St Illogan churchyard by Dr Pam Tompsett
‘The Living Churchyard’
The earliest burials on this site which dates from the 14th century were unlikely to have any lasting memorials. Currently there are hundreds of headstones in the churchyard, the earliest dating from the 1700s, many with their accompanying kerb stones, it is very difficult to keep it as closely trimmed as some might wish. In 1986 the concept of a ‘Living Churchyard’ to include wilder areas high-lighted for a variety of wildlife was encouraged in the Truro Diocese. This, combined with the with the sheer size of the area, seemed a good idea for St Illogan, and following designation has been managed largely for the variety of plants and other wildlife to be seen there.
Extending to two hectares (5 acres) Illogan churchyard is one of the largest you will find in Cornwall and contains several historical features as well as a wide variety of interesting wildlife. The churchyard is intersected by a much used path which is an extension of the mineral tramways system and links the Robartes area and Maningham Wood with Illogan Primary School. This is also a popular way for dog walkers and junior cyclists and relies on responsible use for the sake of all concerned.
A policy of variable management entails maintaining areas of different vegetation such as lawn, rough grass with wild flowers, bramble patches and semi woodland, each with the intention of encouraging wild creatures, together with nest boxes, hedgehog shelters and slow worm habitats also present. The volunteer management team who meet weekly are at one in these objectives and a monthly nature note in the parish magazine ‘Link’ also seeks to remind readers of the natural populations which exist and how they can be seen and enjoyed. Of course access to graves is essential and so many internal pathways are kept mowed making a stroll in the churchyard a relaxing and interesting occasion.
Thomas Merritt’s Grave
In a shady section of the churchyard a fine white marble gravestone marks the resting place of Thomas Merritt (1863-1908) and members of his family. This former miner/musician stole the hearts of all Cornish people especially miners with his boisterous Christmas carols. The church choir sings at his grave each Christmas and we are reliably told that Merritt’s carols are still sung in far-off lands to which miners emigrated at the collapse of the Cornish mining industry.
A range of other memorials relating to the deeply involved but now departed Basset Family of Tehidy are to be seen in the church and the churchyard, and together with the abundant wildlife all contribute to the interest which may be gained by spending a peaceful hour in this environment.
Commonwealth War Graves
Burials are still taking place in the far southwest of the churchyard adjacent to the well manicured and beautifully kept Commonwealth War Graves. These 50 gravestones commemorate the airmen, and one woman, of WW II who were associated with the Nancekuke air base at Portreath which lies just across the valley. Also scattered within the churchyard are a number of World War I memorial stones.
An unusual feature of St. Illogan churchyard is the separation of the ‘modern’ (1846) church building which stands apart from the tower. This is a consequence of the population expansion some 200 years ago when mining in the Redruth area was booming, resulting in the old church, standing on a very ancient religious site, needing more space. The new church was built by Gustavus Lambert Basset , using much of the stone from the old church but when it came to moving the tower, an application by Trinity House as the national lighthouse authority, for it to be left as it was and painted white, was agreed. Thus the tower continued to serve as a navigation aid for shipping entering Portreath Harbour down the valley.
In 2000 A.D. over 8,500 yew trees, propagated from 30 yews over 2,000 yrs old, were distributed around Britain to mark the Millenium. One was planted with due ceremony in St Illogan churchyard and is thriving some 14 years later. PHOTOS It is anticipated that at least 1 in 20 of these extremely long-lived trees might still be alive in the next Millenium!