Welcome to the Sennen "ONLINE PARISH CLERK" web page. This site is for everyone to enjoy as well to help genealogist, historians, and others with their family research. We aim to provide information on Sennen Parish, the most westerly in Britain. Records prior to 1699 no longer exist. Most of the population of Sennen were living elsewhere in the trouble times of the Civil War, and even before that they held to the safety of the inland towns and villages rather than to the cove settlements.
There was always the threat of sea-going piracy; of loosing farm stock, crops and liberty if villagers were taken by 'Turks' back to "high Barbary" as slaves. Raiding parties were often reported as far back as the 13th century, often when men were away at a burial in St Buryan. This was the mother church to both Sennen & St Levan and not under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Exeter, but of the King in what is termed a "Royal Peculiar". This resulted in the clergy almost abandoning its flock and leaving them without a full time priest. The ceremonies of baptism and marriage were often postponed for many months until a priest could visit, but a burial could only take place in the consecrated ground of St Buryan church. Even after it had its own burial ground Sennen church was sadly neglected so 'lost' ancestors might well be be found in the records of St Buryan !
We have endeavoured to provide a number of resources and have transcribed the parish records, where they exist, for the years 1699-1900, which you may browse at your leisure. There also also links to the images of the original entries but be warned these are not entered contiguously and in the early books baptisms, marriages, and burials were allotted sections in the same book and so end at slightly differing dates. You need a good pair of eyes to research these and frequent breaks in viewing! There are also some early Wills & Leases which might help with lost family members, albeit on a very sketchy basis. Helston and Merther parishes are mentioned in several of my Sennen family wills, where the alms left to the poor of another parish imply a previous close connection. Ludgvan and Mawgan in Meneage are two others similarly recorded.
We have also attempted to record something of their life and times. How they lived, worked, loved and died in a "parish" which covers an area greater than merely the village of Sennen Churchtown or the Cove. Those who lived here in the past tended to be multi-skilled: farmer, fishermen, with a touch of miner thrown in. At the end of the 18th century and into the 19th sheep and goats by the thousand could be found grazing the hilly, scrubby, gorse covered land. It would also have been evident that it was a hard, unforgiving existence and frequent crop failures meant smuggling was often resorted to in order to survive. By those to whom the practise was familiar it was referred to as 'Free trading', but it was also often a bloody and brutal business, sometimes leading to a hanging, or at best a reprieve with 'transportation for life', or years spent 'before the mast ' as a legal pirate with 'letters of marque'. These ships were licensed to take booty from any current enemies of England to fill the King's war chest. All this information can be found on the site and maybe it will give you an insight into just how your ancestors may have lived.
The Sennen parish borders St Buryan and St Just in Penwith and families tended to frequently stray over these borders. There is an OPC for the nearby parishes of St Just in Penwith & St Buryan, or you can take a quick 'geek' at the Cornwall Online Database for other nearby parishes to see if any relatives appear in the baptisms, marriages or burials. Not all parishes have complete records transcribed onto the database, and some do not have a current OPC but some volunteers also had genealogical websites and these records are still online for free.
The Cornwall OPC databases are at:
There are links to other searches of interest, and to the parish pages where you can find a contact email for the OPC. Other parishes close by are: St Levan, St Buryan, St Just in Penwith, Paul & Sancreed. The original OPC of St Just was Margaret Owen in Victoria Australia, sadly no longer with us. She was also Secretary of the Cornish Association of Victoria and Convener of the St. Just District Research Group. Margaret and her friend, Alison gathered records for many years. It costs nothing to join the group but there is a small charge for research and photocopying expenses. They put people, researching the same names in the same areas in touch with one another including all the parishes of West Penwith. You can now find their website at: http://www.cornishvic.org.au/
The first place to look for people missing from Sennen records would be St Buryan Parish, as this was a likely alternative choice for a marriage, especially if the bride lived in that parish. A priest could often be found to come as far as this church to perform the ceremony. To explain the problems with researching parishioners in these three farthest westerly parishes here is some ancient history:
Athelstan, King of the Saxons, after his conquest in 930 AD of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, built a great church in thanks to God and dedicated it to the saint who had first built an oratory on the site, St Beriana. Under the King's Charter it became one of the first monasteries in Britain, established before any parish, a much later phenomenon and only defined after the Reformation.
St Buryan Church, together with its daughter churches of Sennen & St Levan, formed the Royal Deanery of St. Buryan, As a 'Royal Peculiar' it fell directly under the jurisdiction of the British Monarch. He appointed the Dean, who was not answerable to the Bishop of Exeter, or under any supervision by him. There were endless disputes when the Bishop sent men to try and forcibly invoke his authority. These were always unsuccessful, even when the defenders were threatened with excommunication! Two known early incumbents were: 1297. William ---- -then a gap until 1410. William LOCHARD
There are NO early records for St Buryan, Sennen, or St Levan as possibly they were never kept or they succumbed to the vagaries and ravages of time. Holders of the almost 'honorary' Royal Office of Dean rarely visited the three parishes, leaving the daily affairs to Prebends, paid an allowance out of the tithes. In other situations the residents were left to the ministrations of minor clerks. Prebends disappeared altogether in 1547, when nearly all collegiate churches in England were then dissolved by the Act for the Dissolution of Collegiate Churches and Chantries, when Henry VIII became head of the Church of England. From then on we have a partial list of the incumbents responsible for the three churches jointly. After the Reformation, by order of Henry VIII, parishes had to keep records of all Baptisms, Marriages and Burials in a book for that purpose. This was usually kept safely in the 'Parish Chest', often under lock & key. Copies had to be sent to the Bishop at regular intervals but, as St Buryan was still a Royal Peculiar, independent of the Bishop, NO Bishop's transcripts were sent to Exeter.
This would have provided a back-up for the lost records, believed to have been destroyed by a unit of armed men in the Civil War under a Commander CEELEY from St Ives, a fierce supporter of the new Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell. The three parishes were probably singled out for attack as they were in the gift of the King. St Just managed to save their church from despoiling by hiding away the rood screen and other church furnishings in local barns & pig sties. The officers of the church also took an oath declaring their acceptance of the new administration under a Justice of the Peace, an office to which their own cleric was appointed, so saving their records and continuing through the period of unrest until the return of the monarchy and the church. There was no one to defend the churches of St Buryan, Sennen, or St Levan and much damage was done to the fabric of these churches at this time. They desecrated the interiors, destroying all 'graven images'. The broken remains of statues were later found, as was a smashed font. This, together with the years of abandonment during the interregnum, meant that the churches were left to the vagaries of the elements for many years.
The late 1700s saw an influx in population as other threats disappeared, yet the administration was sadly not much in evidence. The appointee to the living merely paid a curate to look after the three churches but, as there was no rectory to live in in the village, they were often ensconced in lodgings at the nearest town of Penzance. Even into the early1800's church services were only conducted on the major holy days of the year, or 'days of obligation'. These services were often only taken by elderly or visiting clerics. It' s little wonder that the entries made in the record of any baptisms, marriages or burials performed were at best inaccurate, where they occur at all!
1654 HULL Joseph
[mentioned in the records of the Quaker dissenter persecutions]
1722 TOUP Jonathan (curate)
1725 CLODE John
1737 CORKER Robert
1774-93 BEVAN James
1819 STANHOPE Fitzroy H.R. *
1831 HARVEY W. Woodis (curate)
1847-48 PRYNNE George Rundle
1864 WOOLCOMBE George Ley
1871 ROE Robert James
* H.R Fitzroy STANHOPE was the last of the pensioner Deans: a soldier wounded in the Napoleonic wars. He was awarded the living in 1818 as a 'top up' to his pension. He visited Sennen only once at his induction. The tradition ended with his death in 1863.
If your ancestors came from a parish in Cornwall then go to Genuki which has pages for all Cornish Parishes, as well as links to helpful websites and other records at: http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/Cornwall/indexpars.html#index
You will also find a Sennen Parish page at http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/Cornwall/Sennen/
This has links to other websites of Sennen interest, such as the census returns of 1841-1891, as done by the Cornwall Online Census Project. These can be searched by geographical location rather than by surname index; useful if the correct spelling of the name is variable and yet you know the approximate area where they lived. Transcribers often get the Cornish names wrong and the old handwriting in 'Copper Plate' is very hard to decipher. [The consonant capitals J & T are often confused, not to mention the three vowels -e- o -a- being substituted for one another very often]
If you need help researching your family and believe they came from, or had links to, Sennen Parish, or if you have any queries about any of the documents, or of the parish in general, please contact me:
To filter spam please replace <at> with @
Good Luck with your research,