University of Exeter logo

Cornwall's Maritime Churches

Toggle navigation Open menu

A snapshot of church attendance in 1851

Dr Bernard Deacon, honorary research fellow of the Institute of Cornish Studies, sheds some light on the attendance of our ten maritime churches from records in the 1851 census.

The Religious census of 1851 potentially offers us a snapshot of attendances at church and chapel on one Sunday in April. Unfortunately, the picture of the ‘maritime churches’ proves to be extremely blurred.

We only have a return of actual attendances at two of the ten churches and one of those – at Falmouth – is suspiciously rounded. At six of the others the clergymen provided an estimate for average attendance. The incumbent of Paul declined even to guess, stating that the ‘congregation [is] of a most uncertain character depending on the state of the weather’. Meanwhile, at Tywardreath, the Vicar, Charles Lyne, merely wrote ‘full’ for both morning and evening services.

If Charles Lyne was right, this would have been highly exceptional. The reason Anglican clergymen in Cornwall were so reluctant to provide detailed attendance figures is simple. They realised they were on the defensive, aware that the numbers attending their churches fell far short of those flocking to the Methodist chapels that had sprung up since the 1760s.

For the record here are the census data for the maritime churches.

seating actual attendance average attendance
Tintagel 250 90
Tywardreath ? ? ?
St Anthony in Roseland 80 ? 40
St Just in Roseland 400 ? 150
St Gluvias 600 ? 250-300
Falmouth 2000 700 (a.m.) 1000 (p.m.)
Landewednack 188 ? 120
Gunwalloe 164 ? 65
Zennor 400 ? 230-250
Paul 1050 ? ?


In all these parishes save one Anglicans were outnumbered by Methodists. The following table provides evidence of the percentage attendance. This takes the average where there is no specific return and reduces it by 10% to allow for exaggeration. It relates to Registration Sub-Districts in which the church was located rather than parishes (although these were identical in the cases of Tywardreath, Falmouth and Paul) in order to reduce the variability resulting from parochial level data.


Anglicans Methodists others
Tintagel 26% 74% 0%
Tywardreath no data
St Anthony + St Just in Roseland 22% 59% 18%
St Gluvias 32% 56% 11%
Falmouth 34% 31% 33%
Landewednack 38% 61% 2%
Gunwalloe 32% 66% 2%
Zennor 44% 56% 0%
Paul 10% 84% 6%


As you can see, in all but one of the sub-districts Anglicans were in a minority while Methodists comprised the majority of attenders at places of religious worship. The one exception was Falmouth, which was split fairly evenly between the Church of England, Methodists of various hues and others (mainly Baptists and Independents with some Roman Catholics).

Back home