St Agnes Wesleyan Chapel was built in the early 1860s as a successor to the Goonown Wesleyan Chapel which was some distance from the centre of the village. This profile of St Agnes or Bryannack Wesleyan Chapel was compiled by Clive Benney and Tony Mansell who wrote “I Rode to St Agnes”, the history of this chapel.
In May 1858, the Goonown Chapel trustees withdrew the necessary funds from the Cornish Bank in Truro and purchased a piece of land from the Bryannack Estate. Their intention was to build a new Methodist place of worship in St Agnes (Bryannack being the ancient name for the village), in a more central position. It was a bold move and a new board of trustees was appointed to oversee the project.
The conveyance of the land in British Road for £420 was signed on behalf of the vendors: “James Prout (mine agent) and James Rogers (shop keeper) both of St Agnes in Cornwall (1) [and by the purchasing trustees] Thomas Martin Ninnis (mine agent), John Hancock (mine agent), Thomas Blenkinsop (accountant), Richard Rickard (cordwainer), Richard Davies (mine agent), Edward Penrose (hatter), Elisha Rowe (shop keeper), Sampson Hooper (Miner), Nicholas Bryant (builder), John Goyne the younger (accountant), John Cock (yeoman), John Evans (founder), John Peters (yeoman), William Butson (yeoman), Henry Peters (minor) [probably miner] and Nicholas Langdon (mason) all of St Agnes … Paul Clarke (yeoman) and Thomas Michell (Minor) [probably miner] of Perranzabuloe … and Sampson Stephens of Penryn … (2) and the Revd Peter Parsons of St Agnes (Supt Preacher of Circuit in Wesleyan Methodist Connexion …) (3)” (Deeds)
1858: “The following were appointed trustees: James Rogers, Thomas M Ninnis, John Hancock, Thomas Blenkinsop, Richard Davies, Edmund Penrose, Richard Rickard, Elisha Rowe, Samuel Hooper, Nicholas Bryant, John Evans, John Peters, William Butson, Henry Peters, Nicholas Langdon, John Goyne, John Cock, Sampson Stephens and Thomas Mitchell.” (1964 Re-opening souvenir programme)
The area not required for the chapel – two fields, barn, stable and mowhay, continued to be farmed by the trustees.
1860 – 18th April: At the first trustees’ meeting, they resolved to build a new Chapel. A building committee was set up. (1964 Re-opening souvenir programme)
Mr Richards of Redruth instructed to produce plans. (1964 Re-opening souvenir programme) The Chapel was to be 65 feet long by 50 feet wide which, with a balcony, would seat about 900 people.
1860 – 23rd May: The tender of Mr Abraham Delbridge was accepted provided he agreed to build according to plans and specifications.
1860 – 9th July: Foundation stone laid.
The building stone was from local sources; about 670 tons was transported from Boddy’s Quarry in Jericho Valley and a further 380 tons brought in from Polberro Quarry.
1861: Mounting difficulties with the contractor. Eventually the situation became so bad that the trustees paid Mr Delbridge for the work he had carried out and dismissed him from the job. The trustees then took on the job of organising the remainder of the work. Various sections were let and it would seem that the project proceeded more smoothly. There was certainly no problem with the woodwork carried out by John Roseveare of Truro.
The seating capacity was 950 and the total cost, including land, was £2,027.19s.9d.
Nine large camphene lamps were purchased to light the Chapel on the ground floor and ten for the gallery with two smaller ones for the platforms and two for the lobbies.
1862 – 18th June: Chapel opened.
Built as a Wesleyan chapel. (SWChurches)
Fairly large Wesleyan chapel. Dressed local stone brought to course at the front, coursed rubble at the sides; granite dressings; dry slate roof. Fine example with original sash windows with fanlight heads and original panelled doors. Impressive pedimented 5-window front with pilaster and quoin rustication and mid-floor string, 2 doorways flanking central window. Interior has 1st floor inserted to create schoolroom and other facilities below but all except the front of a full gallery survives with original box pews. Rare survival of original windows throughout. Thomas Richards designed the chapel in 1858, but in 1883 Sylvanus Trevail renovated the interior with a new gallery, rostrum, seating and stairs. About 1953 a floor was inserted at gallery level to divide the building into two storeys. (Cornwall Heritage Gateway)
“… Vicarage (a large suberb so called), where the Wesleyans have recently erected a large, well-built, and handsome chapel.” (Lake’s Parochial History of the County of Cornwall).
1863: Additional lights installed.
1864: Font and table for communion added.
1862: Sunday services transferred to here from the old Goonown Chapel.
1872 – 22nd July: Organ installed by George Hele of Plymouth.
4 Dec 1877: Memorandum of agreement, Bryanack, St Agnes Wesleyan Chapel. Parties: 1) Henry Peters, farmer, of St Agnes, on behalf of the trustees of St Agnes Wesleyan Chapel. 2) John Waters, Mine Agent, of St Agnes. Memorandum of agreement to let for 3, 5 or 7 years, dwelling house and garden, barn, stable and other out-buildings and three meadows at Bryanack, part of the Bryanack Estate, lying between the road leading from Vicarage to Rosemundy and the road from British Row to Peterville, St Agnes, now in occupation of 2). Good husbandry clauses. Rent: £18.00 per annum (Kresen Kernow MRN/796)
1882: Rostrum and communion rail installed.
1901: New vestry formed.
The Chapel interior circa 1905 (Photo: courtesy Clive Benney)
Old Time Tay Trayts
Reminiscences of Saffron Cake and Sugary Tay
An issue of the “Tribune Review,” Butte City, gives the following sketch which will be read with interest by St Agnes and other readers.
“If there’s one thing more than another that I like to read about in the old country papers, it’s the tay trayts,” said Billy Rippin to his partner, Uncle Will Trevaskis, at the Pork and Beans mine the other night as the two cronies sat down to enjoy their midnight meal. “It recalls visions of saffron cake, sugary tay, mazzards with cabbage leaves for plates, rosy-faced maidens, kissing rings and music, bachelor weddings, and …”
“Hold on,” said Uncle Will, “don’t numerate any more, or not another blessed tap will I do to-night. I’ll never forget the last tay trayt I ‘tended. It recalls pleasures and it also opens up old wounds, wounds that will never heal, in fact lad, I never wish them to heal. First there was the procession headed with a man carrying a flag, followed by the village band consisting of eight able bodied men blawing liquid melody. The man who played the drum part had splendid muscular development and that drum, when the player was in good ‘ealth, could be heard from Higher Bal to Dirtypool. He was no ordinary drummer, and what he lacked in time he made in energy and could tap with one hand as with the other, and he’d never miss a beat. Then came the little tots in twos, brimming over with happiness and anticipation. Seems as though I can see them now trying to keep step to the music. Over the right shoulder every child wore a ribbon, at the end of the ribbon a cup. That cup meant business, Billy. Then came the grown-up scholars, most of them big enough to go courting. They were as likely a lot of young people as could be found in any country, Boy. The young women had rosy cheeks and were pictures of rugged health and happiness. The bracing air from the sea, Billy, paints the cheeks a prettier red than the stuff some women use from the drug stores. The young men were mostly pale. Working in the mines from early boyhood in poor air and powder smoke, and living on a fish diet, leaves its mark on the faces of the miners. I don’t know whether you ever thought of it, lad, but a very small per cent of the Cornish miners are buried in Cornwall. Conditions are against it. But I was speaking of a tay trayt. Through the village streets and lanes, the procession wended its way to a neighbouring field. Then the fun commenced. A sort of impromptu stage – l think impromptu was what they called it – was made out of a big wagon for the band. As best I can remember, Billy, the first piece they played was ‘Vital Spark’. I never could understand why they always played that piece, it’s neither an appetizer nor can one dance to it. By the time the band struggled through the heavy production and the bombardenist had wrestled successfully with the base runs for which that piece is noted, the tay drinkin’ was ready.
I tell thee, Billy, ’twas a bad sight for one troubled with dyspepsia. The children were formed in a circle seated on planks raised from the ground by big rocks. Once in a while a rock would slip out of place and there would be a scattering of saffron cakes, sugary tay and children. In one corner of the field two men were kept busy boiling reservoirs of tay. In the eyes of the children, the men who peddled out the cakes were heroes and only second in importance to the man who played the drum in the band. From the big wagon – l mean the band stand – ‘Rule Britannia’ rolled forth, and in perfect step and with healthy appetites, the school teachers marched into the circle where the children were doing things, and sat down at the tables to eat buttered buns, saffron cake and drink tay. The real enjoyable part of the affair, though, was after all the tay was drank and there were no more buns or cake in sight. People, you know are funnier on full stomachs than on empty ones. There were quite a few trees skirting that field, lad, but there weren’t enough trees to go around, that is to give each spoony couple a whole tree to sit under. Don’t you know, lad, it’s wonderful the amount of information young lovesick couple can give each other after being apart twelve hours. So it was that day. Every few feet there were couples saying soft things, looking soft things and eating mazzards from the same cabbage leaf. Then there were the kissing rings, Billy. By the way, were you ever guilty of being a party to a kissing ring, Billy?”
“Was I?” ejaculated Billy. “Well, while I never held a championship along those lines, I have osculated some.”
“Then you know something about it, lad,” said Uncle Will. “Some of the old folks joined in the rush at the kissing rings also. Don’t you know it’s surprising the energy they expended when running after some purty maid, but the real energy was expended when they caught her. The girls in Cornwall can run like a hungry mule after corn, but it ain’t hard to catch ’em, that is if they think anything of the party of the second part. The Cornish kissing ring is a preliminary test, lad, after which comes the parson and the banns. I’ve heerd said that marriages are arranged in heaven, but in Cornwall the kissing ring runs a close second. I remember a youngster who left his home the day after the tay trayt in question. With his maid, as fair as a little creature as God ever placed on this ‘ere earth, he monopolized one of those trees I was speaking about. ‘Going to America,’ said he, ‘but in four years from date we’ll marry and come the tay drinkin’. The next day he left.”
“Was he on time gittin’ back?” asked Billy.
“No cause for him to be on time, lad,” said Uncle Will. “Long before the four years were up, a long, straggling procession wended its way from the village by the sea to the cemetery on the hill. Loving hands carried all that was mortal of that little maid to the burying ground and tenderly laid her to rest. Sometimes she is with me in my dreams. Then again, when in the mines, surrounded by dangers seen and unseen, I feel her presence, for like a guardian angel, she is ever with me. I am he who pledged his troth to return in four years. I should have kept my pledge but return there and to find her gone – well, it wouldn’t be the same. The saffron cake wouldn’t be yeller, the sugary tay so sweet, the mazzards would look like aglets, there would no pop to the ginger, the music would be a dirge and the festival meaningless. Two score years have rushed into eternity since we plighted our troth at that tay trayt, Billy, but sleeping or wakin’, I see her as she looked then in all her virgin purity, as she looks to-day in heaven,” (Cornishman 31st August 1905)
The Chapel circa 1906 – before the erection of the War Memorial (Photo: courtesy Clive Benney)
1908 St Agnes Band of Hope Tea Treat with St Agnes Band (Photo: courtesy Clive Benney)
1908 St Agnes Band of Hope Tea Treat (Photo: courtesy Clive Benney)
The St Agnes Wesleyan tea treat, in July 1909, was a huge event with both the St Agnes Town Band and the Truro Territorial Band taking part. The “Royal Cornwall Gazette” reported: “A large number of old scholars joined the procession. As it was part of the centenary celebrations, the school having been started in 1809, scholars under 18 years of age were given a free tea and officers, teachers and scholars were presented with a medal which was specially struck for the occasion. The two bands rendered a choice selection of instrumental music during the afternoon and evening.”
1909: St Agnes Wesleyan Tea Treat St Agnes Town Band (Photo: courtesy Clive Benney)
1909: St Agnes Wesleyan Tea Treat with George Gerry (centre) selling his limpets (Photo: courtesy Clive Benney)
The front elevation circa 1910 (Photo: courtesy Clive Benney)
1912: Illogan Band played under Revd H Oxland at St Agnes Wesleyan Sunday school tea. (Royal Cornwall Gazette 25th July 1912)
1914: “… the Wesleyans, headed by the St Agnes Band and these were closely followed by the United Methodists, headed by the Camborne Town Band. After parading the village they returned to their schoolrooms, where tea was served …” (2 July 1914 – The Cornish Telegraph)
1920: It must have been with a mixture of sadness and pride that this huge crowd gathered in the Chapel grounds on the 14th February 1920 to witness the unveiling of the new war memorial. It was very unusual for one to be located in the grounds of a Methodist chapel but in St Agnes there was no room by the Parish Church.
Henry Letcher made “periodic” repairs to the Chapel timepiece.
1922: Mr M Hodge was paid £69 for new seats.
21 Apr 1922: Drawings, pew end seating, St Agnes Wesleyan Chapel. Full size pencilled sketch by Bradheer and Sons, contractors, Exeter, Devon. Original envelope addressed to The Reverend F C Poad, St Agnes, Scorrier, S O, Cornwall. (Kresen Kernow MRN/1422)
17 Nov 1923: Tenancy agreement, St Agnes Wesleyan Chapel. Parties: 1) Chapel trustees. 2) William Luke of British Road, St Agnes.. Property: Tea treat field (OS 1017). Rent: £5 5 shillings. (Kresen Kernow MRN/294)
1925: St Ives Silver Band made the jaunt up the north coast to play for the St Agnes Wesleyan Sunday school tea treat in 1925. It was held in a field at Penwinnick, lent by Mr Stephens. (Cornubian and Redruth Times 23rd July 1925)
1926: Charles Chegwin, builder and St Agnes bandsman, built a ladies’ toilet.
1928: Electricity installed.
25 Dec 1928: Tenancy agreement, St Agnes Wesleyan Chapel. Parties: 1) Chapel trustees. 2) William Luke. Stables, yard and fields (OS 1106, 1014, 1015). Rent: £11. (Kresen Kernow MRN/297)
May-Dec 1931: Correspondence, sale of land, St Agnes Wesleyan Chapel. Correspondence with Thomas H Blakeney and Wesleyan Chapel Committee concerning sale of land. (Kresen Kernow MRN/309, 310, 311, 312, 313, 314, 315 and 316)
1932: The Wesleyan, Primitive Methodist and the United Methodist Church amalgamated to become the Methodist Church of Great Britain.
1932: Became St Agnes Methodist Church. (SWChurches)
1936: Richard Waters (Captain Dick Waters or Cap’n Dick) had donated £600 to floor in the gallery. He could foresee that the 960-seater building would be much too large for future needs. He must have been very shrewd because he included a caveat that the money should not be used for any other purpose than that stipulated viz. to floor in the gallery. If they wanted the money, they had to comply exactly with his wishes.
1943 – January: a controversial idea was floated: John Angwin asked if consideration could be given to carrying out alterations to the Chapel in order that the congregation could be seated on one level. A sub-committee was formed with the remit to investigate the possibility of converting the gallery into the Chapel and using the ground floor as a schoolroom. The committee comprised the Revd W N Warren, J R S Bennetts, R Waters, A E Reynolds, J E Tredinnick and John Angwin.
1947: The St Agnes Methodist News Bulletin of June 1947 wrote of a double celebration on the 6th July 1947: the 85th anniversary of the opening of the Chapel for public worship and the 200th anniversary of the first visit of the Revd John Wesley to St Agnes.
1947: It was interesting to find a reference to “Big Chapel” in the October 1947 News Bulletin. Perhaps this nickname has been largely forgotten but then, and possibly for some time before, it was in regular use.
1950: Building work deferred due to shortage of construction material.
1952: For many, the single floor Chapel was the answer. Funding was still a problem but the trustees felt that it was important to find out how everyone felt about the scheme in principle. It was agreed to canvass the views of the congregation. Bill Morrison wrote that many opposed the idea and that when the votes were counted those against had won the day. He recalled one old lady with a particular concern who said, “They’ll end up having pantomimes in the hall – heaven above and hell below.”
Cornish Humour in a Crisis
During the 1950s a young Peter (Nick) Thomas was at the St Agnes Wesleyan tea treat at Penwinnick and was clearly interested in everything that was going on. So much so that he wandered off and his mother became worried about him. Suddenly the band struck up “D’ye ken John Peel” and the lady with her said, “Don’t worry, Mrs Thomas, they’ve got the hounds out looking for ‘n now!”
1955: The Sunday school Council pleaded that new or altered premises were urgently needed. The trustees called a meeting of interested parties to discuss possible solutions. For some, the division of the Chapel was a step too far. There was horror at the idea of scrapping the large pulpit and many felt it was wrong that people would be forced to climb the stairs to worship. Mr Tredinnick explained that it would be an easy stair, each step would only have a small rise. Matt Radcliffe was not to be swayed and said that he supposed it would be so easy that it would be like going downhill. For one reason or another the proposal was rejected once again. (Bill Morrison)
1957-1957: Proposed alterations discussed again. The traditionalists in the congregation must have wondered what they had to do to defeat the proposal as in spite of this recent rejection, the scheme for a first floor Chapel was still on the table and continued to appear on meeting agendas. Clearly the idea was not going to go away and when it was raised again, Mr A E Reynolds, Mr W C Pope, Mr L Roberts and Mr J E Tredinnick were tasked with investigating the likely cost.
1960: New kitchen was formed in the north vestry. For many, however, the creation of a single-level Chapel with schoolroom under was the ultimate aim.
1961: Most of the unused land was sold. The farm and garden where Castle Meadows now stands was sold and added to the money already set aside. The trustees pledged to raise a further £1,000 and the various sections of the chapel also had their targets. Unfortunately, Dick Waters’ original £600 had been invested in a safe Government stock and was now worth only £400. Despite this reduction in value his contribution had ensured that his scheme was adopted but, according to Bill Morrison, some felt that the opportunity for a more drastic change was missed.
1961: Trustees: Alfred Ernest Solomon, Joseph Edwin Tredinnick, Thomas Victor Trezise, John Berryman, Nicholas Charles Thomas, Maxwell Thomas Walter Hocking, William Hume Morrison, Agnes Butcher, Mary Frances Oates, Lester Roberts, Roger Williams, William Joseph Ronald Murrish, Albert Edward Reynolds, William Clyde Pope, James Redvers Stephens Bennetts, William Roy Blewett, Richard James Olds, Noel Hoskins, Christine Emily Morrison, Gertrude Margaret Davey, Elsie Irene Vanstone, Henry Russell Roberts and Bessie Edwina Tredinnick.
1961: The Trust signalled its intent as it appointed a new committee to pursue the single floor Chapel. It consisted of Mrs M Davey, Miss E Vanstone, Mr W H Morrison, Mr N Hoskins, Mr R Murrish, Mr A E Reynolds and Mr J E Tredinnick; they set to work.
1962: The Revd Raymond Foster took over the reins at St Agnes and inherited the plan for the building alterations. There was renewed impetus amongst the trustees and according to the minutes, three schemes emerged:
- To floor in the well of the gallery.
- To remove the gallery and build a new first floor.
- To erect a new building with two vestries.
The second scheme was the preferred option, but it was ruled out because of the cost. After considerable discussion, the first option finally emerged as favourite. The building would be divided horizontally with a ground floor hall, vestries, kitchen and toilets and a first floor Chapel to seat 350 people – Cap’n Dick’s caveat had won the day. Tony Gribben was asked to prepare some sketch plans for Mr K E Rundle of Cowell, Drewitt and Wheatley of Truro who was appointed architect.
“Raymond Foster steered the trustees through many meetings and problems after the architect’s first plans. The heating system was an afterthought and had to be considered later, when people found that they were not warm enough. The provision of one toilet was considered inadequate despite it being continually referred to by the architect as ‘the toilets.’ The design of the front area raised some objections with the pulpit placed to one side in a Society where preaching was central, an altar for the Eucharist instead of a table for the Lord’s Supper and a heavy communion rail that seemed to fence off the leaders from the people in what is essentially a lay church. But the architect won the day, as architects often do, by warning that the work would not be finished in time for the opening ceremony if any alterations were made. The trustees did have the last word on one point, the colour of the organ pipes. Mr Rundle had wanted lime green but they insisted on shocking pink, or so some people called it, although the colour chart said terra cotta. The total cost in 1964 was £7,578, an astronomical amount. But we went ahead.” (Bill Morrison wrote)
The Vicar and members of St Agnes Anglican Church kindly gave permission for services to be held in the Church Hall while the work was carried out.
1964 – January: The Sunday school dispersed to various private houses.
The Revd B A R Morris conducted the last service in the two-floor Chapel and the artefacts were hurriedly removed to make way for the contractors. It was a major project and it was hoped that work would proceed more smoothly than back in the 1860s when the Chapel was built.
1964 – January: St Agnes builder W H Waters awarded the contract.
The “free seats” from the sides of the old Chapel were to be re-used in the centre but they had previously been set against a wall and whereas one end was ornately carved, the other was not. Jimmy Olds set to with his chisels and glasspaper and did a superb job of replicating the carving on the blank ends. When these were replaced with chairs in the late 1990s a few were retained for use downstairs, but most were sold. The pews in the original balcony were retained in place but the pew doors were later removed to aid escape in the event of a fire.
Work underway on the 1964 project (Photo: courtesy Clive Benney)
1986: New coffee lounge built by Bernard True of St Agnes. The final cost was about £40.000.
By 2009 the kitchen facilities were proving inadequate for current needs, particularly for the twice-monthly cooked meals prepared for the elderly folk of the parish. A new kitchen to modern standards was needed. It was formed within the existing hall, on the north side in a space partly occupied by a store. The old kitchen servery on the other side of the room was removed so the loss of usable floor space was minimal. The cost, including all the equipment, was about £40,000.
1998: Contractors E Thomas of Ponsanooth installed a lift, re-slated the main roof, improved the foyer, better toilets, formed a new kitchen and undertook other work. Barry Austin was Chairman of the Development Committee. Andrew Buck of the Lilly Lewarne Partnership undertook the Architectural work, Michael Crook was the Consultant Engineer and John Cormack of St Agnes the Structural Engineer.
Services held in the St Agnes Scout Hut while the work was being undertaken.
1999 – January: Chapel re-opened.
Writing in the Spring/Summer 2006 edition of “In Touch” the Revd Nigel Deller, Superintendent Minister, used the heading of “Chapel or Church?” for his lead article. It seems that his “upcountry” ministerial friends had become a little irritated when he talked of Methodist chapels rather than Methodist churches. We discussed this with the Revd Joe Ridholls who said that it was traditionally a case of “Anglicans and their church and Methodists with their chapel”.
The Chapel with its War Memorial (Photo: Viv Roberts)
The interior in 2010 (Photo: Tony Mansell)
- David Easton
- 1964 St Agnes Chapel Re-opening Souvenir Programme