The Methodist Churches in St Keverne Parish

John Wesley had a profound effect on the religious life of Cornwall and, today, most towns and villages have a Methodist chapel although in recent years chapel closure has been fairly common. John Wesley had been making regular visits to Cornwall since he came to St. Ives in 1743 but only once did he preach south of Helston. On that one occasion (7th. September 1762) he preached at Mullion and this was the nearest that he ever got to St. Keverne parish. Until Methodist Union in 1933 there was a St.Keverne Wesleyan Circuit but, since Union, the chapels of the parish along with others in neighbouring parishes have been in the Helston Circuit of the Methodist Church.

At the turn of the Nineteenth century there were Wesleyan chapels at St. Keverne, Coverack, Porthoustock, Tregarne and Tregowris, Bible Christian chapels at Porthallow, Zoar, Coverack (The Little Ship), Tregidden and Ponsongath and Free Methodist chapels at Trenithon and Rosuick. Today there are two Methodist churches in the parish - at St. Keverne and at Ponsongath. Formerly, there were chapels at Porthallow, Porthoustock, Coverack, Rosuick, Zoar, Tregowris, Tregarne and Trenithon. The last three closed many years ago but Porthoustock and Rosuick closed in the 1960s, Porthallow in 1987 and Zoar and Coverack in the 1990s.

The "first known" Wesleyan chapel at St Keverne dates from 1839 (although there was without doubt an earlier one). The chapel was built on part of Martin's Field, the site of the present chapel, and the lease of land documents dated 1838 and 1839 contain several long established St Keverne family names including John Mitchell, James Mitchell and John James. The chapel had a seating capacity for about 500 people. A gallery ran around the entire length of the walls and there were choir stalls with vestries underneath on the ground floor. Lighting was by means of oil lamps. In the early hours of Saturday morning 11th. November 1905, a fire broke out in the chapel. There was no fire brigade in those days, so water had to be brought from wells in the chapel yard and in the field behind Mr. Edwin James' blacksmiths shop.

The building was burnt out and only parts of the gallery remained. The damage was so extensive that the Trustees, on the advice of the architect, decided to erect a new building. A committee was formed and an appeal for funds was made with Mr. Edwin Rule (Master Grocer of the Square) and Mr. William James (Shoemaker of Laddenvean) as Treasurers and a letter dated March 1906 was circulated, together with a drawing of the new chapel.

The present Methodist Church was opened in March 1907 and at the Golden Jubilee in 1957 Mr. Stuart Rule, the only surviving member of the Trustees of the old chapel, recalled that the building had cost £4,000 and that the new organ did not arrive until 1908. In the meantime, Mr. Rule accompanied the hymn singing on a harmonium. At the Jubilee Service Mr. Rule was presented with a certificate to mark his long association with the chapel, including some forty years as organist and choirmaster.

In January 2003 a plaque was unveiled on the organ in memory of Miriam Moyle M.B.E. who had been associated with music at St Keverne chapel for almost 80 years, 34 of them as organist. She was the granddaughter of William John Nicholls who had been the organist in the old chapel for over thirty years.

An early Methodist at St. Keverne was Nicholas Crago, a labourer, and he is named in a list of the Cornwall West Circuit No.18 the Society in Mullion 24th. June 1767. This was only five years after John Wesley's visit. This Nicholas Crago was probably the founder of a Methodist Society in St Keverne somewhere between 1786 and 1793. These dates are fairly accurate as in 1785 the only Methodist Society in Meneage was the one at Mullion and the first chapel at St Keverne was opened in 1793.

At the end of the Eighteenth century William Jenkins from St. Keverne became a Methodist missionary. He was born on 27th. May 1757 and was in the congregation at St Keverne Parish Church on 18th. February 1770 when the spire and tower were struck by lightning. This event appears to have been the turning point in his religious life. After several years spent at sea he returned home and soon joined the Methodist Society at St Keverne, probably in 1793. In 1797 he became a travelling preacher and, after spending a year in Launceston, was appointed to the West Indies and so became the first Methodist missionary from Cornwall..

The old custom of Methodist attendance at the parish church for the morning service was maintained at St Keverne until at least 1821 because the Wesleyan chapel in that year still only had an evening service. In 1817, however, an incident had occurred in St Keverne chapel which reached the Cornish Press under the heading of "Warning to disturbers of public worship". It reads:- I, Ely James of the parish of St Keverne, yeoman, having been duly convicted, do hereby acknowledge my unfeigned sorrow for disturbing the congregation in the Methodist Chapel in St Keverne Churchtown on the 13th day of February last. I agree to pay forty shillings to be distributed to the poor of the parish in bread. How serious the disturbance was is not noted - it might have been no more than he was drunk.

On 31st. December 1876 a census was taken of the Wesleyan Society membership for Cornwall. The St Keverne Circuit details are as follows:-

Name of Chapel When built Members of Society 1876
St Keverne   1839   150
Coverack   1861     70
Manaccan   1861     80
St Martin   1837     60
Porthoustock   1876     20
Tregarne   1846     13
Tregowris   1870     12

These figures do not include the membership of the Bible Christian Chapels in the parish at Porthallow, Ponsongath, Coverack, Tregidden and Zoar nor the UM Free Chapels at Rosuick and Trenithon.

Bible Christian Magazines of the Nineteenth Century contain obituaries for several St Keverne parish members. Alexander Pengilly of Pednavounder died in 1896 and was buried at Coverack. He had been a preacher in the Helston Bible Christian Circuit for 52 years. Anthony Roberts died in 1848 and for many years had been a class leader at Ponsongath. William and Dinah Exelby were members at Ponsongath for over 30 years (Dinah died in 1874 and William in 1885). Loveday Exelby who died in 1855 was one of the earliest BC members at Porthallow. Philippa Heyden of Boscarnon died in 1898 aged 66 and had been a member at Zoar since about 1863. Samuel Tripp of Kernewas died in February 1898. He had been a member at Zoar since 1873 and was active in the building of the new chapel there in 1876. Arundel Ralph who died in 1894 was a long standing member at Tregidden and established a Sunday School there.

A Class register at the Coverack Bible Christian Chapel(The Little Ship) was kept by Simon Keverne between 1865 and 1869 - he noted down attendance and the weekly payment which was anything from nine pence to one shilling and sixpence. He also indicated in his class book whether the members were backsliders, wanderers or had been removed from the list. The names on his register are Simon Keverne, Samuel Tripp, James Exelby, Abraham Gay, James B Eustice, James Gay, George Roberts, Alice Ivey, Elizabeth Pengilly, Avis Bray, Martha Ivey, Rebecca White, Esther Roberts, Mary King, Elizabeth Lambrick, John Richards, Matilda Gay, Thomas Gay, Thomas White, Elizabeth Saunders, Eliza Ivey, Elizabeth Rule, James Roberts, Martha Toy, Allen Pengilly and Jane Tripp. Most if not all of these BC members at Coverack were "Downsers" rather than residents of Coverack village. I assume that the latter attended the Wesleyan Chapel at Coverack whereas the people from the Downs went to the BC chapel.

A postcard of St. Keverne Wesley decorated for Harvest Festival 5th. October 1924 makes very interesting reading for it gives a considerable amount of what was then the local news. It was sent from St. Keverne on 15th. October 1924 to Mr. W.G. Roberts of Tavistock. "St. Keverne Harvest Festival decorations for you to see. Ratio Davies buried today. Very quiet this way. Hugo Geri left St. Keverne on Saturday for London for good. All send their love from Volnay". ( The St. Keverne burial register reads: 15th. October 1924 Horatio John Davies, 75, Trenance ).
Mr. Roberts was St Keverne born and a cousin of the Cogar family who lived at Volnay, Porthoustock. In 1968 the BBC Songs of Praise came from St. Keverne Methodist Church when the singing was led by the church and chapel choirs, the male voice choir and the girl's choir with Miriam Moyle as organist and Hubert Hicks as conductor. The Girl's choir was conducted by John Pearce (later Rev. John Pearce)

A strong choir was a feature of the Methodist church and although none remain today there were choirs at St Keverne, Coverack and Porthallow. In its heyday, St Keverne Wesleyan choir had over 30 members and was capable of singing well known oratorios. This choir ceased to exist in the late 1990s but both Coverack and Porthallow lost their choirs in the 1960s.

Methodist Registers of baptisms and marriages are available for look up only (at present) as follows - Baptisms at Rosuick (1873-1969), Baptisms at Porthallow (1916-1979), Baptisms at St Keverne (1843-1858 and 1874-1986) and Marriages at St Keverne (1900- 1981). The St Keverne register of baptisms for the period 1858-1873 appears to be missing.

For further information about the history of Methodism in the St Keverne Parish,
Contact Terry Moyle click here