The Cheffers and the Parish of St. Keverne
Andy Millward - 2002

The Cheffers Family

Since moving into the parish in 1999 I have been too busy to attend to family history matters but having got to know the area slightly I decided recently to spend some time finding out more of the Cheffers in this parish.

The first thing to do was to look through my files and I was surprised to find how much I had on St Keverne and even more surprising was the number of times the family was mentioned in relationship to the hamlet of Tregarne where we are living.

The parish of St Keverne was divided for administrative purposes into four sections called “Turns” and the smallest of these is Turn Tregarne which consists of 11 farmsteads and two small villages, Porthallow and Porthoustock. All of these are at least early medieval settlements and many of them are older with evidence of prehistoric earthworks and field systems. Turn Tregarne occupies about a seventh of the area of the parish and is an area of first class farm land which is sheltered from the prevailing westerly winds.

The family were certainly present here in the sixteenth century with Thomas Cheffers paying 4d in the Cornwall Subsidies of 1543. This was a tax imposed by Henry the VIII to finance war with France and only payable by those who owned £1 of goods or land or who had an annual income of £1 from any source. It seems from the amount that he was paying that he was fairly affluent. We also have evidence from the parish records of christenings, marriages and deaths in the latter half of the sixteenth century but these are fragmentary as the records are somewhat damaged.

The same records show a large number of Cheffers living (or dying) in the first half of the seventeenth century but the best source for how prolific the family was is the Protestation Returns of 1641. In the turmoil before the start of the Civil War between King and Parliament it was decreed that all adults over the age of 18 must sign to declare that they supported “the true reformed Protestant religion”. We find nine, male, adult, Cheffers signing this return, three of whom are called Richard!

St Keverne was active in the various campaigns of Civil War with Cornwall declaring for the King. The local squire was Hannibal Bogan of Lanarth who was also in command of the Militia and he certainly served in various actions including a revolt after the main tumult had died down and he marched the St. Keverne Militia into the next Parish of St. Martin and fortified the ancient earthwork at Gear, from which he was driven back to St Keverne after being defeated at the bridge over a creek of the Helford River. How many of the family were involved in these troubles it is impossible to say but the poll tax of 1660 after the restoration of the monarchy mentions seven Cheffers, but four of them are female.

At this point the wills that we have found come into play and I must pay tribute to Jane Gibbs for all her hard work in transcribing them. In 1624 we have Willam Robard alias Cheffers, a fisherman of St. Keverne, dying and he mentions thirteen beneficiaries called Cheffers including four called Richard!!

Between 1624 and 1698 we have ten wills from St Keverne including five from chaps called Richard Cheffers. The wills seem to indicate that they were farmers who did a bit of fishing or fishermen who did a bit of farming but the fact that they had wills indicates that they were not day labourers and had property. It is doubtful if they owned the property but they would have leased it from the landed estates who seemed to own most of Cornwall.

In Cornwall the property was usually let on the “three lives” system. In drawing up a legal document the lease would be for ninety nine years or three lives and three young persons would be named. Bearing in mind the problems of infant mortality this was not such a safe bet.

When we purchased Tregarne the vendors, Chris and Sue Harris asked why we wanted to move to Cornwall and I mentioned that my Mother’s family came from the Lizard. They asked what was the family name and when I replied “Cheffers” they exchanged glances and then explained to us that just behind the meadow we had just purchased with our new home was a field called “Chaffers Ground”. I was told that a lease existed and was in the possession of one of our neighbours whose family had farmed land in Tregarne for many years and a few weeks ago I asked if I could borrow it. To my surprise my neighbour produced twenty documents on parchment together with a number of typed transcriptions.

These give a very full picture of the manner in which the land and the tithes have been transferred through the years. The tithe was the payment due to the church on the produce of both land and sea but these had been sold on at some time in the 18th century and were sold to further entrepreneurs and subdivided into parts.

The earliest document is a tithe agreement in Tregarne, dated 1712, between William Cheffers and two brothers, Nicholas and Anthony Penrose and mentioning their parents, Thomas Penrose and Joan, and an agreement of 1704. Also included in the agreement is “ a garden in the eastern end of a field called Mennallack.” This field name still exists and its location is defined on the 1845 Tithe map.

In 1726 a lease was drawn up on this same area of land with the addition of other named fields, a dwelling house and barn together with orchards, sheds and stables. This was between William Cheffers of Mawgan in Meneage and Anthony Penrose of St Keverne. For the sum of £160 William agreed to transfer all the listed land and buildings to Anthony. The lease to be for “Fourscore and Nineteen years” and the three lives named are his brother Nicholas Penrose, his son, Anthony Penrose Jnr and William Cheffers son, Angell. This choice caught my interest because why would one man name the son of another in a business transaction but when I looked at my family tree I find that William had married Grace Penrose in 1701. So it was all being kept in the family.

William is placed in the lease as being a resident of the nearby parish of Mawgan but he was born and married in St Keverne as were his three sons and he must have moved to Mawgan in his mature years. The Parish records for Mawgan are few and far between for the early part of the eighteenth century and I am not sure if I will be able to trace him through these.

To complete the family history side, William is the brother of my five times Great Grandfather as listed on the family tree that Anna (USA) produced for us in 1995.

The remaining leases show the transfer of land and tithes on this property through the years and as I read through them I was hoping that the buildings mentioned would turn out to be where we are living but it turns out to be the farm next door. But when you consider that we had came upon Tregarne out of the blue, fifty yards out is not bad!

Various other documents have come to light and one that caught my attention is entitled “God’s Wonderful Deliverance” published in 1798. This recounts the story of how John Sandys of Lanarth was blown out to sea in his fishing boat during the Autumn of 1704 and he and his crew ended up in Brittany.
Even though Britain was at war with France (surprise, surprise,) their Breton cousins gave them shelter and when the weather abated they sailed back to Coverack.
To celebrate their deliverance they held a service at St. Keverne church and “The clerk, John Cheffer, sung part of the second part (from the 18th verse) and the third part of the 107th Psalm”.
I looked in the Church rates book and in the Turn Tregarne section found :”John Cheffer for mending church books and cloats- 1s” and further on “John Cheffer for being clerk-£4.” This continues until 1726 when another person is receiving the £4.

The Church rates book is a record of income and expenditure between 1721 and 1745 and shows Abraham Cheffers paying his poor law rates for the properties mentioned in his will of 1740 and in 1737 he becomes church warden and thus responsible for the running of the accounts.
Amongst these is a payment of six shillings and eight pence for the “burial of Mathew Cheffers”.
In 1740 we have “Widow Cheffers” paying for the farms at Treloyan and Rosenithon and in 1745 we find “James Cheffer..buried in church-6/8d”
The archivist at the Record office tells me that this was the customary fee for burial in the nave but if you paid more you could be buried nearer the altar.

My favourite piece of research concerning the family and St. Keverne comes from the Cornwall Muster Roll of 1569 when Queen Elizabeth decreed that a nationwide muster be held and the purpose of this was to assess the number of horse and footmen that it could count on to defend the country and see that everyone had the proper armour and weapons according to law.

The categories that they were listed in were heavy and light cavalry but Cornwall could only muster three heavy cavalry, these being what we would today call Knights in armour and very few light cavalry. This is an indication of the poverty of the county. The Lizard parishes could not even muster suitable horses for either of these roles.

Next the men were listed as Archers (1st and 2nd class), Billmen, Pikemen and Harquebusiers (matchlock gun) and amongst the Parish list for Turn Bean stands Archer (2nd class) John Cheffer who also owns a bill. But alone amongst the parishes of the Kingdom, St. Keverne, had a number of men who owned a “sling and bag”.
Slingers had gone out of fashion two hundred years before as, like archery, it demanded constant practice to sling a stone or lead bullet with accuracy for 250 yards.
Could it be that the local Blue Elvin pebbles were particularly suited to this activity or is it a further example of the individuality of St. Keverne folk?
Whatever was the reason they required a high level of courage as their role was that of “skirmishers” and they would have advanced in front of the army to harass the formation of the battle squadrons of the opposition. To do this armed only with a piece of rope and a bag of stones speaks volumes.

The last reference we have of the family in the parish is the death of William Cheffers of Porthallow being found drowned in Mounts Bay in 1822 and I decided to check on the local newspapers.

Firstly, I looked up the West Briton and was surprised to find how little local news was in the paper. The majority of it is taken up with news from London and the latest news bought in from Hamburg. But amongst all this was a series of accounts regarding how bad the weather had been recently. Then we find the reported loss of several vessels including the “Rose of Gweek” which was on a smuggling expedition.

I could find nothing further in subsequent issues of the West Briton and so changed over to “The Royal Cornwall Gazette” and there we find a fuller account of those drowned:

William and John Gilbert (brothers)
William Chaffer
William Curtis

I have looked up burials on the net but I can only find the burial of William Cheffers and William Curtis in St. Keverne so the others must be buried elsewhere. Curtis (Courtis) is recorded as “drowned in Mounts Bay” as well.

I also note that the “Rose” is registered to James Richards and that the maiden name of Mary Ann Cheffers is Richards. Richards is a fairly common name still in these parts but it does suggest a family enterprise.

I find that we have William Gilbert being born in 1792 to Robert and Sarah in the parish and we also have John Gilbert being born to them in 1799 and I suggest that these are two of the deceased smugglers. I can find no other family connections between the various smugglers but I have yet to check all the records and I will be very surprised if it was not a family venture.

This is the last entry that we can find for the Cheffers in St. Keverne Parish and no grave slabs or other monuments survive. as yet I have not been able to unravel their land holdings or farms.The only record of four hundred years of hard work are a field name and various entries in the parish records.

Andy Millward,
St Keverne,
8 July 2002..