History

                                                                  

      CAWSAND CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH HISTORY.

     

    Very little is known about this area of Cornwall in the fifteenth century, but it is thought that the land was occupied in small individual settlements, based on farms, situated inland away from the coast. The coast was subject to raids from Spain, France and North Africa and people living inland were sheltered from both the prevailing winds and these persistent marauders.

    This country was Roman Catholic until the sixteenth century. Henry VIII forced a split with Rome in order to manage his marital affairs and thereby caused the Reformation (1537-1540). Whilst the country at large was being severely tested in issues of religious persuasion, locally the business of catching pilchards and pressing them into barrels for export to Spain, flourished. The massive stone built Pilchard Cellars remain a distinctive feature of our coast.

     

    The castles at Falmouth (Pendennis) and St Mawes were built in the period 1539-1545, as defensive measures against France and Spain. Privateers and Pirates waged unofficial war against Spanish shipping and Captain Hicks of Saltash became infamous in these activities. Between 1586 and 1591 two forts were constructed on the local shoreline, each with a single muzzle-loaded 12 pounder. It is interesting to conjecture about the attitudes of any men on duty when the Spanish Armada arrived in 1588. Although the Armada was defeated by Drake and the weather the Spanish threat continued and included the occupation of Brittany in 1590 (a direct threat to Cornwall) and the raids on Mousehole, Newlyn and Penzance in 1595. The local response to these unsettled times was to make the village sea walls defensive features, after which Garrett Street is named.

    The Rev Robert Browne of Southwark was one of the first to dissent by advocating religious separation from the Church of England. He advocated an early church constitution which would later be known as Congregationalism. Robert Browne saw the Church of England as being in a state of moral disrepair and Catholicism. Rather than reforming the Church from within, Browne sought out a new "true church" ethic. Browne was only an active Separatist from 1579-1585. While awaiting charges in 1633 for allegedly striking a policeman, his own godson, Browne was arrested and put in prison. He became ill, and died in the Northampton prison at the very ripe old age of 83.

     

    The term Brownists was a common designation for early Separatists before 1620. Brownists, Independents, and Separatists were all used somewhat interchangeably for those nonconformists who broke with the Church of England.

    The seventeenth century saw a slow expansion of the village. Kingsand was in Devon and Cawsand in Cornwall, so that there were two parish churches, at Maker and Rame. This text uses “village” to mean both original villages. In 1653 Rev John Deeble was ejected from the incumbency of Maker Church. Possibly this was because of anti-parliamentarian attitudes as it was a Crown appointment. However, a note was made that those who left the church followed religious worship at the Meeting House in Cawsand. This is the first reference to the probable origins of this church.

     

    The eighteenth century was the peak period for smuggling and the village was the centre of this activity in which many people were involved. Many houses, rather than cottages, were built around 1750. The village was prosperous, for in addition to smuggling, it victualled the ships that anchored in Cawsand Bay where they were sheltered, and from where they could usually sail. Anchoring elsewhere was hazardous until the Breakwater was completed in 1841. The Amherst and Cawsand Batteries were completed in 1779 and these made the earlier forts redundant.

     

    A conveyance dated 9th May 1792 attests the purchase of the Fort for £63. An Agreement dated 28th May 1792 is for the building of a new Meeting House for £220. The fort purchased was one of those made redundant in 1779. (Note that the cannon embedded in the wall of the sea defence adjacent to the church is much bigger than a 12-pounder.) The fact that the money for the purchase of the site and the building of the new Meeting House was readily available clearly indicates a considerable body of worshipping people who had been meeting in an older building. The new Meeting House at Cawsand opened on 19th July 1793, with William Read as Minister of the Gospel.

    The documents refer to “that waste piece and plot of ground called the Fort” and “lately built on the said piece or plot of ground a Chapel or Meeting House for religious worship and two cellars under the said chapel” The Incumbent was required to subscribe to: The doctrine of original sin; Personal election free and unconditional justification of the blood and righteousness of Christ alone through faith only—effectual calling and the Perseverance of the saints.

    Little is known about the original building but it is thought that the church was built on an E/W line, long and narrow, with a high pulpit at the eastern end with a spiral staircase.

     

    The nineteenth century was a time when the perceived threat from France brought about

    the building of a protective ring of fortifications around Plymouth; to be known later as Palmerston’s follies. They included Fort Picklecombe (1849) Polhawn Battery (1862-67) and the Garden Battery (1862-63). This century was also peak time for church attendance. In 1878 chapels of ease, St Andrew’s and St Paul’s were built in Cawsand and Kingsand respectively. The Millbrook Methodist church was completed in 1874 and a major rebuild of this church was undertaken in 1884.

     

    A Conveyance dated 13th April 1855 confirms the possession of “the Smith’s shop, premises known as Island House” to the church. This was a legal tidying of earlier documents and reflected a descendant ensuring that the intentions of the original owner were sustained.

    In 1880 the Rev. Rowse departed the church because of his Swedenborg views.

    It is probable that the south wall is partly original but the present structure was essentially completed in 1884. The new church was wider and higher and had a gallery. There was a large window in the eastern end, facing the sea. Pews had doors and cards to identify pew holders who paid pew rents. The cellars beneath were developed into the existing hall. The cost was £625. The ironwork came from the Sun Foundry of George Smith at 64 Port Dundas Road, Glasgow and shows classic Art Nouveau design features.

     

    The twentieth century saw the east window removed and an organ loft built as a tower extension. The alterations cost £84 in 1909. The organ was built by Alfred Tucker of Plymouth for £150 (the organ stool was an additional 16 shillings.) In 1919 the arch in front of the organ was re designed and a rostrum built that embodied a pulpit. Until 1925 paraffin lamps illuminated the church. At about this time an electric pump for the organ was installed in the church hall. Previously the organ was hand pumped. In 1931 a vestry and toilet was built over the kitchen to the hall (usually referred to as the Sunday School at the time). On 5th November 1978 a fire broke out; probably from the heating boiler.

    In 1941 the two Anglican parishes of Maker and Rame became one.

     

    The twenty-first century saw the church in such decline that it was staggering towards permanent closure. Such an end would have seen the whole site, including the Manse, sold on the open market.

    In August 2000 (for the record, some of us consider this to be in the twentieth century)

    Rev Jill Stephens and her husband George camped in the church, opened the doors and invited people to talk about the future. The spirited personal commitment of Jill and George created a regenerating enthusiasm amongst a small group of people who have worked hard to ensure that the church continues as a servant of its community. Considerable refurbishment and development have taken place and George’s personal professional knowledge, skills, vision and hard work have been of enormous value. We are now working hard to lead the church forward as a team. We do not have a clear picture of the future but we are travelling together in hope.

    Acknowledgement is made of the unpublished work of R H H Eddey completed in 1979.

     

    Paul Buet September 2008