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St. Columb Major


(From Arthur Mee's Cornwall)

 Postcard of the Church

ST COLUMB MAJOR. It is the sleeping-place of the Cornwall Arundells, brought here from their great house of Lanherne for their last rest. It is the scene every Shrove Tuesday of the ancient game of hurling, played with a silver ball.

 Nine Maidens standing stones

Among its ancient stones are the Nine Maidens in a row, girls turned to stone for dancing on Sunday if legend is true, put 'up for the study of the sun 3000 years ago if Sir Norman Lockyer's theory is true.



A little town it is that has all this interest, yet it has a l5th-century embattled house on a hill, a l7th-century bishop's house, a medieval rectory, and a noble church rising in a lovely setting from a velvet lawn. Its splendid tower is 600 years old and 90 feet high, and it is curious for having three open niches, an unusual sight at the west end, where it leads us in.


The two porches have rooms over them, and the south porch has ballflowers in the hollow of the mouldings, carved 600 years ago. The nave arcades are l4th century when the font was carved with one pleasant face and four grotesques. The charming canopied piscina in the lady chapel has a rose carved in the drain. There is a fine array of 36 medieval bench-ends, carved with quaint animals, birds, flowers, faces, chalices, and symbols of the Passion, and there are 50 angels and 90 bosses in the nave and chancel roofs.


Among the modern woodwork is the pulpit with four saints under canopies, a lofty chancel screen, and linenfold panelling. The peace memorial is a corner canopy of oak under which a light for ever burns, hidden by a vase of wooden poppies but shining on the names that live for evermore.


John Arundell of 1545

The proud possession of the church is its Arundell brasses. Sir John Arundell of 1545, is in armour, with his two wives and three children. Sir John of 1590 is wearing a ruff, his wife in a draped gown with a flowing headdress, and their two sons are in short cloaks and knee breeches, their five daughters being in hooped skirts. One of the two sons in cloaks is the third Sir John of 1633; shown in another brass with his wife and charming little groups of their four boys and seven girls, two girls looking like little bridesmaids.



Medieval coffin-stone lids.

There is a lovely bronze plaque of the Madonna and Child with cherubs about them, and we see them with more cherubs and a company of angels in one of the windows. One fine window has our four patron saints with a scene below each, and the east window has a lovely blending of rainbow colours in a host of Bible saints and Our Lord in Glory. The old altar with its five crosses is back in the chancel, and in the tower is an ancient coffin-stone.




Mad Tom

Mad Tom alias Sir William Courtenay

HERE at St Columb was born one of the astounding characters of last century, John Nichols Tom, whose imposture was attended by terrible consequences. Son of an innkeeper farmer who gave him a good education and put him into a lawyer's once, he married a wealthy wife, leaving her and a prosperous business three years later, to appear in Canterbury in 1832, dressed sometimes as an Italian, sometimes as an Oriental, and calling himself Sir William Courtenay, heir to the Devon earldom.

He assumed a succession of titles ; he was a Rothschild, a Kentish chieftain, and King of Jerusalem in turn; and he so impressed the neighbourhood that he was twice supported when standing for Parliament. When he appeared at Rochester Assizes, however, wearing a gold chain round his neck, and swore that men arrested for smuggling were innocent, he was sent to Barming Heath Asylum.


 Security having been given for his good behaviour, he was released after four years, and settled near Boughton, where he gained an astonishing ascendancy o'ver farmers and labourers, declaring

himself able to grant the poor estates and good living, to abolish oppressive laws, and to lead his friends to power. He marched with 100 followers, declared himself the Messiah, professed to work miracles, and announced that he and his disciples were invincible and could never die. Riding a white horse, he led the way through the countryside, enticing labourers from their work, an act which brought the police on him. He shot one constable as well as the parson of Hernehill, then retreated with his force to Bossenden Wood in readiness for soldiers summoned from Canterbury.

 As they approached, Tom left his hiding-place, shouting loudly to hearten his companions. Meeting Lieutenant Bennett at the head of the military he shot him, and was himself instantly shot dead by a soldier. A charge followed, in which eleven rioters were killed.

 Of those captured some were transported and some imprisoned. Tom was buried at Hernehill, where his grave was guarded so that his friends should not be able to announce that he had risen again on the third day.

Street Map C.18oo

Street Map C.1900

Detailed map of area

Explorer Map 0106: Newquay & Padstow

 More pictures

Phils home page

St. Columb Old Cornwall Society

St. Columb Church Website

St. Columb Family forum