History of St Neot

 

Copyright C Timms 2005

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Copyright C Timms 2008

St Neot Window

The parish of St. Neot is the second largest parish in Cornwall and is an area of contrasts. To the north lies Bodmin Moor whilst in the south lies farmland deeply dissected by the rivers that flow south off the moor. The boundary of the parish is the River Bedalder flowing off Hard Head Moor. The eastern and southern parish boundaries are formed by the Fowey River flowing off moorland, cascading over Golitha Falls to meet with the St. Neot River. The St. Neot river was anciently known as the Loysan and later the Loveny.

 

In the Bronze Age Bodmin Moor was densely populated and the moor had many prehistoric settlements and associated field systems. High up on Berry Down our Iron Age forebears constructed and enclosed a hill-top settlement. Inside the enclosure are the remains of nine hut circles with another just outside the ramparts to the north. There are the remains of a further four circles on the western slope. The main hill fort has an annexe and the entrance to the site is clearly visible.

 

It is likely the village of St. Neot, sheltered from the roughest of gales, owes its origins to the Celtic saint, Anietus. He lived in the area that bears his name in the ninth century and the present church is dedicated to him. In the Domesday Survey St. Neot is first recorded as 'Neotstow' and tells us that the religious house here was recorded as being held by 'Godric the priest”

 

The only tangible evidence of the early church are the fragments of the head, shaft and a base of a tenth century four-holed cross. The shaft set in the socketed base, is known locally  is known locally as the St. Neot Stone, it is in the churchyard.

The place name of Lampen, first recorded in 1250 as Lanpen, it appears to refer to the ecclesiastical college founded in memory of the patron; 'Lanpen' is a Cornish name and Lan indicated an enclosed cemetery and pen, 'head' or 'top'. Nothing has been found to substantiate the idea that the present site of Lampen was the pre-Conquest site.

By the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086 the lands of the ecclesiastical college were largely confiscated and were held by Odo, a sub-tenant of the Court of Mortain.

The site of the manor house recorded on older Ordnance Survey maps is likely to refer to the secular settlement created after the confiscation. In 1906 the manor house was said to have been 'three chains south west of the vicarage'. The house opposite the church called Manor House was previously called 'The Homestead'. The three window mullions built into the wall in the centre of the village appear to have come from a later house sited in the village.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Copyright C Timms 2009

Mortar stone used in

ore crushing stamp

The Holy Well of St. Neot is an ancient site of historical interest. There are many stories of St. Neot concerning the Holy Well. He is said to have stood daily in the well reciting the Psalter. The story goes that one day by the revelation of an angel he found three fishes in the well. He was instructed never to take more than one fish. Some while later he fell ill and his servant Barius went to the well and took two fish. He cooked them and took them to his master. St. Neot ordered that the two fish be returned to the well where they were miraculously restored to life. Originally the well was an open spring surrounded by boulders. By the 18th century it is reputed to have had a good arch with doors to the entrance and an oak tree growing almost horizontally over it. The Grylls family rebuilt the present well house in 1852. The two fields that slope down to the well meadow, on the right-hand side of it were named Great Vishes Stile and little Vishes Stile (1843 Tithe map). Perhaps this is a reference to St Neot and the fishes?

The present church of St. Anietus is a fine 15th century building of granite, in the perpendicular style. It retains much of its medieval stained glass in twelve of the windows. The funds for glazing these windows were raised by various bodies of the parish, local families and the young women. Young men of the parish subscribed to the glazing of the St. Neot window. The windows were in a ruinous state when they were restored in 1830.

 

Click here for more information on the Parish Church of St Neot

 

A new branch of an oak tree is hoisted to the top of the church tower on every Oak Apple Day (May 29th). This is in commemoration of Charles II, who in 1651, hid from his enemies after the battle of Worcester in the branches of an oak and resolved that the day should be remembered.

 

From early times, perhaps before Anietus, adventurers searched the area for minerals, mainly tin and. copper. There are a few documents surviving from as early as 13th century concerning disputes over prospecting rights. On Berry Down and Goonzion Downs the mounds and dumps show in which direction the lodes were being followed. In later centuries the search for minerals necessitated sinking shafts and driving underground levels and adits.

 

This document of 1688 tells us of a right to a pitch in Middle Park, which is the field directly behind Great Vishes Stile. It also reminds us that the tinners were to abide by the Stannary Law and they were to pay every seventh dish of tin as royalty. This document also reminds us that Bodmin Moor was known as Fowey Moor.

 

'Charles Grylls to Chris. Bellott, Esq., to John Antis, Gent. and his servants, liberty to search for tin on Lakes Yeatt in St. Nyott and to have a sett in Middle Park to hold according to the custom of the Stannary of Fowey Moor, paying the 7th dish.'

 

During the 17th century there was a blowing house (tin smelting house) behind Town Mill in St. Neot. The site of the blowing house is still visible. It is near the river where a leat could bring an adequate supply of water to drive machinery. A waterwheel would have been the main source of power. There would have been a set of stamps to crush ore stones before smelting. It is probable that the mortar stone that stands upright in the niche surrounded by the three window mullions was used at the St. Neot Blowing House. See above photo. The stone shows when one side was worn it was turned over and used on the other. The set of three stamp heads would be over the mortar stone so that the base of each iron-shod stamping rod went into each cup, as a pestle into a mortar. A blowing house was so named because of the use of bellows powered by water wheels to get sufficient heat to melt the ores. Charcoal was burnt to obtain the necessary heat. There is still evidence of charcoal burners platforms in local woods. The mark of the St. Neot Blowing House was the “fleur de lys”, this was printed on the ingots. One of the joint owners and blower of the St. Neot Blowing House was Walter Hodge. He may be the same Walter Hodge, who in 1645 was a wealthy weaver. He had his own token (to be used as a coin) with a shuttle design on it. At the same time that St. Neot Blowing House was in production John Cowling Senior of Milltown, St. Neot, was working his Tucking Mill as a Fuller. Another fuller was Ralph Henwood of St. Neot. A Tucking Mill for Fulling cloth would require waterpower to drive the machinery.

 

The cloth would need to be dyed by immersing it in large vats and heating it with natural colourants. It was stretched out on tenterhooks to dry, perhaps in an airy loft or out of doors. The cloth, which was mainly serge was taken to Exeter by packhorse to be sold. Many mills like tucking mills were adapted into gristmills. There are many mills in and around St. Neot, the leats being diverted from the mainstream of the river to drive water wheels. The Town Mill of St. Neot has its worn millstones standing against the mill wall whilst opposite are two of the granite blocks with slots in them to take the heavy timbers of the hurst frame. The hurst frame housed the pit wheel inside the mill building on an axle from the larger waterwheel outside. The pit wheel then had another small cog wheel, the spur wheel, over it to convert the driving power to the horizontal millstones. There was another mill at Lampen, further downstream, the mill house, a rebuilt wheel and remains of the leat are still there. The River Loveny not only provided power for various mills but also provided fish. An ancient document tells us that one salmon fisherman of St. Neot caught fish with a spear.

 

Before the road through the Glynn Valley was constructed in the 1830's the main road from Bodmin to Liskeard was via St. Neot. On entering the parish from the west, the traveller crossed the fifteenth century Panters Bridge over the Bedalder or Warleggan River and followed the main highway through the parish to leave by an even earlier bridge at Treverbyn which crosses the river Fowey. The old bridge was a twelfth century structure but was so badly dilapidated by the fifteenth century it had to be rebuilt. This main route through the parish crossed the river in the village of St. Neot. The bridge here is not nearly as important as the two at the extreme east and west of the parish. It seems that it was quite easy to ford the River Loveny at this point. Looking at the old bridges it is not difficult to realise that large vehicles could not pass over them. They were designed for people who travelled on horseback. In a diary kept by Mary Harding, she tells how she went to have a look at Trevenna with the idea that she and her husband might lease it. She met the agent in St. Neot and wrote 'the road dreadful, almost impassable'. She had come from Trelawne, Pelynt, in a gig.

 

The name of the inn at St. Neot (The London Inn) suggests that this was a stopping place for travellers on route to London. Here they would rest themselves and their horses. The hill leading east is still locally known as 'London Bound'

 

London Inn and Church circa 1900

 

An important group of people who used the roads were drovers. Animals for the markets or annual fairs would be driven along tracks, sometimes resting in a field if the journey was a long one. The annual fairs for St. Neot were the first Tuesday in April and November. This was a fair for animals only by the nineteenth century. The fair continued until the 1950's. The market for animals was on the right-hand side of the lane leading down to Larnpen, where the semi-detached bungalows are now built. As in most villages, the slaughter house for the local butcher was close to his shop. In St. Neot the slaughter-house was in the centre of the village, in a group of farm buildings, Cott Barn, just to the west of The London Inn.

 

There were several mines around St. Neot mainly for tin and copper. All had fluctuating fortunes and none were in production for any great length of time. When the mines in west Cornwall were suffering from ill fortunes some miners came to St. Neot hoping for better luck. There was quite a population shift from west to east in the mid-nineteenth century. The Wheal Mary arsenic calciner built in 1920 to re-work mine dumps got the nick-name Balscat and Wheal Jerk because it was so unprofitable.

 

Just south of the village are the Carnglaze Caverns. The caverns are the result of slate quarrying and mining in the 18th and 19th century. Most of the slate was used for roofing and flooring in buildings and most of the headstones in the churchyard are made of slate. Slate was transported further afield by packhorse, notably to quays on the River Fowey at St. Winnow, near Lostwithiel. Another route lead to Polperro and Looe. On the return journey packhorses brought lime for neutralising the acid soil. The road that leads from St. Neot to Twowatersfoot past Carnglaze was constructed in 1837 and, the road through the Glynn Valley was made only a short time before this date (1834). The slate quarry ceased production of roofing slates in 1903 but supplied building stone for another three decades. In World War II the cavern was used as a store for naval rum of Plymouth Command. Such was the strong smell of rum that it dislodged a very large colony of bats! A few of the quarry men employed at the Carnglaze Caverns are recorded in 19th century census.

 

Other trades people of St. Neot at this time a butcher, grocer, mason, miller, blacksmith, carpenter, tailor, saddle and harness maker, boot and shoe maker and draper. Joseph Axworthy in 1893 was bootmaker, grocer and ran the post office!

 

The school, opened in 1872 as a Board School, it had an attendance of 38 boys, 34 girls and 36 infants in 1902. This school superseded a building where the Methodist Chapel now stands. Pupils who attended the earlier school had to pay up to three pence a week.

 

 

With thanks to Jill Thomas

 

A large amount of St Neot History is available by clicking here St Neot Archive

 

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