The Old Parish of Gwennap

Carharrack Village, Gwennap.

The name Carharrack is believed to have been derived from two Cornish words; Caer = a camp or enclosure and Harrack = rocks, an appropriate name when Carn Marth with its rock piles overlooks the whole area.

The village stands on the south-eastern slope and in the past many believed a considerable part of this hill was once covered with trees, In his history of Gwennap Parish, written in 1945, CC James stated that:

  “The older inhabitants remember having heard from their grandparents that it was fully believed in their day. Roots of trees were formerly found whilst excavating between the rocks.”

  It is known that in the very old houses on the south side of the hill, oak corbels were used over the fireplace. With granite so easily obtainable, it is not likely that oak would have been brought from any great distance unless there was a choice locally between the two materials.

Carharrack along with Lanner and St Day has a relatively short history.  In 1700 ‘Carharrack Gate’ consisted of about twelve cottages on a narrow strip of land on the manor of the same name, squashed between the larger villages of St. Day, Tolcarne and Cusgarne. In a map of 1819 it had hardly changed, with the Meeting House, the Octagon Chapel circa 1769, being the only named building. The roads did, however, exist at this time, as it was an often-frequented highway.

The Gwennap mines were remote from both the north and south coasts, and as a result incurred high charges for the transport of timber, coal and ore.  John Williams of Scorrier constructed a horse-drawn tramway from his mines at Poldice through Scorrier to a newly constructed harbour on the north coast at Portreath. Lord de Dunstanville laid the keel of the first tram on 25th October 1809, to a salute of cannon fired from the Portreath Battery way down the valley in the little port on the north cliffs. 

Not to be outdone, John Taylor from his mines near Carharrack and St. Day also built a railway but to new wharves at Devoran on the Fal River. This line was called the Redruth and Chasewater Railway and opened in 1824. It extended eventually to Wheal Buller and Redruth via Carharrack and Lanner, although a line on to Chacewater was never built. From the port of Portreath the raw tin ore would go to the smelters of Wales and to onward exportation. Tin smelting requires a higher heat than copper and in Wales coal was cheap.  Coal was shipped back to Cornwall to work the mighty steam pumping engines that raised the gallons of water from bottom of the wet mines. Into the wharves at Devoran would come the timber and other goods needed to keep the mines,as well as coals and iron for the major foundry at nearby Perranarworthal. Traffic on the Redruth and Chasewater line survived until well into the 20th century. 

Truly was this area once described as the  ‘richest square mile to be found anywhere on the earth’ In one year alone, 1836, the Consolidated Mines used 11,817 tons coal, 113,916 lbs candles and 64,000 lbs gunpowder. Gwennap had a population numbering some 8,500 souls and over a quarter of these worked in this one mine. With mining development came sudden expansion. In Carharrack alone the population between 1841 & 1881 rose to about 1,700 souls. By this time the great Consolidated Mines employed over 3,000. For every man underground it was said there were three times that on surface, working in allied and supporting trades. Accommodation was in short supply and the majority of the village housing stock was built at this time. Miners and other craftsmen came to this area from all over Cornwall in the hope of a share of the wealth. Huge fortunes were being made by shareholders, promoters and mineral lords like the Williams family of Scorrier or William Lemon, whose agent gained the nickname ‘guinea a minute’ Daniel

With the tram-road of 1809 and the railway of 1824 came a coal yard at each end of the village. The developing mines relied on traders to service its needs. The carpenter shops, sawyers and foundries were closely followed by ponies, horses, carts and carriers. Then came the blacksmiths and feed dealers to service the animals. With all these people to feed and clothe the grocery and hardware shops traders soon exploited the opening in the market. Previously the scattered population had relied on itinerant traders for supplies of anything but very local products. With the later failure of the mines this was all to slowly and quietly crumble away. It survived in a state of limbo for many years only because absent miners continued to send money home to support their family members too old or too weak or disabled to follow them. Many were to return themselves, crippled by the “Miners Disease” caused mainly by the introduction of the rock drill and the dry dust it set up underground. It was aptly named the “Widow Maker” Through many bedroom windows left open in the night time, passers-by could hear the dreadful sound of a still young man struggling to get some air into his lungs

With the rise in population health problems soon arose. There were outbreaks of cholera and tuberculosis was rife. There was no burial ground, save for that of the parish church at Gwennap. Under church law baptism conferred the right to be buried in the consecrated ground of the churchyard. The Cornish knew their rights. The problem came with the children of non-conformist parents, who had never been baptised into the established church. Vicars could, and did, refuse these infants burial. Sextons sometimes took bribes from parents to bury the little bodies at night within the churchyard walls. As with drowned seamen, murderers and suicides any vacant ground was used to bury the remains of those refused “Christian burial”. With the rise in non-conformity came a rise in indiscriminate burials. As the numbers of such burials increased so did health problems, especially in the more urban areas.

 Municipal Corporations were obliged to establish public burying grounds, either run by themselves or under licence by private companies. Under the various Acts of Parliament that came in around 1832 there was now a central Infirmary and Workhouse in Redruth, drawing in candidates for burial from all the surrounding parishes in the “Union” and nowhere to lay them to rest after death. Workers wishing to gain assistance no longer had to rely on their local parish to provide it and so could now move about freely within their ‘Union’ area. A municipal cemetery was eventually built on the St Day Road to the east of Redruth.

This was partly the reason for the introduction of the Registration Act, passed in 1837 to ensure there was a proper record of all births, marriages and deaths. It failed to do this initially as registration was not compulsorily. By this Act the Church of England lost much of it’s power to threaten those daring to disagree with its teachings. Previously the only group to be given the right to baptise, marry and inter their followers had been the ‘ the Society of Friends’ otherwise known as the Quakers.

Non-conformist chapels began to spring up all over the place when the movement split into many different schisms. The Bible Christian, and Primitive Methodist were two of the most popular but they were allowed to do little other than baptise. Some larger Wesleyan Chapels were licensed for marriage but few had burial grounds. Those wishing to marry had mostly to travel to the registry Office in Redruth. On Fore St in 1883 the Bible Christians erected a large 'Memorial Chapel' to Billy BRAY. This was to take the place of a smaller original chapel  built by the famous evangelist on the eastern outskirts of the village of Carharrack and named by him ''Deliverance''. This later chapel was also demolished in 1987.

A " Museum to Cornish Methodism" is situated in the listed Wesleyan Chapel, built on a plot of land between Wheal Damsel Road and Chapel Terrace in 1812. This replaced the older Octagon Chapel at Gwennap were Wesley had often preached between 1743 -1762. The building is in a fine setting with the Sunday schoolroom built in 1906 on the same site. The old village pump is also preserved here, re-erected by the Old Cornwall Society in 1990. The museum is open in summer, by appointment only: for info. Tel. 01209 820381.

Another unique building was the Mechanics' Literary Institute erected in 1841 by public subscription on Chapel Street.  It was hexagonal in shape and contained a library where, during the winter months, readings and lectures were given for the princely entrance fee of one penny. It was demolished like the chapel in the 1980’s to make way for bungalows

By 1891 the population fell to fewer than 700 and although mining went on in pockets for many years, with Mount Wellington finally closing in the late 1970's; and Wheal Jane in the late eighties. The memories, names and spoil heaps remain.

Mother Nature and early ‘conservationists’ together worked wonders. The now established ground cover and tree growth has disguised the scars on the landscape and even the barren and poisonous earth has recovered somewhat. In the early 1980’s George and I along with many other volunteers spent many weekends planting anything that the experts advised us might take hold and survive. The residues of arsenic and heavy metals, ever present in some areas, often triumphed but wildlife was given a chance to make a go of it. The dangerous shafts have been capped and it’s now safe to wonder over this once heavy industrialised landscape; a tribute to those that had no choice but to scratch a living and make fortunes for others, often at the expense of their own lives. The names of the mines are still evident; Wheal Damsel, Tin Tang, West Jewel and Cathedral. These men had poetry in their blood!

Lanner Woodland Terrace


The name Lanner originates from Lannergh meaning 'a clearing' it has also been known in the past as Lanarth. In the early 19th century; it  had consisted merely of six or seven cottages but the place was feared by both women and youths and few attempted to walk through it. In those days strangers to a place were often hassled as they passed though, either by verbal  threats and name calling which sometimes led to actual physical abuse. The throwing of ‘tubbans’ [clods of earth] was the least to expect.

The growth  of output from Tresavean Mine resulted in the population increase being fast and furious and soon terraces of houses were being built all along the valley bottom and up the sloping hillsides to house the incoming workers. The greatest growth was during the period 1818 to 1836. At the start the workforce at the mine was some 100 people but in less than twenty years it was 1,300 and Lanner had become the heart of the “Copper Kingdom” Surrounding it were the mines of Bell & Lanarth, Comford, Cathedral, Penstruthal, Pennance, St Aubyn, Trethellan, and closer to Carharrack were those of Treviskey, Ting Tang, Tolcarne, Wheal Jewel and Wheal Cupid. Very soon there was a Wesleyan Methodist, a Bible Christian and a Primitive Methodist chapel to cater to the spiritual needs of all the populace. The Wesleyan Methodist Chapel was built in 1828. The old Primitive Methodist Chapel was later rebuilt in 1903 and the Bible Christian Chapel was erected in 1866 and renovated in 1907.  The three Sunday School Anniversaries took place successively on the first three Sundays in May. After the evening service the banners and pupils paraded to Comford accompanied by hundreds of people. Two further chapels were erected at South Downs. 

However, material needs were not always met, despite the great wealth dug from the ground beneath their feet. The wages were poor and living  conditions appalling, despite the vast profits being made by the Mine Adventurers and the Lords of the Tin. From 1830 onwards families, unable to keep body and soul together, were leaving the district in vast numbers to search for work elsewhere. 

They often first went  to somewhere in the UK but eventually were lured on, to the goldfields of both North  and South America, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. Agricultural workers were also persuaded to leave their meagre existence for Australia Canada and New Zealand with the tempting prospect of owning acres of land, whereas at home they were obliged to work the land of others. All this was hastened by the later collapse of the copper price in 1860’s. In 1844 the Parish of Lanner had been created out of part of Gwennap and then Carharrack fell within its boundary. This came about due to the sudden increase in population but it was not long before the population fell drastically. Although mining continued in the area until Tresavean itself closed in 1929 it was a shadow of its former self and many homes and businesses were left empty in the great depression that followed. There is a lane, still known as 'Rough Street 'that is thought to date from Roman times. This leads up past the Chapel and Church and on to the footpath to Penhalvean in Stithians parish, where the head of a wheel cross was found in the garden of a row of cottages some thirty years ago.

As a track way it may have first been used for the conveyance of tin to St. Michael's Mount and afterwards as an alternative road for the Pilgrims on their journey from the St. Day Shrine to St Michaels Mount.

The steam flowing through the village originates from an adit in Penstruthal Mine and eventually reaches Bissoe.  Its straight course points to its being an artificial water course which is probably not more than 200 years old.  The name of the manor Pensignans means “ the head of the dry valley” and would seem to imply that there was no stream in earlier times.

Some years ago a cave was discovered in the village. It had probably been a hiding place for smuggled goods. Nothing was found inside and the sides were not lined with stones, as are many ancient fogous, vugs or vows [Cornish vooga = a cavern]


St Day was just another village  in the early 1800’s. St Day United Mine and the Consolidated Mine companies were formed out of the many smaller mines in the district. Other mine workings were, Crofthandy, Park an Chy, Wheal Pink, Wheal Clinton, Wheal Gorland, Wheal Quick, Wheal Jewel, Wheal Maid, Wheal Bush, Killifreth and the great Poldice and on right up to  the boundary of Gwennap and Kenwyn parishes and  Wheal Busy at Chasewater.

Until 1829 St Day was in Gwennap parish and had no parish church. Anciently it had been on the pilgrim route from Canterbury to St Michael’s Mount and a chapelry and hospice had existed before 1269 to cater for the travellers. In 1281 a survey  found that,

“ annexed to the Chapel of the Holy Trinity were four acres of Glebe” 

It is believed that as well as the chapel building there was a bell tower and a refectory and hostel to accommodate the many pilgrims .

In about 1565 Elizabeth I  sold off the main chapel. Much of the stone went  towards building an additional north aisle on Gwennap Church but the bell tower was left standing. It remained a landmark for many years. Norden writing in 1584 said

 There was sometime a chappell, now decayde, called Trynitye, to which men and women came in times paste from afar in pilgrimage. The resorte was so greate, as it made the people of the countrye to bring all kinde of provision to that place:”

Further history was recalled by Hals writting in 1750.

“ Not far from this place is that unparalleled and inexhaustible tin-work called Poldys which for above 40 years apace hath employed yearly from 800 to a 1000 men and boys labouring for and searching after tin in that place, where they have produced and raised up for that time yearly at least £20,000 worth of that commodity to the great enrichings of the Lords of the Soil, the bound owners, and the adventurers in those Lands

The chapel tower stood until 1798 when it was finally demolished. A new parish church was built in 1829 and in the April of 1835, a district was assigned and the parish became  separate from Gwennap.

The whole building was built to impress. Its towers and pinnacles dominate the surrounding landscape. They are constructed of Cornish granite and remain little changed from the day they were cut, Extensive renovation of the interior was carried out in 1891.Various interior fittings were replaced over time and a heating system installed in 1911. There were stained glass windows dedicated to Sir Wm Williams Bart and  Lady Williams. With the decline of the mining industry and the resultant de-population of the area questions arose as to the necessity of maintaining such a large church. Later refurbishment works in 1931 removed the mezzanine gallery which had helped to support the slender brick columns supporting the high roof. This weakened the whole structure and a report confirmed the structure was unsafe and in 1956 the church was closed. A small section of the roof was damaged by vandals in 1985 and the remainder of the roof was removed for safety's sake. The pulpit, and possibly the lectern were removed to St Euny Church in Redruth and the font left in pieces. The whole place was closed to public access. In 1999 work was eventually  commenced on making the structure safe. Rubble and waste was removed and most of the archaeological work is now completed, including cataloguing some 500 photos. The walls have been capped with cement and the four granite pillars on each corner have been stabilised by inserting rods. In addition a small roof has been built over the apse. All ten of the upper side widows have had their frames stabilised or renewed and some original glazing has been retained. The five stained glass windows on the east end have been sandwiched in between polycarbonate, imported from Germany as sheets of sufficient size were not available in UK.

Work has begun on the interior walls and the crumbling plaster will all have to be removed but there is some really good granite underneath. The eight pillars that supported the balconies are to be replaced with exact copies but of a different material. Each will weigh about five tons and may have to be made on site. The stairs in the tower will also be rebuilt giving access to some amazing views. The restoration and re-hanging of the interior memorials has begun, including repairs to the font found in pieces and replacing the marble statue. Sadly a salvaged small organ was beyond help.

Mike Kiernan, the archaeologist on site with the Trevithick Trust, has “a thing” about getting a bell to replace the one that was stolen, but that will have to be from different funds!

Incidentally, there were two workmen killed during the 1931 restoration work.

They were WILLIAM JOHN HARFOOT & ERNEST JOHN BUNKER, both from, and probably buried in, Hayle.

 Although no longer used as a place of worship the building  is a venue for local events and exhibitions. The Trevithick Trust leases it from the Diocese of Truro.

  Once also in St Day were  a Primitive Methodist Chapel, built in 1885 on the site of a former single story Baptist Chapel and a Wesleyan Chapel, built in 1828 on Chapel Street.

Perhaps the building with the most interesting tale attached to it is the Town Clock


                                                Redruth Clock                                                      St Day Clock

Redruth had to raise the height of their clock tower when the old one was obscured by the building of the new Trounson's Shop. It was decided to do away with the ornate bell-cote. It was removed and replaced on top of the St Day clock tower, where it sits to this very day overlooking the  ancient Market Square. Today St Day is a fairly quiet town with none of the hurry and bussle of former days. It is also a parish unto itself and celebrates its Feast Day in time honoured fashion  on the tenth Sunday after Easter. The  Carharrack and St Day silver band lead a procession through the town, followed by an old fashioned tea treat. In the evening, weather permitting, the St Day dance, led by the band playing its special music, tours the town finishing up in the Market Square. This is one of the few small towns that still uphold their parish feast in the age old way. Many locals make sure they get home for “St Day Feast”

  You may walk, cycle or horse ride the many mining trails around the villages of Lanner Carharrack and St Day. There are three excellent leaflets available that give masses of historical information. They have good illustrations with either old or present day photos, together with coloured illustrations and a map to tie up with the numbered locations. Best of all, these leaflets convey a little of what "home" meant to those who left for foreign lands, sometimes never to return. They are available from most tourist offices in the area. Anyone not able to visit in person and would like to see what I mean please e-mail me.

When we still had our dog and me two good knees, we walked the ‘Great Flat Load’ many times. In spring the sunny sight and almond scent of the gorses in bloom is truly wonderful.

* For the information on the restoration of St Day church our thanks go to Mike Kiernan.


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Revised: September 27, 2016 .