St Buryan

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St. Buryan Parish
Shown within UK and Penwith
OS Grid Reference: SW409257
Lat/Lon: 50°4′30″N 5°37′15″W / 50.07500°N 5.62083°W / 50.07500; -5.62083
Population: 1215 (2001 Census)[1]
Major Settlement: St. Buryan
Settlement Type: Village
Population: 1030[2]
Secondary Settlements: Lamorna, Crows-an-Wra, Sparnan, Tregarnoe
Ward: St Buryan
District: Penwith
County: Cornwall
Region: South West England
Post Office and Telephone
Post town: Truro
Postcode: TR19 6xx
Dialling Code: 01736
The parish of St Buryan as seen looking south from Chapel Carn Brea, the highest point in the parish
File:St Loy Cove.JPG
St Loy Cove in the south of the parish
Countryside south of St Buryan

St Buryan(Cornish: Eglosborrie) is a village and civil parish in the Penwith district of Cornwall, United Kingdom. The parish encompasses the villages of St. Buryan, Lamorna, and Crows-an-wra and shares boundaries with the parishes of Sancreed and St Just to the north, Sennen and St Levan (with which it has close ties) to the west, with Paul to the east and by the sea in the south. The village of St Buryan is situated approximately five miles (8 km) west of Penzance along the B3283 towards Lands End. Two further minor roads also meet at St Buryan, two link the village with the B3315 toward Lamorna, and the third rejoins the A30 at Crows-an-Wra.


The parish, which is generally fertile and well cultivated, comprises 6972 acres (28.2 sq km) of land, 3 acres of water and 18 acres of foreshore and lies predominantly on granite.[3] It is more elevated at its northern part and slopes gently north to south-east towards the sea. Chapel Carn Brea, (50°09'N, 5°65W), often described as the first hill in Cornwall (from a westerly perspective), sits at its northernmost edge and rises 657 feet above sea level.[4] The hill is also an important historical site showing evidence of neolithic activity, as well as the remains of the chapel from which it is named. Toward the south is the village of St Buryan, which sits on a plateau and is centrally sited within the parish. Further to the south the terrain slopes down toward the sea, ending in several deep cut river valleys at Lamorna, Penberth and St Loy that are both sheltered and heavily forested. West of St Buryan, toward St Levan, the terrain again gently descends, causing the ground to become more marshy and waterlogged and less suitable for growing arable crops. East of the village the land also slopes away toward Drift, and its reservoir, past the wooded area at Pridden and the deep cut valley at Trelew (in which a steep embankment has been built to carry the B3283 road). Since 1990 St Buryan and the surrounding region has been designated a conservation area by Penwith District Council;[5] recognising the village's status as an area of special architectural and historic interest and preventing development that might alter the village's character.


The village is named after the 6th century Irish Christian missionary Saint Buriana (also sometimes called Beriana, Buriena, or Beriena). The local legend describes how, whilst ministering to the local inhabitants from the oratory that stood on the site of the current church, Saint Buriana was abducted by the local king, Geraint (or Gereint) of Dumnonia. Saint Piran, patron saint of Cornwall and also a fellow missionary, negotiated for her release, but the reticent Geraint, agreed only on the caveat that the he be awoken by a cuckoo calling across the snow: a fate unlikely in mid-winter. The legend states that Saint Piran prayed through the night whilst the snow fell, and in the morning Geraint was awoken by a cuckoo's song. He was so taken aback by the miracle that he honoured his pledge, however, shortly afterwards he changed his mind and tried to recapture Buriana. Buriana is said to have died as Geraint tried to re-imprison her, and was purportedly buried on the site of her chapel.[6]


Celtic cross near Chapel Carn Brea in the north of St. Buryan parish

St Buryan and the surrounding area is rich in history and has been a centre of human activity for several thousand years.

Early Neolithic Period

The area surrounding St Buryan was is use by humans in Neolithic times, as is evident from the their surviving monuments. A mile (1.5km) to the north of St Buryan lies Boscawen-Un, a Neolithic stone circle containing 19 stones around a leaning central pillar.[7] The circle is also associated with two nearby standing stones or menhirs. Although somewhat overgrown, the site can be reached by traveling along the A30 west of Drift and is only a few hundred metres south of the road. A more accessible stone circle, the Merry Maidens, lies 2 miles (3 km) to the south of the village in a field along the B3315 toward Lands End. This much larger circle comprises nineteen granite megaliths some as much as 1.4 metres (4'7") tall, is approximately 24 metres (79ft) in diameter and is thought to be complete. Stones are regularly spaced around the regular circle with a gap or entrance at its eastern edge. The Merry Maidens are also called Dawn's Men, which is likely to be a corruption of the Cornish Dans Maen, or Stone Dance. The local myth about the creation of the stones suggests that nineteen maidens were turned into stone as punishment for dancing on a Sunday. The pipers' two megaliths some distance north-east of the circle are said to be the petrified remains of the musicians who played for the dancers. This legend was likely initiated by the early Christian Church to prevent old pagan habits continuing at the site.[8]

Like Stonehenge and other stone monuments built during this period the original purpose of such stone circles is unknown, although there is strong evidence that they may have been ceremonial or religious sites. Many other lone standing stones from the Neolithic period can be seen around the parish, at sites including Pridden, Trelew, Chyangwens and Trevorgans. In addition to menhirs there are numerous stone crosses within the parish, including two fine examples in St Buryan itself, one in the churchyard, and the other in the centre of the village. These take the form of a standing stone, sometimes carved into a Celtic cross but more often left roughly circular with a carved figure on the face. It is thought that many of these are pagan in origin, dating from the Neolithic and later periods, but were adapted by the early Christian church to remove evidence of the previous religion.[9] These crosses are often remote and mark/protect ancient crossing points.[9] Other examples in the parish can be found at Crows-an-Wra, Trevorgans and Vellansaga.

Bronze and Iron Ages

Only several hundred yards from the site of The Merry Maidens lies a Bronze age burial chamber, Cruk Tregyffian, that was discovered (and unfortunately damaged) during widening of the adjacent B3315 road. The circular barrow is composed of stone uprights decorated with cupmarks, dry stone walling and 4 capstones.[10] Although the original decorated stone has been removed to Truro museum to protect it against weathering, a replica now sits in its place. Further east along the B3315 road, and only a mile from Lamorna, lies the Boleigh Fogou, considered to be one of the best remaining monuments of its kind in Cornwall.[11] Built in the Iron age, the purpose of Fogous (derived from the Cornish word for cave) is not known, however, it has been speculated that they could have been used for food storage or for religious ceremonies.[12] The Fogou at Boleigh is extensive and has a large entranceway that leads to a long passage with classic dry stone wall and lintel construction. A low doorway just inside the entrance leads to a much narrower and lower passage that turns ninety degrees left after a few metres. After the turn the passage continues for a metre or two before ending; there is a modern metal support grille set into the roof above this section.[11]

Middle Ages

Human activity in the parish continued and intensified in the Middle Ages. A revolt against the Anglo-Saxon English in 931 AD by the Cornish Celts (supported by the Danes) led to a battle southeast of the village at Boleigh where a farm and hamlet now stands. The Saxon king Athelstan crushed the resistance, before continuing on to conquer the Isles of Scilly. A local story tells of ancient armour being ploughed up in the nearby fields at Gul Reeve (a corruption of the Cornish Gwel Ruth, meaning red field).[13] The establishment of a church and monastery in the village by Athelstan (see Religion) contributed to the rising importance of the parish. This was not without problems, and in 1328 St Buryan was excommunicated from the church over a row about control of the religious matters in the parish. It was not reinstated for another eight years.[13]

After the Norman conquest the area fell under the control of the Robert, Count of Mortain, a half brother of William the Conqueror, and the parish of St Buryan is mentioned in the Domesday book with the old Cornish name of Eglosberrie (and elsewhere Eglosburrie) meaning 'church of St. Buryan': "

"EGLOSBERRIE; it was free in the time of King Edward (the Confessor, i.e. before 1066); 1 hide (about 120 acres). Land for 8 ploughs (requiring, perhaps, 8 oxen each); ½ plough there. 6 villagers and 6 smallholders. Pasture, 20 acres. Value 10s; when the Count (of Mortain) received the land, value 40s. Also 12 cattle and 12 sheep.” [14]

St Buryan was visited by King John in the early 1200s who, after landing at Sennen from Ireland, travelled to the parish to stay the night. The purpose of the visit was an inspection of local mining works in the area and resulted in the import of German engineers to improve their efficiency.[13] By the 14th century St Buryan's importance as a regional centre had grown sufficiently that in 1302 King Edward granted it a weekly market, to be held on Saturdays, and two yearly fayres of three days each to be held on the feasts of St Buryan and St Martin.[13]

Tudor and Stuart period

Perhaps one of the most notable residents of St Buryan during the seventeenth century was one William Noy, an MP (Grampound 1603-1614, Fowey 1623-1625 and Helston 1627-1631) [15] and member of the court of King Charles I, who was born and lived on the Pendrea estate within the parish [13]. He was created Attorney-general to the king in October 1631 where he specialised in reviving long forgotten taxes to raise money [16] His advice controvesially led to the imposition of ship money which is though by many to have helped trigger the English Civil War. Noy suffered from stones, and died in great pain before being buried at the church in New Brentford in 1634.

Modern history

Population change from 1800 to the present day in St Buryan parish (lefthand scale) compared to Penwith district(righthand scale)[1].

Whereas St Buryan was an important regional religious centre during the Middle Ages due to its monastery and Royal Peculiar status, the importance of the parish to the district faded with the onset the industrial revolution. This was in part due to the destruction of the collegiate buildings during The Protectorate period after the civil war[17] and also the gradual weakening of the political position of the Church of England that occurred during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This loss of importance is reflected in the fact that the proportion of the district's population living in the parish fell from four and a half to less than two percent over this period.[3] Unlike other parishes in Penwith, such as St Just, St Buryan was not a major focus of mining activity during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, having a mainly agrarian economy. After a spike in population in the early 1800s that is mirrored across the district and coincides both with the arrival of the railways and increased tin mining activity in Penwith, the population of the parish gradually declined over the next two hundred years (see figure right), in part due to the increased mechanisation of farming that the industrial revolution brought, requiring fewer people to work the land.

After a period of decline during the twentieth century, which saw a reduction in the village's population (see figure), culminating in the loss of a blacksmiths, the local dairy, the village butchers and a cafe in the early nineties, St Buryan has been enjoying a renaissance, fueled in part by an influx of new families. The local school has been expanded to include a hall and a fourth classroom and a new community centre has recently been built nearby.


St Buryan has a long history of religious activity both through its historical connection with the church of the state, and later playing an important part in the Methodist revival of the 18th century, led by John Wesley who visited the parish and ministered on several occasions.

The Church of St Buryan

The church of St Buryan as seen from the front entrance

A church has stood on the current site since c. 930 AD, built by King Athelstan in thanks for his successful conquest of Cornwall on the site of the oratory of Saint Buriana (probably founded in the 5th century). The Charter from Athelstan endowed the building of collegiate buildings and the establishment of one of the earliest monasteries in Cornwall, and was subsequently enlarged and rededicated to the saint in 1238 by Bishop William Briwereby.[18][19][20][3][21] Owing to the nature of the original Charter from King Athelstan, the parish of St Buryan was long regarded as a Royal Peculiar thus falling directly under the jurisdiction of the British monarch as a separate dioceses, rather than the Church.[21] This led to several hundred years of arguments between The Crown and the Bishops of England over control of the parish, which came to a head in 1327 when blood was shed in the churchyard, and in 1328 St Buryan was excommunicated by the Bishop. St Buryan was reinstated until 1336.[22] Only two of the King's appointed Deans appear to have actually lived in the diocese of St Buryan for more than a few months, and the combination of these factors led to the subsequent ruinous state of the church in 1473. The church was subsequently rebuilt and enlarged, the tower was added in 1501[23] and further expansion took place in the late 15th and 16th centuries when the bulk of the present church building were added. Further restoration of the interior took place in 1814, and the present Lady Chapel was erected in 1956.[6] The church is currently classified as a Grade I listed building. The Deanery was annexed in 1663 to the Bishopric of Exeter after the English Civil War. However it was again severed during the episcopacy of Bishop Harris, who thus became the first truly independent dean [24]. The current diocese holds jurisdiction over the parishes of St Buryan, St Levan, and Sennen. St Buryan church is famous for having the heaviest peal of six bells in the world, and a recent campaign to restore the church's bells, which had fallen into disuse, has enabled all six to be rung properly for the first time in decades[25].


File:St Buryanmethodistchapel.JPG
St Buryan methodist chapel, rebuilt in 1981 after storm damage

John Wesley, the founding father of Methodism, visited the parish on several occasions, but was not well received at first. He first visited St Buryan in 1747 where he preached at Tredinney, and later attended services at the church in St Buryan during which the local reverend is reputed to have made several caustic remarks about him.[13] A second visit in 1766, during which he preached from outside the church, led to him being threatened with a whip by the local squire, however this only strengthened his resolve to return.[13] The first Methodist chapel was built in 1783 on a site opposite the current day chapel, on land purchased the previous year and inspected by Wesley himself during his last visit to the parish. In 1833, as Methodism became more popular in Cornwall, a second larger chapel was built on the site of the current one. This was subsequently rebuilt in 1981 after suffering storm damage to the old structure. Further Chapels were built in the parish, at Crows-an-Wra in 1831 with seating for 220 as a replacement for an earlier chapel at nearby Treve and at Borah in 1817 with seating for 100, which was rebuilt in 1878. Both of these closed in 1981 to coincide with the enlargement of the St Buryan Chapel.[26] A Bible Christian group also operated in the village, founded circa 1815. With growing support a proper chapel was built in 1860 on the site of the current Hosken's meadow. This was closed in 1932 but left derelict for another 65 years before being demolished.[26]


St Buryan primary school in Rectory Road St Buryan

The first record of a school in the parish was in 1801, on a site adjacent to the old poorhouse beside the church buildings in the main village. This was administered through the poorhouse, whose trustees were also the trustees of the school. A new school was built in 1830 which now forms the village hall. The school was subscription based and pupils paid a penny a day toward their education. When compulsory education was introduced in 1875 these buildings were extended to deal with the influx of pupils. The school moved again to its present site, a new purpose built building along Rectory Road, in 1910. Today St. Buryan primary school teaches pupils between the ages of four and eleven and is a feeder school for nearby Cape Cornwall Comprehensive. There was until recently an attached nursery for taking care of children of pre-school age, but this has subsequently moved to new premises in the village. For many years the school taught in its original three classrooms, however under the headship of Paul Gazzard the site has been expanded to include a fourth classroom, a hall and gymnasium, a library and a new reception area. This expansion was made financially possible in part due to a spell as a grant maintained school during the previous Tory administration in which the school had direct control over its own budget. Under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 the school became a foundation school. The school currently teaches 87 pupils from the villages and the surrounding parish.[27] There has been a steady rise in pupil numbers in recent years made possible by the improved facilities and mirroring the population rise in the parish as a whole. All pupils come from a white British background and use English as their first language. Nearly six percent of pupils have Statements of Special Educational Need, which is above the national average.[27] In the recent Ofsted inspection pupils’ standards of achievement were classed as good overall with above average results in science and English and very high attainment in mathematics.


The first Cornish Gorsedd (Gorseth Kernow) in over one thousand years was held in the parish in the stone circle at Boscawen-Un on the 21st September 1928. The procession, guided by the bards of the Welsh Gorsedd and spoken mostly in Cornish was aimed at promoting Cornish culture and literature. The modern Gorsedd has subsequently been performed nine times in the parish including the fiftieth anniversary, both at Boscawen-Un and the stone circle at The Merry Maidens.[13] There is also a regular Eisteddfod held in the village. The feast of St Buriana is celebrated on the Sunday nearest to May 13th (although the St Buriana's official day is the 1st May)consisting of fancy dress and competitions for the children of the village and usually other entertainments later in the evening. In the summer there are also several other festivals, including the agricultural preservation rally in which vintage tractor, farm equipment, rare breed animals and threshing demonstrations are shown as well as some vintage cars and traction engines. This is currently being hosted at Trevorgans farm and is traditionally held on the last Saturday of July. St Buryan is also twinned with Calan in Morbihan, Brittany.


Espionage novelist David John Moore Cornwell (better known as John Le Carré) whose books include The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy has lived in St Buryan for more than forty years.

The 1971 film Straw Dogs, starring Dustin Hoffman, was filmed in St Buryan.[28]


farmland cut for hay in St Buryan parish

The major economic activity in the parish is agriculture and the parish encompasses several large farms. Most agriculture centres around dairying, plus arable crops such as potato and cauliflower being farmed as well as some raising of pigs and sheep. As with much of Cornwall, fishing is an important source of income and employment. Many smaller crabbers and landline fishermen operate from out of the various coves and harbours amongst the rocky shoreline. Prior to its closure at the turn of the millennium the transatlantic telephone cable station, and telecommunications educational facility, run by Cable and Wireless at Porthcurno provided further employment opportunities in the neighbouring parish of St Levan. With its central location in west Penwith and proximity to popular tourist attractions such as the Minack Theatre, Lands End and the Blue Flag beach at Sennen Cove,[29] St Buryan enjoys a healthy income from visitors, both day trippers and those renting accommodation, during the summer months.

Government and politics

For the purposes of local government St Buryan is a civil parish and elects 11 councillors every 4 years. The principal local authorities in this area are Penwith District Council and the Cornwall County Council.


Commercial activity in St Buryan centres around Churchtown where a well stocked village store, run under a Londis franchise and housing an ATM cashpoint, plus a post office, an antiques shop and the St Buryan Inn are located. There is also a garage at the eastern end of the village that runs a limited coach service. The village was also previously served by its own Butchers Shop, this was closed in 1990 due to combination of the economic recession and pressure from the recently opened Safeway supermarket in nearby Penzance. A Doctor's branch surgery is currently held in the village cricket pavilion every Thursday between twelve and one pm. At other times patients must travel to the surgery in nearby St Just, the West Cornwall hospital in Penzance or the Royal Cornwall hospital at Treliske, Truro. St. Buryan is served by three bus routes run by Western National. Two services, 1 and 1A, run between Penzance and Lands End via Gwavas, Sheffield, St Buryan and Sennen. The third, the 300 service, runs a circular route via St Ives, St Just, Sennen, St Buryan and Newlyn. Services run frequently from Penzance to the village until around 10 pm during the summer months, but markedly less often in the winter.[30]

External links


  1. ^ 2001 UK census
  2. ^ Penwith District Council, 2000. Parish population estimates (PDF)
  3. ^ a b c GENUKI, 2006. "St Buryan."
  4. ^ Cornwall in Focus, n.d. "More Ancient Sites of Penwith" Verfied 2006-08-24.
  5. ^ Penwith District Council, 2005. "List of conservation areas."
  6. ^ a b Blight, J. T. 1856. Ancient crosses & other antiquities in the west of Cornwall; Simpkin, Marshall, & Co., London and F. T. Vibert, Penzance. Published in facsimile combined with the volume about the east of Cornwall and an introduction by Ian McNeil Cooke Men-an-Tol Studio, Penzance: 2004 ISBN 1-902793-02-1. Quoted at West Penwith Resources.
  7. ^ Tom Bullock, 2002. "Boscawen Un." Megalithic Portal. Verified 2006-08-24.
  8. ^ Stones of England, n.d. "The Merry Maidens." Verified 2006-08-24.
  9. ^ a b Alex Everitt, n.d. "A Brief History of the Celtic Cross in Cornwall". Verified 2006-08-24.
  10. ^ Megalithic Portal, n.d. "Tregiffian Barrow." Verified 2006-08-24.
  11. ^ a b Megalithic Portlal, n.d. "Boleigh - Souterrain." Verified 2006-08-24.
  12. ^ Rosemerryn Wood, n.d. "Fogou." Verified 2006-08-24.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h JM Hosking, 2002. People Places & Past Events in St Buryan. ISBN 0-9501296-5-8
  14. ^ Thorn, Caroline & Frank [eds.], 1979. Domesday book: Cornwall. Phillimore, Chichester. ISBN 085033-155-2
  15. ^ Timeline of Cornish history
  16. ^
  17. ^ "Kelly’s Directory of Cornwall 1893", quoted in West Penwith Resources.
  18. ^ Stone, John Frederick Matthias Harris, 1912. England's Riviera: a topographical and archæological description of Land’s End, Cornwall and adjacent spots of beauty and interest. Kegan Paul Trench, Trubner & Co., London.
  19. ^ Olson, Lynette, 1989. Early monasteries in Cornwall. Boydell. ISBN 0-85115-478-6
  20. ^ Domesday Book, folio 121b, chapter 4, paragraph 27
  21. ^ a b K. Wasley, n.d. "St Buryan." Verified 2006-08-24.
  22. ^ Exeter Episc. Regs
  23. ^ This Is The Westcountry, n.d. "The Great Bells of St Buryan, Cornwall." Verified 2006-08-24.
  24. ^ Lewis Topographical Dictionary of England - 1831
  25. ^ The Worcestershire & Districts Change Ringing Association, n.d. "Imperial Bell Weights."
  26. ^ a b West Penwith Resources, 2005. "St. Just Methodist Circuits."
  27. ^ a b St Buryan School Ofsted inspection repor
  28. ^ IMDB, n.d. "Filming locations for Starw Dogs." Verified 2006-08-24.
  29. ^ Blue Flag, n.d. "Sennen Cove."
  30. ^ Bus timetables