Towednack Parish Church

tresor kelys yn gwel – Matthew 13:44
../With Thanks to Jonathan Falck 2014
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A History of Towednack Church

With thanks to Dick Young


The church's patron saint is St Winwaloe who was a 6th century hermit on the Breton coast. He founded, and was the first abbot of, the monastery of Landévennec in Britanny and is buried there.

According to O.J. Padel, Winnow and Wednack are both diminutive forms of Winwaloe, and with the addition of the Middle Cornish word To (= Thy) becomes Towednack. There are other Winwaloe foundations in Cornwall, for example Landewednack and Gunwalloe, and he is also known in East Anglia. St Winwaloe's day is March 3rd, hence the East Anglian jingle:

First comes David, then comes Chad
Then comes Winnoe, roaring like mad.

The 13th century church was probably built on the site of a Celtic hermitage rather than to serve a village. With St Ives it was a daughter church of Lelant.

The tower

The church is characterised by its short, stunted, massive tower. Totally lacking in ornamentation, it was added in 1500.

Legend has it that once the tower had reached its present height, subsequent building work carried out during the day was destryed by the Devil during the hours of darkness. In due course the frustrated masons abandoned the task and hence there are no pinnacles — a feature that makes it unique in Penwith.

The tower staircase is unusual, springing from the north-west angle of the nave within the church itself.

The Church

The only entrance is the South Porch giving access to the South Aisle, the Nave, and the Chancel.

The Arcade consists of five four-centred arches supported on three octagonal pillars.

The Nave and parts of the North wall are Norman. There was once a gallery at the West end of the nave. The South Aisle was added in 1460.

The Chancel Arch dates from the late 13th-14th century, and is unique in West Cornwall.

The Altar

The Altar is on of the most striking features of the church, being rough hewn from a solid block of granite. It has five crosses incised at the centre and four corners (representing the five wounds of Christ).

It is late Norman and was probably thrown out at the Reformation which required that altars be of wood. At the beginning of the 20th century, the late H. Dunstan, Churchwarden, found it forming part of the wall at nearby Churchtown Farm. A faculty was obtained for its restoration and use in 1934. There can be few altars in the West Country of such antiquity.

The Font

The font is a simple octagonal shape bearing the date 1720 and incised with the initials W.B. and J.R.

It is unusual in that the base is the inverted bowl of an earlier, undoubtably Norman, font.

Bench Ends

Almost certainly in the past there were many finely carved bench ends. Only two remain and these were used to form a chancel seat on the North side of the altar. Both were stolen in 1997. However, a chance recognition of their description in the catalogue of a London auction house by a visitor to the church ensured their recovery. For a number of years they were held in storage, but in February 2011 they were reinstated on the north wall of the nave.

They are of great interest. On each is carved in deep relief the profile of a gentleman in a high felt hat with sweeping curves, wearing moustaches and a pointed beard. One bears the lettering ‘Matthew Trenwith’ and the other ‘James Trewhella’, and both are dated 1633.

South Porch

Inside the South Porch is an interesting stone with an incised cross of the Celtic period, which is thought to be the shaft of a cross which stood nearby.

Over the porch is a Sundial bearing the inscription:

Bright Sol
and Luna Time and
Tide doth hold.


There is now a full peal of eight bells of which three are mediaeval. In June 1905 three bells were recast and a fourth added (John Warner of London). Two new bells to complete a peal of six were dedicated by the Bishop of St Germans on St Valentine's Day, 1912. The final two bells to complete the peal of eight were given by H. Dunstan, Esq., in 1947 and dedicated by the Bishop of Truro. For more details see Bells & Bell-ringing.

Parish History

1869-1870 The church was extensively restored.
1880 The farmhouse behind the church was a public house. Two further pubs existed in Nancledra, ‘Ye Olde Inn’ and ‘Miner's Arms’, both now no more. In Cripplesease, however, ‘The Wink’ ceased trading, but ‘The Engine’ still survives.
1902 Towednack was constituted as a separate ecclesiastical parish from Lelant.
1923 The parish consisted of approximately 2400 acres. In that area there were once 22 tin mines and of these Giew was the last to close in 1923.
1931 A pair of gold bracelets was discovered in the course of farmwork at Amalveor Farm, about one mile due West of the church. They were declared Treasure Trove and dated to the middle Bronze Age, about 1000 BC. They can be seen in the British Museum, but copies can be seen in Penlee Art Gallery and Museum in Penzance.
1933 Towednack was the first church in modern times to hold a service said in the Cornish Language.
1975 Towednack Church was used for the marriage and burial services in the BBC television series Poldark and in the film Penmarric.
1987 There was a great Ecumenical Celtic Pilgrimage to Towednack to celebrate the connection of the church and the Abbey at Landevennac in Brittany. Thirteen hundred people attended including the Bishops of Truro and St Germans, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Plymouth, the Abbots of Landévennec and Buckfast, and the Methodist Chairman for Cornwall

Towednack Feast

This is held on the nearest Sunday to April 28th. There was no tradition of Feastentide at Towednack until one springtime (we have no date) a parishioner invited friends to merrymaking at his house. A large log of wood was placed on the fire whereupon a cuckoo flew out of a hole in the log. Henceforward, Towednack Feast acquired the name Cuckoo Feast, and traditionally the Cuckoo must be heard before it is held.

Further information may be found in Lake's Parochial History of the County of Cornwall (Polsue 1973), and genealogical information is available from the Cornwall Family History Society (; Telephone 01872 264044), the Cornwall Record Office (; Telephone 01872 232127), Christine Uphill's book Cornish Cemetries, and the website Further references may be found at Penzance Library, Morrab Road, Penzance.