America and Other Long Lost Villages in Cornwall

The ancient Cornish village of Chysauster, believed to date back to the first century, is well known but of modern villages which disappeared in the Duchy in more recent times.

The worldwide success of the kaolin industry in the St Austell area meant its expansion which, unfortunately for many, also meant the engulfment of nearby villages and thriving communities.

Villages and hamlets such as Greensplat, Goonamarth, Retew, Penisker, Halviggan, Karslake, Yondertown, Carroncarrow and even America have fallen into recent history.

Read more: Ancient sites, standing stones and burial chambers in Cornwall

Here are more details about them and other lost communities such as the Reborn Trowan and the Reservoir Shrouded Houses.

Greensplat

Greensplat was a clay country village two miles north of St Austell which was lost to fledgling industry in 1997.

The name of the village is believed to be derived from Green’s Plat, referring to a nearby mine shaft known as ‘the Plat’.

At the height of the village, it was a prosperous settlement mainly inhabited by those who worked in the clay mining industry which still dominates the landscape. Most of the buildings were Victorian except for a few Georgian and earlier period cottages related to farming and tin runoff. It had a Methodist chapel and an adjoining Sunday school.



The north end of Wheal Martyn and Greensplat Pit

In 1997 the nearby Wheal Martyn kaolin quarry expanded and the center of Greensplat was completely demolished, including its railway carriage houses. The last house to be demolished was Kenwyn, a double-fronted Victorian house, despite the warning sign, written on the building in red spray paint, “Kenwyn Do Not Demolish”.

The nearest inhabited settlements are now at Old Pound to the west, Ruddlemoor to the east and Carthew to the northeast.

Gill Goodman, a former resident, wrote in 2016: “I was ten when my family, the Landers, moved into Allen House, Greensplat in 1955. I remember December very well. [that year] that we had terrible freezing weather and our water pipe, which came from a spring in a field, froze and we had to melt the snow to get water.”

goonamarth

Another village in the kaolin district, neighboring Greensplat, which was also demolished. Maps from the 1930s show Goonamarth near the Great Haliviggan China Clay Works alongside Trenance Downs.

Goonamarth was an outlying part of the Greensplat community, consisting of a row of eight houses called Blackberry Row and several other detached houses. Blackberry Row was demolished in 1967. The last place to go, Goonamarth Farm, was demolished in 2001.

Terry Holmes, a former resident, wrote in 2014: “I lived in Goonamarth until the 60s. My mum lived there until houses were demolished. We went to Carthew School, this which involved a good 3 mile walk; past the still working Greensplat steam engine house A year the level of the disused Carranrarrow clay pit broke and nearly blew the house off the end.

“On our way to school we passed the clay driers at the bottom of a lane we called Hardlands which was still in operation, loading the clay into horse-drawn wagons to the Trethowal railway branch lines We had no electricity or indoor water, relying on kerosene lamps and buckets of water from the ‘shoot’ that came out of a bank I wouldn’t have missed this for the world – in living there we made our own fun, like playing “Jack Jack Shine Your Light” which involved being chased through the dunes at night by torchlight.

“It was a close-knit community, no one dared wash clothes except on Mondays. I cherish those memories.”

Karslake

Many families in the St Austell area can trace their heritage back to the 24 houses that made up Carslake Row. The first kaolin to open in 30 years, in 2012, at Higher Moor, near Roche, is located near where Karslake used to be.

America is a large hamlet lost also nearby in the land of porcelain clay which obviously had delusions of grandeur.

To resume



The slow demolition of Retew was finally completed in the late 1960s
The slow demolition of Retew was finally completed in the late 1960s

Retew was another village near St Austell which was largely demolished in the early 1960s when the China Wheal Remfrey clay quarry and waste heaps were enlarged.

The village was small, containing 24 houses and a factory, and was on land owned by the quarry owners, English China Clays. The fate of the village was awaited and the inhabitants were rehoused by the company. There was a chapel, but the village was served by itinerant merchants passing through, including a butcher, a baker and a fish and chips van.

The only part of the village that remains is Retew Hill on the St Dennis side, where there is still a sign indicating the non-existent village.

There is a fascinating film from 1967 showing locals holding the last children’s carnival in the village square. At the time all 24 cottages were condemned and the remaining 12 families were moved and rehoused. Mrs. George Martin had lived in the village for 45 years and Shirley Witford had lived there for ten years. Both told a TV reporter how sad they were that the village had come to the end of its life.

Clemoline Bunt was the last resident to leave the village. In 2011, aged 90, she said: “There was no TV then. We were all doing our own thing. We had picnics, the butchers’ van called and the bakers van.We had a fish and chips van.,We had everything.

“It was terribly sad to leave. I spent so many years there. The village had a beautiful spring water there, we used to come up with our pitchers and fill up every day .

“My house was the last to go. The clay quarry was almost all the way to my back door. When they exploded the rocks were hitting my back door, that’s when I knew it was It was time to move on.”

Trowan



One of the derelict properties at Trowan near St Ives before work began
One of the derelict properties at Trowan near St Ives before work began

At its peak, the village of Trowan, which is at least 700 years old, had about 100 occupants. In 1959 this number fell to just ten, and for many years there was only one person living in the hamlet. Then there were none at all.

The village on the outskirts of St Ives fell into disrepair, with many of the 11 buildings remaining in disrepair. Over time, Trowan was left off the charts. There were no road signs and any memory of its existence faded.

The hamlet was all but forgotten when developer Phil Bradby, owner of Manchester-based Mango Homes, stumbled upon it while on holiday in Cornwall in 2003.

Phil had spotted a sign erected by a farmer stating that the village of 49 acres of farmland, 11 buildings and a 700-year-old well that supplied houses with water was for sale.

Mango Homes bought Trowan that year for £1million and soon began an extensive renovation project, rebuilding homes one by one in “timeless fashion”.

Phil told CornwallLive in 2018: “It said ‘farm for sale’ but the cluster of buildings was actually an abandoned village and when I looked at the history I was mesmerized. It’s one of the most ancient agricultural landscapes in the world.

“The oldest building in the hamlet dates back to the 1500s. The hamlet was once much larger, but gradually most of the buildings fell into disuse and a number of them were demolished, some to build Morveren House in 1909.”

drift valley



The entrance gate to a field that is usually completely underwater at Drift Reservoir

In 2018, after one of the driest starts to summer on record in the UK, water levels dropped in our most westerly reservoir to reveal the remains of homes in a lost valley.

With the water almost two meters lower than it should be, old stone walls, outlines of buildings, gate posts and even roads began to see daylight for the first time in years .

Beneath the waters of Drift Reservoir, near Penzance, lie the ruins of a community that had to move, lock, store and barrel, when the men with the concrete trucks arrived.

Trewidden Vean, a substantial farm and smallholding in Nanquitho has existed for hundreds of years, with a reference to the latter recorded in 1763.

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At one time, they housed 14 people. Now they exist only in photographs and in the memory of one of their last surviving residents.

A few years ago Margaret Pengelly spoke to CornwallLive about life in the Lost Valley, as locals – those who still remember – call this natural wooded bowl in the landscape that planners decided to fill with water .

From planning to completion, the Drift Dam took 23 years, and between 1938 and 1961 a number of families left – and, surprisingly, towards – Nanquitho and Trewidden Vean.

Margaret said: ‘Of course the war set him back. On Friday, February 3, 1961, the reservoir overflowed for the very first time. I remember that day well.

It was a day of mixed emotions for Margaret, whose family had moved from Paul to rent Nanquitho in the 1940s, knowing it was already doomed.

Nanquitho was compulsorily purchased and demolished to create a drinking water supply for West Penwith. The waters also receded to reveal the skeleton of the village in the 1970s and 1990s.

Trewortha and other medieval villages



Stargazing at Lanyon Quoit

There are the remains of a Bronze Age village at Trewortha on Bodmin Moor, which was excavated in 1891/92 revealing the medieval settlement. Excavations revealed the remains of a number of stone buildings.

In 1952 nearby Garrow was also revealed with a house dating from the 13th to 15th centuries.

Treworld in north east Cornwall was excavated in 1963, with stone houses believed to date from 1200.

In 1964 the site of Lanyon in West Cornwall was excavated revealing 12th century stone buildings.

There is evidence of Neolithic occupation of the area with the nearby megalithic tombs of Lanyon Quoit and West Lanyon Quoit. In the same field as West Lanyon Quoit is Old Lanyon, an abandoned medieval farmhouse dating from around 1050 and abandoned in the late 15th or early 16th century.

Chysauster



A footpath in one of Cornwall's ancient stone villages
A footpath in one of Cornwall’s ancient stone villages

Certainly neither lost nor forgotten, Chysauster – near Penzance – is one of Britain’s best preserved ancient villages.

The remains of the stone-walled houses are fascinating and would have once housed a close-knit community between the late 1st and 3rd centuries.

The settlement, overseen by English Heritage, is also home to one of Cornwall’s mysterious fogous (subterranean structures). Well worth a visit.

About Marco C. Nichols

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