I suspect there are very few people in Cornwall who haven’t passed St Enoder. It’s an ancient Cornish parish that dates back to the Bronze and Iron Age periods and, situated on one of the county’s main thoroughfares, continues to see plenty of traffic. Which is why St Enoder doesn’t really register for most of us any more. Carved up by the A30 dual carriageway that runs right through it, Indian Queens, Summercourt and Fraddon are all within its boundary but the once bustling village of St Enoder itself is now a tiny, historic hamlet nestled around its church.
Like most people, I probably wouldn’t have given the parish a second thought were it not for two things that attracted my interest. The first was the Indian Queens Pit that I had no idea existed until I visited and the second was family. It turns out that my hundreds of journeys up and down the bypass over the years have taken me through an area that was once the home of my ancestors. I’ve scurried past in my car, with barely a sideways glance, unaware of the strong genetic links that bind me to the people who once lived, laughed and ultimately died there. It’s an odd feeling – curiosity about their lives mingled with the sharp realisation that nothing is forever.
I knew about Gwennap Pit because it’s only a few miles from where I live and I went on a school trip to see a Shakespeare production there many years ago. The Indian Queens version was built as a replica by local preacher Captain Elvins of Retew in 1850. Originally intended to be a United Wesleyan Sunday school amphitheatre, it was used for a variety of religious and musical purposes until 1970 when it became overgrown and unused. In 1976, local man Lloyd Truscott took charge of its refurbishment and it’s now owned by a group of trustees who organise events there every year.
Tucked away at the back of a housing estate, it takes a bit of finding but is definitely worth the effort. Sheltered by trees and with tiered grass seating to ensure everyone gets a good view, it’s a perfect place to enjoy outdoor performances.
Leaving the Pit I decided on a whim to find St Enoder Church. Why? Because I’d recently discovered that my great-grandmother Bessie Brokenshire is buried in St Columb Minor. She died at 49 in 1913 after being widowed nineteen years earlier and having to bring up three young daughters on her own. Her husband, William, had been a sawyer – someone who sawed logs for a living. Sadly a bout of pneumonia when he was just 36 years old resulted in his death and, according to parish records, he’s buried at St Enoder but his grave is unmarked.
The Domesday Book describes a Manor of Aeglosenuder and it’s thought that the church, which is found down a leafy, attractive country lane a couple of miles from Indian Queens, was dedicated to St Enodorus or St Athenodorus – a third century Roman saint who was martyred in 272 AD. The foundations of the original Celtic chapel lie under the present day chancel. Over the centuries, the building evolved with the times – becoming more solid in appearance during the Norman era. Around it grew a community that somehow survived the hideous ravages of the bubonic plague which came to Cornwall in 1348 and, within twelve months, killed 20,000 people in the county, the Reformation which dramatically changed religious worship and finally an improvement in the main road from Summercourt to Mitchell that took trade away from the village and led ultimately to its becoming the small collection of pretty cottages and farms it is today.
According to the records, my great-grandfather was living in ‘Cottage, St Enoder’ when he died on 20 June 1894. I have no idea whether he was a religious man but it’s certainly likely that he would have been in the church and walked the paths that surround it.
I know nothing else about him but my life is inextricably linked to his. Standing in the graveyard, looking out over countryside that is now fields but was once wooded slopes and shallow lakes, I felt not only strangely close to him but also to a heritage that stretches back through time and is fundamental to who I am.
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