A Cornish Farmer’s Christmas

James Stevens’s preparations for the festive season included delivering geese and turkeys…

At Penzance with six geese… to Sampson. (Saturday 23rd, 1899)

Killed 11 turkeys and put one to Penzance 16 lb … and 6 geese that were killed on Saturday.  Three turkeys sent by post with postman, 4 geese more killed today.  (Monday 22nd, 1902)

At Penzance and Bessie with turkeys to customers. Reared over 30 turkeys this year. (Saturday 22nd, 1906)

… and sometimes other produce!

Sent about 5 lbs of cream to Switzerland, cost 3s 6d in postage, had 8 forms filled up in French words.  (Monday 22nd, 1902)

On Christmas Day he always went to Church –

Christmas Day.  At Church and sacrament this morning, collection 7s 2½d, James played in Church on the harmonium. At church in the evening and locked the door, James played and the Choir sang the cantata entitled The Night of Glory, collection 12s.  (Monday 25th, 1893)

At Church in evening, the Cantata The Night of Glory was rendered, James played.  (Tuesday 25th, 1894)

At Church twice and Sacrament in morning. I cannot remember when I spent a more Blessed Christmas Day.  (Saturday 25th, 1897)

At Church twice and Holy Communion. Preacher in morning Rev. Inskip, preacher in evening a newly ordained deacon A. Cornish.  Rev Rogers ill with bronchitis.  (Sunday 25th, 1898)

At early celebration and Bessie and Lillie. At 11 o’clock service. At evening prayer and carol service at 7 p.m. Lillie sang the treble solo in Good King Wencelas. Many people at Church. (Monday 25th, 1905)

At Church twice and at the Lord’s Table at the Midday celebration. Mabel at her First Communion at 8 a.m.  (Wednesday 25th, 1907)

At early celebration and at the morning service, offertories for the waifs and strays as usual. Had leg of pork for dinner.  I have often thought of late that the year now past has been the hardest I’ve ever had, I suppose owing to increasing age and failing energies, but I believe the year has been marked more by anxieties than by actual calamities and through the year I believe I have done and managed as well as I was capable of doing. It has been a year of great blessings. (Friday 25th, 1908)

At Church in morning and received the Blessed Sacrament at midday. Glory to the new born King.  (Saturday 25th, 1909)

Christmas. At Church in morning.  (Wednesday 25th, 1912)  Kept one of the geese for dinner yesterday.  (Thursday 26th, 1912)

Zennor Church (St. Senara) and Sancreed Church (St. Creden)

He recorded some of the presents he and his family received –

Had a book sent me from a clergyman (Bishop Beveridge’s Sermons).  (Friday 24th, 1897)

I have had several cards and presents sent me and Mr. Hender Rogers sent me a book. Lillie has had about 16 presents and 13 cards, Mabel 15 presents and 13 cards.  (Thursday 25th, 1902)

The children have had numerous cards and presents. I have had some too including match box and scarf from Mrs. Rogers and jersey knitted coat from Kate and an eiderdown quilt from Dorcas to me and Honor.  (Saturday 24th, 1904)

I received a silk neckerchief from Mrs. Rogers and a little book from Mr. Hender entitled ‘The Daily Round’.   (Saturday 23rd, 1905)

Had a pocket book and pencil from M. L. Pearce and a shilling from Annie, had ‘Doidges Annual’ from Kate and ‘From St. Ives to Land’s End’ from Honor (two books), had a hair pen wiper and stamp holder from Mr. Stona and cards from James and many others.  (Thursday 24th, 1908)

Had several Xmas cards, had a necktie of Lillie and money from Honor and Kate, and a watchstand from Annie and a silver set of penholders and pencils for writing of Mrs. Stona, bought in London by Miss Stona.  (Monday 26th, 1910)

Had several cards and presents, tin of cocoa from Annie, money from Honor and Kate, box of sealing wax and candle and stamp ‘S’ from Mr. Stona, and a necktie from Lillie. (Monday 25th, 1911)

I have this Xmas received several cards from our children and others, with a tin of cocoa and sweets from Annie, a glass jar with silver plated cover to hold studs from Lillie, and Honor bought me a cap, and Kate bought a bellows to blow up the fire, and Mr. & Mrs. Stona gave me a new book to write next year’s diary in.  (Tuesday 31st, 1912)

Stevens family 1895 - Morrab CollThe Stevens family in 1895* 

Following Christmas Day there was usually an entertainment or concert in the schoolroom –

Evening attend entertainment in the schoolroom of dissolving views and conjuring tricks by Mr. Williams.  (Monday 26th, 1892)

At tea and concert in schoolroom. Took at tables and door £5 17s 7d and T. Reynolds of Penzance gave 10s. Heard Hayle party give concert.  (Tuesday 26th, 1893)

James fixing up tables etc. in schoolroom. At tea and entertainment in evening, parties from Phillack and Gwithian with Mr. Williams gave the music, readings etc. Took the money at the tables and door.  (Wednesday 26th, 1894)

Attend tea in schoolroom, took at tables £3 2s and at door for the concert (which was given by Mr. Solomon Stevens and party from Hayle) 19s 6d.  (Thursday 26th, 1895)

At a concert at schoolroom in evening organised by Miss Stona.  (Friday 27th, 1907)

To concert in schoolroom in evening. Mabel recited etc, Lillie took part in ‘You Shan’t Play in Our Yard’, Bessie sang in glees etc., concert in aid of school organ repairs.  (Wednesday 30th, 1903)

At a concert in schoolroom by Penzance party, Cinderella.  (Monday 29th, 1902)

145 The old Schoolroom, Zennor


 *  “Stevens Family at Foage Farm Zennor June 1895,” Morrab Library Photographic Archive, accessed June 12, 2017,  http://photoarchive.morrablibrary.org.uk/items/show/7514.













The restoration of Zennor Church

On this day James Stevens wrote in his Diary…

Afternoon attend Musical Service in Church, harmonium, piano and euphonium, collection 16s 7d. Afterwards a tea in schoolroom, money took £4 6s and service in Church by Rev. J. B. Jones of St. Ives, collection £1, he preached in the place of the Bishop [John Gott] who was ill and could not come, this being the 2nd anniversary of the reopening of the Church. (Saturday 10th 1892)

James gone to Church this evening it being the fifth anniversary of the reopening of the Church. He plays on the harmonium and Miss Langford on the piano. (Tuesday 10th 1895)

At anniversary of the restoration of Zennor Church.  (Saturday 10th 1910)

St. Senara’s Church in Zennor originally dates from the early 13th Century and was enlarged in the late Medieval period.  Building and improvements continued over the following centuries, including the addition of a ‘minstrels’ gallery at the west end of the Church in 1773 (used by the ‘orchestra’ of violin cello, bass viol and clarinet.)   However, by the late 19th Century the Church had become neglected and when the Reverend Samuel Henry Farwell Roe became Vicar in 1888 he realised it was in need of restoration. 

JS Diary - Zennor -An early photograph of Zennor Churchtown and St. Senara’s Church, taken before 1890*

corn2010 038Zennor Churchtown and St. Senara’s Church today

The last church in Penwith to be restored, the work was undertaken in 1890.  The architect was Reverend F.C. Hingeston-Randolph and the contractor was Mr. Carah of Praze.  As a Churchwarden it’s likely that James was involved in planning and overseeing the process.  Much of the £1,500 cost was met by Admiral John Borlase of Penzance (brother of the previous Vicar, Reverend William Borlase) and by John Westlake, who owned a Summer home in Zennor.  The restoration included new roofs, six new stained glass windows, and the removal of the ‘minstrels’ gallery.

For most of 1890 services were held in the schoolroom, but on Wednesday 10th December the Bishop of Truro, George Wilkinson, rededicated the church.  James didn’t keep a diary for that year, but the event was recorded by Admiral Borlase…  

Leaving at 9.30 we reached Zennor about 10.30 where I gave to the Churchwardens Messrs. Quick and Stevens my brother William’s pocket Communion service for the use of the Vicar of Zennor. The Communion Service at 11 was very largely attended, after which Mr. Roe gave a lunch to a party which occupied the whole length of the schoolroom. At 3 the Church was crowded, the spaces between the seats being supplied with chairs, and a most impressive sermon was addressed by the Bishop to the inhabitants of Zennor. As we left Zennor previous to the evening service it came on to rain.” (From: Introduction – A Cornish Farmer’s Diary. Edited by P.A.S. Pool. 1977)

corn2010 035 - Copy



St. Senara’s Church today

As part of the restoration new ceiling bosses were made, one of which bears the initials JQ and JS.  James wrote in January 1896…

At Church saw on one of the bosses (that are fixed up against the roof of the chancel) the initials of my name and also of James Quick’s of Wicko, we being the two Churchwardens when the Church was restored in 1890. They were carved and gilted by Henry Williams of Port Isaac he being a gentleman that visits the Vicarage. (Friday 24th January 1896)

111 - Copy

As the works also included rebuilding part of the South Transept wall, the architect took the opportunity to add a ‘passage squint’, giving a view from the Transept to the Chancel.  Today the South Transept (or Side Chapel) is home to the famous Mermaid Pew, a bench-end carved in the 16th Century.


The ‘passage squint’ and the ‘Mermaid Pew’

* ‘Zennor Churchtown’, Morrab Library Photographic Archive, accessed November 27, 2017, http://photoarchive.morrablibrary.org.uk/items/show/8116.

Additional information from: Mattingly, Joanna. (2016)  St. Senara’s Church, Zennor: A Church History and Guide.





December weather…

… as recorded by James Stevens in his Diary.

About 3 inches of snow. Fred [Thomas] at Newlyn for 10 cwt coal and at Newlyn last Saturday for 12 baskets of old salt cost 6s. (Tuesday 1st December 1903)

The heaviest fall of rain that have been probably for 12 months. (Tuesday 12th December 1893)         

Much rain last night and gale from the north this evening. Last month was dry and the springs were low up to this time. (Thursday 12th December 1901)

Gale last night wrecking a seven masted ship [Thomas W. Lawson] at Scilly (the only one of that build in the world) with loss of 16 lives. (Saturday 14th December 1907)   

About three inches of snow fell last night, some of it thawed in the afternoon. (Thursday 16th December 1909)  

A very windy and rough day doing much damage in many places, sea running very high. Tom Trezise aged 31 drowned at Cape Cornwall by running in or near the sea to save a piece of wreck. (Friday 16th December 1910) 

Gales of wind causing wrecks in Mounts Bay and the water coming up into the houses on the Promenade, the seas running higher than ever remembered at Mousehole. (Wednesday 13th December 1911)                           

Much snow on the ground, traffic stopped. Got all the cattle in except the colts.(Saturday 29th December 1906)    

A very hard storm of lightning and thunder in the early morning. (Thursday 26th December 1912)