The small hamlet of Poundstock huddles in a lush wooded valley between Boscastle and Bude. It is a picturesque place. Peaceful, timeless. But the quiet belies what was once a rather bloody past. A past which saw feuding Cornish families take up arms against each other and led to one of Cornwall’s most notorious murders. The brutal murder of a curate beside the altar of Poundstock’s St Winwaloe’s church produced a national outcry. And it is said that the ripples of that horror and disbelief still haunt the church to this day.
The Ancient Manor of Poundstock
Once part of the manor of St Kew, Poundstock is a very ancient manor given its Saxon name in about 682. Poundstock literally means ‘place with a cattle enclosure’. The manor gets a mention in the Doomsday Day Book too, as Pondestoch or Podestoc. At that time, more than 950 years ago, it was said to have belonged to Lady Ghida, or Gytha, who also held lands at St Gennys. The entry in the Doomsday Book reads:
Pondestoch. Gytha held it before 1066, and paid tax for 1 v. of land; 1 h. there, however. Land for 6 ploughs; 2 ploughs there, with 1 slave and 1 villager and 5 smallholders. Woodland, 10 acres; pasture, 40 acres. Value formerly and now 20s. 10 cattle; 50 sheep.
Tonkin, a local historian, writes that Poundstock was also one of the manors given by William the Conqueror to the first Earl of Cornwall, Robert Earl of Morton.
Let us set the scene for our murder . . . The earliest record of a parish church here appears to have been around 1291. But there was almost certainly a hermitage here before then. The main body of the present church dates mostly from the 13th century with the addition of 15th century tower. The church was originally dedicated to Saint Winwaloe then later changed to Saint Noet’s, and then reverted back to St Winwaloe’s again in the 1970s. I am not sure why . . .? Saint Noet was a short Saxon monk (he was apparently 4ft tall), the patron saint of fish and a friend of King Alfred, who was said to have died in AD870. St Winwaloe was reputedly the son of Fragan, a prince of Dumnonia (ancient Cornwall). The church at Church Cove, Landwednack on the Lizard is also dedicated to him.
The Penfound Family of Poundstock
Penfound Manor House, two miles east of Poundstock, is said to be haunted (but that’s another story). It belonged for many generations to the Penfound family, one of the oldest families in Cornwall. And it was one of their number that met their end in Poundstock Church.
Lakes’ Parochial History of Cornwall states that the Penfound family could trace their line back eight generations in the parish before 1620. Sadly, however, after some costly political choices this influential family fell out of favour, loosing most of their land and property in the 18th century. The last in the line of the Penfounds died in a poor house in the 19th century.
Mayhem, Trouble and Strife
The history of Poundstock seems to have been particularly tumultuous for such a small out of the way place. During the Black Death almost the entire population of the village was wiped out. But it appears that the community was pretty troubled even before the disease arrived. And things didn’t really improve . . .
Charles Henderson mentions in his Cornish Church Guide that there were once ‘three warlike families’, the Bodrugans, Bevilles and Bloyous, who had interests in the parish. In 1291 a rector called John Bodrugan was excommunicated for ‘persistent disobedience’. What else the families got up to isn’t entirely clear but considering what was happening by the mid 14th century we can probably make a good guess. Perhaps it is worth considering that it was partly Poundstock’s isolation that led to all the trouble and strife over the centuries. Peter Grego writes in his book:
“The northern Cornish village of Poundstock appears to occupy such a tranquil location, nestled in a sleepy hollow, well out of sight of most of the world. In truth, robbery, smuggling and piracy were rife in the village from the early 14th century onwards, since it was a place where the miscreant offspring of local nobility would meet to plan their crimes in the broader country and out to sea.”
Pirates and robbers. Those ‘miscreant offspring’ seems to have banded together to terrorise the rural community around Poundstock. They are said to have targeted wealthy families, like the Penfounds, who were not in their cohort. The ringleaders were thought to be John Bevill and Simon de St Gennys. And these men were part of the gang that burst into Poundstock Church just before the New Year in 1357.
*Fun fact: Vicars at Poundstock don’t seem to have much luck. On 13th October 1549 Vicar Simon Morton was hanged for treason after his role in The Prayer Book Rebellion.
The Satellites of Satan
On 27th December 1357 a group of men entered Poundstock Church during mass. In front of the whole congregation the gang proceeded to hack William Penfound to death with their swords. Blood was reportedly splattered across the altar. Then, perhaps realising the terrible crime they had committed, the men fled helter-skelter home to their respective manors.
The murder not only shook the village to the core, but news quickly spread beyond Cornwall too. The Bishop of Exeter excommunicated the murderers and King Edward III ordered the men be immediately apprehended. There had of course been plenty of witnesses. Edward the Black Prince, the first duke of Cornwall, authorised their arrests and imprisonment in Launceston Castle.
“Certain satellites of Satan, names unknown, on the Feast of st. John the Apostle – which makes the crime worse – broke into the parish church of Poundstock within our diocese with a host of Armed men, during mass, and before mass was scarcely completed they furiously entered the chalice and with swords and staves cut down William Penfound, clerk. Vestments and other church ornaments were desecrated with human blood in contempt of the Creator, in contempt of the Church, to the subversion of ecclesiastical liberty and the disturbance of the peace of the realm. Where will we be safe from crime if the Holy Church, our Mother, the House of God and the Gateway to Heaven is thus deprived of its sanctity?” John Grandisson, The Bishop of Exeter, 1348.
John Bevill and Simon de St Gennys were indeed arrested and stood trial but, miraculously, they were not convicted of the murder. They were found guilty of ‘outlawry’ and given heavy fines but it seems that their wealthy relations had somehow managed to pull some strings. No one was ever convicted of Penfound’s murder.
The exact reason for William Penfound’s death is unclear. It is thought that there may have been a feud between local families and William’s ties to the Lords of Penfound manor made him a target.
The Ghostly Curate
The ghost of William Penfound, probably peeved at the lack of justice for his brutal murder, is said to haunt Poundstock’s St Winwaloe’s church.
His figure has been spotted amongst the gravestones in the churchyard, but more frequently inside the church itself, where he can be seen kneeling at the altar, close to the spot where he met his end.
Since first publishing this post I have been contacted by a present day descendent of the Penfound family. Ian Saltern was able to add some fascinating details about the aftermath of the murder. Apparently Roland Penfound, William’s brother, tried to take revenge for his murder. Ian told me:
“My paternal great-grandmother was a Penfound. The unfortunate William’s likely brother, Roland, who I believe was injured in the attack, was pardoned for murdering one of the rival gang. His pardon coming as a consequence of good service during the 100 Years War in Aquitaine, Brittany and Calais.”
Ian also told me that after Roland’s death Simon de St Gennys was recorded as still owing him a debt of money, possibly compensation for his brother’s murder.
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