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Parish History

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE PARISH OF MAWNAN

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Visitors have been coming to Mawnan since ancient times. The earliest are most likely to have come by sea for the parish is bounded by Falmouth Bay to the East and by the Helford River to the South.

It is said that tin traders from the Continent (perhaps even from the Mediterranean), came to Durgan, the first point of shelter in the Helford River. Making their way up Rocky Lane, they would have joined the ancient track that ran from Helford Passage through Mawnan to Constantine and on inland.

Early settlers also came by sea. They followed the streams inland and built their fortified homesteads on the higher ground. The Cornwall Archaeological Society has listed these Iron Age sites: at Carwinion, at Bosanath, between the Meudon farm and the village and where the parish church stands today. There is also an impressive Round at Carlidnack (privately owned).

The "Cliff Castle" on Rosemullion Head is another Iron age earthwork. Together with the fort on Dinnas Head on the south side of the river, it guarded the Helford estuary.

The earliest written references to Mawnan's farmsteads are in the 13th and 14th centuries, though it is quite possible that they were settled much earlier, perhaps even in Celtic times. These farmsteads are still occupied today and their Cornish names remain virtually the same.

THE VILLAGE

The village of Mawnan Smith takes its name from the smithy that became established in the centre of the parish to serve the rural community and those who passed through. Records show that in 1645, during the Civil War, Frances Combe, the "smith at Mawnan", paid Sir Richard Vyvyan 2 for iron from the old ship "The Creation" that had been broken up and used for fortifications at the Royalist camp on Dinnas Head.

The smithy was set up where two ancient trackways met. One led to the church of St. Maunanus on the Cliff; the other to the ferry at Helford Passage. The ferry has linked the Lizard peninsula with Penryn and Truro since the 13th century and probably much earlier. Crossing at the Passage would have been the safest and most convenient way for ecclesiastics and pilgrims to reach the early Celtic Christian centre of Lanhevran (St Keverne) on the Meneage. The religious settlement at Budock Vean, above Helford Passage, may have been sited there as a resting place for these travellers. In the 19th century a horse-ferry ran from Manaccan and Helford on the south side, across the river, and through Mawnan Smith to Falmouth. Today a passenger ferry runs between the Passage and Helford village.

CHURCH, CHAPEL AND PUB

The parish church of St. Maunanus, a Celtic saint, stands high above the estuary. Part of the Round, the ancient earthwork within which the first small Celtic church was built, remains as a section of the churchyard's western hedge. It is a magnificent but unusually conspicuous site. A request from coastguards in 1842 to whitewash the tower as a guide to mariners was fortunately never followed up!

Today tourists come from near and far to visit the church and admire the extensive views. Above the lychgate a Cornish inscription "Da thymi nesse the Dhu" reminds them "it is good to draw nigh to the Lord".

A second church, St. Michaels, was built in 1876 on a more convenient site in the centre of the village, next to the school. This church school had been established in 1833 on land provided by the Rector, the Rev. John Rogers. Seven cottages were also built in the meadow and their rents used for the upkeep of the school and the teachers' salaries. The Wesleyan chapel, opposite the school, was licensed for worship in 1815. The Tithe Map shows it standing in a field called Preaching Meadow where, it is said, John Wesley once preached. Mawnan's Roman Catholic church was built more recently in 1965.

The focal point of the village has always been the picturesque Red Lion Inn. We know it was already a well established hostelry in 1717 for when landlord Walter Lory died that year, the inventory of his "goods and chattels" included pewter dishes and porringers, candlesticks and cooking pots, stools, forms, benches and beds.

THE LEGEND OF FINE AND BRAVE

The local legend of Fine and Brave lane is set in the 18th century. The story goes that during the French wars, the women of the village hurried down the narrow lane, pitchforks in hand, to repel an invasion from a French ship nearing Maenporth cove. Fortunately, glimpses of their red petticoats persuaded the French that a company of Redcoats was approaching and they sailed away. The men of Mawnan, proud of their women's initiative, declared "it was a fine and brave thing to do". And it is said that since then, the lane has been known as Fine and Brave.

A more prosaic explanation is that the name may be a corruption of the Cornish "Fyn an bre" - the boundary of the hill - for the lane lies below an impressive Iron Age earthwork known as the Round Field.

THE PARISH COUNCIL



The first Mawnan Parish Council at Chatham Cottage 1894

Standing (left to right): John Roberts (Boskensoe PC), James Hall (Carlidnack PC),
Edwin Charles Courage (Mawnan Smith PC), William Borlase (Mawnan Smith PC) Schoolmaster,
John Chinn (Carlidnack PC), (?),
Sitting (left to right):John Peter of Chatham Cottage (??), William Laity Jnr (Trerose PC), Thomas Laity (Trerose PC).

 

From 1601 Parliament had conferred upon the vestries of the Churches the powers to levy a poor rate for the relief of poverty and the exercise of charity. Then in 1819 an Act created an annually elected committee (also called the Select Vestry) to administer poor relief.

By that time the countryside had been transformed by the enclosures of land from common or unclosed waste, and the older collective methods of farming ceased. To make up for the loss of rights, the commoners of the manors were compensated with smallholdings and allotments for food, fuel, stone and recreation. These were placed under the
control of the vestry.

As the vestry was ecclesiastical in origin, with the Methodist revival difficulties arose, in that in hundreds of Parishes the representative of the established church had to preside over an assembly composed wholly of people hostile to that church. Over extensive areas church rate ceased to be levied and parish administration was reduced to the barest minimum.

A new system of parish government was set up by the Local Government Act of 1894. But not without considerable debate.

In 1894 the squire, the parson and the schoolmaster were usually the leaders of the village. Their influence depended on their traditional prestige, superior education and their relative wealth. The vestries had followed their lead. The Parish Councils were considered an intrusion and many had to face active opposition.

It was not until after the two world wars, when English social life in the countryside altered, and the commuter appeared that internal quarrels in the Parishes died a natural death and Parish Councils really used the powers intended under the 1894 Act.

Mawnan Parish Council was one of the first to be set up in 1894.

Roll of Honour of Mawnan men killed in action during World Wars 1 & 2

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