Legend of Penryn


In the Enys documents,  parcels of land change hands frequently. Some have evocative names as references, names which may have sprung from lively folk custom or pragmatic descriptions, especially in giving title to fields, meadows or bits of  “wastrel” at a loose end until a use could be found for it.

For example:

CRO EN/110/2

“and also that garden situate in the Borough of Penryn in the County of Cornwall called or known as DIRTY POOL MEADOW and containing in the whole one acre, one road and fourteen perches of land statute measure (be the same more or less)”

In this case, it  was probably just that, a damp bit of waste ground, near the later Turnpike to Redruth and reclaimed for use over the years.

But there was another Pool in the neighbourhood of Penryn.  A location which stirred long memories before written history caught up with it.  Even today the meadow remains bare. It is still squelchy on occasions. Yet it marks the spot of an important medieval site, which in its very foundation attempted to rescue the area from the dark mystery of this particular body of water.

In 1265, Walter Bronescombe, Bishop of Exeter, founded Glasney College, with its church dedicated to St Thomas a Becket. He was moved to do so apparently by a dream he had while recovering from illness at Canterbury. A dream which occurred three times.

“This shall be to thee a sign. When thou comest to the place, Glasney, thou shalt search a certain spot in it near the River of Antre, called by the inhabitants Polsethow, being Cornish for Mire or Pit– which said place hath of old time borne such a name from fact, that wild animals in the neighborhood when wounded by an arrow were wont to run thither after the nature and custom of such animals, and to plunge into its depth, and the arrows could never be discovered there. And thou shalt find in it a large willow tree, and therein a swarm of bees; and there thou shalt appoint the High Altar and ordain the fabric. Of which said place it hath anciently been prophesied “In Polsethow shall habitations, or marvelous things be seen.”

Glasney Cartulary,  Abstract in Journal of the Royal Institution Of Cornwall Vol 6,

Source: Thurston, C. Peter  “The History of Glasney Collegiate Church, Cornwall”  1903

This may not have seemed the best location for such a large and regionally important religious building – the subsequent repair bills over the centuries testified to that! Yet, when a dream occurs three times, a Celtic frame of mind is inclined to take notice of it and the Bishop was no stranger to his flock’s imagination.

A Bee swarm in a Willow tree is a visually symbolic marker, probably not an unusual feature in an overgrown marshy area, not far from the head of  a creek and inflowing river.

Of  course, the Willow tree would have to be cut down and the swarm dispersed. Perhaps a local beekeeper was called in to move the Queen, a woodcutter to move the tree. Apparently its trunk was kept in the Church of St Thomas for years afterwards.


As a physical reminder of the dream? A mark of respect for the previous denizens of the “Pool of the Arrow”?

Religious foundations were not usually made on a whim or fancy. They were long in the planning and often had boundary issues to confirm. The layout and orientation of churches and chapels were of crucial importance. Timing with Feast Days and particular astronomical events was meticulously calculated. The setting up of an altar is carefully prescribed in ecclesiastical manuals. Often, the location had previous form among  pagan ancestors.

So the altar of Glasney’s church was set up on the spot where the Bees swarmed and the Willow grew. A site already shrouded in the mists of storytelling and spiritual whispers.

We can imagine that folk came to tie their clouties to that tree and make a wish on a special day, much as they still do at Madron Well. The woodcutter may have reverently removed them, perhaps women continued to tie them to the desiccated skeleton of the tree installed in the church nave. What was it about the Dark Pool of the Arrow that drew them in? Had the lost animals accidentally fallen into the sludge, or had they been chased in, as watery sacrifice to the spirits of the marsh?

The ancient prophecy attached to the site – “In Polsethow ywhylyr Anethow” (In Polsethow shall marvels be seen) –  resonated through the ages. It was rumoured that

“in the same place oft times, in the blackness of night, was seen a most brilliantly shining light from heaven, girt round with burning candles, a multitude of clerks clad in white, praising God there.”

14th Century Glasney Cartulary, quoted in Thurston’s History of Glasney.

Whether it be a vision of a throng of angels, a premise of an altarful of candles or a lost memory of dark nights illuminated by will o’ the wisps dancing from the marsh, the legend of the Dark Pool lived on.

There are echoes of the dessicated Tree in the Cornish Ordinalia, a set of plays written in Cornish, possibly in the 14th or 15th century, by unknown authors at Glasney College. In the Origo Mundi, the first play of the cycle, detailing the biblical creation story, Adam’s son Seth is allowed a glimpse of Paradise and catches sight of a certain tree.

Line 755 “but to me it is very astonishing

that the tree is dried up.

But I believe it is dry

and made completely bare for the sin

which my father and mother sinned.


775  Over it there is a tree

lofty with many branches,

but wholly bare they are, without leaves

and around its bark

there was none from the tip to the trunk:

780    bare are all its branches.


And when I looked down to the bottom

I saw its roots

Penetrating even to hell

In the midst of much darkness.”

Perhaps the author only had to glance through the church at the silhouette of an old Willow, dancing in candlelit shadows, for his inspiration!

The Enys Legacy and King Solomon.

The Enys estate also receives a mention in the Ordinalia. When King Solomon wishes to reward the Carpenters for building the Temple, he is magnanimous in his largesse with land surrounding Penryn.

Line 2585-94   “May you have the Father’s blessing!

By God’s foot, you shall have

Your reward readily:

Jointly all Bohelland Field

and the whole of Penryn Wood.

I now give them to you,

and all Gwerder,

Enys and Arwennack,

Tregenver and Kegellick.

Of them make for yourselves a charter.”

Bodley Manuscript 791 Trans. By Roberet Morton-Nance & A.S.D. Smith

Ed. Graham Sandercock 2001 Edition

Other Enys connections with Glasney.

Once established, the cult of St Thomas a Becket became very popular in England and was transposed to Cornwall by the Bishops of Exeter. Glasney College became a renowned institution and many famous names passed through its environs until it too became a victim of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries from 1548.

The Enys family contributed a chaplain to Glasney – Richard Enys, whose will of 1513 is below:

CRO EN 1898 fo.6

“In the name of God [observed] the 3rd day of the month of June Anno Domini 1513

I, Richard Enys, Chaplain of Glasnyth do make my testament in this manner. First I bequeath my soul to God the Father and my body to holy buriall. Also I bequeath to St Thomas of Glafnyth  xii d, to St Michael of Mount Tumba  xii d, To St Gluvias xii d, To St Martyne of [Manales] iiii d

Towards the reparation of St Thomas the Martyr at Glasnyth  vi – viii d

To the Gylde of the Blessed Mary of Glasnyth iii – iiii d

To the reparation of the reliques of Glasnyth iii – iiii d

To the reparation of St Gluvias x d

To the reparation of St Melor ii – iiii d

To the fraternity of St Mary of Budock ii d

To the reparation of St Landis xx d

To Johan the wife of Thomas Enys xx d

To Johan the wife of Barnabas xiii – iiii d

To Margaret my sister one Burgesson of the Parish of ten shillings and in money iii – iiii d

To Mr Alexander Rector of St Just xii d

The rest of my goods not above bequeathed I give and bequeath to Thomas Enys my grandfather who me I ordain, make and constitute my faithfull executor that he may dispose the said goods for the health of my flock as he shall see more expedient and pleasing to God.

[on reverse] The Syk of June 1513

The Testament of Richard Enys Chaplain was proved before me, William, Provost at Glasney, the day and year above said.”

The reference to one particular manifestion of St Michael is interesting. The Archangel appeared in various places, mostly on hilltops, but the Michael of Mount Tumba referred to in the will is the patron of Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy, for which Mount Tumba, or Tumbe, is the old name. Michael appeared  in 708 to Aubert, Bishop of Avranches and told him three times to found an abbey on the Mount. On the third telling, he tapped Aubert on the head to make his point. The preserved skull of St Aubert bore the indentation to prove it! 

The feast day of Michael of Mount Tumba is October 18th, which was celebrated at Glasney. There was a statue of Michael set up in the Church.

The main Feast Day of Michael is 29th September, Michaelmas, which was a traditional time to settle rents and dues and get the geese fattened. The Enys accounts still use Michaelmas and Ladyday (March 25th) as dating references well into the 18th century.

Another day dedicated to the Archangel was due to his appearance on Monte Gargano, Italy, on May 8th. This is kept up by the townsfolk of Helston, who were also fortuitously saved by Michael lobbing a rock onto the Devil, so becoming their patron. They celebrate it with a bit of dancing on Flora Day…

Peter Thurston, in his history of Glasney,  indicates that Thomas Enys himself made plans for bequests to Glasney, as did John Enys.

By his will, dated 6 April, 1476 (proved copy in possession of Mr. Enys, of Enys), Thomas Enys, amongst other bequests, gave two pence to St. Thomas the Martyr, of Glasneyth, and

a similar sum to Mairy the Virgin in the chapel of Penrynburgh. He bequeathed also two pence to St. Mary Magdalen of Cosaweys, and to the high altar of the parish church of St. Gluvias

“for my tithes and obligations withheld and forgotten, 6d.*’ The seal attached appears to be that of the official-peculiar. John Enys, by his will dated in 1510, gave to the image of St. Gluvias 20d. and to the plate there 6d.; to the image of St. Thomas the Martyr, of Glasneth, 12d.; to the chapel of the Blessed Mary Magdalen of Cosawys, 6d., and to the chapel of the Blessed Mary at Penryn 12d., and to the plate there 20d.

The Chapel of Mary in Penryn is mentioned in another document from the Enys Collection.

CRO EN 1898 fo. 4

The townsfolk of Penryn had cheerfully trooped across to the church of St Gluvias for many of their services, but had petitioned for a chapel of their own in the town. The Chantry of the Blessed Virgin Mary had been established, thought to be on the site of the current town hall.

In 1322, a meeting was called, presided over by the Bishop of Exeter, to clarify some issues which had arisen between the townsfolk and the Vicar of St Gluvias. The Proctor of Glasney, Sir Andrew de Penryn, was also in attendance.

The Burgesses who represented Penryn were Laurence the Bastard, Bartholemew the Seneschal, Radulpus de Leo, John Urban and Amideus Cissor (the tailor).

Among the matters hammered out at the meeting were the wages of the Chaplain, confirmed at 24s per annum and confirmation that the Burgesses were to receive all legacies and offerings in candles or cash, except at the funeral of someone to be buried at the Mother Church, or any Eastertide offerings by visitors to the town – presumably a lucrative time of year. Many people took their annual Confession at Easter.

12d went to the Vicar on the Feast of St Gluvias, which was fair enough, but he insisted on the stipulation that, if not received, he could have the chantry shut down.

Apparently, the biggest bone of contention was the ancient custom of the Vicar claiming the best upper garment of anyone who died in the town. [ A right which may have occasioned the frantic bundling away of smart clothes or running jokes about the Vicar wanting the shirt off their backs… ] A compromise was reached. Only certain deceased would render up their best garments.

“Moreover, the said Vicar and his successors who shall be for the time Vicars there shall receive and peacefully have the best upper garment of everyone who at his decease is serving or lodged howsoever in the said Borough as of ancient custom due to him and his said church without gainsaying of the aforesaid.

So that others living in the said Borough, that is to say, Burgesses, Taxpayers, Cottagers, their wives, sons and daughters, shall be from the bestowal of such upper garment free and exempt forever.”

So the townsfolk were let off the hook – only strangers in town could be eyed up for their sartorial elegance if they coughed ominously…

The 15th Century copy of the Composition between the Vicar of Gluvias and the Burgesses of Penryn was in the possession of John Davies Enys, who commissioned John Vincent to translate it , for one guinea, in 1877. Mr Vincent was amused by the Vicar’s right of claim and considered it unique, in his opinion.

John Vincent’s translation also appeared in the Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall 1891 No. XXXVII.

 Jill McGroarty



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