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St Uny, Lelant, Cornwall

(50°11′18″N, 5°26′11″W)
SW 548 377
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Cornwall
now Cornwall
medieval Exeter
now Truro
medieval St Uny
now St Uny
  • Andrew Beard
27/28 May 2014

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In the medieval period Lelant developed as an important seaport on the west bank of the Hayle estuary in West Cornwall. It declined in importance when the estuary silted up, and its role was taken over by St Ives, which became an important fishing village in the 19th century.

According to John Culver’s pamphlet, Richard Fitzgerald built the first Norman church on the site at Lelant. Richard was the son of Robert, Count of Mortain, the Lord of the Manor of Ludgan Lees, and who was appointed by his half brother William the Conqueror to take charge of his part of Cornwall. The church originally consisted of nave with a single narrow aisle on the north side, plus a detached tower, and is thought to have been built around 1100 AD. According to Canon Paul Taylor’s ‘Parochial History of Cornwall’ the nave of the church was probably about 36 ft long by 13 ft wide, with an arcade of three bays and north aisle, and a chancel narrower than the nave. The community of Lelant and St Ives was prosperous (St Ives had no church of its own), and in due course there was a need for a larger church.St Uny was granted in 1150 to Tywardreath Priory, and in 1272 to the Bishop of Exeter. A new north chancel aisle was apparently built around the existing one, incorporating one existing 12th century bay, and a south aisle added to match. The nave was extended at the west end to connect with the tower, and the distance between the two elements necessitated an arch with a shorter span in this location. All this was complete by 1424 when, by tradition, the church was rededicated, although no records of this have been found.

Thus, the church now consists of a nave and chancel, with N and S aisles which form continuos arcades of six bays. There is a C15th porch to the S aisle and a W tower of three stages. Apart from bay 5 of the N aisle, which is the remaining C12th arch and columns, the church is largely C15th.construction is of granite and mixed rubble. The only other Romanesque feature is the font. The church was restored by J. D.Sedding in 1872-3, when the roofs of the chancel and N aisle were renewed, and those of the nave and the S aisle repaired.

St Uny Church is in a prominent position above the dunes to the W side of the Hayle estauary, and overlooks the estuary to the east and the open sea to the north.


St Uny was granted in 1150 to Tywardreath Priory, and in 1272 to the Bishop of Exeter.


Interior Features






The location of St Uny Church is spectacular, being highly visible from the opposite side of the estuary and from out to sea, as well from the St Ives branch line and the coast path. It also has an attractive setting, surrounded by a golf course and set well back from the road. The porch is particularly fine, with good Perpendicular decoration. Internally the church seems spacious, as a consequence of the continuous arcades and the absence of a chancel arch. The Norman arch with its original columns, as well as the Norman font, provide an interesting and intriguing link with the original church. These Norman elements are simple, robust, and rather crudely carved.


P. Beacham and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England, Cornwall. Yale University Press, 2014

J. Betjeman, Cornwall, a Shell Guide. Faber and Faber, 1964

J. Culver, Fact or Fiction. A short history of St Uny and his church in Lelant, based on a series of talks by Mr Jim White 2003

N. Pevsner, revised by E Radcliffe: The Buildings of England, Cornwall. Yale University Press, Second Edition 1970, reprinted 2002.

N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England, Cornwall. Penguin Books, 1951

E.H. Sedding, Norman architecture in Cornwall, a handbook to old Cornish ecclesiastical architecture with notes on ancient manor-houses. Ward and Co. 1909

P. Taylor, Parochial Church History of Cornwall, Royal Institute of Cornwall, Truro