Old Kea History

Originally a Monastery  
A new church in 1802
Heating and lighting
The Font
The Kneelers
The Packer Window

There is a legend that, about the end of the fifth century, a young Irish monk watched with anguish as his brother monks sailed away from the southern shore of Ireland to preach the word of God to the heathen of England. Such was his distress at being left behind that he fell into a swoon while praying upon a hollow granite boulder and, on awakening, found to his amazement that his kneeling stone was floating. This it continued to do, day and night, through storm and tempest, until it finally drifted gently ashore on the bank of the river Fal at what is now known as Churchtown Creek. There he founded a monastery. His name was Kea.

History has a tendency to be more prosaic than legend. There was indeed a young monk named Kea, also known as Che, Lan-te-Ke, and Landegea, and he is one of the lesser known Cornish Saints. It is to him that this peaceful little church is dedicated. He was the son of noble parents and was admitted to the priesthood at an early age because of ability in the sciences, rising quickly to the dignity of Bishop. However, he gave up position, distributed his wealth to the poor, and took up the life of a hermit. While praying for guidance, he was told to seek for a bell with which he should travel until such time as it rang of its own accord. Obeying this instruction he was led to a bell-founder, Gildas, who made him a bell with which he travelled until he crossed an inlet from the sea and entered a forest. There the bell rang, and there he built a small chapel and cells for himself and his companions. There he stayed for some years until, after the settlement of a dispute with a certain Theodoric, he received money sufficient for him to enlarge the establishment to a full monastery. After this he went to Brittany, where he eventually died at Cleder on the first Saturday in October, about 495. A holy well dedicated to him is to be found there.

A monastery is known to have existed here, for one recorded in Domesday Book is thought to have been here in 500 A.D. St. Kea was probably one of several monks who came from Glastonbury to found centres of Christian worship in the West country. Among his companions would have been Fili and Rumon, and there is a theory that Fili was the founder of what is now known as Philleigh, on the opposite bank of the Fal. The names of Kea and Fili are also linked in other parts of the west of England. Kea may have been a descendant of Paternus (or Padarn) King of Cornwall, and there are references to links with King Arthur and some of his Knights. His Feast Day is the anniversary of his death, the Sunday after the first Saturday in October, and his help is sometimes invoked to cure toothache.

In early times the parish of St. Kea was of great importance and extent, for it originally covered the whole area from the Fal up to Chacewater and Scorrier, a total of 7000 acres. The chapelries of Kenwyn, Baidhu, and Chacewater were formed out of it. The Manor of Landeke (Landegea or Kea) was con­veyed in 1266 A.D. to Sir Stephen Haym, a priest who had been instituted to the churches of Landegea. At that time a substantial church existed here; it was known before Bishop Bronescombe's register of 1257 A.D., and its tithes, together with those of the chapelries of Kenwyn and Tregavethan, were appropriated by the Bishop of Exeter in 1270 A.D. to the collegiate church of Glasney. It is not sur­prising that a state of financial hardship has existed ever since. No accurate description of the church of that time seems to remain, but from the size and height of the ruined tower still standing it must have been a building of considerable size. The tower is of a later date than the church and was probably completed at the end of the 15th century, from when rough plans show the church to have had a nave, south aisle, and north transept. Some restoration work is known to have been done about 1500 A.D.

The church was at the extreme east end of the parish, involving a walk of 5 miles in each direction for some of the congregation. The inconvenience of this is evident from the records, for in 1531 King Henry VIII was petitioned by the parishioners and granted a license "to build and edify a new church in a more central position". A copy of this license may be seen in the parish church of All Hallows, St. Kea, near Killiow. Nothing came of it, however, partly because of the unsettled times then and later, and it was not until 1802 that advantage was taken of the King's license. By that time the church here at Old Kea was in such a dangerous state that it was no longer safe to hold any services, and a Mr. Gwatkin, of Killiow, gave 'a convenient piece of land' on which a new church was built.

This new church was erected on the site of the present All Hallows at Kea, but it by no means met with general approval. Contemporary descriptions were of 'a small and hideous church . . . erected to the design of James Wyatt' and 'a parallelogram in the most debased style of Architecture'. It also seems to have been an early example of jerry-building, for there were structural problems and it was pulled down and replaced by the present All Hallows in 1895.

When the first and more conveniently located church at All Hallows was built in 1802, the parishioners at Old Kea dismantled the church building here, selling some of the window tracery to Perranzabuloe where a new church was under construction. Some of the granite columns found their way into the new stables of the benevolent Mr. Gwatkin at Killiow; these were eventually returned to the church and in­corporated into the All Hallows rebuilding in 1895. The font, thougOld Kea Shetchht to date from about 1265, was taken to All Hallows, as were the pulpit, panels from a reading desk, and a granite stoup. Three bells were also moved to the new church, where they still hang and are in regular use as 5, 6, and 7. Lord Falmouth, owner of Tregothnan at the head of the Foal, was pleased that the tower could remain standing as it was a feature of the view from the park; since that time the Falmouth family has taken a continuing interest in the church, helping with repairs after damage by lightning at the end of the 19th century.

Some of the materials from the demolition were used to construct a parish poor-house on the site, and in 1853 a little mission church was built in the churchyard here, possibly on the site of, and in­corporating, the poor-house in which occasional services had been held. This is the nave of the present building, and the first service was held on 5th October 1858 for the Parish Feast of St. Kea. The church was built by William Clemens of Truro for the sum of £111-8-0, and among those contributing were William Daubuz and the Hon. Charlotte Hudson, each of whom gave £2-10-0 for a window; one on the north side of the chancel and one on the south. The building was also used for a time as a day and Sunday school. In 1862 a south aisle was added, and the church was re-opened in its present form on 1st January 1863. Most of the stained glass was installed during this last alteration.

Electric light and heating were put in in 1967, and in 1983, as the result of a generous bequest in the will of Miss D. Sidebotham, a regular worshipper here for many years, it was possible to have the roof re-slated, the interior redecorated, and the windows repaired and cleaned.

The font in the church dates from the 15th century and may have come from St. Petroc's church. It is set on a modern granite shaft which is housed into the mortice of half the base of Kea cross. This was a wayside cross dedicated to St. Kea and located at Higher Lanner, about one mile to the west of the church; it was brought here in 1862. A legend relating to this base tells that, in 1660, a Mr. Bawden of nearby Gooderne dreamed that he would find a crock of gold under this stone, which housed a cross in the mortice. It is said that he dug up the treasure and removed it, but that from that time on, all his sheep and cattle died unless they were marked with the sign of a cross and crossed keys.

There are several other legends about the church and its surroundings. A stone trough, used by the pigs at what is now probably Churchtown Farm was shown to one of the curates, a Mr. Livius, in about 1855 and was held to be the identical trough on which St. Kea was said to have travelled from Ireland. Whatever the truth of the story, Mr. Livius had the stone cleaned and taken to All Hallows; unfortunately it is not now traceable. The granite shaft which is set in a plinth outside the porch here was found among the foundations of the old church when this was demolished in 1802. It probably dates from the founding of the monastery on the site, and may even be pre-Christian; the significance of the markings on it has never been resolved. A few of the old tombstones remain in the churchyard, which has recently been made stock-proof and planted with some flowering shrubs.

At the present time the church is used for public worship on the first Sunday of each month, when Holy Communion is celebrated at 9.00 a.m.

The church is open at all other times for prayer and quiet devotion.

John Wroughton

May 1984

John was a member of Kea Church for about 30 years,
and regularly worshipped here.


The Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Cornwall — Charles G. Henderson
The History of the Hundred of Powder
The Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall
The Saints of Cornwall — Gilbert H. Doble
History of the Parish of St. Kea — compiled by Rev. G. Carew-Pole
Parochial History of Cornwall
A.L. Harding
R.C. Curtis
West Briton, Monday, 5th September 1966
et al.