In the year 1697, during a great storm, the sea rushed over the church-yard wall, destroyed a great part of the church roof, together with the large window over the altar. The encroachment of the sea over this part of the town has evidently been very great. Mr. Hicks, our St. Ives historian, says

“When I was about fifteen years of age I enquired of an old man why the church should have been built so near the water, who informed me that it was not always so, as he remembered when grass grew between the church-yard wall and Court Cockyn Rock, and sheep did graze upon it. An old woman also informed him that she well remembered a great hurricane of the sea which happened at the beginning of the reign of King James I, when a considerable portion of St. Ives was overwhelmed with sea and sand.”

Over a period of more than 200 years we find entries relating to the maintenance and repair by the Corporation of the chapel near the Castle and the chapel on the Island. The former is said to have been dedicated to St. Leonard, and the latter to St. Nicholas. Both buildings are undoubtedly of very great antiquity. Carew, writing in the time of Queen Elizabeth, says:—

“On the Island or Peninsula north of St. Ives standeth the ruins of an old Chapel wherein God was duly worshipped by our Ancestors, the Britons, before the Church of St. Ives was erected or Endowed.”

When this ancient building passed out of the possession of the Corporation is not known, but it now belongs to the Admiralty. In St. Leonard’s Chapel on the Quay prayers were formerly read to the fishermen before they went to sea by a friar who was stationed in it for that purpose, and the fishermen are said to have repaid him for his services with a part of their fish when they returned from sea. During the building of Smeaton’s Pier this ancient sanctuary was used as a blacksmith’s shop, and it has since then been used by the fishermen as a shelter in stormy weather. There was another ancient chapel formerly at Higher Tregenna.

Even in the present day the belief in witchcraft has not entirely died out, and in 1635 this belief was evidently in full force in St. Ives:—

“Paid Matthew Jennings to carry Grace the wife of Gerance Bettie to Launceston gaol being accused for a witch £1 14/-

“Paid John Noall for horse hire and Matthew Jennings to convey Grace Bettie to Launceston 16/-

“Paid John Treweeke for a lock for the Stocks 1/4.
“For whipping Mary Renowden 1/-
“John Cogar and Thomas Try for their work about the Prison, 3/-
“For the Cuckingstool 5/-

“Spent for carrying the Cuckingstool down and for setting it up 1/-

“Given Francis Brown by consent who brought a pass, but afterwards his name appeared to be Jackson 1/-

“Paid the Cryer to whip him and for thongs 1/-

“Paid for whipping of William Nance, his wife and another woman then whipte with her 2/6.

“Paid for whipping a theefe 6d.

“Paid Leggo for mending the stocks and for ironworks broken off by Elizabeth Richards 3/-”

The foregoing references to the prison, the stocks, and the whipping-post would incline us to believe that our ancestors were harsh and cruel men, but they were probably no worse than the age in which they lived, while on the other hand they never lost an opportunity to assist those who were in distress:—

“Paid a distressed man taken by the French Pyrate 10/-

“Paid for carrying a poor woman and her child to Truroe 4/-

“Paid to several poor distressed Frenchmen 14/-

“Given a poor Seaman being taken prisoner by the Spaniards 1/-

“Paid Hugh Harris for dyett of a Frenchman which came out of Slavery 1/6.”

This man was probably rescued or ransomed from the Algerines.

There are many other entries of a similar kind. In fact, in the whole of our old records the entries relating to acts of charity are far more numerous than any other. The references to matters of general historical interest are also numerous:—

“Paid for a barrel of beer the 9th June 1666 for joy of a victory over the Dutch 13/-”

This was the great naval battle between the English fleet under the Duke of Albemarle and Prince Rupert, and the Dutch under Admiral De Ruynter, fought for three days in the English Channel, when a fog separated the ships, and the victory was as much on one side as the other.

“Paid Mr. Hammond for beer to the Ringers and Gunners when peace was proclaimed 12/-”

Peace was signed with the Dutch July 10th, 1667.

On the eastern side of the Island, overlooking Porthgwidden Cove, there is an ancient building formerly known as the “Briton’s Hut.” It was built for the Breton fishermen, who frequented St. Ives in large numbers down to about 150 years ago, and seems to have been used as a residence as well as for a store for their gear. Tradition says that much ill-will existed between these Breton Catholics and the refugee Hugenots. At the time this “hut” was used by the Bretons Porthgwidden Cove was the principal landing place for the St Ives fishing boats. It is said that St. Ives owes the introduction of the drift mackerel fishery to the Breton fishermen, and I have been told that the first knowledge our fishermen obtained of this fishery was the finding on Porthgwiddon Beach of a number of the Frenchmen’s nets with mackerel meshed therein.

In the year 1716 public spirit in St. Ives seems to have reached a low ebb, and I fancy the little community became very poor. The custom of entering the accounts in the town book was discontinued, and was not revived until half a century later, when Mr. John Knill became Mayor in 1767. Mr. Knill entered the accounts in his own handwriting with great neatness and regularity, but no subsequent Mayor followed his example, so that for nearly a century we have very little information concerning the history of our town, and many curious and interesting facts relating to that period have, without doubt, been lost to us.

With regard to Mr. Knill, I fear it has been too much the fashion to look upon him as merely the eccentric founder of certain somewhat ridiculous ceremonies, with the particulars of which you are all of course well acquainted, but Mr. Knill was in reality a very remarkable man, of vigorous intellect and cultivated taste, and during his life in London was a warm patron of art, music, and literature. He was for some time Secretary to the Earl of Buckinghamshire when that nobleman was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and had previously been sent by the Government on an important political mission to Jamaica. After leaving St. Ives he was called to the Bar, and became a Bencher of Gray’s Inn, filling the office of Treasurer in 1806, five years before his death. His life in St. Ives, where he was Collector of Customs extended over a period of 20 years, from 1762 to 1782. He was Mayor of the Borough in 1767, and it was mainly owing to his efforts that Smeaton’s Pier was built, an immense stride in advance for the little town at that time. His fondness for adventure led him to equip vessels to act as privateers on the outbreak of the war with France and America, and he afterwards engaged in a search for a valuable deposit of treasure supposed to have been left near the Lizard by the notorious pirate “Avery.” In 1781 Mr. Knill commanded a corps of volunteers in St. Ives, and in the following year he resigned his office of Collector and removed to London. The fullest statement with reference to his motive in making his singular bequests and erecting the mausoleum near St. Ives occurs in his will of 1809. He begins by referring to the motive of vanity which would probably be charged against him, and then proceeds:—

“During a residence of upwards of 20 years at St. Ives, where I was Collector of Customs, and served all offices within the Borough from Constable to Mayor, it was my unremitting endeavour to render all possible service to the town in general, and to every individual inhabitant and I was so fortunate as to succeed in almost every endeavour I used for that purpose, particularly in respect to the building of their wall and pier, and in some other beneficial undertakings, and it was my wish to have further served the place by effecting other public works which I proposed, and which will I dare say, in time be carried into execution.

“It is natural to love those whom you have had opportunities of serving, and 1 confess I have a real affection for St. Ives and its inhabitants, in whose memory I have an ardent desire to continue a little longer than the usual time those do who have no ostensib[l]e memorial.”

These eloquent words, expressing, as they do, the deepest affection for St. Ives and its people, as well as an earnest desire to be remembered by them for the good he had endeavoured to do should, I think, awaken a kindly response in the minds of all who have a similar affection for the “Borough of belov’d St. Ives.”

There is no reference to Wesley in our records, owing to the custom of entering the accounts in the town book being discontinued for nearly a century, with the single exception of 1767, when John Knill was Mayor. Otherwise I feel certain we should find many entries relating to the disturbances and tumults raised against the Methodists. Mr. Wesley frequently visited St. Ives during the twenty years of Mr. Knill’s residence here, so that the two men must have been well known to each other. Although Mr. Knill, as a rigid churchman, would have no sympathy with the Methodists, as a man of broad and e[n]lightened views, and being of a kindly disposition, he probably felt no bitterness against them.

It is chiefly from his own journals that I have been able to gather the following particulars about John Wesley at St. Ives.

It was at St. Ives that the Methodist Society was first started. Charles Wesley preceded his brother into Cornwall, and received the bitterest opposition from the St. Ives fishermen and miners, who attacked the meeting-house, pulled up the seats, and smashed the windows; they swore that Charles Wesley should not preach again, but meek and gentle though he was, he continued to preach, often in expectation of a martyr’s crown, and so prepared the way for his more famous brother.

John Wesley first came to St. Ives on the 30th August, 1743, when the Society numbered about 120. “As we were going to church at eleven,” says Mr. Wesley, “a large company at the market place welcomed us with a loud huzza; they had previously come under my windows singing a harmless ditty to the words:—

“Charles Wesley is come to town
To try if he can pull the churches down.”

“I had a great desire to go to the Isles of Scilly, and three of our brethren came and offered to carry me thither if I could procure the Mayor’s boat, which, they said, was the best sailer of any in the town. The Mayor lent the boat immediately, and next morning, September 13th, 1743, John Nelson, Mr. Shepherd and I, with three men and a pilot, sailed from St. Ives.”

A few days afterwards they returned to St. Ives in the same boat, and on the 16th September, when Mr. Wesley was preaching, the mob burst into the room and created such a disturbance that Mr. Wesley went into their midst and brought the leader up to the desk. “I received,” says Wesley, “but one blow on the side of the head,” after which we reasoned the case, when he became milder and at length undertook to quiet his companions.

On the 19th of September there were threats of a general assault, but one of the Aldermen came at the request of the Mayor and stayed during the service.

Wesley’s second visit to St. Ives was on the 3rd April, 1744, when, as usual, he put up with his friend, John Nance, who resided in the house recently pulled down at the top of Street-an-Garrow. On going out they were saluted as usual with a huzza and a few stones.

“I took,” says Mr. Wesley, “a view of the ruins of a house which the mob had pulled down, a little before for joy that Admiral Matthews had beat the Spaniards.” Such is the Cornish method of thanksgiving. On this occasion the Methodists encountered much persecution. On the Public Fast day the church was well filled, and Mr. Hoblin, the Vicar, vehemently disclaimed against the new sect as enemies of the Church, Jacobites, Papists and what not. This sermon had such an effect that next day, as James Wheatley, one of Wesley’s companions, was walking through the town he was assailed with a shower of stones. He stepped into a house, but the master of it followed him like a lion to drag him out, yet after a few words his mind was changed and he swore nobody should hurt him. Meantime one went for a Justice of the Peace, who came and promised to see him safe home. The mob followed hallooing and shouting. Near John Paynter’s house the Justice left him, and they quickly beset the house, but a messenger came from the Mayor forbidding any to touch Mr. Wheatley at his peril. He then went home, but between seven and eight the mob came and beset John Nance’s house. John Nance and John Paynter went out and stood before the door, though they were quickly covered with dirt. The cry was “Bring out the preacher! pull down the house!!” and they began to pull down the boards which were nailed against the windows, but the Mayor hearing it, came without delay and read the proclamation against riots, upon which, with many oaths and imprecations, they thought proper to disperse. The principal accusation against Wesley was that he brought the Pretender secretly to St. Ives the previous autumn under an assumed name.

In September, 1744, one of Wesley’s co-evangelists, Henry Milward, wrote to him from Cornwall informing him in that county “The devil rages horribly.”

“Even at St. Ives we cannot shut the doors of John Nance’s house to meet the Society but the mob immediately threaten to break them open.” He also complains that Dr. Borlase, the famous Cornish historian and antiquary, had committed his companion, Mr. Westall, to Bodmin gaol as a vagrant, but he was soon set at liberty.

John Wesley was at St. Ives for the third time in 1745, and again suffered much persecution, but five years later, on his fifth visit, he writes—

“We came to St. Ives before morning prayers, and walked to church without so much as one huzza. How strangely has the scene in Cornwall changed; this is now a peaceable, nay, honourable station.”

Next day we spoke to those who had votes at the ensuing election, and prevailed upon them to accept no bribes.

Five guineas had been given to one man, but he returned them immediately. Another positively refused to accept anything, and when he heard his mother had received money privately he could not rest until she gave him the three guineas, which he instantly sent back.

On August 19th, 1750, Wesley visited St. Ives for the sixth time, held a quarterly meeting and the first watch night service that had ever been held in Cornwall.

Having first sent to the Mayor, he says, to see if it would be offensive to him, I preached in the evening not far from the Market-place; there was a vast concourse of people, very few of the adult inhabitants of the town being wanting.

On his eighth visit, in 1753, Wesley says of the Society:— “I found an accursed thing among them — well nigh one and all bought or sold un-customed goods, i.e. goods which had been smuggled. I told them plain either they must put this abomination away or they would see my face no more; they promised to do so, and I trust the plague is stayed.”

John Wesley visited St. Ives for the eleventh time in 1760, and preached in a field to an immense congregation. he says:— “The clear sky, the setting sun, the smooth still water, all agreed with the state of the audience.”

On his sixteenth visit, in 1770, he writes:— “Here God has made all our enemies to be at Peace with us, so that I might have preached in any part of the town.”

Charles Wesley, who paid another visit to Cornwall, speaking of St. Ives, said “The whole place is utterly changed, I walk the streets scarce believing it is St. Ives.”

In 1775 John Wesley again came to St. Ives, and preached in a little meadow above the town. He writes that the people in general here, excepting the rich, seem almost persuaded to be Christians.

Concerning his twenty-fifth visit, in 1785, Wesley writes:— “In the evening I preached in the Market-place at St. Ives to almost the whole town. This was the first place in Cornwall where we preached, and where satan fought fiercely for his kingdom, but now all is peace. I found old John Nance had rested from his labours. Some months since, sitting behind the preacher in the pulpit, he sunk down, was carried out, and fell asleep.”

For the twenty-seventh and last time, on August 25th, 1789, or 46 years after his first visit, Wesley came to St. Ives and preached as usual on one side of the Market-place. Well nigh all the town attended and with all possible seriousness “Surely,” he says, “forty years’ labour has not been in vain here.”

fanciful sketch incorporating fishing boats and gulls

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