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October 27, 2022 - In Consultation Items

History & Heritage

The existence of a medieval manor was recorded near Court Farm, in the village centre although nothing is now visible and there would have been an older church, upon whose foundations the present church was rebuilt on a cruciform plan with the oldest parts we see dating from the 14th Century. The south and east walls of the chancel and the south wall of the knave are built on these earlier foundations with Rosamund Cottage in the village square also reputed to have medieval origins.

Marhamchurch village is a ridgetop settlement lying one mile south of Bude, just off the A39 close to Helebridge. The parish enjoys varied undulating largely rural farmland and woodland with streams and river meadows and includes some spectacular coastline north of Widemouth Bay towards Bude. 

Many years ago, the low-lying area from Bude Crescent car park right up to Helebridge was tidal and old moorings can still be seen under Helebridge. The fertile low lying soils between the river Strat and the canal are one of the few grade 2 classified soils in the parish which is mostly grade 3 and 4. The sediments here laid down by the tides all those years ago hold past secrets with a fossilised jaw bone recently being found there and later identified by the Exeter Museum as belonging to a large carnivorous bear sized creature dating from the Pliocene Ice Age.

The Romans were active in the parish when they ruled the Western Kingdom of Dumnonia – pitching early camps and settlements on strategic hilltops. Roman coins, pottery fragments and spear heads have been found on the stony summits of fields at Whalesborough Farm to the west of the village.

Marhamchurch village is said to have grown along the ridge top from a small hermitage cell on the site of the present day war memorial. The hermitage was established in the 5th Century by the Celtic Saint Marwenne – daughter of the Welsh king Brychan from Powys and she lends her name to the beautiful old church which stands proudly at one end of the village square. Unlike other less remote parts of the country where churches were often dedicated to canonised saints in Victorian times eg St Luke, St. John. St Andrew – many rural Cornish churches have retained their dedication to Celtic saints, eg. St. Olaf at nearby Poughill, St. Swithin at neighbouring parish of Launcells, St. Winwaloe at the neighbour parish of Poundstock.

It is likely that the neighbouring villages of Kilkhampton and Week St Mary, also ridgetop settlements together with Marhamchurch formed a strategic frontier between the southern spheres of Celtic influence and the northern spere of Saxon influence during the Dark Ages of the 5th – 9th Centuries. The farm names Woodknowle, Rattenbury and Creathorne are from Saxon origin while just to the south Penhalt, Trevissick and Treskinnick are of Celtic origin.

Following the Norman conquest in 1066 Marhamchurch was consolidated and entered into the Domesday Book as Mar-om-cerch and the manor title and lands were granted to Robert Mortain, created Earl Of Cornwall by King William 1 and passed down through families, the Pynes, Rolles and Trefusis, familiar names today.

The Black Death had a huge impact on rural villages in 1361 and Marhamchurch parish was recorded as being in “Mortality Crisis”. There were two morse subsequent waves of the Plague and a terrible famine which killed more inhabitants than the Plague itself. During one of these waves it is rumoured there was a mass burial ground dug for victims near Mead Farm in neighbouring Poundstock parish. Here it is said that to this day crops and livestock do not thrive as the farm is on a bad ley line and it has indeed changed hands many times.

Many local field names are derived from features giving clues as to the past. Chapel Park a field near the old 16th Century farmhouse at Whalesborough farm hinting at the existence of a small chapel built for family and farm workers which was verified by the discovery of a manuscript at Truro museum and excavation work uncovering evidence of foundations and at one end a deep pit full of limpet shells which families would have been reduced to eating during times of famine and hardship.

On the southern point of the western coastal boundary of Marhamchurch behind Widemouth Bay, a small cottage “The Salthouse” stands on a solid pedestal of rock amongst unstable crumbling cliffs. Here salt was collected from the beach and refined for curing meat. Well within living memory the coast road used to pass on the seaward side of the cottage and redundant field boundaries are visible from the cliff path which demarcated fields long since disappeared due to coastal erosion. Now a wonderful picturesque section of the South West coast path travels through National Trust owned coastal heathland to Bude providing spectacular views up and down this dramatic coast. Research by Cornwall Tourist board has shown that nowadays more people come to Cornwall to enjoy walking than come simply for beach holidays.

Timber for building was in scarce supply in the parish with many buildings been built of cob and stone with local slate roofs. After storms  –  sizeable timbers from ships wrecked along this leeward coast were most sought after building materials. Customs and excise officers would claim these timbers for “the Crown” but local people would often get there first and there was a secret store in loft of the Salthouse outbuilding, now a garage. It is rumoured that when a nearby section of cliff crumbled, it revealed a buried skeleton of a man and horse – with the customs officer’s buttons clearly visible amongst the remains.

There is an old sandtrack leading back from Widemouth Bay beach to Helebride alongside the small stream which borders Creathorne and Whalesborough. Originally built to bring sand to help enrich the acidic farm hinterland, in living memory – this sandtrack provided a route for pony and cart rides from Marhamchurch village to the beach for picnics and day trips. Today alongside runs one of the many paths around Whalesborough farm which offers public pedestrian and cycle access through recently planted woodland and meadows.

The rock strata through Marhamchurch parish has made it common place to have old wells and boreholes servicing farmsteads although nowadays the water often has to have iron and manganese removed. Adjacent to the cliff road – just south of Elements restaurant is a dip in the road next to which there is the remains of an old borehole which was sunk to provide drinking water to the residents of Widemouth Bay. This was accidentally discovered on horseback with a near miss whilst cantering along the field margin. When a long pole was put in the hole to mark the hazard it disappeared from view with 20 seconds being counted before a distant splash was heard below!

Water has played its part in shaping Marhamchurch Village too, and Box’s Foundry was built on the bank of the River Strat near Helebridge before the canal in the early 1800’s. The leat, fed by a spring above the existing main house powered the water wheel which drove the furnaces where ploughs and agricultural equipment were made. The present owner who first came to Marhamchurch as an evacuee during the second World War in 1943 said the first bill of sale for Box’s Foundry was in 1804. Some of the Foundry buildings were completely derelict and stone from these was used to build Bude Crescent.

With the building of Bude Canal finally completed in 1825, Marhamchurch village was put truly on the map and Goffies Park a sizeable house near the top of the incline plane up which heavy canal boats were dragged to the next level near the village centre – was built originally as a pub for the workers complete with cellar. Sections of the canal can be seen throughout the parish and the tow path provides level easy scenic walks as this amazing feat of hand built engineering follows the contours of the land to within 2 inches as it makes its 15 mile journey to Upper Tamar lake. 

There is a small museum at Helebridge containing a fascinating account of the canal and many artefacts which is open on Sundays throughout the summer months.

Relatively soon after all this manpower and effort wasput into the construction of the canal, the railway arrived in the late 1800’s bringing Victorian tourists and speedy freight travel making the canal largely redundant. There is still to this day the remains of an old guard’s van in Whalesborough woods until recently used as a pig pen and several quarries on farms near the railway line where stone was taken for its construction. Again sections of the disused railway line can be seen throughout the parish providing field access and a stretch purchased by Cornwall council forms part of the National cycleway and is used as a multi use trail leading to Bude. Parts are still in private ownership and the impressive viaduct near Trelay built in 1890 was recently sold for £1 presumably because of the cost of upkeep.  

Back in the 1870’s John Wesley a famous Methodist preacher had a huge impact on rural communities like Marhamchurch where his plain speaking and simple services and chapels found a ready audience amongst simple country folk. The challenge was thrown down to the traditional Church of England congregation with their high church services and imposing Gothic buildings reminiscent of the God fearing days of medieval times when services were held in Latin – and most parishioners were in awe of the church and its power. The active Methodist church in the village centre built in 1905, was one of several chapels built in the parish but nowadays some have been converted to domestic residences such as Kirkstone and Churston in Marhamchurch village and more recently Titson Chapel near the southern parish boundary – where gravestones rather sombrely stand in the surrounding garden on the consecrated ground. The newly refurbished Methodist Schoolrooms built in 1861 in Marhamchurch are a great venue for the community and for our parish Council meetings and it is wonderful to see the cooperation now between Church of England and Methodist churches as Remembrance Sunday services are held alternately in each.

The Village square today is one of the most attractive in the area, with traditional cob and thatch cottages built in pre industrial rural times and grander newer stone and slate houses built when the village became more affluent with the coming of the canal and the railway. The village centre is now in a conservation area to protect these lovely homes and the old school house and Bray Institute.

Old photographs show there was a large stone building, adjacent to the present day lynch gate by the war memorial which was referred to as “the Dame’s School” which for reasons unknown was pulled down in the early 1900’s. The original porch stone with the inscription “National Schools 1873”, now stands over the entrance to the nearby former school house which backs on to the Revel Field. Now an attractive residence, many of today’s parishioners attended the school there which had just two classrooms, until a modern larger school was built in 1995 to educate the village’s growing population. 

The Bray Institute is a large prominent rather grand stone village hall in the centre of the village, bearing the inscription over the porch “Church Institute 1913”. A Mr Bray whose family lived at Landford Hele near the southern parish boundary, was instrumental in making this building happen and there is an inscribed stone near the main entrance laid by “Lucy and Mary Bray of Langford Hill August 18th 1913”. The Bray Institute is a wonderful asset to Marhamchurch, complete with stage, kitchen, snooker room, cloakroom and back kitchen. It has seen many village events and played a part in so many parishioners’ lives over the last 100 years. Long may it continue to provide a wonderful venue for all kinds of activities, groups and clubs.

Soon after “The Bray” was built, World War 1 took its toll on the parishioners of Marhamchurch as the War Memorial attests – many family names written on there are families living in the parish today, who gave their lives in both World Wars. In May 1918 when German submarines posed a real threat to our coastline – an airfield was built in the river valley close to Langford Hele on the southern parish boundary. This airfield was used by airships to find and intercept German submarines and also provided a base for small reconnaissance aircraft during the second World War. Although redundant for many years it was only formally closed in February 2019. There is a recent plaque on the Bray paying tribute to those involved.

Also in the early 1900’s the Churston Estates brought up many farms in the area including Whalesborough, and just outside the parish Bevil House , Penfound and Kennacott. There are still to this day, trademark square stone gateposts at the entrance to fields and farms with pointed masonry pyramid tops typical of Squire Mucklow their master builder at that time.

Within living memory there were several shops in Marhamchurch – Bolitho the butchers and another slaughterhouse near the village centre at Sharlands owned by the Greenaway family latterly of Rattenbury, a lovely old house where they carried on taking fallen stock from farms to feed the pack of Beagle Hounds kept there until early 1990’s. Nowadays animals have to be killed and meat processed through approved abattoirs, few of which are as local so food miles clock up.

There was a bakers, Mr Hill at “The Old Bakery” a lovely house near the village centre so called today. There was a blacksmith opposite the present day community shop – a super asset to the village run entirely by volunteers – proudly built and opened in 2019 with local parishioners raising money to match funds given by the National Lottery. Back to the 1950’s – there was a wheelwright at “Aboukir” opposite the busy Bullers Arms pub, and a market garden at “Rose Cottage” owned by Dick heard. There was a cobblers owned by Charlie Dinner and a Post Office run by Freddie Medland – a house near the churchyard is still called “The Old Post Office”. More recently one surviving village shop near the Buller Arms was run by Eric and Anna Rutledge and then by Chris Hutton before it finally became two domestic houses. – one of which is humorously called “Dun Cellin”!

Mention must be made of the famous “Marhamchurch Revel” an annual village fete with a difference. It is traditionally held on the second Monday in August. This festival of pagan origin was first revived before World War 2 at Wooldown (now holiday cottages) before being developed by “The Andrews family” who held the Revel on their tennis court at Penhele, near the Church before giving the “Revel Field” opposite to the village. The festival is well known today – complete with the crowning of “The Revel Queen” by “Father Time” whose identity is a closely guarded secret and who must recite a speech (learned by heart)  which was written by Mrs. Andrew in honour of St. Marwenne – before the “Revel queen “ rides round the village on a white horse attended by pages and then formally opens “The Revel”. The Revel Fair used to be rounded off with football, sports and other games but more recently a riotous pram race takes place around the village centre, along Underlane behind the Bullers where flour bombs and water bombs are thrown mercilessly at the competitors.

St. Marwenne’s church yard with its wonderful views through mature horse chestnut trees provides a lovely resting place for past parishioners with a timely reminder about how to behave amongst the graves there in the form of a rhyme inscribed inside the lynch gate.

The churchyard was extended to the south below the original cemetery and a boundary wall “built in 1911 with donations made by men, women and children of the parish to commemorate the coronation of their majesties King George V and Queen Mary”. As the village has continued to grow, the Marhamchurch Parish Council stepped in and established an area again to the south to accommodate new graves which was opened in 1993. The path leading from the churchyard down to this was improved and funded by the Parish Council, St. Marwenne’s Parish Church Council, The Methodist Church and North Cornwall District Council in 2009. It is interesting to note the help from the Methodist Church which does not have a cemetery of its own in the village. 

 Nowadays Marhamchurch has emerged from these historical roots to become the lovely village we know today with a vibrant community and much going on. The Community Shop, shop run by volunteers, the local pub “The Bullers Arms”, the modern school and excellent transport links to Bude make Marhamchurch a great place to live and work. The parish is still essentially rural, although a large amount of modern housing has recently been built close to the village centre, some of which have been much needed affordable homes for local people. 

It is hoped that this neighbourhood plan will encourage many of our new residents to get involved with village life and enjoy the ready access to surrounding countryside. The village square, the footpaths, the Hele Trail, Whalesborough Walks, the multi -use trail (which follows part of the old railway line), and the scenic canal towpath – all give parishioners and visitors alike a real sense of the of the beauty, the history, and the heritage of Marhamchurch parish.

© 2023 Marhamchurch Neighbourhood Plan