Camborne - St John the Baptist

Trevu Road, Camborne, Cornwall

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Simple Gothic Revival church built in the 1850s for the Irish tin miners of the Camborne area. The church has been somewhat altered but nevertheless makes a positive contribution to the local conservation area.   

Large numbers of Irish immigrants arrived in the 1840s to work in the Cornish tin mines, particularly those around Camborne, belonging to Richard Pike, who was also a railway entrepreneur and a Quaker who later became a Catholic. At this time, the nearest Catholic church was about 15 miles away atPenzance, opened in 1843. In 1852 three priests came to Camborne and began a mission in a store just north of the railway station. A chapel was later fitted up in the loft over the coach house at Richard Pike’s property. However, this held only about 100 people, whereas the Catholic population of the town had risen by the 1850s to over 1000. In 1857 Charles Reynolds, a local barrister, offered part of his property, Camborne Vean (nowTrevu Road), and plans for a church were drawn up. An extract from an unidentified publication held at the church gives the architect as George William Freeman ofPlymouth, but the only George William Freeman known to the granite shipper of that name, who was a major benefactor about this time for the building of the new church atFalmouth. The architect for the latter was J.A. Hansom, and similarities with Hansom’s churches at Devonport (demolished) and Liskeard (1863, and also cheaply built to accommodate an influx of Irish miners) suggest that Hansom may also have had a hand in the design of the Camborne church. The foundation stone was laid by Bishop Vaughan on June 24 1858, and the Bishop returned to open the completed church on May 26 1859. In the same year a presbytery was built (later replaced), and a school soon followed inBassett Road. It was later moved to a new building adjoining the church (photo bottom right).

 

In 1882, during a time of depression in the tin mines, there were riots in the town directed against Irish labourers and property. This culminated in an attack on the church on April 16, with statues and windows being broken. The local magistrates later compensated the mission for the damage, and a new statue of Our Lady was bought, and is still in the church. 

The church is in Early English Gothic style, built of local stone with granite dressings under a slate roof. It consists of a nave, lower square ended chancel and a south aisle. The original entrance at the west end was via a door with a hoodmould in the south aisle, but that is now blocked and a wider entrance has been formed under a flat lintel at the west end of the nave (see photos top left and right). A carved Celtic cross has been attached to the wall over the entrance and above this are two narrow trefoil headed lancets with modern hardwood window frames, with a vesica with hoodmould in the gable. Paired lancets to the six bays of the north elevation of the nave, triple trefoil-headed lancet window at east end, short flat-headed paired trefoils to the aisle. The south aisle connects to the presbytery, which appears to be of mid-20th century date.

 

The interior is a simple space, with a nave of six bays under a collar rafter roof. The south arcade has chamfered granite piers rising up without capitals to chamfered arches. Plaster ceiling in the lean-to south aisle. The chancel arch is similarly detailed to the nave arcades, and crucifix hangs from the apex. Plastered ceiling to the chancel, with modern stone facing at the east end where the previous high altar ensemble has been removed. Early photographs show an elaborate high altar and stencil decoration around the chancel arch; all this has now gone, and the sanctuary has a bare and underused character. There is a modern granite forward altar in front of the chancel arch, with the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the south aisle. Statues of Our Lady andSt Josephon pedestals either side of the chancel arch. East window  with central Crucifixion flanked by St Elizabeth (?) to the left and the Baptism of Our Lord to the right, in memory of Elizabeth Pike (d.1871), wife of Richard. Another window, this time to John William Pike (d.1874), is in the easternmost bay of the nave, north side.  The designers/manufacturers of these windows have not been established.

 

The seating in the nave consists of simple pine pews, early or original to the church. Some seating has been removed from the south aisle. At the west end of the nave is a modern glass enclosed narthex, presumably contemporary with the formation of the western nave entrance. 

Diocese: Plymouth

Architect: Not established, possibly Joseph Hansom

Original Date: 1959

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not listed