Uny Lelant

Writer: Vikki Heywood
Anthony Prothero

Storm-crushed shell-sand clogged Hayle’s mouth, 
But not the copper-rich turquoise ribbon to the bay, 
Where once departing pilchards mixed with silver, tin and dynamite,
Cadavers of skinned trawlers rest whilst curlews cry. 

Sinking like Theodoric’s castle, 
Uny’s divided graves observe the beach-sucked pilgrims pass,
Where ghostly Cinderella Small measures our moon-tides’ ebb and flow, 
Amongst the latest drift – of double yellow lines.

Like many places in west Cornwall, the name Uny Lelant derived from the medieval pilgrims who landed on these shores from Ireland. Though known as saints they were manachs (monks) who set up local ministries, and over time churches were given their names – thus St Uny’s Church in Lelant and St Anta’s nearby in Carbis Bay. 

Though the sex of St Anta is contested, she is depicted as a woman in an iconic stained-glass window in St Uny’s church and given a talbot hound and view of Trencrom Hill at her feet. She allegedly held ministry on the carrags (rocks) at the mouth of the Hayle (estuary). With the addition of lan (enclosure, church land) LanAnta is therefore the possible origin of the village’s name, with many versions used over time including Lannanta, Lanante, and ultimately Lelant. Cornish was recorded as the first language of the village as late as the 16th century and road signs are displayed in both languages.

With an outstanding vista over the Hayle, St Uny’s graveyard is divided by a walled pathway; one side the graves for the Church of England, with the Methodists on the other. Down this borderline, contemporary pilgrims walk the St Michael’s Way, mixing with the sun worshipping pilgrimage to Porthkinnis (Porthkidney) Beach. Traces of the old (sometimes treacherous) foot and ferry Hayle crossing, the expanse of St Ives Bay and the miles of towans (sandy shore) to Godrevy Lighthouse were a significant influence in the work of artist John Miller, as well as authors Rosamunde Pilcher and Virginia Woolf.

Local papers in the 1800s tell compelling stories of injustice. Two girls were sent to gaol for seven days for stealing flowers from a grave in the churchyard for the stationmaster’s new garden. In my sestude I conjure up the ghost of fifteen-year-old Cinderella Small, whose family had the misfortune to cross St Uny’s vicar, Uriah Tompkin. Unable to account for themselves, they were subjected to hard labour. 

Whilst the yellow line restrictions on car parking ebb and flow, the one relentless factor in life for Lelant is encroaching sand. The sinking of ancient King Theodoric’s castle on the shoreline is probably a myth, but the wind-blown, storm-tossed sand that arrived in the 16th century pushed the village from the shoreline and ultimately clogged the port. Though the now dwindling fishing industry was sustained for generations, the lively hub that exported pilchards, tin, copper, zinc, silver and locally manufactured dynamite was silenced in favour of St Ives (after Saint Ia, who apparently arrived on a leaf). When the railway arrived along a causeway, where thousands of Roman coins were uncovered in the sand, it was a quietening branch line from St Erth (after Uny’s alleged brother). The stationmaster’s house becoming a private dwelling – whose owners proudly hang out their washing on lines next to the track.

As a millennium celebration of village history, a tapestry of images was lovingly handstitched by local people and is displayed in the village hall.

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