Ahoy, me hearties! I’d like to share some fascinating research I’ve discovered for one of my books. While writing The Pirate’s Duty, Regent’s Revenge Book Three, I needed to learn more about a 13th Century church in Cornwall. Talland Church was built on the site of a Celtic altar erected in the 5th Century and dedicated to St. Tallanus. The present altar sits on top of the Celtic altar established there fifteen hundred years ago!
In Cornish, Talland means Tal Lan. (Tal for hill and Lan for holy place.) Built on a ley line—significant to the Celtic people—the church looks down on Talland Bay, between Polperro and Looe, maintaining a mighty historical presence on its bed-rock foundation. A key landmark element of the church is its main crenelated bell tower and another echoing tower nearby. Together, set one nautical mile apart (1.1508 miles or 1.852 kilometers) these landmarks help ships time speed between Talland Bay and another pair of towers situated at Hannafore, near Looe. These landmarks were extremely influential in the age of sail and still aid mariners to this day.
Talland Church is a medieval marvel that still pays homage to its Renaissance heritage. Inside the chapel, there are granite arches, cobbled floors, studded doors with strap hinges, carved wall plates, perpendicular windows with arches and hoodmoulds, buttresses, naves, choir stalls made from the rood of a Cornish family’s pew, altar rails with balusters, coats of arms, Renaissance murals (destroyed during renovations in 1845-1850), and a waggon roof with carved longitudinal ribs. An oak pulpit and carved bench ends survive featuring foliage, figure heads, angels, and Renaissance details.
In 1811, the civil parish recorded 801 residents. Slate tombs inside the church honor famous resident John Beville (d.1579) with ‘The Ruby Bull in Pearly Field’, the Kendalls (d. 1709-1710), Joanna Mellow and her son (d. 1625), Johannis Morth (d. 1698) and Robert Mark, a smuggler who shot at sea (d. 1802). (In Cornwall, smuggling wasn’t considered a disgrace.)
Beside the detached tower with its belfry (its six bells rung regularly) and seven-holed parish stocks, a hallowed cemetery overlooks the sea. There, local residents: Ponds, Rowetts, Couches, Couths, and Mary Slade are forever interred in peaceful and everlasting bliss with sunrise, sunset, and thundering breakers on the headlands guarding over their remains.
Tales of ghosts and strange occurrences abound near Talland Church.
- A desperate horseman is said to race past Talland Church to Polperro only to disappear over the harbor wall and fall into the abyss.
- Parson Dodge ‘who went to the aid of Parson Mills, of Lanreath, when the latter was pursued by a black coach with headless horses and driver. As Dodge appeared the ghostly coachman shouted: ‘Dodge is come! I must be gone!’ and the spectral terrors disappeared.’ (Cornwall and Its People by A.K. Hamilton Jenkin) Parson Dodge is said to hitch his horses and drive the devil down to the sea. He walked the roads at night and may have had something to do with smugglers.
- There’s also the story of the infamous curate who presided over Talland Church under false pretenses. Reverend Thomas Whitmore took Nicholas Kendall’s place in 1812. But by the saints, he was not really a curate at all! Whitmore, as it turns out, was a well-known forger named Robert Peacock, a man fated to dangle from a hangman’s noose in 1814 after his draft notes bounced at Zephaniah Job’s bank and creditors eagerly sought reparation. So disastrous was the news of Peacock’s treachery and death that there was a huge outcry among Talland Church’s parishioners. As curate, he’d performed baptisms, marriages, and funerals that many feared were no longer valid. Oh my!
The landscape! History! Architecture! Tales of adventure, smuggling, heartache, and the spectacular, not to mention the wonderful people!
As you can see, I’ve fallen in love with Talland Church. I’ve actually known about it since writing my Nelson’s Tea Series set in fictional Abbydon Cove in Talland Bay. One of the more comical characters from that series is Mr. Pickering, the vicar assigned to Earl Pendrim. Pickering shows up for the first time in 1805 during The Rogue’s Prize. Somehow the man has wheedled his way into The Pirate’s Debt and The Pirate’s Duty too. And so it is, I’ve taken liberties. Mr. and Mrs. Pickering preside over Talland Church from 1804-1812, setting the stage for Peacock’s calamitous arrival in 1812.
Talland Church has endured south-westerly gales, all manner of humanity, while weathering time on its bed-rock hill for fifteen hundred years. It’s crenelated towers helped sailors navigate the sea. It’s curates helped ease the burdens of the Cornish people and nourished their souls. Oh, to learn more of the secrets within those granite walls and cemetery stones. I must say, I’m thoroughly addicted!
Talland Church Cornwall, Canterbury, Printed by W.G. Austen, 17 St. George’s Street, 1911
Is there a historic place that’s sparked your curiosity?