Church of St John the Baptist and boundary walls to the churchyard, cemetery and former rectory


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
Church Road, Pendeen, Cornwall, TR19 7SF


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Statutory Address:
Church Road, Pendeen, Cornwall, TR19 7SF

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Cornwall (Unitary Authority)
St. Just
National Grid Reference:


Church of St John the Baptist, 1849-1852, by Reverend Robert Aitken assisted by William Hocking; and boundary walls to churchyard, cemetery and former rectory, 1852 and later.

Reasons for Designation

The Church of St John the Baptist, Pendeen, designed by Rev Robert Aitken and opened in 1852, and boundary walls to the churchyard, cemetery and former rectory, are listed at Grade II, for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* as a C19 reflection of the Christian faith in its cruciform plan, slim lancet windows and soaring internal height; * for the unusual castellated boundary walls, which are distinctive in this remote location; * Materials: for the use of local granite from the adjacent Carn Earnes quarries, and of locally-sourced timber and slate; * Fixtures and fittings: the collection of Flemish and German glass roundels, some of which date to the C16, donated by the Reverend Robert Aitken; * the simple but well-made furnishings and fittings by local craftsmen.

Historic interest:

* the foundation and design of the church by its first incumbent priest, Reverend Robert Aitken, himself a renowned evangelical and revivalist preacher; * for the community involvement in the quarrying of stone and construction of the church over three years, and the involvement of other craftsmen, all of whom were employed in the local mining industry; * for its place in Cornish religious movements in the mid-C19, and Aitken’s ambition to bring Anglicanism to a largely Non-Conformist county.


Pendeen Parish did not exist until 1846 when the New Parishes Act of 1843 was applied, and the new parish was named after the headland to the north. The settlement comprised a string of hamlets along the principal road, from Bojewyan to Higher Boscaswell, developed from the 1820s during the expansion of hard rock mining, particularly around North Levant Mine. This continued throughout the following decades, with a boom in housing and public amenities reflecting the growth of the industry in the 1850s. However, the common land at the foot of Carn Earnes remained undeveloped, and upon the establishment of the Parish a site for its first church, a vicarage and schools was given at Higher Boscaswell by Samuel Borlase of Castle Horneck. The first vicar was Reverend Robert Aitken, an evangelical preacher with Methodist sympathies, although he was never accepted into the Wesleyan ministry.

Aitken (1800-1873) was born in Scotland and was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1823, but following disputes with his Bishop quickly left the Anglican Church to become an independent minister and preacher. His first Ministerial work in London is noted to have attracted congregations of thousands to two chapels; his personality was praised but his methods of denunciating sinners were ‘baffling’. He also held positions in deprived urban parishes in Liverpool and Leeds. In 1840 Aitken was readmitted to the Church of England, and was curate at Perranuthnoe near Marazion from 1842 to 1844. In 1848 Bishop Henry Phillpotts of Exeter asked him to take charge of the newly-formed Parish of Pendeen. Bishop Phillpotts knew Aitken from the latter’s time on the Isle of Man in his early Ministerial career, where he had built Crosby Chapel and the castellated complex at Eyreton Castle in 1833. Aitken’s mix of evangelical Methodism and Tractarianism were deemed well-suited to win Cornish souls for the Church and to pull people away from the dominance of Methodism in the county’s mining communities. His Evangelical-Tractarianism within the established church was debated long after his death.

The first church at Pendeen was built on the site of the current primary school playground and was of timber construction. Aitken announced his arrival in the village in 1849 by approaching a group of miners and instructing them to ‘get their picks and shovels’ to build a new church. This statement was accompanied by the arrival of a cartload of timber from Hayle, paid for by Aitken himself, and the men went to work, completing the church three weeks later. It opened on the Nativity of St John the Baptist, 24 June 1849, and was in use for two years.

Before the temporary church was completed, Aitken had started designing a permanent church for the Parish. Although he had previously designed two buildings on the Isle of Man, he was not a trained architect, and the final plans for the new church were drawn up by Richard Hocking MD, a surgeon from a leading Penzance Methodist family, in May 1849. Aitken’s own drawings suggest that he intended pinnacles for the tower, and Hocking’s drawings include heavy quoins externally, a shallower pitched roof, and the tower positioned on the south side. The design of the church was based on the ancient cathedral of Iona and, despite its low position in the landscape Aitken located it so that the tower was visible throughout the village. Church Road became a ceremonial approach, with Carn Earnes (from where the granite for the church's construction was quarried) as a terminating feature. The foundation stone was laid in front of 3,000 parishioners on 24 June 1850 by Samuel Borlase. The construction of the church was principally by the local people in their spare time when not working at the nearby mines, overseen by Aitken. The new church opened on 1 November 1852 with a fervent service led by Aitken, and was consecrated on 18 May 1854 by the Bishop of Exeter. The church construction was funded by subscription, and also at Aitken’s own expense. The east window was supplied by the Ladies’ Guild Association for £120 (£100 less than it cost to make), but due to a lack of funds Aitken donated his own collection of twelve C16 and C17 German and Flemish painted-glass roundels to enhance six of the smaller window pairs. These were set into coloured glass with no narrative arrangement, but purely to enhance the church as a place of worship and beauty. The timber from the temporary church was used for flooring the new church.

In 1880 the clock was installed and the tower heightened and pinnacles added; the tower was restored in 1958 and the pinnacles given to the new church at Carbis Bay. The pews were added to in 1893, a set of tubular bells were dedicated by the Bishop of Truro in 1908, and a timber pulpit replaced a stone one in 1914. The eagle lectern was made by a local miner Richard Gendall, and is dedicated to the memory of him and his son. Its pedestal was added in 1949 in memory of Reverend Barker Lumb, a former vicar. A stained-glass window in the north aisle was installed in 1937 in memory of Richard White, who drowned at Pendeen Cove in 1934. The original 1893 organ was replaced in 1971. The carved timber cover for the granite font (also made by a local miner-craftsman) was made by Mr McIntosh in 1986 in memory of a former vicar, Robert Edward Marsden. The Remembrance Window was also made by McIntosh and was installed in 1987.

The churchyard is enclosed by high granite walls embellished with crenellations and described by John Betjeman as ‘like a toy fort’. The walls were continued around the post -1880 cemetery to the south west of the church.

The church was constructed alongside a rectory and National School between 1849 and 1854. The stone for all three buildings and the boundary walls was quarried and brought down from Carn Earnes by the parishioners. The whole project was designed and supervised by Aitken, although local craftsmen (mainly in the mining industry) contributed to the church furnishings’ carving and construction in stone and wood.


Church of St John the Baptist, 1849-1852, by Reverend Robert Aitken assisted by William Hocking; and boundary walls to churchyard, cemetery and former rectory, 1852 and later.

MATERIALS: constructed of roughly dressed and coursed granite blocks from Carn Earnes quarry, with a slate roof.

PLAN: cruciform in plan with a square, embattled north-west tower and south porch.

EXTERIOR: set within its churchyard and surrounded by castellated granite walls, the church is plain, Early English in style, with the single-bay chancel and transepts narrower and lower than the nave. All gable ends have flat verge copings, surmounted with stone crosses. The two-stage tower has paired belfry lancets on each face. The east window comprises five lancets, and the west window and gable transept windows three lancets; all other windows are paired lancets. The porch has a granite flat arch surround and pilasters. There is external access to the crypt and heating chamber by the north transept.

INTERIOR: the church is 135ft long, with a scissor-truss roof springing from high-set stone corbels. A narrow chancel arch accentuates the impressive verticality of the church; the nave is 41ft high. The north and south chancel walls have three pointed sedilia. Altar rails and altar are oak, and the sanctuary floor is laid with encaustic tiles. No reredos, although one was described in 1852 as ‘remarkably striking and beautiful’. In front of the altar is a brass memorial plaque to Reverend Aitken; a further polished marble memorial to him is on the north wall, and on the south wall a memorial plaque to his daughter and grandson. Above the choir a Gothic marble memorial is dedicated to various other members of the Aitken family. The nave has a wood-block aisle floor and boarded floor beneath the pine pews; the pews are simple and were probably made by a parishioner. The font is situated in front of the tower entrance; its bowl is carved from a single block of granite from Carn Earnes and was made by a local miner-craftsman. It is supported on one central and four corner columns. Its timber cover is surmounted by a carved dove and symbols of local industry (mining, agriculture and fishing – and an ice cream cone hidden in the decoration to represent tourism) are carved on the edge. Door to tower (originally an open arch). The Ten Commandments and The Lord’s Prayer are on marble tablets flanking the chancel arch. Organ in north transept.

The east window is of five lancets each in a wrought-iron frame. Its white and yellow colourings are made from silver and gold, and it was designed to give the impression of early-sunrise light. The north nave window, commemorating Richard White, was made by J Wippell & Co. The north chancel window is dedicated to Aitken’s second wife, Wilhelmina, and their daughter Etheldreda. Twelve Flemish and German roundels are set in brightly coloured and patterned glazing in paired lancet windows on the south transept and south nave wall. The roundels date from the C16 to C18 and depict various religious scenes and figures, including The Flight into Egypt; St John the Evangelist; and The Sacrifice of Isaac. The Adoration of the Magi is a copy of the original, broken by vandals in 2001. Other stained-glass windows depict St Peter, Jesus, and Ruth; or contain religious symbols in brightly-coloured glass.

SUBSIDARY FEATURES Castellated boundary walls constructed of large granite blocks surround the churchyard and former vicarage. A cemetery was added on the west side of Church Road after 1880, and the castellated design was repeated there. The principal entrance to the original churchyard from Church Road has three pointed arches set with elaborate cast-iron gates within a castellated ensemble. The walls surrounding the churchyard have flat ‘turrets’ at each corner of the site, whilst pointed-arch gateways lead to the village and into the former rectory's garden. The east and west walls are stepped down to reflect the sloping site and are not castellated. The entrance to the former rectory has large granite gate piers, flanked by in-filled recesses, and to the rear yard there is a tall, castellated archway.


Books and journals
Kelly’s Directory of Cornwall, (1883), 976
Beacham, P, Buildings of England: Cornwall, (2014), 403
Betjeman, J, Cornwall: A Shell Guide, (1964), 94
16th and 17th century stained glass roundels in Pendeen Church, Cornwall by Michael Swift , accessed 18/05/2018 from
Friends of Pendeen Church – Buildings, accessed 18/05/2018 from
Lambeth Palace Library: Incorporated Church Building Society Records, accessed 18/05/2018 from;JSESSIONID=5ba2200f-3b98-4e17-bcd0-9a5f4d38ee00?QuickSearchA=QuickSearchA&q=pendeen&sort=identifier%2Cdate%2Ctitle%2Crights
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: Robert Aitken , accessed 18/05/2018 from
Robert Aitken on the Isle of Man , accessed 18/05/2018 from
Cahill, NJ, & Cornwall Archaeological Unit, Cornwall Industrial Settlements Initiative Pendeen and Lower Boscaswell (St Just Area), April 2002
Canon Michael J W Warner. A gazetteer of works on Cornish Anglican churches, 1700-2000, with some earlier events noted.
Diocese of Truro, Diocesan registry faculty petition, hot water heating apparatus, Pendeen Parish Church, 3 September 1927 [Cornwall Record Office D/R/5/26]
Diocese of Truro, Diocesan registry faculty petition, stained glass memorial to Richard White, Pendeen Parish Church, 26 October 1936 [Cornwall Record Office D/R/14/29]
Ground plan, Pendeen Church, St Just in Penwith, 31 August 1878 (showing heating arrangements) [Cornwall Record Office AD650/3]
Ordnance Survey, Cornwall (1886) (1:2500)
Ordnance Survey, Cornwall (1908) (1:2500)
Pendeen Parish Church, Incumbent’s papers, Rural dean’s presentment, Pendeen, 1853 (records opening of church, 1 November 1852) [Cornwall Record Office P175/2/1]
Pendeen Parish Church, Incumbent’s papers, Sentence of consecration of church, Pendeen, 18 May 1854 [Cornwall Record Office P175/2/2]
Plan of chancel arch, Pendeen Church, St Just in Penwith), c1850 [Cornwall Record Office AD650/2]
Plan of Pendeen Church, St Just in Penwith (signed by R Aitken), c1850 [Cornwall Record Office AD650/1]
Royal Cornwall Gazette, Laying the Foundation Stone of a new Church at Pendeen, Friday 28 June 1850, p.5.
Royal Cornwall Gazette, The Consecration of St John’s Church, Pendeen, Friday 26 May 1854, p.5.
Royal Cornwall Gazette, The Opening of the New Church at Pendeen, Friday 5 November 1852, p.5.
The Western Times: Exeter, St Just in Penwith and its district of Pendeen, Saturday October 12 1850, p8.


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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