Gunwalloe: a church by the sea

In Gunwalloe on the Lizard the parish church is unusually close to the beach. The proximity of the sea hints at an overseas origin for the church’s patron, St Winwaloe. And so it was. Winwaloe was supposed to have been born in Brittany, where he founded the important abbey of Landevennec opposite Brest.

The church in the early 1900s – these days the cattle have been replaced by beachgoers
St Winwaloe: turned to stone by the side-effects of his lifestyle

According to hagiographers Winwaloe began to perform his requisite miracles at a precociously early age, restoring his sister’s sight after an angry goose had pecked out her eye, which puts the rapacious seagulls of modern coastal resorts in perspective. In the style of the times the holier the man the more extreme his asceticism. Winwaloe’s clothes were made out of goat skin, while underneath he wore a hair shirt which he never took off. His diet consisted only of coarse barley bread washed down by some boiled herbs. The bread was mixed with ashes, with a double dose of the latter during Lent. His bed was made from tree bark or sand while a stone served as a handy pillow. Between lengthy spells of praying, always kneeling and never sitting, Winwaloe cured the lame and the sick, the deaf and the blind.

Unfortunately, the saint was no longer around by the time the children from Gunwalloe in the Victorian Lives database were born. Of the four, two died in their teens in the early 1860s, a reminder of the continuing toll of high child mortality in this period. The other two survived but remained in west Cornwall.

Mary Jane Michell’s early years are a little obscure but at a young age she married a Gunwalloe man – William Pollard. William and Mary had already left the coast by 1871 and gone to Troon, near Camborne. There William was at first a miner, then a railway labourer and finally in 1891 a greengrocer.

Eleanor Hill was the daughter of a farmer at Gunwalloe. She also married at a young age before she was 21. Her husband was John Bray, a carpenter from the next-door parish of Mawgan in Meneage. John and Eleanor settled down in his home parish and did not move again until the 1900s when they, together with three unmarried adult children still living with them, made the short trip back to Gunwalloe.