Church of St John the Baptist


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
Trewartha Terrace, Penzance, Cornwall, TR18 2HE


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Statutory Address:
Trewartha Terrace, Penzance, Cornwall, TR18 2HE

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

Cornwall (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:


Church of St John the Baptist, 1880-81 with a later south porch, by JP St Aubyn. Fittings by G Fellowes Prynne. Stained glass windows by Clayton & Bell, CE Kempe, William Morris of Westminster and G Maile.

Reasons for Designation

The Church of St John the Baptist, Penzance, of 1880-1, with a later south porch, designed by JP St Aubyn, and with fittings by G Fellowes Prynne, is listed at Grade II, for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest: * as a good example of the newly-designed C19 churches of JP St Aubyn in Cornwall, described as the architect ‘at his best’; * as a C19 reflection of the Christian faith in its cruciform plan and slim lancet windows; * for the use of Cornish stone from Castle-an-Dinas; * for the high-quality design of the fittings by G Fellowes Prynne, particularly the chancel screen, altar and reredos; * for the good collection of stained glass from Clayton & Bell and C E Kempe in the C19, and William Morris of Westminster and G Maile in the mid to late C20.

Historic interest: * as an austere but impressive reaction to the need for a new church in an expanding part of Penzance.

Group value: * with the mid-C19 houses on Trewartha Terrace and Penrose Terrace, which are Grade II-listed.


Penzance was first recorded in the early C14 with a chapel and the granting of markets and fairs. Its coastal location resulted in the town being a substantial harbour port by the early C15, attached to an urban settlement. In 1663 Penzance became a coinage town for the expanding tin industry in the St Just area. By the end of C18 the town had begun to be an established resort, with stucco terraces built to the west of the old town. A new church on the site of the C14 chapel was constructed in 1832, and the arrival of the railway and a link to London in 1859 resulted in further commercial and housing expansion, including to the north of the town around Trewartha Terrace. It was here in around 1878 that a plot of land flanked by smart suburban villas was given to the Diocese by Mr John Jope Rogers (1816-80) of Penrose for the construction of a new church. Land was also reserved for a vicarage (1909) and schools (not built).

By 1878 Penzance had a population of 10,414, and only two churches (in comparison to Truro with a similar population and four churches). Penzance’s Reverend Hedgeland called for a desire for a new church at a sermon in December 1878, explaining that the town was expanding rapidly to the north-east and the people in the area had no church to go to, and that focus had been put on new public buildings and schools rather than a new church. Initially a small amount was raised from public subscription, but quickly the newly-established committee realised that the target of £5,000 was not enough. JP St Aubyn was appointed architect, with Carah & Edwards contracted for its construction. This would include a chancel, nave, aisles and a tower, costing £6,996.

James Piers St Aubyn (1815-95) FRIBA, although born in Worcestershire, had a close connection to Cornwall, being the cousin of John St Aubyn, First Baron of St Levan of St Michael’s Mount. From the 1850s until his death, he restored seventy eight churches in the county, and designed twenty new ones. His restoration works – although now often criticised for their heavy-handedness – were crucial to the on-going survival of the Church, as many had been neglected or badly repaired. Almost all of Cornwall’s churches were restored with the involvement of over one hundred architects, and the Church also employed architects both from Cornwall and beyond to build new churches, mission rooms and halls. St Aubyn’s involvement in a large proportion of these projects was probably because of his family connection and, here in Penzance, the St Aubyn family seat. The foundation stone for the new church was laid on 23 June 1880 and the church was consecrated by Bishop Benson, the first bishop of Truro, on 4 October 1881. At this point only the chancel and transepts had been built, and by 1883 when the church was almost completed and the final cost of £6,146 was announced, the plans for a tower and spire had been abandoned. Over £5,500 of the cost had been raised by public subscription. It was noted in 1883 that the internal walls were not yet plastered, nor the outside walls pointed. A historic photograph of the church from shortly after it opened shows Biblical texts painted above the arches to the chancel, transept and chancel aisles. Further funds were raised to construct a south porch in lieu of the tower, costing an additional £1,600. This was designed by St Aubyn, and added before 1908 on the foundations for the tower. John Betjeman described the church in 1964 as ‘grim looking without…lofty and uplifting within’ ascribing it to JD Sedding – although previously in 1948 he noted that an iron boot-scraper by the porch was JP St Aubyn’s signature.

Apart from the font, which was designed by St Aubyn for the opening of the church, all of the church fittings were added in the early C20. The reredos (1902) and altar (1908) were designed by George Fellowes Prynne (1853-1927) and made by HH Martyn of Cheltenham. Their painted Biblical figures were by the designer’s Royal Academician brother Edward Arthur Fellowes Prynne (1854-1921). The wrought-iron chancel screen and gates were added in 1905, and may have been to Prynne’s specification, as may have the choir stalls and pulpit (1900) and the organ gallery. George Halford Fellowes Prynne was an architect and designer born in Plymouth, whose work mainly focused on church restorations and new church buildings in the south-east and south-west of England. Working in the offices of, amongst others, GE Street and Alfred Waterhouse, in 1891 he became a Fellow of the RIBA and from 1899 to 1900, President of the Architectural Association. His churches often included a large stone or timber screen, elaborately carved and painted; he also had an interest in C13 wrought-iron work and the possibilities of its design.

The east window, a memorial to Queen Victoria by Clayton & Bell, was installed in 1901, and is also dedicated to the soldiers of the Second Boer War (1899-1902). In the same year a window in the north aisle was added, by CE Kempe. Later insertions include further windows in the north aisle by G Maile in the 1970s; and the south transept window by William Morris and Company of Westminster (1955), dedicated to Ellen Carhart Lane, Mayoress of Penzance (d.1953).

More recently, the space below the organ gallery has been enclosed with glazed screens, and the basement vestry converted to meeting spaces with a toilet and kitchen. The font was also moved from the rear of the church to the south transept at an unknown date. The rear of the church is currently used as a ‘PlayZone’. Several pews (which were only originally fitted in the front half of the nave with loose seating behind) have also been removed.


Church of St John the Baptist, 1880-81 with a later south porch, by JP St Aubyn. Fittings by G Fellowes Prynne. Stained glass windows by Clayton & Bell, CE Kempe, William Morris of Westminster and G Maile.

MATERIALS: constructed of rock-faced, coursed Castle-an-Dinas stone, with external dressings of Ham Hill Stone, with slate roofs. The interior has Doulting stone dressings.

PLAN: cruciform with north and south nave and chancel aisles, meeting rooms (the former vestry) below the chancel, and a square south porch.

EXTERIOR: the church is located on a sloping site within a residential area to the north-east of Penzance town centre. It is plain, Early English in style, with a single-bay chancel, shallow transepts and narrow aisles all lower than the nave. On the south elevation is a double-height porch with a pyramidal roof and short octagonal tower with a louvred upper storey. The chancel aisle on the north elevation has a pitched roof, and its spiral staircase is expressed externally by a half-octagonal turret. The south chancel aisle has a lean-to roof. All gable ends have flat verge copings, surmounted with stone crosses. The double-height south porch has a battered plinth below a moulded string course, with a central pointed-arch doorway and pointed-arch windows on the east and west elevations. Tall, wrought-iron boot scrapers flank the granite entrance steps. On the north side is a single-storey porch with a pitched roof. The east and west windows are of three lancets, as are those to the transepts. Below the east window is a Greek cross carved in a roundel and below that a band of lancet windows of equal height, two groups of three separated by a buttress, lighting the basement. External access to the former vestry in the basement is on the east side, where the corners of the chancel aisles and nave each have a staged pilaster buttress.

INTERIOR: the south porch contains inner and outer timber doors with wrought-iron strap hinges within pointed arches; to the west of the inner door is a slate First World War memorial tablet and to the east, above a narrow door (possibly intended to access the unbuilt tower) is a statue of St John the Baptist. The floor is laid with on-end slate and the windows are recessed paired lancets with clear glass. The church is 109ft long with a 50ft-high, open, king-post roof above a four-bay clerestory and five-bay nave arcade with no capitals to the columns. Walls are plastered and painted around the Doulting stone dressings; there is no trace of the painted texts shown in historic photographs. The north and south transepts and nave arcade have pointed arches of equal height; that to the chancel being slightly higher as the chancel steps up from the nave. On the north side of the chancel is the organ loft, with a carved and pierced timber gallery; the space below is enclosed with C20 timber, glazed panels. To the south side of the chancel are three cusped-arch sedilia. A step with decorative brass altar rails leads up to the sanctuary, and the sanctuary floor is laid with encaustic tiles by Godwin and the Architectural Pottery Company. The oak altar with painted panels depicting Biblical figures stands centrally in the sanctuary on a further step. The oak reredos spans the width of the east wall with a carved, pierced border and further painted panels of Biblical figures and scenes and a large central panel of Christ and an inscription from John 12:32. The east window, by Clayton & Bell, is of three lancets and depicts the ascension of Christ in glory. Its dedication to Queen Victoria and Boer War soldiers is inscribed on a large brass plaque on the south wall of the chancel. The choir stalls are of oak with carved and pierced fronts and foliate finials. The chancel is separated from the nave by an elaborate wrought-iron and brass screen on a granite plinth, with twisted finials and a central two-leaf gate. The south chancel aisle contains a staircase to the meeting rooms (the former vestry) in the basement, surrounded by a simple wrought-iron balustrade. The nave floor is carpeted and boarded below simple oak pews to the front part of the nave. The pulpit is located on the north side of the chancel arch, adjacent to the chancel screen, and comprises carved oak panels on a carved limestone plinth with granite steps. The stone font is located in the south transept, carved with simple Celtic crosses, and has a pierced and carved oak conical cover surmounted with a dove. Above the font is a three-lancet window by William Morris and Company of Westminster, installed in 1955. The north and south aisles are lit by paired lancets, mainly of stained glass with various dedications and dating to the late C19 and early C20. In the north aisle one window is by CE Kempe (1901) and here there are three further windows depicting St Francis, St Giles and St Elizabeth by G Maile, dating to the 1970s. Other windows are filled with leaded, clear glass.

Due to the sloping site, the former vestry is located beneath the chancel. It comprises two rooms and an entrance hall, accessed externally from the east and internally from the south chancel aisle. The principal space has a low barrel-vault ceiling, with two sets of triple-lancets on the east wall, with leaded, clear glass. The internal doors are panelled pine, with decorative wrought-iron strap-hinges. On the south wall of the northern space is painted the inscription ‘The LORD is in His Holy Temple’. Most other finishes and fixtures are C20.


Books and journals
Beacham, P, Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: Cornwall, (2014), 427
Betjeman, J, Cornwall: A Shell Guide, (1964), 98
Warner, M, 'Goth or Vandal? A re-appraisal of James Piers St Aubyn and Cornwall’s Anglican churches' in Holden, P, New research on Cornish architecture: Celebrating Pevsner, (2017), 131-136
'Obituary of James Piers St Aubyn, 1815-1895' in Royal Institute of British Architects Journal, , Vol. 2, (1894-95), 653
George Fellowes Prynne, accessed 01/08/2018 from
Incorporated Church Building Society Records – Penzance, St John the Baptist, accessed 01/08/2018 from;sort:identifier%2Cdate%2Ctitle%2Crights;lc:LPLIBLPL~34~34&mi=2&trs=3
Penlee Cluster: St John the Baptist, Penzance, accessed 01/08/2018 from
Penlee House Gallery & Museum – Photograph of St John’s Church, Penzance , accessed 01/08/2018 from
People – George Fellowes Prynne, accessed 01/08/2018 from
Victorian Web – EA Fellowes Prynne, accessed 01/08/2018 from
Note of work completed on new church of St John, Penzance, 1883 (Cornwall Record Office P179/2/2/24).
Ordnance Survey, Cornwall (1876) (1:500 Town Plan)
Ordnance Survey, Cornwall (1908) (1:2500)
Ordnance Survey, Cornwall (1936) (1:2500)
The Cornish Telegraph, ‘Penzance’, Thursday February 18 1909, p7.
The Cornish Telegraph, ‘St John the Baptist, Penzance’, Saturday February 17 1883, p2.
The Cornish Telegraph, ‘St John’s, Penzance – Laying the foundation stone’, Wednesday June 23 1880, p5.
The Morning Post, ‘Ecclesiastical Intelligence’, Thursday October 6 1881, p2.
Warner, Canon M, A gazetteer of works on Cornish Anglican churches, 1700-2000, with some earlier events noted, (2017) (copyright). Unpublished.


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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