of several forests had been used in peace and war. These native horses were small, remarkably strong, sure-footed and active.

"Of all animals" says Mr. Polwhele, "the most sure footed and nimble are these Cornish horses. In the neighbourhood of Tintagel I have seen them up and down the most precipitous places".

These probably are among our aboriginal horses "The Goonhillies" of which not a genuine one is left - was of a later age - as it is only of late years that the use of carts has been introduced and less attention was paid to their size.

Most Cornish horses were therefore of no great rising but were adapted to the country being strong and hardie, sure footed and protected by hoofs of peculiar hardness, fit to resist the rough roads over which they had to travel.

Polwhele writing in 1816, says "Mr. James of St. Keverne opened a barrow on Goonhilly Downs where he found only scattered fragments of urns and bones when he rightly concluded that it had been opened before. On Crousa or Goongartha Downs (Grougath? JN) are several barrows.

Crousa Downs
History of Cornwall, edited by Mr. Page.

Crousa Downs, an isolated patch of gravel consisting of rounded quartz pebbles, occupied, according to Sir H. de la Beche, an acre of about half a mile square at a height of about 365 ft. above sea level. The evidence of this deposit is wrapped in obscurity, but its correspondence is elevation to the sand of St. Agnes Beacon suggests that it may be of corresponding age.

In connection with Crouza Downs the Rev. E. G. Harvey says, "Casons is the district lying between these Downs and the Blackhead (in St. Keverne) wherein the inhabitants are known as Casonsers. This name he traces to the Welch and Breton term for people to be avoided. He believes that a leper community existed here and that the Lizard is derived from the Lazars' abode. This loathsome disease was introduced into this country by returning Crusaders and those afflicted by it were obliged to live apart from other people.