Sennen Cove Beach
Sennen Cove Beach

History of Sennen

From William Hals' History of Cornwall published in 1750, written in the 1730s.

Sennen is situate in the hundred of Penwith, and hath upon the north, S. Just; south, S. Levan; east, Buryan; west, the Land’s End and the Atlantic Ocean. As for the name, if it be compounded of Sen-nan, it signifies, the holy valley; but most likely the name is derived from the tutelar guardian and patron of this church.

At the time of the Norman Conquest this district was taxed under the jurisdiction of Buryan, on which it is still dependent in spirituals as a daughter church. And if this church were extant and endowed at the time of the first Inquisition into the value of Cornish Benefices, 1294, it then was rated also under Buryan. Lastly, this parish was rated to the four shillings per pound Land Tax, 1696, at £57 12s., by the name of Sennan.

Upon view of this church, 1700, the sexton shewed me the headless bodies of some images of human shape cut in alabaster, that were not long before found hid in the walls of the same, all curiously wrought, which also had been painted with gold, vermillion, and blue bice, on several parts of their garments. He also shewed me an inscription on the foot of the font stone, which he told me several bishops of Exeter and their priests, in their triennial visitations at Buryan and this church, had viewed and inspected, but could not read it; whereupon in like manner, I observed on the font stone the said inscription in a barbarous strange character or letters, of which I could see but part, by reason of a new pew or seat was built on a part of it; however, I interpreted that which I saw to consist of these letters, Anno Dom mille CCCCXX or XL, in the year of our Lord 1420 or 1440. Let the curious remove the seat and explain the rest; probably this church was then erected.

At Pen-ros in this parish i.e. the head of the valley, near some high promontory of lands, is the dwelling of Henry Jones, Esq., some time commissioner for the Peace and Taxes, who married Tonkyn of Newlyn.

Trevear in this parish, i.e. the great or greater town, is the dwelling of John Ellis, Gent., Attorney-at-Law, who married Davies, and giveth for his armes in a field Argent three eels proper, after the English, out of a supposed allusion to the name Ellis; whereas, ellis, elles, in British, is a son-in-law by the wife; and els, ells, a son-in-law by the husband. And as gealvy is an eel fish in Scotch and Irish, so malsay is an eel in Welsh-British, and sleane is a conger fish in Cornish; and lilly, silly, is an ele or eele, in that language.

This parish affords very little wheat corn, by renson it is a naked country exposed to the wind and sharp air of the sea in winter season, which washes or frets the same out of the ground at that time, unless it stands in the valleys or close places between the hills against the south or east; nevertheless it is abundantly supplied with barley-corn, the soil producing generally, with little husbandry or cultiovation, twenty Cornish bushels in most acres; that is to say, about sixty Winchesters.

In this parish is situate the most remote north-west promontory or headland of the island of Great Britain, where it is not above an arrow’s flight breadth, at the end thereof, the lands naturally or gradually declining from S. Just, and Chapel Carne Braye, four miles distant, to this place, and the sea at least eighty fathom under those places; where, as it were in a low valley, it meets the waves of the Atlantic Sea or West Ocean, and parts some of the Irish Sea and British Channel asunder by its horned promontory of land; which shows that opinion and tradition of the lands further west of old towards Scilly, to be a vulgar error and a fable; for if it had stretched more westerly than it doth in this lower valley, and no higher pitch or degree, the flux and reflux of the sea or tides would inevitably overflow it. Or had there been and considerable parcel of ground there broke off from the insular continent of Britain, (as tradition saith the country of Lionesse was,) by some inundation, earthquake, or accidental concussion, it, must have been much higher land than the contiguous country of the Land’s End is. Otherwise it could not exist there as aforesaid; hut it is not likely there was ever any such land, since no fracture or disjointing of the earth appears on the confines or summit thereof.

Though at low water there is to be seen far off towards Scilly, (probably so called from the abundance of eel or conger fishes taken there, called silleys or lillies,) for a mile or more a, dangerous strag of ragged rocks, amongst which the Atlantic Sea, and the waves of S. George’s and the British Channel meeting, make a dredful bellowing and rumbling noise at half ebb and half flood: which let seamen take notice of, to avoid them.

Of old there was one of these rocks more notable than the rest, which, tradition saith, was ninety feet above the flux and reflux of the sea, with an iron spire at the top thereof, which was overturned or thrown down by a violent storm, 1647, and the rock broken in three pieces. This iron spire, as the additions to Camden’s Britannia inform us, was thought to have been erected there by the Romans, or set up as a trophy there by King Athelstan when he first conquered the Scilly Islands, and was in those Parts; but it is not very probable such a piece of iron in this salt sea and air without being consumed by rust, could endure so long a time. However it is or was, certain I am it commonly was in Cornish, An Marogeth Arvowed, i.e. the armed knight; for what reason I know not, except erected by or in memory of some armed knight; and also carne-an-peul, i e. the spile, spire, pole, or javelin rock. Again remember, silly, lilly, is in Cornish and Armoric language a conger fish or fishes, from whence Scily Islands is probably denominated, as elsewhere noted.

This Place is called by the Welsh bards Pen-ryn-Pen-wid, that is to say Penwith Hill Head Tree, or the hill of the Head Tree, or Penwith Cantred. By the Cornish-Britons, Pedn-an-lase, i.e., the Green Head or Promontary, and by others, Antyer Deueth, the Land’s End.

From Thomas Tonkin's Natural History of Cornwall, 1739

This parish takes its name from its tutelar saint S. Sennan or Sinninus an Irish Abbat who saith Leland, was at Rome with S. Patrick, and came over from Ireland to Cornwall with S. Breage. The Church hath dedicated the 30th of June to his memory. It is a daughter church to S. Burien, and is valued together with that and S. Levan, in the King’s Book, at £48 12s.

From Daniel and Samuel Lysons Magna Brittania Volume III Cornwall, 1814

Sennen, in the deanery and in the west division of the hundred of Penwith, is the most westerly parish in England, lying near the Land’s-end, about eight miles and half west-south-west from Penzance, which is the post-office town. The principal villages in this parish are, Mayon (called by Martyn, Mean), Penrose, and Trevear. Mean is the last village towards the Land’s-end. The large stone spoken of by Dr. Borlase, called Table-Mean, concerning which there is a tradition that three Kings once dined together at it on a journey to the Land’s-end, is in this village, in which is a house of entertainment for travellers: on the western side of its sign is inscribed, “The first Inn in England;” on the eastern side, “The last Inn in England.” The Land’s-end, which, according to Dr. Berger, is 391 feet above the level of the sea; Cape Cornwall, and Whitsand-bay, are in this parish: it was at this bay that King Stephen landed on his first arival in England; also King John on his return from the conquest of Ireland, and Perkin Warbeck in the reign of Henry VIII.: near this bay is the site of an ancient castle, called Castle-Mean. The manor of Mean or Mayon, as it is now spelt, belongs to Sir John St. Aubyn, Bart., and Dionysius Williams, Esq. The barton of Penrose was, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the seat of the family of Jones: it is now the property of Lord Falmouth. The barton of Treveare was some time the seat of the Ellis family: a part of this estate was, by purchase, the property of the late rev. Edward Giddy; the remainder belongs to --Thackworth, Esq. The houses on these bartons are now occupied by farmers.

Sennen is parcel of the deanery of St. Burian, to which this is a daughter-church: the dean has the great tithes. There are the remains of a chapel near Whitsand-bay.

On one of the rocks called Longships, off this coast, is a light-house constructed in 1797, by Mr. Smith, under the directions of the Trinity-house.

From a Complete Parochial History of the County of Cornwall, J Polsue 1872

Sennen is situated in the deanery and hundred of Penwith; it is bounded on the north and west by the sea, the northern boundary embracing a large portion of Whitesand Bay; on the east by S. Just and S. Burian; and on the south by S. Levan.

The living is a rectory in the patromge of the Duke of Cornwall; the tithes were commuted in 1853 at £230; but there is neither glebe nor residence.

The parish contains by actual measurement 2230A. 0R. 36P., of which the church and churchyard measure 38R., and the public roads and waste, 12A. 0R. 38P.

This parish with those of S. Burian and S. Levan, formed the royal deanery of Burian, which became dissolved at the demise of the last dean in 1864, when the Rev. George-Ley Woollcombe became the first independent rector of this parish; he however has recently been preferred to the rectory of S. Mevan, and his successor has not yet been named, 1871.

The church which is dedicated to S. Senanus, was restored in good taste in 1867, at a cost of £900, from the designs of Mr. St. Aubyn; it comprises a chancel, nave, south aisle, and north transept. The arcade consists of six four-centred arches of porcelain stone, supported on pillars of the same material. At the east end of the aisle is a wall painting, discovered on removing the old plaster, in the restoration; it represents two round, embattled towers, finished with canopies. On a bracket in the transept is preserved one of the “headless bodies” cut in alabaster, spoken of by Hals; it is supposed to represent the virgin Mary. The transept has a four centred arch of granite. The font is modern; it consists of a round bowl, supported on an octagonal shaft, resting on the ancient granite basement spoken of by Hals, supposed to be the re-dedication stone of the church; the inscription is as follows,—eccl'a i decoli s. j. b. dedica fut. Anno d'ni millo cccco xli—; which has been thus rendered,—“This church was dedicated on the festival of the beheading of S. John the Baptist, Anno domini MCCCCXLI—” ; the concluding figures of date have been damaged. The tower arch is obtuse pointed, and springs from corbels.

The only entrance to the church is through a south porch.
The tower has three stages, and is finished with battlements and pinnacles; the belfry contains three bells; one was cast by Thomas Bayley of Bridgewater, in 1762, another was cast in 1810.

Tablets of marble are thus inscribed:—

Sacred to the memory of John Ellis, Esqr., a member of the English Bar, and a Magistrate of this county; who departed this life at Boulogne Sur Mer in France, on the 20th of Decr., 1831; in the 54th year of his age.

To record his worth, who to his family was “all in all” on earth; to express the sense they entertain of their irreparable loss, and to bear testimony to the great love they had for him, as well as to their hope of meeting him again in a happier life hereafter,—this tablet has been erected by his affectionate widow and children.

In memory of Harriet Buckmaster, of Windsor Castle Estate, Jamaica, and wife of the late John Ellis, Esqr., died 1843.

Streater Carteret John Ellis, eldest son. of Carteret J. W. Ellis, Esq. and Emily Ellis; born 29th April, 1832; died 8th May, 1838, deeply regetted.

Eveline Emily Caroline Penolva Ellis, the beloved and only daughter of Carteret J. W. Ellis, Esq. and Emily Ellis, born at Trengwainton 22nd March, 1839; died in Paris 6th July, 1848.

Carteret John William Ellis, Esq., magistrate and dep. Lieut. of this County; born 11 Septr., 1805; died 11 Octr., 1858.

Also in memory of Emily Ellis, youngest danghtcr of the late Isaac Railton Esq., of the Manor House, Calbeck, Cumberland, and Hertford Street, Mayfair, London, and Margaret Scott, daughter of Captain Scott, R.N., and the lovely accomplished wife of the late Carteret John William Ellis, Esqre., Deputy Lieutenant and Magistrate of the County of Cornwall; born 18th Septr., 1810; died 13th March, 1669; in the 59th year of her age. She died deeply regretted and beloved by all who knew her.

Arms,—Gules, on a cross or 5 crescents, for Ellis.

In memory of James Trembath, Esquire, of Mayon House, in this parish, who died the 7th o[f] July, 1867; aged 64 years.

This tablet was erected in affectionate remembrance by his sister, Amelia Millett Symons.

The manor of Mayon or Maen, formerly the property of St. Aubyn and Williams, afterwards became vested in James Trembath, Esq., of Mayon House, whose sister and heir, Mrs. A. M. Symons is the present proprietor. Mayon House adjoins the church-town.

The barton of Penrose, now the property of Lord Viscount Falmouth, was temp. Elizabeth, the seat of Ralph Penrose, from whom it passed through mortage to John Connock of Liskeard, and afterwards by sale to Francis Jones, whose representatives sold it to the ancestors of the present proprietor.

The barton of Treveare, the ancient seat of the family of Ellis, is also the property of Viscount Falmouth. On the boundary of this parish, by the side of the Penzance road, is a cemetery formerly used by the Society of Friends, but now closed. One roughly constructed granite tomb only, will be found in this gloomy and solitary place of sepulture; it is inscribed—“Here is buried that virtuous woman Phillis the wife of John Ellis,” (1677). The brambles and thorns efficiently protect the graves of the other members of this peaceful fraternity buried here.

A wayside cross is built into a hedge near the road at Sennen Green; it displays an embossed Latin cross.

Schools for the use of this parish and S. Levan have recently been built at Skewjack.

The inn at the church-town is known by the name of The First and Last Inn in England; on the north side of its sign are the words—”The Last Inn in England,”—on the south, towards the Land’s End road—”The First Inn in England.”

The principal villages are the Churchtown, Treave, Maen, Sennen Cove, Escalls, and Trevescan. There is a Wesleyan Methodist chapel at the Churchtown; a Bible Christian chapel at Escalls; and a Baptist chapel at Treave.

The parish feast is kept on Advent Sunday, being the nearest Sunday to S. Andrew’s day.

Among the landowners are the names of Pascoe, Permewan, Richards, Saundry, Symons, Trudgeon, Williams, and Lord Robartes.

The Parish rests on granite only; felspathic rocks however, may be seen at low water. The cliff which bounds the Land’s End district is more abrupt than elevated, not being more than about 60 feet above sea level. It is composed of immense blocks of granite arranged in columular piles and horizontal masses, which give it a basaltic appearance, in other places colossal arches and tunnels are formed, through which the waves rush with immense fury and noise. At Maên there is a porphyritic bed which is a compound of granular felspar and shorl.

Whitesand Bay is formed of testaceous sand like that at S. Ives Padstow etc.
On the Land’s End isthmus Wesley is said to have composed the verse of one of his hymns commencing,— “Lo! on a narrow neck of land.”

The church stands at an altitude of 390 feet above the sea level; from the top of the tower there is a grand view of the surrounding wild and romantic scenery. Peal Point, the extremity of the Land’s End, is exactly a mile in a straight line from the church; the extreme point of the promontory is about 60 feet above the sea level. The cliffs are precipitous, and in some places almost perpendicular; the granite rocks of which they are formed, are cubical and prismatic in shape, and are piled up with singular regularity. A large tunnel, about 150 feet in length, traverses the neck of the promontory; it is called the Land’s End Hole, or in Cornish Vau Laz. There are one or two other holes or caves in the vicinity. Above Gamper Bay, about half a mile north enst of Peal Point, on the edge of the cliff, stand the remains of Maen Castle; it consists of a large vallum, a nmssive wall of rocks, and an intervening ditch, stretching across a small headland.

Sennen Cove, a fishing village, is situated at the southern extremity of Whitesand Bay; here was an ancient chapel locally called Chapel idné, or the narrow chapel, being 45 feet in length by 15 in breadth; it has long been used as a dwelling. Sennen Cove is a station of the Coast Guard; opposite the cove is a rock or islet called Cowloe.

Whitesand Bay derives its name from the delicately white sand of which its beach is formed; it is about a mile and a quarter in length,extending from Carn aire, in S. Just, to Pedn mên du, in this parish. It is said that king Athelslan sailed from this place for the Scilly Islands; king Stephen is said to have landed here; king John also, on his return from Ireland; and Perkin Warbeck.

The latitude of the Land’s End is 50 degs. 4 mins. 7 secs. north; its longitude 5 degs. 41 mins. 32 secs. west.

The Longships Lighthouse rises from a group of rocks one mile and a quarter west of the Land’s End; the rock on which it is built, called Carn Bras, the Great carn, rises 71 feet above low water mark; the lighthonse measures from its base to the top of the lantern cowl 56 feet; its circumference at the base is 68 feet; the lantern is 11½ feet in diameter, and is lit by 19 Argand lamps. Four men are engaged in the lighthouse service, three being always in the building, and one on shore. It has happened that all communication with the mainland has been cut off for three months together; such is the wild fury of the sea at this place during stormy weather. The lighthouse was built by a Mr. Smith in 1797; houses for the lightkeepers have recently been erected on the hill near Sennen cove.

The Wolf Rock lighthouse is situated 8½ miles S.S.W. of the Land’s End. The rock on which it is built measures 175 feet in length and 150 in breadth; at low water it stands 17 feet in height, and the full tide covers it about 2 feet. On this dangerous rock an attempt was once made to fix a hollow figure in the shape of a wolf, with bells attached, so that the wind in rushing through it might make a great noise and ring the bells; but the design could not be accomplished. In 1795 an iron beacon was placed On it, but it soon disappeared; in 1836-40 a second beacon was erected at a cost of £11,298; and four times the oak masts and balls, of which it was constructed, were swept away.

The works for the present lighthouse were commenced March 17, 1862; and the last stone was laid by Sir Frederick Arrow, Knt., July 19, 1869; the total cost was £62,726. It springs from a base 41 feet 8 inches in diameter to a height of 116 feet 5 inches, and terminates in a diameter of 17 feet. Attached to the lantern is a fog-bell which weighs 5 cwt.; it has two hammers, which when necessary, are set in motion by clockwork. 1,1871. The structure, which embodies about 3296 tons of granite, was first lighted Jany. 1, 1871.

At Vallandreath, the mill on the sands, in 1750, the skeleton of a deer was found at the depth of 30 feet; and near it an oak tree 20 feet long. 1n 1753, several pieces of deer’s horn were found at a depth of 20 feet.

“In the year 1716,” writes Borlase, a farmer of the village of Mên, having removed a flat stone, seven feet long and six wide, discovered a cavity underneath it, at each end of which was a stone 2 feet long, and on ench side a stone 4 feet long. In the middle of this cavity was an urn full of black earth, and round the urn very large human bones, not placed in their natural order, but irregularly mixed.”

About two furlongs eastward of the church is the village of Mayon, Maên, or Mên; adjoining a cottage in this village is a block of granite seven or eight feet long and about three high, called Table-mên. Tradition says that circa 600, three, or seven, Saxon kings dined on this stone; and Merlin prophesied that a larger number of kings should meet at this rock for a similar repast previous to some terrible event, or the end of the world.



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