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Some of the History of the Parish of  Sennen

1600 BC:- The Phoenicians

The first record of possible visitors to the Lands End and Sennen area was with the discovery of blue faience beads in a barrow on the Lands End in the 1800's. These beads are believed to have come from either  Egypt or Crete brought by the Phoenicians who had come to Cornwall to trade for tin.

600 AD:-  The visit of the Kings


 About a quarter of a mile eastward of the church is the village of Mayon, Maen, or Men and adjoining a cottage in this village is a block of granite seven or eight feet long and about three high, called table men. Tradition says that around 600AD, seven, Saxon kings dined on this stone; and Merlin prophesied that a larger number of kings should meet at this rock for a similar repast previous to some terrible event or the end of the world

Athelstan embarked for Scilly.

1085 AD:-  The Doomsday Survey 

 The chronicles  tell us that at Christmas, 1085, William the Conqueror  consulted  with his council at Gloucester, and determined on a survey of his kingdom on an unprecedented scale. His commissioners  were sent out to enquire into the amount of land held by each and every occupier, together with its value and the amount of stock.

 “So very narrowly, indeed, did he commission them to trace it out, that there was not a single yard and, nay, moreover [it is shameful to tell, though he thought it no shame to do it], not even an ox, nor a cow, nor a swine was there left, that was not set down in his writ.”

  There is reason to believe that the survey was not completed before 1100. Throughout, the vast undertaking was controlled by the king’s interest in the ability of the country to pay tax. Doomsday, as its greatest scholar has pointed out, was primarily a geld book; its object to tell the king how much money could be raised and where.

There are two volumes relating to this survey. There first is the Great or Exchequer Doomsday, which contains the survey of most of England, and the second is the Exeter Doomsday, so called from its preservation in the cathedral library at Exeter. This later contains an additional and much more detailed survey of the south-western counties, including Cornwall. The Exeter Doomsday contains, as the Exchequer Doomsday does not, a complete list of the farm stock on each manor, the division of the ploughs as between the demesne and the tenants’ land and other similar details. It stands nearer the original returns of the itinerant scribes than the Exchequer record. Furthermore, there is an important difference in its arrangement, which will be mentioned below.

The Cornish survey is a list of manors, grouped under the headings of the tenants in chief, such as the Bishop of Exeter and the Count of Mortain. In the Exeter record the lands of each tenant in chief are roughly grouped in their hundreds. Throughout lowland England, and also to some extent in West Somerset and Devon, the territory of the manor, village and parish were more or less co-terminous. The manor was the village in its administrative and financial aspect, as the parish was the same in its ecclesiastical aspect. Anglo-Saxon England is, for the most part, a land of nucleated villages. The highland fringe, whether described as “celtic” or not, is more often characterized by scattered settlements, or trefs. A tref was a very small territorial unit, and it was probably beyond the powers of the royal scribes to list them and ascertain their stock and value, even if such an undertaking were required. The king was not interested in the geographical pattern of human settlement only in the ability of the land to pay tax. In the survey of Cornwall many manors are listed so small that they cannot have amounted to more than a tref.

The identification of the Doomsday manors of Cornwall is somewhat problematic. Some of the trefs that gave their names to the manors may even have disappeared. For the rest, changes through which the names have passed and the frequent similarity of two or more names renders confusion extremely easy. It may be that with some  identification is impossible, and the identification of several others must remain tentative. One such manor is that of Whitsand in Sennen.

F. E. Halliday in his book "A History of Cornwall" published in 1959 gives details taken from the Doomsday Book

"The Count has a manor called Witestan which Awald held in the time of King Edward and now Ralph holds it of the Count. There is 1 ferling of land and it rendered geld for half a ferling. Therein is half a plough and 1 serf and 8 beasts and 8 swine and 40 sheep and 40 goats and 12 acres of woodland."

Halliday goes on

  “a ferling and a half-equaled 60 acres and that as there is no mention of a plough presumably there were no arable crops. The serf and his family lived on the Lands End and managed this small farm. The pigs would have rooted in the woodland whilst the sheep, goats and beasts (cattle) would have roamed the moorland. The goats and cows would have provided milk."

 Anyone visiting the Lands End peninsula today will see little in the way of woodlands. What makes it such a wonderful place to visit is its lack of trees and its bleak windswept moorland. But was that the case in 1085AD?. Britain has undergone a massive de-forestation over hundreds of years. In Cornwall the mining industry has left if bereft of trees. In many cases the only trees left are in the grounds of the old manorial estates. In the 1940’s Charles Henderson, in his “Essays of Cornish History” rejected  the identification by Canon Taylor of St. Just that " Witestan"  was Whitsand in Sennen, on the ground that its 12 acres of woodland cannot have been found near Land’s End. He preferred Witstone near Tintagel where vestiges of the forest remain today.Which of these two gentlemen is right I leave you to judge.


Whitsand Bay, containing some rare species of small shells, is the spot where : 

King Stephen  landed on his arrival in England and also King John on his return from Ireland.  





In early august 1662, William Shellinks and his companions left Penzance at 8 o’clock to ride to Land’s End, passing through Newlyn which is ‘low down by the sea,’ then on through St. Buryan, St.Levan coming finally to Sennen. "We saw there many animals grazing at the outermost end of the land, where the land is very narrow. We rode on our horses as far as the steeply descending ground allowed... To this uttermost westerly region mainly Quakers and such folk, also supposedly many witches and sorcerers". Next day, St. Aubyn appeared at their lodgings in Marazion, where "he paid for a pint or two of wine, which we drank with him for friendship's sake, and so we took our leave, he strongly charging me to express his obedient affection to Mr. Jaques Thierry and to urge him to promote the affairs, and more of that kind. From there we rode to Helston, a nice market town, where it was market day. We ate our midday meal there, and Mr. G. Veale took his leave from us, we had in him a cheerful travel companion, who had kept us company all the way from Truro to here. "Their visit to Cornwall lasted exactly a fortnight.

Source:        M. Exwood and H..L. Lehmann (eds). The Journal of William Shellinks Travel in England 1661-1663’, Camden Fifth Series, Vol. 1, Royal Historical Society (1893). pp 15-128.  

1716 AD:- The Giants Grave.

   “In the year 1716,” writes Borlase, “a farmer of the village of Men (Maen), having removed a flat stone, seven feet long and six wide, discovered a cavity underneath it, at each end of which was a stone 2 feet long, and on each side a stone 4 feet long. In the middle of this cavity was an urn full of black earth, and round the urn very large human bones, not placed in their natural order, but irregularly mixed.”

1750 AD:- Skeleton of Deer.

  At Vallendreath, the mill on the sands, in 1750, the skeleton of a deer was found at the depth of 30 feet; and near it an oak tree 20 feet long. 


1795 AD:- The Wolf Rock.

  The Wolf Rock lighthouse is situated 8 miles S.S.W. off the Land’s End. The rock on which it is built measures 175 feet in length and 150 in breadth; at low water it stands 17 feet in height, and the full tide covers it about 2 feet. On this dangerous rock an attempt was once made to fix a hollow figure in the shape of a wolf with bells attached, so that the wind in rushing through it might make a great noise and ring the bells; but the design could not be accomplished. In 1795 an iron beacon was placed on it, but it soon disappeared;


June 17th Wednesday.

 In the forenoon we took a ride from Penzance to the Land’s End twelve miles—the road some part of it good and some very rough over several high mounts., with the country quite barren and not a tree scarce to be seen and many of the fields covered with huge blocks of stones. 

On this road are the largest flocks of sheep that we have seen on this side of the county. The cliffs are very high from the sea and the downs command an extensive view of the western ocean. On a very clear day the Isles of Scilly are clearly seen—they are about 27 miles distant. Though we had fine sunshine we could not discover them even with my glass. Though it was very clear in the east, there was a kind of thick air on the western ocean. It is not very frequent to have the air so clear as to see the Isles.

For several miles to the Land’s End are downs covered with a short grass and a prodigious number of huge blocks of stone which are partly above ground. On these downs are large flocks of sheep belonging to different farmers, and they have here a different mode to mark them from any other part in England. Some of the sheep have a slit cut in the ear, others the ear half cut off, and others both ears cut quite off, which gives them a very odd appearance. Also a number of goats in these parts.

The small villages and farm houses scattered about the country are mud houses with scarce any windows. They appear very poor. No mines in this neck of land. At about a mile from the Land’s End is the last house, which is a small public house for travelers to stop at  but the best way is to take your dinner with you, as they have only fish, and sometimes not even that. We took with us a couple of roasted chickens and a tongue, some roles and a bottle of red port.

At a small distance from the Land’s End is a light house built on a large rock in the sea, called the Long Ship Rock..

The Islands of Scilly have been always deemed part of Cornwall, and there are about 140 small islands, the largest of which, called St. Mary’s  is 9 miles in circumference. It has a good harbour and a Castle, stands high, and is more fruitful than the rest. Some of these islands are over­flowed at high water, and some of them bear good corn, while others abound with rabbits, cranes, and herons. They formerly were rich in tin mines. About 500 persons live in the Islands of Scilly.

The people that live at the Land’s End are very illiterate, very idle and live partly upon the plunder of wrecks. The men go a fishing for their families. In the county of Cornwall we have not seen a wind-mill but many water mills. Most of the gentlemen's houses have their ceilings made in an arch ornamented with a variety of figures.

  Land’s End to Castle Treryn. Three miles and some part of the road very good. Near a village you go up to it and the road is dangerous with large stones which lay loose. In this village the road is very bad and narrow with each side of deep water. The people there are so wicked they will not permit this part of it to be filled up and repaired. I was credibly informed the reason is they wish a carriage to be over turned, to be well rewarded for the assistance they may give. Castle Treryn is the famous rock called Logan Stone, which is placed upon another rock in such a manner that it may be moved with great ease, though of an enormous weight


1797 AD:- The Longships Lighthouse.

  The Longships Lighthouse rises from a group of rocks one mile and a quarter west of the Land’s End; the rock on which it is built, called Carn Bras, the Great Carn, rises 71 feet above low water mark; the lighthouse measure. from its base to the top of the lantern cowl 56 feet; its circumference at the base is 39 feet; the lantern is 11feet in diameter, and is lit by 19 Argand lamps. Four men are engaged in the lighthouse service, three being always in the building, and one on shore. It has happened that all communication with the mainland has been cut off for three months together; such is the wild fury of the sea at this place during stormy weather. The lighthouse was built by a Mr. Smith in 1797;


  A drizzling rain came on from the southward, and so enveloped surrounding objects that we could not see more than two or three hundred yards around us. In this inauspicious estate of the atmosphere for the traveler, we reached “the first and last inn in England, kept by Richard Botheras,” as recorded on the different faces of the sign. It is close to Sennen church; and we took our own “ease in our inn,” as night closed in upon an atmosphere that the beams of a full moon could not irradiate, so that we knew nothing of the locality where we rested,—a circumstance which sometimes gives rise to pleasant surprises; for not a great while before sunrise, being sleepless, we approached the bed­room window, and found the heavens clear, while, directly before us, too low for a star, gleamed a star-like light; and in a line with it, still higher, we descried a second object of the same kind. In vain we puzzled ourselves to discover what those lights might be, until daylight unraveled the mystery. We were in a room fronting the west, and about a mile from the Land’s End, over which, and apparently very near the shore, though two miles from it, are the Long Ship’s rocks, on one of which was a lighthouse. The second light was that of the Scilly Isles, none of which can be descried by the naked eye in the day time. The Long Ship’s lighthouse stands upon a fearful ridge of rocks horridly black and jagged when seen at low water or half-tide. This lighthouse is built of granite, upon a rock, which rises sixty feet out of the water, as far as to the base of the lighthouse. The height of the lighthouse itself to the vane is fifty-two feet, the whole being 112 feet above the sea, yet the glass of the lanthorn, which is exceedingly thick, has been repeatedly broken by the waves dashing in spray far over its summit. The lighthouse is faithfully delineated in the engraving. The revenue from vessels passing this light is £3,000 per annum; British ships paying a half penny per ton, and foreigners a shilling each vessel. 

Sennen church-town is about 400 feet above the sea; and the road to the celebrated promontory is a very gentle descent, through the village of Mayon where there is a stone, no way remarkable in appearance, upon which three unknown kings are reported to have dined, who came to visit the Land’s End.. The soil is fertile, though lying upon granite. 

 The church of St. Sennen, named from a saint that Hals declares to have been a Persian, is a neat edifice; in Tonkin's notes , the same patron saint is declared to have been Irish; it is probable that neither the one nor the other is correct. There are memorials here of the family of the Ellis's; and the fine granite tower is conspicuous. a great distance off. It is only on this promontory, shooting out into the western ocean so far, that granite is seen in contact with the waves, although abounding so much in the centre of the county; and here its huge blocks, piled in confused grandeur, cubic and sometimes basaltic in form, are truly magnificent. On arriving within a quarter of a mile of the rocks, the slope towards the sea becomes more rapid. A house designed for a small inn, but never occupied as such, stands just where a steeper descent commences. Here then we stood, the waves thundering below, and before us the Atlantic without a shore nearer than America; the horizon line, not straight, but appearing, as it really is, the section of a circle, and blending softly with the summer sky ;—here, amid a convulsion of rocks and precipices that form an irresistible barrier to the raging waters, we were impressed with the feeling of a position amidst a vast solitude, which some speak of experiencing in deserts. It is true, there were no arid sands here; for the richest heaths, dwarf furze, almost all bloom, only three or four inches high, and several kinds of wild flowers, of which we did not know the names, enameled the ground beneath our feet; but there was an overpowering loneliness, a sense of our own insignificance compared to what was around us, amidst a silence only broken by the hollow booming of a restless sea, that broke into the orifices of the cliff far beneath our feet, or now and then by the shrieking of a cormorant, or the rushing wing of a sea-mew. There is a tale related, with the customary exaggerations, respecting the fall of a horse over the rocks here, and of the narrow escape of the rider, which, as no name is mentioned, every one thinks he may tell in his own way. The officer’s name whose horse thus fell over was Captain Arbuthnot, about forty years ago, upon the staff of the western district, accompanying his superior officer, General Wilford, who also had a command in the same district, to see the Land’s End. The general dismounted on the brow of the descent; but Captain Arbuthnot, who did not know the nature of the ground, rode down some way, when, the grass being slippery and his horse alarmed, he dismounted, and,. flinging the bridle over his arm, led on the animal, which, startled most probably at the roar of the sea in front, backed himself over the cliff which was near in another direction, and dragged Captain Arbuthnot to the edge, before he could disengage his arm, thus narrowly escaping being pulled over with him. We must again remark that  the Land’s End is a low headland, not more than sixty feet in height, as the ground is all the way a descent to its extremity, and the headlands on both sides

1836 AD:- The Wolf Rock.

In 1836 - 40 a second beacon was erected at a cost of £11,298; and four times the oak masts and balls, of which it was constructed, were swept away.

1862 AD:- The Wolf Rock.

  The works for the present lighthouse were commenced March 17, 1862; and the last stone was laid by Sir Frederick Arrow, Knight,  July 19,1869; the total cost was £62,726. It springs from a base 41 feet 8 inches in diameter to a height of 116 feet 5 inches, and terminates in a diameter of 17 feet. Attached to the lantern is a fog-bell which weighs 5 cwt.; it has two hammers, which when necessary, are set in motion by clockwork. The structure, which embodies about 8396 tons of granite, was first lighted January 1st,1871. 


1871 AD:- Light Keepers Houses.

Houses for the light keepers were erected on the hill above Sennen Cove.

Population of Sennen.

In 1801 the National Census was began on a regular ten year basis. The detail returns showing who was living where and with whom are kept secret for a total on a hundred years. Some information however, is made available including the total numbers living in a parish.

Population figures for the Parish of Sennen.




































    no census













Since 1991 the Cornwall County Council has been publishing population figures for Cornwall 





















As can be seen by the above figures in the 100 years from 1801 - 1901 the population of Sennen Parish rose by 248 or 58%. This compares to an increase of 151 or 22%  in the period 1901 -1998. 



Total Area.

The total area of the Parish on the Survey carried out in 1838 was 2,350 acres.

Ratable Value.

In 1815 a survey was carried out to set a ratable value for all the property in each Parish. The total value in Sennen was £2,148. The value for St Just was £7,776.

Poor Law.

In 1838 Sennen paid a total of £145 11d to the Penzance Union to help offset the cost of the Poor.



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Last modified: Wednesday July 19, 2006 .