Parish History

The  Saint, Patern (or Padern) has had several candidates, which has become  mixed and confused over the ages. It is believed that the actual St. Patern to  which the Parish’s of North and South Petherwin are dedicated to, was actually  the father of St. Constantine, a Cornish King who gave up his throne to become a  monk. St. Patern and St. Constantine have thus always been indelibly linked,  with dedications always being near one another (a Celtic practice when Saints  are related or work together). St. Constantine Church at Milton Abbot being  the case in point for South Petherwin. With the assumption that  Dunheved (Now known as Launceston) was the seat of  the Celtic Kings of the area and that when Constantine became a monk he gave his  territory to the Celtic Church, the Parish, along with North Petherwin and  Lawhitton (Landwithan), would have been administered by the Celtic Bishop  of St. Germans Monastery.

The Saxons
With the  Saxon invasion, the new Saxon King created a new diocese in the South West based  at Sherbourne. The lands which were controlled by the Celtic Bishop, were  conceded to the new Bishop’s control, to finance his work in Cornwall. It is with the Saxons that both Petherwin’s began to dominate the region, with the river Kensey being the natural divide. North Petherwin in the North with the new monastery of St. Stephens (a Saxon minister being appointed to quell the Celts), and South Petherwin to the south of the Kensey. The Saxons allowed the decline of Dunheved as a means to crush the Celtic will. The Diocese moved first to Crediton from Sherbourne, then on to Exeter.
The next radical change came with the Normans who saught to suppress the Saxon’s control. First St. Stephen’s was reduced as a minister with the priory being moved across the Kensey to Newport. Then the ruined ancient fort of Dunheved was rebuilt as a Castle and walled town (below).

Launceston Castle in its heyday
South Petherwin then became the mother Church for Launceston for a short period, and it is for the Church’s importance in providing a valuable source of income to the church as a whole, that accounts for the size of the Church when it was rebuilt in the fifteenth century.

St. Paternus Church, South Petherwin

Its significance is also shown by the existence of five roads which all congregate at the Church. (Three still exist as normal tarmac roads; one is a footpath leading across fields from Tregadillet, with a fifth road from Trecrogo, which is now sadly blocked off.) The estate was much larger than the present Parish and also included Trewen, hence the Medieval association between St. Michaels Church, Trewen and St. Paternus Church, South Petherwin (A link now ended with the consolidation of Parochial charges)
The parish register was commenced on June 16th, 1656, before Colonel Bennett of Hexworthy, ‘Robert Cowling chosen by the householders of this parish of South Petherwin to be their parish Register was approved and sworn,’ and on the same day the first entry of burial occurs, the first baptism being on August 5th, and the first marriage on October 4th.

South Petherwin Parish satellite map 2016
South Petherwin Parish satellite map 2016

St. Paternus Church

The present church was built in the mid-15th to early 16th centuries from Polyfant stone and granite. Parts of a 12th century Norman church with aisle were incorporated into the fabric. Extensive restoration at the end of the 19th century revealed part of the foundations of the earlier church.

The Tower contains a fine peal of six bells, Prior to 1897 there were only five, but in that year a treble bell was added, the forth bell recast and the whole peal of six tuned by Mears and Stainback, Whitechapel Foundry, London in the key of F. The new peal was dedicated by the ven H.H DuBoulay, Archdeacon of Bodmin, on December 22nd 1897. In 1960 the bells were rehung on roller bearings by Mears and Stainback. The wheel of no three bell was damaged in 1975 and was repaired by the Captain of the Tower, Mr. W. J. Aunger and Messrs J. Atkinson and M. J. Aunger. More

Earlier Settlements

At Trecrogo (Trecugar or Cugar), a small hamlet about a mile and half from the main village, there lies the remains of a bronze age enclosure. This quadruple ditched enclosure known as the ‘Trecrogo Target,’ is unique in Cornwall. It lies in close proximity to two Bronze Age round barrows and is likely to be a contemporary ceremonial monument. The ‘Target’ is only visible from the air.

Trecrogo Bronze age mound from the air

Trecrogo Bronze age mound from the air. Photo © Cornwall County Council Historic Environment Service