A HISTORY OF ST PHILLEIGH
THE AGE OF SAINTS
The original name of our saint occurs in a 10th century list of Cornish parochial saints and is spelt FILI but it had taken many forms subsequently. Fili is commemorated in two Devon parishes as well - Filleigh, and Buckland Philleigh. The saints of our neighbouring parishes, St. Rumon of Ruan, and St. Kea of Kea with St. Fili, are all recorded that way at Glastonbury. They are thought to have originated from Ireland, which was a seat of learning in the 6th and 7th centuries, sending missionaries to Wales and continental Europe as well as Britain. St. Fili is remembered in Wales, too, at Caerphilly.
Canon Doble, in his book "Saints of the Fal", tells us that Fili was one of three monks from Glastonbury, the others being Rumon and Kea, who appear to have set out on a joint mission to evangelise Dumnonia, home of the pagans of the wild country we now know as North Devon and Cornwall. The date of this mission cannot be given with any certainty, but probably around 600 A.D.
Clearly these three friends worked together as a team, with their headquarters near the Taw/Torridge estuary, giving them excellent communications by river or sea, to organise a campaign to outwit and convert the marauding Saxons then over-running the country. Then, as now, religion and politics were too often inseparable. Today the three parishes of Philleigh, Kea and Ruan Lanihorne bear witness to the success of their work.
The easiest way to travel in those days was by water when and whenever possible, so after leaving Glastonbury, Fili, Rumon and Kea would eventually have come down the Fal and perhaps landed at what we now call the bottom of Philleigh Way. It thus would have led them up the hill to the place our saint decided to settle, where our church now stands.
SAXON AND PRE-NORMAN TIMES
Egbert, King of Wessex in A.D. 802 brought the rest of England under his overlordship by the year 829, and much of the land he conquered he gave to the church. By the year 935 King Athelstan had all Cornwall under English rule, and a year later he set up a Cornish bishopric at St. Germans. It was later moved to Crediton, and eventually to Exeter. Before 1066 Tregear, in Gerrans, was the capital of an important episcopal fief which included the parishes of St. Just, St. Anthony, Gerrans, and also Philleigh with the exception of the fee of Eglos Ros. The parish of Gerrans remained a "bishop's peculiar" until 1826. By then most of the land had been sold off to form farms of various sizes. The tithe map of 1840 shows parts of Treworlas still owned by the Bishop of Exeter.
Philleigh was a quiet backwater in both church and state affairs, receiving only a brief reference in the Domesday Book of 1086. This reads:
"The Count of Mortaigne has one manor which is called Eglossos which Earl Harold held on the day when King Edward was alive and dead, whereon is one virgate of land and it paid geld for one ferling. Two teams can plough this. Torstin holds this of the Count and he has thereof in demesne one furling, and the villeins have the remaining land and half a plough. There Torstin has three bordars and three serfs and twenty acres of pasture. This is worth ten shillings, and when he, the Count, received it it was worth the same amount."
Throughout Norman and medieval times Philleigh was probably known to few people except merchants driving their pack horses laden with goods along the ancient ridgeway from Exeter westward. After passing through Philleigh their road rose up to Carlannick before beginning the steep drop down to the place still known then and until the 16th century, as Kybyllys Passage, after which it became King Harry Passage.
The Church of St. Filius
The church is situated in the centre of the manor of Eglos Ros, mentioned in Domesday, and the land immediately surrounding it represented its endowment in earliest times. Records start at only about 1300 but what few there are of that time are very difficult to decipher even by experts.
Philleigh's early registers have all been lost, and there are no churchwardens' accounts or other parish records available. It seems that in the upheaval of restoring the ruinous building the church had become by the mid-1850s, insufficient care was taken to preserve items of historical interest.
Very little is left of the earliest church, which would have been cruciform in shape. The north transept, now used as a vestry, was part of the medieval church with the east and west windows surviving from that time. This was originally the Arundel or Tolverne aisle. It is now sometimes called the Falmouth aisle. Before the 1869 restorations the Arundel arms were displayed in one of the chancel windows. In fact the Arundels held the advowson at that time. The present building is a typical 15th century Cornish church of those days, which may seem very large for a small community, but 400 years ago the farms had numerous labourers, all attending on Sundays.
What we now see is the result of the Victorian restorations, which had become an urgent necessity. We learn from the rural dean's reports in 1807, 1809 and 1813 that the tower was then in danger of falling down, but still nothing was done, even when another report expressed a fear that the bells might fall on the congregation in the back of the nave. Not until 1867 was the work comprehensively tackled, at the same time as the neighbouring church of St. Just in Roseland.
It is a pleasing church, but has few features of major interest. The King Charles' letter, from Sudeley Castle in 1643, and the royal arms of 1645 screen the entrance to the tower. Only 44 Cornish parishes still have their King Charles' letter, many having been thrown out during the Victorian restorations.
Of the few memorials there are, the only one of real interest inside is hidden away behind the screen in the vestry. In rather complex Latin it records the lonely and somewhat sanctimonious life of a young bachelor, Henry Thomas Toll, of Penair, St. Keverne, born on 13th December 1656 and dying 8th December 1686. It is a mystery why this memorial is here, in Philleigh, but remember that by water it is not so far from his home, and he may have died here while on a visit to relations, for the name Polkinghorne is found in both parishes, and they married with Toll ladies.
The Bedford family provided many parish priests during the 17th century in the Roseland and further afield. Three members of this family served this parish, and a memorial to them is on the north wall of the chancel. Their vault is in the churchyard, enclosed by railings, on the north side of the church. Later in this booklet you can read more about this Bedford Dynasty. Other memorials worth mentioning are, first, to Robert Michael Noel-Usticke, 1934, and also to James Tremaine, 1878, both of Polsue.
Outside, in the churchyard, two interesting 17th-century tombs are left of the path on leaving the porch:
"Here lies the body of John Scoble, of this parish, yeoman.
Departed this life in the fear of God the tenth day of June
anno domini 1660.
Ninety-four years with conscience and with care
I lived on earth serving my heavenly master,
The talent which you lent I did not spare
Yet so improved it that I proved no waster
His poor I clothed and did provide enough
God blessing for mine own besides;
Thus may you briefly censure my condition
When God, by death did cancel my commission".
The Scobles were living at Tolverne in the mid-17th century.
Nearby is another old and sadly worn memorial to Walter Penhallo, who lived in the place of that name in the village; his family had a very long association with Philleigh, providing not only yeomen farmers but also parish priests to serve the community. They were entitled from earliest times to bear arms, although no record of them doing so in battle has been found. So it seems appropriate that the device on their shield is "a cony couchant on a field vert".
Towards the lych-gate there is a memorial for which we have so far sought in vain for its history. It reads, simply:
of this parish, died at Trevissome Farm in the parish of Mylor, June 11th 1870, aged 22.
This stone was erected by the young men of Mylor and St. Gluvias as a token of respect."
The only information we can add is that the Juliffe family were agricultural labourers at Treworthal, Ardevora and Court Farms in Philleigh at that time. There must surely be a poignant story about this young man of Philleigh that should not be forgotten, but we have been unable to discover what it is.
All of the monumental inscriptions on the graves in Philleigh churchyard up to 1978 have been fully recorded and indexed, and are deposited in the Library of Cornwall Family History Society at 5 Victoria Square, Truro, where they are available for public study.
© 2020 United Benefice of St Gerrans with St Anthony in Roseland and St Philleigh.