Visitors do not come to Newquay to study its buildings, but rather to enjoy “the finest surfing beaches in Europe”, and the town’s vibrant night life, but those who lift their eyes above the shop fronts will see many examples of Victorian town architecture that is beginning once again to be appreciated.
A little later than the reign of Victoria is the parish church of St Michael, whose tower dominates the town centre. The church was built in 1910-11, and the tower not until the 1960’s, but its history is in accord with history of the whole town.
Newquay is an old place, but a new town.. The “New Kaye” from which it gets is name was constructed in 1439; presumably there was already a harbour of sorts here since the Cornish name for the manor in which the town stands is Towan Blystra, a shortening of the Cornish for “the sand hill by the harbour of little boats”.
The tiny village that grew up around the “New Kaye” does not seem to have flourished, since three hundred years later, in 1755, it was reported that there only “twelve houses at Towan”. It first began to grow at the beginning of the nineteenth century, when a pilchard fishery was established, and later small coasting vessels were built in yards on the Gannel and on Towan Beach.
But fishing and boat-building faded away in the 1870’s. and the future must have seemed bleak. Fortunately at this same time, people had begun to “discover” Newquay as a fine place to spend a holiday, and the newly constructed railway was there to bring them to the town. Many men of substance decided to make their country house on the beautiful coast, and quite a number of the present hotels and boarding houses stared life as a rich man’s summer dwelling. In the last century, with temporary setbacks during the two world wars, the town continued to grow and at the start of the 21st century there were 19,562 inhabitants – a figure which is swelled to over one hundred thousand in the peak period of the holiday months.
For many centuries Newquay was too small to have its own church, and the few people who lived around the little harbour had to go to the fine old parish church of St Columb Minor, or if they lived at Pentire, to take a boat across the Gannel to Crantock. The parish of Crantock had its origin as a Celtic monastery founded (in the 6th century?) by St Carantocus. This monastery was still in existence at the time of the Norman conquest and is mentioned in the Exeter Domesday Book. Its lands, however, were then seized by the Norman Earl of Mortain, and the community was presumably forced to dissolve. It was re-established as a College consisting of a Dean and nine canons by Bishop Briwere in 1236. Part of the provision made for the new community was the revenue of the parish of St Columb Minor, for which the canons were to provide a curate. Until then St Columb Minor had been an independent parish connected with the Manor of Rialton.
At the Reformation the revenues of the College passed into the hands of non-resident lay impropriators, who maintained curates of Crantock and St Columb Minor, both receiving £8 per annum, a sum apparently not increased until the 18th century when the Buller family became impropriators. The incumbent of Crantock then received the vicarial tithe and the curate of St Columb Minor £25 per annum. St Columb Minor was constituted a vicarage in 1868. This was the background against which the new parish of Newquay eventually came into being.
Next: The First St Michael’s