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Cornwall's Maritime Churches

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Falmouth Parish Church of King Charles the Martyr

Located on a corner of the busy Falmouth high street, it is easy to wander past this beautiful church while distracted by the buzz of the town.

Research provided by Savio Sam Samuel, an undergraduate student at the University of Exeter, Penryn Campus.

Introducing Falmouth Parish Church of King Charles the Martyr

Set slightly back from the primarily pedestrianised road, neighbouring cafés and shops, King Charles the Martyr Church’s prime location persuades a worthy exploration.

Besides being known for its splendid display of stained-glass windows, the King Charles the Martyr church also holds an array of tall pillars dating back to its’ initial time of establishment. This church enables a remarkable insight of Cornwall and its history, particularly through the exhibit of several plaques and paintings. These include a multitude of historic materials connecting Falmouth Harbour to the rest of the world through the records of many notable moments from the past; it seems enough to say that the church has an immense concern for justice and respect for the people of Falmouth.

Where it all began

A few years into the decade of 1660, the Killigrews of Falmouth, a wealthy family who had supported the Royalists during the period of brewing tensions, offered some part of their land to the monarch in order for a church to be built in the honour of King Charles I and thus the King Charles the Martyr Church was built and consecrated in the year 1665.

Maritime Links

Notable among the plethora of history displayed around the church is the tablet on the entrance of the left altar, in memory of Joseph Antonio Emidy. Erected and consecrated by a representative of the Guinean government in 2005, the plaque recognises the success to whom it is attributed and their both local and international importance.

Joseph Antonio Emidy, born in Guinea in 1775, was sold into slavery at the age of twelve and was later taken to Brazil by the Portuguese traders. Thereafter, his slave master noted his special aptitude for music and was kind enough to send young Emidy for music lessons. Shortly after, Emidy became the ‘second violin’ in the Lisbon Opera Orchestra.

The late 18th century was also known for several Anglo-French Wars in the lead up to the Napoleonic wars. At the time, HMS Indefatigable was one of Britain’s most renowned battleships.

On one occasion, after having hit a rock, Captain Sir Edward Pellew and his fellow officers rowed ashore. During their stay they visited the Opera in Lisbon.

Having been looking for a good ‘fiddler’ to entertain the ship, Captain Pellow’s encounter with Emidy’s talent led him to hire the musician.

Instead of this leading to new freedoms for Emidy, restrictions and abuse were imposed. Forced to play music he did not enjoy, his discontent with the Captain and crew was met with hostility as Emidy was ordered to not set foot ashore for the next four years.

The turning point in the life of Emidy came in the year 1797 when HMS Indefatigable was severely damaged and had to be taken to the Isle of Scilly and consequently Emidy was discharged in Falmouth on the 28th of February 1799.

In 1802, during his early years of settlement in Falmouth, Emidy earnt his living through music. He contacted various organisations such as the Royal Cornwall Gazette to promote and advertise his musical skills; by then he had a touch of knowledge in almost all the commonly used musical instruments.

In August 1802, a concert was held by Emidy at the Wynn’s Hotel in Falmouth, with the violin concerto self-composed.

He ultimately became the leader of the Truro Philharmonic Society. Increasingly established in the local community, Emidy married in the King Charles the Martyr Church and welcomed his child to the community one year later.

The plaque highlights the importance of Emidy’s success in stating that ‘his pioneering spirit made him Britain’s first Composer of African Diaspora. His talent soared and genius marked his flight’.