A history of Church Cove, Landewednack

The Lizard has some of Cornwall’s most picturesque fishing villages. Coves that bring to vivid life the salty past of this almost island. Kynance, Kuggar, Coverack, Cadgwith. But there is one more I’d add to the list. Church Cove.

Most people who visit the UK’s most southerly point pass through Lizard village. They usually see no need to deviate from the main road that leads you to the famous lighthouse.

But it’s a short walk from Lizard village’s wide green to St Wynwallow’s Churchtown and then on towards the sea to this timeless cove.

The journalist Charles Lewis Hind spent some time walking in Cornwall in 1906. His discription, published in 1907, still stands more than a century later. Hind found himself at Church Cove looking for a boat to take him to Cadgwith.

I asked the fisherman if there was time before the return of the crabber to walk up to the village and inspect the church. He supposed so; so I ascended to Landewednack, passing a charming group of Cornish cottages. Whitewashed walls with trailing roses and thatched roofs. Two girls were seated on camping stools in the lane producing watercolours of the cottages. It was a miniature Surrey in Cornwall.

Church Cove Landewednack
Cove Cottage

In the harbour

Church Cove was once known as Perranvose or Parnvose or simply as Lizard Cove. Parnvose roughly translates from Cornish as ‘cove with the bank/wall’ and probably refers to the Balk, a precipitous cliff close by.

Although all the buildings in the cove have now been converted to domestic use, you can still make out the old pilchard cellars and Lifeboat station. The lifeboat house was built in 1885 at a cost of £300. The money had been donated by local cousins in memory of their parents.

The inscription above the door reads: “Erected and presented to Royal National Lifeboat Institution in memory of T and H S Chavasse and Rev and M C Chavasse.”

But sadly the station was closed just a few years later in 1899 when Polpeor cove received a newer, bigger vessel.

Church Cove Landewednack

Photograph taken 1896 – 1920 © Reproduced by permission of Historic England Archive ref: BB98_01818

The Lifeboat house was then sold for £40. A bargain these days!

In the 19th century the cove began to attract more tourists than fishermen. From about the 1870s onwards, until well into this century, small steamships carried day trippers from Falmouth to Church Cove. These tourists and bargin hunters would walk up the hill to visit the lighthouse and purchase the serpentine souvenirs on offer in Lizard village. And there are still shops selling serpentine gifts to this day.

Geologically Marvellous

The unique geology of the Lizard peninsula makes the coastline around Church Cove some of Cornwall’s most beautiful and dramatic. The geological map of this area is a fantastical jigsaw of complex pieces. Spillite, Kennack Gneiss, Crousa Gabbro, Traboe Cumulate . . . In fact, there are at least 10 distinct types of rock beneath the feet of anyone travelling from Helston across to Gweek.

But the cliffs that surround Church Cove are made of Schist and Serpentine. They are full of watery caverns, tumbling zawns and sea-polished boulders.


Those Thatch Cottages

With its thatched, whitewashed cottages walking through this little valley today, towards the steep slipway and its small gaggle of wooden boats, is truly like taking a step back into the past.

Church Cove Landewednack

Parnvoose Cottage

The little houses – Parnvoose Cottage, Cove Cottage, Angel Cottage, Church Cottage and the Mariners – seem immune to the changing world outside the temperate climes of this idyllic corner of Cornwall.

The Mariners, the closest thatched building to the sea, was once three seperate cottages.

Church Cove Landewednack

The Mariners

And it is said this impossibly picturesque building was the inspiration for Noël Coward’s best-known song, A Room with a View, written in 1928.

The Mariners only has one room that faces the sea. Only one room with a view. Noel Coward regarded the time he spent at Church Cove as some of his happiest. He even carved his initials, along with a sailing boat, into a wooden staircase of the cottage.

But before Coward’s stay the Mariners which was built in the 17th century had a whole other life. In 1834 it was being used as a public house, or more precisely a kiddlywink. Kiddlywinks were beer houses. Often just the front parlour of someone’s house. Often illegal. After the Beer Act of 1830 you could purchase a license to sell beer for just two guineas. It was a government initiative that hoped to curb the appetite for gin by making beer more freely available. The license did not cover the sale of spirits but these were just brought in by the local ‘freetraders’.

The Lizard was a hotbed of smuggling in the 18th and 19th centuries. Locals even say there was a tunnel leading to the Mariners from the cliffs beside the cove but there is no real evidence of this. And the smugglers keep a watch for the customs men by posting lookouts on the tower of St Winwallow Church just up the hill.

St Wynwallow Church

The history of this church is a story all of its own!

The church is perhaps most famous in Cornwall because of a sermon preached there in 1678. Rev. Robinson, the rector at the time, supposedly gave the last sermon to be preached in the Cornish language here.

The church is dedicated to St Wynwallow (or Winwolaus or Winwaloe). Winwaloe (460 – 532) was the son of Prince Fragan of Dumnonia (ancient Cornwall). His family fled to Brittany to avoid an outbreak of the plague. There are a number of churches dedicated to him in Cornwall and Wales.

The oldest part of the church still standing is the 12th century Norman archway. The stocky tower is made of alternating granite and serpentine blocks, making it pretty unique. The font and pulpit are both made of serpentine.

Church Cove Landewednack

Landewednack Churchtown, Kilvert’s Diary c1870

Plague visited the parish in 1645 claiming a number of lives in the already tiny population. But according to local legend that wasn’t quite the end of the story:

About a century afterwards when part of the churchyard in which the persons were buried who had died of it was opened for the internment of some shipwrecked Mariners the plague reappeared though in a mitigated form in consequence of this that portion of the churchyard was fenced off and has never been used since.

Another one of those little bizarre notes that history (and we) choose to remember about this church is . . . Thomas Cole, the rector in 1683, was famous for living to a magnificent 120 years of age. He is also meant to have regularly walked from Landewednack to Penryn, 13 miles away.

***Note: Church Cove in the parish of Landewednack is not to be confused with the Church Cove a few miles away in the parish of Gunwalloe. The other is, of course, equally beautiful and has many a tale to tell though . . . so why not visit both!

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Further Reading:

A Potted History of Dollar Cove – treasure beneath the waves!

The Dry Tree Menhir, Goonhilly Downs

Terence Coventry’s Clifftop Sculpture Park

Walking Opportunities:

Circular walk Lizard to Cadgwith

I provide all the content on this blog completely FREE, no subscription fee. If however you enjoy my work and would like to contribute something towards helping me keep researching and writing about Cornwall’s amazing history and places you can donate below. Thank you!

I provide all the content on this blog completely FREE, there's no subscription fee. If however you enjoy my work and would like to contribute something towards helping me keep researching Cornwall's amazing history and then sharing it with you then you can DONATE BELOW. Thank you!

16 thoughts on “A history of Church Cove, Landewednack

  1. Thanks for digging up all that wonderful history – another very enjoyable read.

      1. lovely read but todays history is somewhat not so nice a sewerage pipe now pumps all the muck from mullion to lizard and all the surrounding areas. so if your inviting tourists to are last remmaining quite spot on the lizard i think this would be important to point out the sewerage pipe that only runs just a couple of hundred meters from shore and on an east wind you can taste the sewerage in the foam that blows up the beach

    1. Hi, I’ve been researching the Chevasse family and I’ve come across this article. I hope you don’t mind but the inscription at the station is for (T)homas and (M)iriam (S)arah Chavasse. The Rev. Was Horace and his wife was (M)argaret (C)olqhoun) Chavasse. Thomas and Horace were brothers. The two cousins that gifted the money for the station were Thomas son of Thomas and Margaret C Chavasse daughter of the Reverend. The Chavasse family are a prominent family in the Midlands. Hope this helps to clarify the history a bit more.

  2. I love this! I was there not so long ago, wrote a post about a beautiful walk from Church cove to Cadgwith. I love the history & geology you’ve added. Lovely read 😊

  3. Over the years when on holiday we’ve stayed at the Mariners cottage in the annexe and the wooden building opposite even before the buildings lower down were renovated. The first one was done up by a man from London I think. Anyway he came from down south and converted a building into a tea room by day and restaurant by night. It only had maybe eight tables. The food was cooked by himself and a lovely young man served. I had a different fish every night…….beautiful!! and my husband tried quail and other delicacies. We took our own wine. One day we had to “walk the plank” as he was laying cobbles in front of the entrance. That year was the last we saw of him. He loved bikes and was killed in an accident. Very sad. We always reminisce when we walk down there when we visit the area. The cliff that juts out from the cove is my favourite place in Cornwall. Couldn’t take a bottle of wine with a picnic as it’s only a small area and it wouldn’t do to be wobbly. Wonderful flowers and wild life. Saw basking sharks at out feet while on the “little cliff” my name for it. Those were the days. It’s now been bought and renovated by a titled lady so we were told.

    1. Thank you for sharing your memories! Really interesting and wonderful to hear your remembrances of this beautiful place.

    2. Nigel Palmer was the aimiable all too brief restaurateur; we were off to see King Lear at the Minack and came up Grade road to find him on the grass with the paramedcs trying to restart his heart. the demon bike was yards away; he passed me at maybe 170 on several occasions; his purple headlight showed in the mirror and one: Got IN out of the way.

      1. I was conceived next door to Landewednack Church; The cottage is now called Trewidden and, gentrified but when my parents lived there it was tied to ChurchTown Farm and called: “Wy Worrie”. Chris Barret was the farmer. His father was the Vicar and used to throw his homegrown vegetable marrows over the garden wall to my very good-looking mama. Ah the innocent nineteen forties…

  4. love the story, as a side note, the P CASLEY and son is my Uncle Peter as my family is part of the CASLEYs of The Lizard

  5. My grandparents had The Mariners in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I have a lot of magical memories as a child there including being shown the ginormous fireplace with footholds going up inside. Only to be told they were for Father Christmas by my grandmother!

    Both grandparents now lie in Landewednack church yard.

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