Altarnun, Cornwall

altarnun cornwall towns

Altarnun is a small, pretty village on the NE edge of Bodmin Moor and is eight miles west of Launceston and 14 miles east of Bodmin.. Well tended gardens and slate hung, colour washed cottages, The village has won the Britain in Bloom competition in the past. The village consists of granite built cottages, Post Office, Village Shop and Butchers. Little changed here over the last hundred years; apart from buildings such as the Smithy, the Mill house and the public house the Ring of Bells which is now the village shop, no longer being used for their original trades.

The village is the sheltered valley of Penpont Water, a tributary of the River Inney, it is in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Penpontnot. The parish of Altarnun is in the Hundred of Lesneweth, in the deanery of Trigg-major. Altarnun Parish is now in the North Cornwall parish (along with the village of Five Lanes and the hamlet of Trewint) and part of it lies within Bodmin Moor. The feast day of St.Nonna is celebrated here, it being on the second Sunday after Midsummer's Day.

The Buildings

The river Inney is crossed by a fine 15th century packhorse bridge which replaced the medieval bridge, and this bridge links the village of Penpont, the original Altarnun, to the church.

The Church - The Normans built a 12th century church, but that church was replaced by the present church in the 15th century. It was constructed partly of unquarried stone from the moors and is sometimes known as the "cathedral of the moor". This church is dedicated to St Nonna (the mother of St David), and it is from this that village gets its name which means "altar of St Non". The church, with its pinnacled tower (109 feet high), spacious light interior, barrel roof, carved rood screen and decorated Norman font (one of the few remaining parts of the 12th century church), combine to make it one of the finest churches in the West of England. The porch roofs and the wagon roofs of the aisles are believed to have been salvaged from the Trelawney family mansion when they left the area in the 15th century. There is a signed collection of 79 bench ends carved by Robert Daye between 1510 and 1530. The church is mentioned in 'England's Thousand Best Churches' by Simon Jenkins. A 6th century Celtic Cross stands in the churchyard

The Holy Well of St Nonna is 300 meters from the church above Penpont Water. The well was thought to possess curative properties. It was apparently used as a bowsening pool, mad people were thrown into its waters and then sermonised in the church until their madness disappeared.

Old Rectory is close to the church and was built in 1842. Daphne du Maurier had visited the house, and she featured it in 'Jamaica Inn' as the home of the notorious Francis Davey, Vicar of Altarnun. This house, Grade 2 listed, was sold by the church in 1975.

'Poor Houses', a long white cottage facing the village green, and dating from the early 19th century, was run by the parish overseer of the poor until sold in 1871. It is now a private house.

The present Church Hall was the three-roomed Village School until 1931. Apart from its role in village life, The Moorland Art Group hold an annual two week Exhibition of Paintings and Crafts in the Church Hall.

An early reference to the Post Office can be found in Kelly's Directory of 1873 when John Davey, was Receiver of Mail for Penpont.

The Village Shop is on the site of the 'Ring O' Bells' Inn, which closed when when it was purchased by Elisabeth Climo, the miller's wife.

The Corn Mill itself was opposite the Mill House, by the flower beds and phone box that exist today. It stop working in the early 1930s and was demolished later to widen the road. The mill building was four storeys high, and got its water from a leat some way up Penpont Water, with the flow of the water to the mill being controlled by a sluice gate.

In nearby Trewint, just 400 to the west of Altarnun, you will find Isbell Cottage which was often used by John Wesley during his preaching tours. This cottage has a "preachers room" which was specially built by Digory Isbell to accommodate Wesley and his preachers. Digory Isbell was a journeyman stonemason and apparently read in his bible of the Shunamite woman who built a Prophet's Chamber for a man of God - he saw this as a divine command and built a two roomed extension to his house, which could be used by John Wesley and his preachers whenever they were in the district. Trewint became the centre of a flourishing Methodist Society, but eventually larger chapels were opened, the rooms in Isbell Cottage fell into disuse. In 1950 the Isbell house and the two adjoining rooms were restored and opened to the public as Wesley Cottage.

Altarnun's Georgian meeting house has a carved effigy of Wesley above the door, the work of the local sculptor Nevil Barnard, who was born in 1818 and is buried in the cemetery. More of Barnard's work can been seen on gravestones in the churchyard. He left the village, and among other works, he sculpted the head of the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII. However following the death of his young daughter, he returned to the area, but never resurrected his career and died a pauper's death in Redruth Workhouse in 1878. A plaque to him can be found on the house alongside the chapel which is the original Mill House, Penpont Mill.

Five Lanes is a short walk from Altarnun, and there the largest building is the Kings Head Hotel. Built in 1623, and occupied by both Roundheads and Cavaliers during the Civil War of 1642. In 1773 it was known as The Indian Queen, 12 years later The London Inn, and in 1795 The Five Lanes Inn. Now it is the King's Head, presumably harking back to its Civil War history. It was a staging post for coaches when the turnpike road across Bodmin Moor was built in the middle of the 18th century. In its heyday Five Lanes had a livestock market, shop, three blacksmiths, a tailor, a cobbler and a regrater, who kept his own abattoir to slaughter the livestock he purchased. The livestock market finally closed in the late 80s, but the original granite cottages still exist. The Casa Moor Lodge and Restaurant has been created from existing buildings.

Early Man

The Bronze Age circle, The Goodaver Stone Circle can be found within the parish near Bolventor. It has 24 of its original stones remaining. The site received some restoration in 1906 when some of the stones were incorrectly repositioned. The

Nine-Stones, one of the few stone circles in Cornwall with a central stone is a short walk from the village. It is not complete, but it is possible to make out t the original circle.


There were a number of mines in the area, but all appear to have closed by 1900. The Treburland and Butterhill mines were reopened during World War II to obtain wolfram, an ore yielding tungsten, which was used to harden steel. Italian POWs were used at Butterhill, as well as local men, I assume the POW's were volunteers. Both mines were closed at the end of the war

Altarnun, Cornwall Historical Information from Genuki


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