Until the creation of the ecclesiastical parish of Port Isaac in 1913 the village formed part of the parish of St Endellion, where burials continue to take place. However, the incumbents of Endellion took little interest in the needs of Port Isaac. Two years after the creation of the new diocese of Truro in 1877 the then rector of Endellion, William Hocken, died and the bishop, Frederick Benson, later archbishop of Canterbury, took a personal interest in the pastoral provision for Port Isaac. He sent a newly ordained deacon, Frank Carter, to provide services in the village. Within a week of arriving Carter was holding services in the then lifeboat house on Fore Street. In a memoir contributed to Thomas Taylor’s history of St Endellion in 1929 Carter commented “It was, I suppose, the first time for an indefinite period that the message of the Gospel had been preached to these people in the name of the Church of England.” This reveals all too clearly that, ignored by the established church, Port Isaac had for more than a century been prominent in the Methodist revival, amply fulfilling John Wesley’s description of it as “the liveliest place in the circuit”.
Carter extended his work to Port Gaverne and Port Quin and when a new rector of Endellion was appointed in 1880 he was allowed to continue his work. Financial support was secured by his appointment to one of the vacant prebends at Endellion. This enabled Carter to arrange for the appointment of an assistant, E.H. Bree who looked after Port Isaac whilst Carter extended his missionary activity further afield, starting a beach mission on Polzeath Beach. In 1884 Carter moved to become canon missioner in the wider diocese. His successor as prebendary at Endellion was Arthur Palmes, the vicar of Bodmin. Palmes agreed to continue supporting the work of a curate in Port Isaac and a succession of assistant curates of Bodmin served in effect as curates of Port Isaac during the period up until 1913.
St Peter’s as a chapel
Meanwhile work started on the provision of a dedicated building for worship in Port Isaac. Bishop Benson had encouraged contributions towards such a venture in 1881 in the course of a sermon preached at Endellion. Building started in 1882 and the church was dedicated on August 5 1884 by Benson’s successor, Bishop Wilkinson. The total cost was £14,000. A photograph at the back of the church shows the west end being constructed with its original five lancet windows. As we shall see this did not last and had eventually to be replaced by the present wall containing three windows.
The earliest service book now preserved begins in 1888 with the coming of a new curate, Ernest Drewe, Bree’s successor. Two regular services were held at 11.00 and 6.00 every Sunday with an occasional afternoon service. The building of St Peter’s did not at first change Port Isaac’s position within the parish of Endellion. The new rector, R.H. Treffry, occasionally appeared as a preacher but in the main left things to be run by the curates who were, as we have seen, technically assistants to the vicar of Bodmin.
The new parish
The creation of a new parish was a relatively rare event: only two new parishes were created in Truro diocese during the twentieth century, Port Isaac and Newquay. The most important requirement was a permanent endowment to pay the new incumbent. At Port Isaac this was again provided through the generosity of Arthur Palmes, by this time the vicar of Lustleigh in Devon but still a prebendary of St Endellion. With the consent of the patron, Athelstan Riley, Palmes granted away the tithe income of his prebend as an endowment for the new parish. The first vicar, William Turnavine Martyn, was appointed in 1913. Martyn spent the rest of his life in Port Isaac, as vicar until his retirement in 1937 and then as an assistant to his successors. The diocese agreed to purchase a property, then known as Tresythcarne, as a vicarage in 1919 at a cost of £700. This property survives as Castle Rock View, near the car park.
The new parish church
St Peter’s, now the church of its own parish, rather than a chapel within Endellion, received the embellishment of stained glass for its East window soon after Martyn arrived as vicar. The Misses Regnart presented two new window lights in memory of their brother and sister Sir Horatio and Cornelia Regnart who had both died in 1912. These memorial lights flank the central image of the Crucifixion. It is noticeable that the central glass is of superior workmanship but its origins, which perhaps go back to the building of the church in the 1880s, are obscure.
During Martyn’s time the main concern was the structural condition of the west end of the church. The problem seemed to be caused by the existence of an old mine digging at the junction of Trewetha Lane and Back Lane, which was traditionally known as Mine Pit Corner. By 1932 the condition of the west end of St Peter’s was so dangerous that it had to be taken down. When rebuilt the west end contained the present three windows instead of the original five, doubtless in the interests of stability.
Few of William Martyn’s successors as vicars stayed long in Port Isaac, an exception being N.A.F. Townend appointed priest-in-charge in 1955, who served until his retirement in 1973. In anticipation of his appointment the existing vicarage was sold and another house, Sudbrooke House in Trewetha Lane bought instead. In 1984 Port Isaac was again re-united with Endellion (and St Kew) in a new united benefice with Peter Fryer a rector living at Endellion and in 2007 these three parishes joined together with St Minver in a new cluster of North Cornwall churches.
Vicars and Priests-in-charge of St Peter’s, Port Isaac
William Turnavine Martyn 1913-1937
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