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The Parish

South Petherwin Parish lies 2 miles to the south west of Launceston in the county of Cornwall. Along with the hamlets of Daws House, Trebursye, Tregaller and Trecrogo it covers an area of 2,054 hectares. The majority of the area is given over to agriculture, although part of the Parish covers Launceston’s Pennygillam Industrial Estate.

It is bounded on the north by St Thomas-by-Launceston and St Mary  Magdalene, Launceston, on the east by Launceston, Lawhitton and Lezant, on the south by Lezant and Lewannick, and on the west by Trewen and St Thomas-by-Launceston.

Slate quarrying was an important industry in the 19th century. A significant part of the area is considered an ‘Area of Great Landscape Value’ and the Parish contains some ‘Cornwall Nature Conservation Sites’ as well as having a ‘Regionally Important Geographical/Geomorphological Site’. The Parish also includes 41 listed buildings and 3 scheduled monuments.


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.

St Patern

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.

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

Saxons & Normans

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 sought 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.

The Church

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.

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.

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