Lesnewth ( St
Michael & All Angels)
is only a mile from the busy A39 between Wainhouse Corner and Camelford, but the best approach to the hamlet is up the wandering lane from Minster Church through the woods dripping with lichen, and banks of moss. The church itself lies tucked snugly out of the wind at the head of the valley, with a fast running stream beside it; the hillside is so steep that only the tall unbuttressed western tower can be seen, it stair turret, with tiny quatrefoil openings, on the south side.
Lesnewth - the name means 'New Court' - was the
capital of the subdivision of the Old Hundred of Trigg, before the Norman
Conquest. It is said that the Saxons built the first church on this site,
tucked into the hillside so that it could not be seen by the marauding Danes.
However, they found it and pillaged it on the way to sack the nearby Manor of
Helsett. The next building was a Norman cruciform church of great interest -
unusually it had both north and south transepts, and a tower was added in the
15th Century. By the middle of the last century, like so many others in the
area, it had fallen into sad decay and in 1862 the Cornish architect J.P.St
Aubyn was given permission to restore it.
'Restore' is perhaps too modest a word: he effectively rebuilt Lesnewth, using dynamite in some of the demolition. Little remains of the Norman building, though there are traces of what was lost - some of the perpendicular tracery - can be seen in the hedge south west of the tower. Of the roofs, which were said to be particularly fine, the carved screen and bench ends, nothing survives, so it is something of a challenge to find the clues to the former church in what is to be seen today.
Inside the pitch pine pews and open roofs are identical to much of the work which St Aubyn did all over Cornwall. His plan for the church is still on the wall, and what is now to be seen is a chancel, nave, small remodelled south chapel, used as a vestry, and the 15th Century tower, which he left intact. By any standards, considering the size of the community of Lesnewth in 1862, it is a remarkable achievement that the money, let alone the enthusiasm, could have been found for so dramatic a re-ordering of the church. It is interesting to note that such enthusiasm has not evaporated with time - the present day small congregation raised £2,000 in a night as part of recent restoration and repair.
There are 3 named Archangels honoured by the Christian Church - Saint Michael, St Gabriel & St Raphael. In the New Testament there is a celebrated passage in the Book of Revelation which tells of war in heaven, where Michael and his angels defeated Satan. His feast day is 29th September - Michaelmas Day. Six churches and numerous chapels in Cornwall are dedicated to him.
The pulpit and choir stalls, and the altar are very typical of the more utilitarian style adopted by the Victorian restorers, but it is in the Chancel area that some of the most interesting traces of the past can be found. The sill of the North window is a Norman Altar slab - the crosses cut into the corners can still be seen.
It is worth examining St Aubyn's plan for the church on the way out, for the Victorians who lived here in the 1860s must have possessed a vision and an enthusiasm which has much to teach those who wonder at the future of the church today. All though it is history there have been times when the church has declined, almost, on occasions, to extinction, and then has come revival, renewal or re-assessment. Sometimes this has meant dramatic changes for buildings to make worship more full of mystery, more accessible, more 'user friendly', depending on the spirit of the age.
In the Porch a notice dated 1865, indicates that 72 seats are to be provided Free in Lesnewth Church. The 19th Century saw the progressive abolition of the earlier highly lucrative practice of 'Pew Renting' where all seats in the church had to be paid for.
Click to enlarge image
Very few memorials were left by St Aubyn. On the north wall there remains one to the Yeo family, dated 1680, with inscription and style typical of the period.The little window in the aumbry on the south side of the chancel is also Norman, and there are remains of what must once have been an elegant piscina.
Click to enlarge image
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Extracts taken from 'CHURCH TRAILS IN CORNWALL' packs produced by North Cornwall Heritage Coast & Countryside. Original text by Jeremy Dowling