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Cornwall's Maritime Churches

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St Anthony of Roseland

The church of St Anthony is situated on the Roseland peninsula, surrounded by beautiful waters. Its maritime connections make it particularly special and unique to Cornwall.

Research provided by Lucy Raymond, an undergraduate student at the University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, studying BA History.

Introducing St Anthony’s church

Referred to as ‘Place’ or ‘Plase’, or ‘palace’ in Cornish.

A nineteenth-century publication describes the location

‘the soil is fertile, and the parish has such a lengthened coast line, that great advantages accrue to the farmer, from the proximity of an abundance of rich seaweed, which is thrown upon the beaches after every southern or western gale’.


‘the tides that flow around this fairy little peninsula are of valued importance to the inhabitants. They bring lots of useful seaweed, besides small fish, such as eels, shrimps, smelts, mullet, and small pollock.’

Today the church itself is adjoined to Place House which has been home to the Spry family since as early as 1547, being granted by Thomas Goodwin. The Spry family were incredibly influential throughout Cornwall, particularly within the Roseland.

Where it all began

Canon John Adams has had a lifelong interest in history, genealogy and antiquarian research.

In his account of medieval chapels in Cornwall, he states that the historian Hals dates the founding of the Church of St Anthony-in-Roseland back to 1124.

‘1124, at which time William Warlewast, Bishop of Exeter, founded here a church and dedicated it to St.Anthony.’

Whereas local historian Nev Meek refers the beginning of St Anthony to the missionary saint who travelled to Cornwall, setting up an isolated cell on the site. Bishop Bronescombe rededicated the church to St Anthony later on. Meek discusses the refashioning and restoration of the chancel in the nineteenth century, after it was knocked down in the period of the dissolution of the monasteries.

Maritime roots

St Anthony-in-Roseland, as well as St Just-of-Roseland were heavily involved in tin trading until the nineteenth century,            as their navigable waters allowed merchants from the Mediterranean to commonly trade tin.

Although no longer as prominent, the fishing community was still of large importance for those who lived in this parish.

The Cornishman in 1947 references the enduring                      connotation the church has with the fishing trade

‘on the site of St. Anthony Gardens, there once stood an ancient chapel dedicated to St. Anthony, the patron saint of fishermen…it is noteworthy that various parishes in Cornwall have been dedicated to St. Anthony, among them St Anthony-in-Roseland.’

Census records and genealogy have been useful in finding local maritime connections which run deeper than outward location. Bill O’Reily has partaken in a comprehensive history of the churchyard of St Anthony. His website is extremely useful for anybody looking for particular histories of individuals.

Within the census, there is a common occurrence of typically maritime careers including fishermen, seaman and members of the Navy. As well as this, however, there is a lot of mention of farming, which suggests the community remains diverse and agricultural.

Yet there is more to the church and its maritime roots than meets the eye…

Upon arrival, you can see the graves of the members of the late immediate Spry family as well as their servants.

The Spry family can be traced back in Cornwall to the reign of Henry VII, Arthur Spry being an important member of Parliament who had influence in passing a ‘bill to enable a quay to be erected at Falmouth’.

Thomas Davy Spry, as one example, was very heavily involved in the capture of the Spanish vessel Diana, on 11 November 1779.

The London Gazette from 1 April 1775 includes the promotion of Sir Richard Spry, from ‘Rear Admiral of the White’ to ‘Rear Admiral of the Red’ for his admired involvement in the Navy. On April 13 1779, an edition of the same newspaper states

‘The King hath been pleased to grant unto Thomas Davy, Esq: Captain to the Royal Navy…his Royal Licence and Authority to take and use the Surname and Arms of Spry.’

Myths & legends

‘Paradise, this fairyland, of deep blue waters, sun-drenched sands’

According to 1950s poet Edward Hart, Henry VIII restored this church due to its ‘special’ nature.

‘The story is that when they were in Cornwall, Admiral Spry sailed out of Falmouth Harbour one morning to have a look at the coast from the sea to find which was the best way to defend it…he ran into the French fleet coming in to sack Penryn. He wiped the lot up and scored the first great Naval Victory of Henry VIII days. This uplifted the morale of the Cornish people and made Henry popular. He knew that the Cornish were. Religious race and he cashed in on the fact. He ordered the Church to be restored and a roof to be put on it like the bottom of a ship to commemorate this victory, and so it is today.’

On a more religious or legendary level, Harte also captures the common belief amongst the Roseland peninsula and throughout Cornwall, that Jesus visited multiple churches with his uncle Joseph of Arimathea. Supposedly

‘the traders brought Joseph’s damaged boat into the bay by Place. While they were making it seaworthy they had somewhere to stay as it was a trading post.’

St Anthony’s today

The Spry family were the sole contributors to the restoration of the Church, occurring in the nineteenth century and overseen by Reverend C.W. Carlyon. This included the rebuilding of the wooden roof, floor tiles and stained glass.

St Anthony’s church is now looked after by the Churches Conservation Trust and does not hold active services.

Visit The Churches Conservation Trust >

Please note: access to the church and graveyard only. The surrounding area is private property.