Penzance, Cornwall

Penzance Mount Street chapel
Christian Messenger 1914/183

Transcription of Article in the Christian Messenger by John Turner

CORNISH Methodism has furnished abundant material for many of our religious writers. It has also largely moulded the religious life of the county. The late Mr. W.S. Caine, during the short time that he represented the Mining Division in Parliament, boasted that his constituency contained more Methodist chapels than public houses. On one occasion, when the rector of Illogan was presiding at one of our Missionary Meetings, he made this statement:- “There are ten Methodist chapels in my parish and I have spoken in all of them.” Though Cornwall is rightly regarded as a Methodist stronghold. Our own church is comparatively weak. The Wesleyans came long before us and had established strong churches before we commenced our work.

The Penzance Circuit occupies a unique position geographically, being in the extreme west of the country and only a few miles from Land’s End. The town was missioned by John Garner in 1827, during the time he was stationed at Redruth. He preached in the Green Market to an attentive congregation, then proceeded to Newlyn and preached. After this day’s work he returned to Redruth, having walked thirty-seven miles. Soon afterwards W. Teal was appointed and societies were formed at Penzance and Newlyn. Fifty members were reported for the two places.

For several years the Penzance society moved from one rented room to another, until, in 1839, a chapel was built in Mount Street at cost of £257. As the congregations grew this chapel was enlarged no fewer than four times. In 1899, the present chapel was built on the same site. It is a very convenient and substantial building, with seating capacity for five hundred persons. Most of the sittings are let and it is the home of a good working church. At first the debt was heavy, but the people have worked with a will. For fourteen years in succession an annual bazaar has been held and each effort has been a success. In this way the debt has been brought down to a very small sum and the Circuit funds have been helped. An increasing number of visitors spend their holiday in this delightful town and neighbourhood; they are always made welcome at our services and many have expressed thanks for the spiritual uplift received.

Newlyn is also situated in Mount‘s Bay and almost joins Penzance. It has long been noted  for its ?shing industry. There is also a colony of artists who have produced many beautiful pictures of its quaint streets and buildings. Newlyn is famous for its revivals of religion. A great revival took place soon after the place was missioned in which many of the vilest sinners in the neighbourhood were converted. A gentleman said to one of the members, “I am glad the Primitive Methodists have come to Newlyn, for I have no need now to be at the expense of paying men to watch my fish.” Other remarkable in-gatherings have followed:- In 1849, when Rev. J. Best was minister, in 1872, during the ministry of Rev. Joseph Harding and at various other times. Rev. Joseph Odell  conducted a very successful Mission here in 1911. Most of our present members date their conversion from one of these periods of grace. Prior to the revival of 1849, few, if any, of the fishermen were total abstainers. Each man ran his bill at the public house and this was paid when the boats had a good catch of fish. A man has been known to carry the whole of his “share” – as much as £5 – to the public-house, and still be in debt. In the revival named the men were saved from their drinking habits and the Temperance cause was firmly established.

Our Newlyn chapel was built in 1835 at a cost of £1,612 and seats six hundred people. This was a great undertaking for its time. Some who could not give money gave labour, and even the women carried sand in their fishwives’ “coils,” or baskets. One of these good sisters, Aunt Betsy Beckerlegge, passed to her reward about five years ago. Notwithstanding all this, the cause was soon in financial difficulty. Two of the original Trustees, Methusalah Taskis and Richard Harvey, several of whose children are with us to-day, were summoned for non-payment of interest, and being unable to find the money, were sent to prison. Happily the period of their detention was short.

For many years we have had a strong and vigorous church in Newlyn and the chapel is well filled at the ordinary services, a refreshing feature of which is the hearty responses from the congregation, which has not forgotten old customs as most of us have done. Newlyn Primitives believe in Class Meetings and Prayer Meetings, and attend them too. Their great need is that of suitable premises for the carrying on of their work. The chapel is old, out of date, and out of repair. Worse still, there is no separate accommodation for the Sunday School. Fortunately the need is seen, and several years ago a site was secured. By various efforts a sum of £1,300 has been raised and invested towards the cost of a new structure. The building must not much longer be delayed. There are few churches more liberal and loyal than those at Penzance and Newlyn. They make the claims of the Circuit the first charge on their income and between them raise most of the sum required to support two married preachers.

For a number of years these places formed part of the St. Ives Circuit, until in 1857 Penzance was made a ‘‘Branch,” becoming two years later an independent Circuit. At present there are six places on the plan, two of them having been transferred from the St. Ives Circuit in 1883. The four village churches have had a varied history, sometimes almost ceasing to exist, at other times gaining new membership and power in periods of revival. At Madron, about two miles from Penzance, we have a small chapel and a few faithful souls who keep the light burning. At Cockwells, Nancledra, and Towednack the Population is sparse, and owing to the decline in the local mining industry it is impossible to get large congregations.

The Cornish Circuits suffer much from emigration, but it is a consolation to know that many who were trained in our Sunday schools and converted in our churches are now occupying honourable positions and doing good work in various parts of the world. The Hon. C.M. Luke, of New Zealand, was a scholar in our Penzance Sunday school, also Rev. N.W. Matthews and Rev. J.N. Reseigh, both of whom are doing excellent work in the United States.

We are thankful for the good work that has been done in the past, but are more thankful to know that God is still working in our midst.

The last Young People’s Sunday was a memorable time in the Penzance Sunday school. All the scholars in one of the senior classes gave their hearts to Christ, and these ten lads are now meeting in class, and several of them go out with the Mission Bands to assist at the country places.

On a recent Sunday evening the minister’s wife took a service at one of the country places that had been closed for a time. The chapel was crowded. Fifty stayed to the prayer meeting, and three were converted.

The officials show their interest in the church by their diligent attention to their duties. Seven of the

Sunday school teachers have had long service diplomas presented to them.

In this far-off corner of our vineyard there are warm loyal hearts, and when our friends pay a visit to this famous holiday resort, with its beautiful caves and grand, rugged coast scenery, the Primitives of Penzance and Newlyn will be glad to give them a hearty welcome.


Christian Messenger 1914/183


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