ST PIRAN'S OLD CHURCH
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EXCAVATION OF ST PIRAN’S CHURCH, PERRANZABULOE, OCTOBER 2006
Historic Environment Service of Cornwall County Council and
the St Piran Trust recently
completed an excavation at the site of the old
Perranzabuloe Parish Church,
which had fallen into disuse in 1804.
Sand has been excavated from the
interior of the church in order to improve the amenity value
and setting of this important monument, with the works
part-funded by English Heritage, the Heritage Lottery Fund,
the Cornwall Heritage Trust and a number of local bodies.
The oldest part of the church is believed to date back to
the 11th century and it was recorded as
Lanpiran in the 1086
Domesday Book. The church
consisted of a nave and chancel, south aisle, south transept
and tower. It has been suggested that the church was
extended with a chancel aisle in the late 13th or
early 14th centuries and the south nave aisle,
tower and possibly porch were added in the 15th
Located in the dunes to the north-east of
Perranporth, shifting sand was a
terrible problem to the church during much of its existence. By the 18th century, it was a quite normal for
parishioners to have to dig out the porch in order to gain
entrance to the church and, in the early years of the 19th
century, the decision was taken to build a new church about
2.5km inland. St. Piran's Church
was part demolished to provide materials for the new church
and then allowed to decay.
In 1820, C. S. Gilbert described the old church as "ruinous,
being divested of its roof,
pillars, window frames and towers. Broken walls, staring
windows and shattered tomb-stones are here seen in
melancholy confusion, while the interior of the ruin is
filled with sea sand.”
By the beginning of the 20th century, the remains
of the church were completely masked by sand and part of the
site was excavated by T. F. G. Dexter
between 1917 – 1920.
He concentrated his efforts at
the eastern end of the church.
The periphery of the church was dug to define the shape and
size of the structure in the summer of 1917 and the spring
of 1918; the chancel was cleared of sand ‘internally and
externally’ during the summer of 1918 and the spring/summer
Some one thousand cartloads of sand were removed from the
chancel alone and the excavation revealed substantial
walling, window splays, carved stones and a number of other
features, which included a piscina
(a stone basin with a drain used for the disposal of water
used at mass).
The 2005 excavation
It was decided to undertake
further works at the church because the condition of the
monument was quite poor, the present management regime was
limited and there was a pressing need to make the monument
more presentable to the general public.
The excavation was carried out
by a team of archaeologists and a large number of local
volunteers. Over 200 tonnes of sand was removed from the
church by a mini-digger and dumper truck. Much of the
northern wall of the church and the footings for the tower
were uncovered for the first time in nearly 200 years. Important finds included the discovery of a
carved column base near the internal entranceway into the
tower and the remains of a grave slab dating to the 1620s.
This slab was found in a
number of pieces, positioned on the top of a pile of rubble
within the centre of the church. It was quite worn and we
have therefore assumed that it had previously been laid into
the floor of the church. It is our belief that it may have
been lifted in the early 19th century, perhaps to
move it to the new church, but fractured and was left
behind. The text on the slate slab showed that it marked the
grave of a man called John, whose surname began with the
four letters RESO, as well as his wife who was not named.
Burial records for
Perranzabuloe Parish only
survive from 1685, but it is clear from historical
documentation that the family name could only be
Resoga. This family appears on
numerous records relating to
Perranzabuloe Parish throughout the 17th
century. The Protestation Returns for 1642, for example,
show both a John Resoga and
Thomas Resoga, while the Hearth
Tax records from the early 1660s show that the family was
quite well-off with a John Resoga
shown as having six hearths.
around the church
In 2004, a
geophysical survey had been carried out which identified
a range of below-ground archaeological remains
in and around the Church enclosure including a number of
small fields, cultivation marks, the location of possible
buildings and patches of stonework in the churchyard.
A series of four excavation
trenches were dug to investigate some of these features. The
old ground surface of the churchyard (buried below later
sand blow) and the re-vetted
churchyard boundary were examined, while considerable
disturbance from mining activity was noted on the exterior
of the enclosure.
One trench was excavated in an
attempt to locate evidence for the cottage recorded on
a eighteenth century painting of
the Church. It was not found but prehistoric pottery of
likely Bronze Age date was recovered, along with evidence of
possible industrial activity, showing that the area had been
lived in for many thousand of years.
Even though the
archaeological excavation has been completed, the work
continues. During the next 12 months, this will include:
Conservation works on the exposed remains.
Erection of interpretation boards at the site of the
church, the nearby buried Oratory and
Perran Round, improving
public understanding of the three sites.
Organisation of an exhibition in
Preparation of a strategy for long-term maintenance of
the site, which would include the development of a
concise management plan following consultation with