By Rachel Gordon
In late March of 2019, students from the inaugural International Heritage Management and Consultancy MA travelled to the Lizard Peninsular for one of our three ‘Heritage and Environmental Change’ field trips. This module was particularly engaging, because Dr Bryony Onciul ran it in partnership with Dr Caitlin DeSilvey, a member of the Geography department. The teaching was shared by both, and we were also joined by MA Sustainable Development students. The addition of our peers added a compelling dynamic to this module: we were able to share thoughts and ideas with students from entirely different backgrounds; from anthropology to marketing, zoology to geography. We were also joined by film maker Danny Cooke and a representative of secular organisation The Churches Conservation Trust, Anthony Bennet.
We began our minibus ride down to the most Southerly point of the UK: luckily, the sun was shining, it was a bright and crisp spring day. (Our field trips on the “Sites of Conflict, Commemoration and Memory” module had coincided perfectly with the spring’s biggest storms!) After a short while, we were dropped off at the side of a country lane and were told that we were only able to reach our first destination on foot. We arrived at the site of St Rumon in Ruan Major: this former parish church currently lies in ruin. According to Historic England, its roof was removed shortly after its closure in 1963 and is currently listed as Grade I. Because of the lack of roof, much of the inside is overgrown with foliage. The spring setting of our visit meant that flowers were in bloom, and these signs of new life provided a stark contrast to the derelict and unused structure. Surrounding the church was a small graveyard, with most of the ornately engraved tombstones dedicated to two specific Cornish families. We were met by Professor Paul Racey, who explained his interest in our studies. He was concerned that his church in Cadgwith (which we would visit later), would fall into the same state as St Rumon, as the congregation slowly dwindled. In our discussion we considered the ways in which the changing (social and physical) environment is affecting churches across the UK. Anthony spoke about several churches protected by the CCT that had been saved from ruin because they contained colonies of bats, which are vulnerable or endangered.
After a lunch in the grounds of St Rumon, we travelled to our next location: St Grade Church. The church of St Grade is used by the local community, but still incredibly vulnerable. It is also listed as Grade I and dates back to the 14th Century. Inside, butterflies could be seen amongst the ferns that have grown in the brickwork. This was an interesting site and draws in visitors who are wildlife enthusiasts, with perhaps no religious or spiritual motivation to visit. Although damaging for St Grade’s structural integrity, the existence of such wildlife has increased visitor numbers and therefore revenue (visitors are encouraged to make a donation). The visitors’ book displayed entries from people who had travelled from all over the world, and all stated how beautiful the church was, and expressed hope for its longevity. Professor Racey spoke about the Friends of St Grade, who have appealed to the community for help in the conservation, preservation and repair of the church, because: “we all enjoy the opportunity at special times in our lives to worship, be married, be christened, be remembered or just rest a while and ponder in a local church.” We discussed the fact that the social changes faced by St Grade made challenges posed by environmental change were even more difficult to negotiate.
ST MARY’S AND CADGWITH
After a discussion with Anthony and Professor Racey in the grounds of St Grade, we took a walk through the meandering countryside, passing the Holy Well of St Ruan on the way. Our minibus picked us up and took us to Cadgwith, a picture postcard perfect Cornish village. We arrived at the church of St Mary, a small structure, that is clad in blue corrugated iron and sits teetering on a cliff edge. Inside, Professor Tracey gave us another talk about the effects that the changing world had on the church, the local community and other traditional practices that have historically taken place in Cadgwith. He spoke of the loss of two local fisherman in 1994, for which there is a memorial situated inside the church, and how their deaths shook the local community. St Mary’s is by no means as old as St Grade and St Rumon, but it still faces the same challenges. After our talk we continued down the steep path, passing thatched cottages and sunny gardens. On the beach, we were lucky enough to be able to witness the interesting spectacle of Cadgwith fishing boats coming ashore. The fishing boats are rolled onto the shore using large logs, a practice that is no longer frequently seen elsewhere in the UK.
We finished our trip with an ice cream and heading back to campus. Our exploration of St Rumon, St Grade, St Mary’s and Cadgwith highlighted the challenges faced by small communities in the wake of environmental and societal change, and it was incredibly valuable to our studies, to be able to witness these effects first-hand. Anthony and Professor Racey were invaluable to our studies, as we gained an insight into two perspectives- the personal perspective of Professor Racey and the management perspective of Anthony. The trip was also a great way to explore more of Cornwall’s beautiful landscape, which is always a joy.
You can view Danny’s footage here https://youtu.be/mMN3Xk7X2ro