New Mills Primitive Methodist Church, London Apprentice

built 1870

Valerie Branson, 2013

The unusual name of this Cornish village, ‘London Apprentice’, first appears on a map in 1747, and appears to come from the name of an inn, which may have been based on a popular ballad of the time. The inn, and the hamlet which took its name, grew up as part of the tin mining industry.

First Primitive Methodist Society

It was some time in the 1830s that a Primitive Methodist mission came to this area and the first society was established. It was not very successful and ceased to meet in 1846. A new society started in 1849, and services were held in the house of Walter Coombe.

The Chapel was built in 1870, and enlarged in 1904 when the Sunday School was built. It was called New Mills, the name by which this hamlet became known in the 1830s, about the time when Primitive Methodism reached this area.  It is not clear whether the name related to a corn mill or tin-stamping mills.

Anniversaries and Treats

Evelyn Amos-Wyatt (nee Sanders) started attending the Chapel and Sunday School  with her five brothers and sisters, when they moved into the village in 1948.  Queenie Bazley (nee Oliver) remembered the little red Sunday School hymnbooks and Sunday School Anniversary, which was a very special day. The boys and girls sat on a platform and each said a poem. The preacher would call each child by name. The following day would be the Tea Treat, with lemonade and a big saffron bun. The children would march through the village behind the silver band. In front would be the Sunday School banner, carried by two young men. It said ‘New Mills primitive Methodist Sunday School, established 1871, and had a picture of an open Bible in the middle.

Michael Barnicoat also remembered going to Chapel: ‘it was Sunday School in the morning, afternoon service, and evening service.’ Sunday School Anniversary always took place on Whitsun weekend, and he also had happy memories of the Monday when ‘we were given a lovely tea, and sports in the field opposite the Chapel.’ 

‘Anniversary took weeks of getting ready’, said Gladys Hawke (Beckly Pollard) ‘We all had pieces to learn, and would sometimes sing a verse of a hymn on our own. There was an adult choir in the evening. People from other Chapels came. On Mondays, in the early days, I can remember marching behind the band and banner to Trewhiddle.’

Sundays were special

Gladys and her family went to Chapel three times on a Sunday. They wore their best clothes, and had to change each time they came home from Chapel. Sunday was a special day because ‘Only the meals were cooked: all preparation was done on Saturday. We didn’t sew, knit or play ball. We played family games in the evening. Some people sang hymns around the piano.’

Her mother, Mrs Winnie Pollard, remembered John Edward Stephens being the Sunday School Superintendent. ‘He was so strict, if you misbehaved he would just stare at you.’  Her father, Harry Bekley, used to blow the organ by hand, and if choir practice went on too long, he would blow less! The choir stalls were full in those days, and the choirmaster was John Williams.

Centre of entertainment

As Ruth McKee (Sanders) said, ‘The Chapel and the Sunday School were the main sources of entertainment in those days.’ The Wesley Guild was held on Wednesdays in the winter, and once a month was a ‘social evening’. She remembers the fun of ‘Treat’ day on Whit Monday, when the teenage boys and girls would play ‘Kiss-in-the-Ring’ in the evening!

For Ken Stark, ‘the little chapel was very much the centre of activities at times.’ Speakers at the Guild came from such far away places as Trewoon, Polgooth or Pentewan! ‘I remember the refreshments best, and it seemed it took the boiler all evening to get the water hot for tea!’

The Chapel closed in 1993, and was used initially as a warehouse, but, as you can see, its appearance has been little changed.


Christine Young, Memories of our Childhood in London Apprentice, 1997

Comments about this page

  • The opening of the chapel is noted by James Hawkins in the Primitive Methodist magazine 1871 (page 178). Opening preachers included Rev R Sampson (Baptist).
    Mr Hawkins notes that the society worshipped in a house for 40 years then Lord Mount Edgecombe rented them land at 2s/6d per year. Although the chapel measured 30′(l) x 20′(w) x 13′(h), they needed to put in more pews as all are let. A Sunday school had been started

    By Christopher Hill (05/08/2019)
  • Cornwall Archives:

    Ref. MRA/151: Insurance Policies for New Mills Primitive Methodist Chapel, 1905-1930. Receipt, Deed of Appointment of new Trustees 1928, reference…….?.

    By Raymond E.O.Ella (16/07/2018)
  • My Great Uncle by marriage Silas John Crocker was baptised on the 12th September 1878 at this church.  Walter Coombe mentioned in this piece about the church was his Grandfather.

    By Linda Hares (02/02/2018)
  • The P Wellington stone, so inscribed at New Mills Chapel, London Apprentice is either my Gt.Gt. Uncle Peter or my Gt.Gt. Grandfather also Peter, depending on whether this is the original or latter part of the building.

    I can provide more details of family on request.

    Keith Wellington.

    By Keith Wellington (30/12/2016)
  • The Walter Coombe mentioned in the second paragraph of the story is my paternal great great grandfather, a tin miner, who (with his wife Sophia) held services from 1849 in his home in the village of London Apprentice. Their neighbour was Nancy Wills, a grocer, and her daughter Emily, a dress maker. Walter Coombe’s second son Richard, also a tin (and later a copper) miner, married Emily in 1860. Three years later, with the Cornish copper and tin industries in serious decline, Richard and Emily emigrated to Auckland, New Zealand with their two year old son Martin Henry.

    Edwin Walter Coombe (my father’s father) was born in Auckland in 1865, and his sister Emily in 1867. By 1868 Richard was on the Thames goldfields, where he took out miner’s rights on three occasions. He most likely worked his claims as part of a group of miners, and then found employment with one or more mining companies whose capital was needed to work and crush the hard quartz ore. Another daughter, Frances, was born to Richard and Emily while they lived in the Thames area.

    Output from the Thames goldfields declined during the 1870s. Emily and the three youngest children returned to Cornwall. By 1881 Emily was running a boarding house in Fowey, 16 year old Edwin was apprenticed to a draper and his sisters were at school. The following year Richard and Martin returned from New Zealand and the re-united family emigrated again, to South Africa, where Richard and Martin (and later Edwin) headed for the diamond diggings in Kimberley, and after some years joined the gold rush to Johannesburg.

    Richard’s story ends here, for the time being, as nothing is yet known of his last years. Emily died and was buried in Durban in 1899. Martin Henry pursued a successful career with Crown Mines in Johannesburg but died of miner’s disease in 1913, aged 52. He was buried by his younger brother, Rev Edwin Walter Coombe, who by then was minister of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Clumber, in the Bathurst district of the Eastern Cape. 

    Martin, Edwin, Emily and Frances all married and their descendants today comprise the South African branch of this family whose roots lie in that mid-19th century miner’s cottage in London Apprentice.

    By Trevor Coombe (16/11/2016)
  • Had a look at this chapel whilst on a holiday last week.  It still carries stones naming those who contributed:-  

    • “This stone was laid by the Sunday school scholars” – this stone has been renewed
    • “This stone was laid by the teachers of the Sunday school”
    • “This stone was laid on behalf of Mr P Wellington”
    • I particularly enjoyed the stone that said “This stone was laid on behalf of the Temperance cause; August 4th 1904”  Would a Methodist chapel give that message a priority now?
    By Christopher Hill (19/09/2016)
  • I love this chapel I am so glad I will be buying part of Cornish history ( love it cliff ) and lilly )

    By cliff burt (07/09/2015)

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