Nonconformists

At least six denominations or connections of Methodists were represented in Cornwall. These were in varying degrees of strength.

The Wesleyans were the original Methodists from whom the other groups broke away. They were founded by John Wesley in the eighteenth century. They were always the strongest denomination in Cornwall. Wesleyans were represented virtually all over the county.

The Bible Christians were founded in 1815 by a Cornishman, William Bryant or O'Bryan. They were strong in Cornwall, particularly in the rural areas.

The Wesleyan Methodist Association was formed by secession from the Wesleyans in the 1830's.

More reformers seceded in 1849. They united in 1857 to form the United Methodist Free Churches. They had circuits throughout Cornwall. Most were small, but in the Camelford area the United Methodist Free Churches were stronger than the Wesleyans.

The Methodist New Connexion spread to Cornwall in 1834. It was only represented in Truro, Penzance and St Ives.

The Primitive Methodists began work in the county in 1825. They were strongest in the industrial areas. They did not establish themselves at all east or north of Liskeard.

The Wesleyan Reform Union consisted of 1849 reformers who did not join the United Methodist Free Churches. They had only two Cornish circuits.

Methodism of all kinds had significant influence in Cornwall. By the middle of the 19th century over 60% of churchgoers in the county attended nonconformist services.

In 1907 the United Methodists were formed uniting the:

  • Bible Christians
  • United Methodist Free Churches
  • Methodist New Connexion

The Methodist Church formed in 1932. This united the:

  • Wesleyans
  • United Methodists
  • Primitive Methodists

This brought together all Methodists in Cornwall except the Wesleyan Reform Union. The date at which local circuits amalgamated varied from place to place.

Available at CRO

CRO is recognised by the Methodist Conference as the authorised place of deposit for Cornish circuit and chapel records. Large quantities of material have been deposited, although not every chapel is yet represented. Circuit records may include:

  • minutes of quarterly meetings
  • circuit accounts
  • schedules of property
  • minutes of local preachers meetings
  • circuit plans and
  • registers of baptisms.

Chapel (or society) records may include:

  • trust deeds
  • trust and leaders' minutes and accounts
  • seat rents
  • membership rolls
  • pulpit notices
  • registers of baptisms
  • registers of burials (rarely) and
  • records of Sunday schools

Baptists churches in Cornwall were relatively few. Some records however have been deposited at the Record Office.

Available at CRO

  • Chacewater, 1761-1839 (catalogue reference X303)
  • Falmouth, 1779-1888 (catalogue reference X581)
  • Launceston, 1910-1952 (catalogue references X682, X750)
  • Truro, 1789-1962 (catalogue reference X305)

Independent and Congregational churches form a significant part of the history of nonconformity in Cornwall. Meetings were held from the 1660s in Penzance, Falmouth, St Ives and Looe. By the beginning of the 19th century there were congregations in several other towns and some rural areas. The Cornwall Congregational Association was formed by 1865. In 1972 the Congregational and Presbyterian churches joined to form the United Reformed Church. However, some Cornish Congregational churches remained outside this union.

Records of the Congregational churches in Cornwall include:

  • minutes
  • accounts
  • registers of baptisms,
  • registers of marriages
  • registers of burials
  • deeds and
  • papers ranging in date from the 18th to the 20th centuries.

Available at CRO

The main deposit by the United Reformed Church includes:

  • minutes of the Associated Independent Ministers, 1802-1879
  • papers of the Cornwall Congregational Association and Devon and Cornwall Congregational Union, and
  • records of many individual churches (catalogue reference X682).

Other deposits include:

  • Falmouth and Penryn, 1718-1969 (catalogue reference X850)
  • Fowey, 1797-1975 (catalogue references MR/A547-549, X701)
  • Grampound, 1905-1929 (catalogue reference X129/2)
  • Launceston, St Issey and Wadebridge, 1707-1980 (catalogue reference X750)
  • Liskeard, 1816-1948 (catalogue references AD894, X823)
  • Truro Bethesda, 1835-1891 (catalogue reference X129)

The 1559 Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity ensured the separation of the Church of England from Rome. From then until the late seventeenth century Roman Catholicism was illegal in England. The English Catholic church was formally re-established in 1688. Four Vicariates were created. Cornwall was included in the Western Vicariate. In 1850 the episcopal hierarchy was restored with the creation of twelve new diocese. The diocese of Plymouth comprised:

  • Cornwall
  • Devon
  • Dorset and
  • the Scilly Isles

The 1606 Popish Recusants Act required all Catholics to be baptised, married and buried according to the rites of the Established Church. In practice many Catholics were baptised and married in secret by their own priests. However, most Catholics were probably buried in the parish churchyard. From the mid-eighteenth century some Catholic communities kept their own registers.

The archives of the Western Vicariate from 1688 to 1850 are held at Bristol Record Office.

Catholic parish registers and records are retained in individual churches. The
Plymouth Diocesan Year Book includes a directory of parishes and clergy.

Available at CRO

St Austell church marriage register, 1983-1989 (catalogue reference RC/RG1)

The first itinerant Quaker preachers visited Cornwall in the 1650s. The Society flourished in the county. This was in spite of fierce opposition, imprisonment and fines.

Cornwall was originally divided into five areas. Each of these were regulated by a Monthly Meeting. The areas were:

  • Landsend
  • Falmouth
  • Austell
  • Minver and
  • Eastern

There was also a Quarterly Meeting for the whole county. In 1783 Landsend and Falmouth united to form the West Division Monthly Meeting. By 1787 Austell, Minver and Eastern had formed the East Division. In 1870 Cornwall Quarterly Meeting united with Devon Quarterly Meeting. The East and West Divisions joined to form Cornwall Monthly Meeting in 1903.

Available at CRO

Records have always been carefully compiled and preserved. All the surviving ancient records of the Society of Friends in Cornwall been deposited at the CRO. This was completed by decision of the Monthly Meeting. They include:

  • Quarterly Meeting minutes (from 1668)
  • ministers' and elder minutes
  • women friends' minutes
  • records of sufferings (from 1655)
  • registers of births, marriages and burials
  • membership lists
  • accounts
  • deeds and
  • correspondence, both Monthly and for Particular (or Preparative) Meetings.

(Catalogue reference SF).

Jewish synagogues existed in Cornwall from 1740 to 1906. These were at:

  • Falmouth, from 1740 to 1892
  • Penzance, from 1807 to 1906

The synagogue at Plymouth was established c1750. It holds records from the late eighteenth century. These include a circumcision register, 1784-1834 with some Penzance entries.

Available at CRO

Photocopy of Penzance synagogue marriage register, 1838-1892 (catalogue reference FS 3/1412).

See also:

Diocese of Truro and Archdeaconries for records of meeting-house licences,
answers to visitation queries and references in wills.

The Court of Quarter Sessions  records for meeting-house licences.

Family and Estate records for deeds of chapels, correspondence.

Parliamentary paper with replies from diocesan registrar on meeting-houses, 1836 (catalogue reference FS 3/978).

Religious Census returns, 1851 (catalogue reference FS 2/93-95).