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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

The Travails of Silvanus Trevail

...... or An Emergency Stop in Luxulyan

This is a multifarious post, be warned.

Multifarious - Having many varied parts or aspects. Late 16th century, English. Medieval Latin word multifarius, from Latin multifariam, meaning "in many places" or "on many sides.

So straight away, in digressing into the word multifarious itself, I am introducing one of the multifarious aspects of this post. Around about the time this word entered the English language because someone took the Latin word multifarius and misspelled it, Elizabeth I was on the throne. It was a time when if there was a great earthquake, which there was, it would terrify people, which it did, especially if they were superstitious or otherwise in the grip of an ideology, and lacking the foresight of Alfred Wegener who wasn't going to be born for another 340 years, when he would propose the concept of Continental Drift. The concept of Continental Drift which explains earthquakes didn't even get a great press for another 50 years after Alfred came up with it, so outlandish was the idea that land on our planet floated around in big lumps knocking into each other and causing frescoes to crack on church ceilings and towers to fall.

At around six o'clock in the evening of 6 April 1580 there happened, what came to be known, as The Dover Straits Earthquake, the largest known earthquake in history to tickle this spot on the surface of the planet. So momentous is it in the history of earthquakes in Britain that when the engineers who built the Channel Tunnel were designing it they used all the known data about this earthquake 400 years earlier, to build it into their structural and safety plans.

We don't know today where the epicenter was, but it was quite deep because it was experienced over a very wide area. I cannot emphasise how much research was done into this earthquake as a result of the construction of The Channel Tunnel. All we need to know as travellers is that their worst case scenario has been taken into consideration.

The earthquake was so significant that it entered much of the literature of the day, including poems, pamphlets and books. Thomas Churchyard wrote that the quake could be felt across the city and well into the suburbs, as "a wonderful motion and trembling of the earth" that shook London, and "Churches, Pallaces, houses, and other buildings did so quiver and shake, that such as were then present in the same were toosed too and fro as they stoode, and others, as they sate on seates, driven off their places."

Thomas Deloney took it as a sign of God's displeasure because part of old St. Paul's cathedral toppled. The emerging Puritans blamed it on the newly fashionable trend of theatre, which they saw as the work of the Devil. Reports even reached King James in Scotland who was disturbed about the Devilish omens.

But I digress massively. This is Luxulyan Church in Cornwall. On a trip back in April we went out of our way to visit the famous Treffry Viaduct and right next door is the small village of Luxulyan, and this was how we came to be there and why on driving through the village, we hit the brakes as we passed this fascinating small church. Hitting the brakes while driving along, when we spot something interesting is something we do a lot of. You can read my post on the Treffry Viaduct here. Strictly speaking the Treffry Viaduct is also an Aqueduct, as it had small wagons on rails crossing it and also a channel carrying water, so it was a multiduct or a multifarious duct.

Sorry, this is going to happen all the way through as I am on a roll, and having now warned you that this post will be multifarious I feel you are on notice and deserve everything you get.

This is the village of Luxulyan and it is fairly unremarkable at first glance.

The first thing that caught my eye as we squeezed the car into the edge of the narrow road to park, was this sign. As you probably know by now this is just a red rag to a bull for me, and there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to find out everything I could about Captain Agar-Robartes whose name is carved in granite on The Luxulyan Memorial Institute. If your name is carved in granite, there is usually a good reason for it.The building was originally conceived as a Working Men's Institute and Reading Room opened in 1924. It has served the villagers in various ways since, and today it is a meeting room for local groups.

Thomas Charles Reginald Agar-Robartes (known as Tommy) was the eldest son and heir to the 6th Viscount Clifden and was destined to be the 7th Viscount Clifden. He was elected MP for Bodmin in 1906 and for St Austell in a by-election in 1908. He had been commissioned into the British Army in 1902.

When the 1st World War broke out he joined the Coldstream Guards and was posted to Flanders. He was wounded in the Battle of Loos and two days later while rescuing a fallen comrade under heavy fire, he was killed by a sniper for which he was recommended for the Victoria Cross. He was buried in a military cemetery near Béthune. He was one of 22 MP's who died during World War I. Aged only 35 he had never married or had children so the title passed to his younger brother Francis. Francis also had no children so when he died the title passed to his younger brother Arthur. He died without any male heirs so on his death the title Viscount Clifden died with him.

Such was our great and recently much maligned history, maligned by the ignorant, that it produced selfless individuals like this. Much is spoken today about privilege, again spoken mostly by the ignorant, that those ignorant people will not have heard of men like this who were actually born privileged, for Thomas Charles Reginald Agar-Robartes had everything and lost everything, by doing the right thing. He was to inherit hundreds of acres of land, and a stately home, Lanhydrock House, and all the money he could ever need, and he also had a safe seat in parliament and all the status in society any man could desire. He chose to volunteer, he went to the front line, he fought, was wounded, and still risked his life to save another while under fire. Who wouldn't carve his name in granite.

This arrangement of granite furniture was the cause of our emergency stop. I just had to have a closer look. It is difficult to age stone but we are talking about hundreds of years not decades, this is granite and it takes a lot of effort to wear down granite into these soft curves. What you can see are two stone benches for people to rest while they place a heavy coffin on the coffin rest in the middle. The original entrance would have been the gap on the right as here is the grid to prevent animals entering the churchyard. A gate probably closed across the gap on the left until there was a funeral. For some reason that is now reversed with the closed gate on the right. There may have been a wooden lych gate over the whole set up to keep people dry but there is no sign of that if it ever existed.

It is a thing of great age and beauty. The people who made it didn't think, it'll do, it'll see me out. The people who built this expected it to last hundreds of years, just like the church.

The parish church, originally Norman, was entirely rebuilt in granite in the 15th century. It is dedicated to St Ciricius and St Julitta. The tower is without buttresses or pinnacles and the south porch has battlements and a handsome tunnel-vault.

This is the second time I have come across St Ciricius and the other church I have written about dedicated to him was in Southpool in Devon.There his name is spelled St Cyriac. More on St Ciricius and his mother Julitta later.

Next to the entrance is this ancient Celtic cross. It was moved to this site in 1890 and is made from Luxullianite a local volcanic stone. The cross is Grade 2 listed by English Heritage.

Churchyard cross. Mediaeval or earlier origin. Granite, set on uncut metamorphic stone boulder. Cross about one metre high, wheelhead, with raised carved Maltese cross on each face. Ancient monument no. 347.

Luxullianite is a rare mineral and only found in the area around Luxulyan. It is a form of granite with large crystals of tourmaline embedded in it making it an attractive material for buildings and monuments. It was most famously used to construct The Duke of Wellington's tomb in St Paul's Cathedral.

The church itself is Grade 1 listed. The porch is late 15th century. Around the time this porch was being carved out of granite, Richard III was King of England. He died in The Battle of Bosworth Field, the last Plantagenet King, and his death marked the end of The Middle Ages and the end of The Wars of the Roses.

These famous wars were nothing to do with flower beds or gardening, they were dynastic bloody wars. The sort of wars that happen when there is a power vacuum and competing claims for that power.The roses were symbolic of the two warring families represented by the red and the white roses.

Following the war and the extinction of the last male line of the House of York in 1483, a politically arranged marriage united the Houses of Tudor and York, creating a new royal dynasty which inherited the Yorkist claim as well, thereby resolving the conflict. The result can still be seen in Royal Regalia today which features the double or Tudor Rose.

Bearing all that in mind it is no surprise that the buildings of the time had battlements on the roof and as seen here three small heraldic castle towers above the door. Two carved heads also stand guard at the entrance either side of the door. Either side of the arch are carved quatrefoil patterns.

This is the porch interior with its unusual decorative tunnel vaulting.

The porch door is only 19th century, almost brand new. One of the original screws has obviously fallen out of the handle, and been replaced, very unsympathetically. If I ever think I may be headed in this direction again, I am going to search our rusty old screw jar in the garage first, and try to find something dome headed and with a slot. This shiny zinc plated cross head monstrosity just will not do. Call me picky.

I have to confess the rusty old screw jar is curated by my other half not me, although I do have an old button box which was an antique when I got it, and which I have had for forty years, which sometimes comes in useful. For shirts obviously, not door handles.

If you are reading this, and you live in Luxulyan, and you also have a rusty old screw jar handy, and you get there before me, then please let me know in the comments.

The font is Norman which means it is about a 1000 years old and predates most of the church that can be seen today. It is described as Bodmin type, Bodmin being about 6 miles away, look at the faces carved in granite. Today's history revisionists, again as the result of total ignorance, would have you believe that the European artists of the 20th century stole unique styles like this from Africa. They would call it cultural appropriation. There is no doubt that artists were influenced by artefacts arriving with returning travellers, but here we have a 1000 year old European work of art that massively predates any African artefacts arriving in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century. Maybe we should call this style Universal, rather than African.

These arches are granite, no surprise there. They are described by English Heritage as Pevsner A Type. If you are interested in old buildings, as I am, you will have seen the name Pevsner before.

Sir Nikolaus Bernhard Leon Pevsner is the perfect example of Hitler's loss being our gain. He was born in Leipzig in 1902 and was awarded a Doctorate in Leipzig in 1924 for a thesis on The Baroque Architecture of Leipzig. He was a Lutheran and a big fan of German modernist architecture. He lectured in English art and architecture at the University of Göttingen where he eventually fell foul of Hitler's new race laws and was forced to resign in 1933.

This is a salutary tale especially today because why, you may ask, did he fall foul of the Nazi laws if he was a Lutheran? The answer is Anti-Semitism, for he was born to Jewish parents and this precisely explains that Anti-Semitism is about race and not about religion. People today still make this mistake in thinking about Anti-Semitism as an opposition to Judaism, or Zionism, when in fact it is racism pure and simple. The same ignorant people I have already mentioned, the useful idiots for their cause, who are experts in identity and victimhood are the new acceptable face of racism in the west.

Pevsner moved to Britain after he resigned, escaping just in time, the horror and disaster that historical revisionism always brings. After he moved to England, Nikolaus Pevsner found that the study of architectural history had little status in academic circles, and that the amount of information available, especially to travellers wanting to inform themselves about the architecture of a particular district, was limited. He conceived a project to write a series of comprehensive county guides to rectify this. Work on the series began in 1945. Two part-time assistants, both German refugee art historians, prepared notes for Pevsner from published sources. Pevsner spent the academic holidays touring the country to make personal observations and to carry out local research, before writing up the finished volumes. The first volume was published in 1951.

Pevsner wrote thirty-two of the books himself and ten with collaborators, with a further four of the original series written by others. The guides offer both detailed coverage of the most notable buildings and notes on lesser-known and vernacular buildings; all building types are covered but there is a particular emphasis on churches and public buildings.

I digress now into the side issue of how to photograph ancient churches with small windows and no electric light, on dark rainy days. The answer is, if you have a choice don't. Because this is what you get. In this case I had no choice because it was done on the spur of the moment.

This is the same photo below, and I place both of these here to demonstrate why it is a good idea to set your camera to RAW if you have that facility. For you non-camera buffs, actually I am not a camera buff either I'm a photo buff, and there is a big difference, so for me it is more a matter of necessity, RAW is a type of file that is much bigger than the Jpeg that you may be familiar with. For example on my camera a Jpeg will be about 8Mb in size while the exact same shot in RAW will be 30Mb in size.

So what does all that mean? When a camera or your phone takes a Jpeg it deliberately takes a smaller file to save space, so it decides for you what data it will keep and what data it will throw away. In this instance, it throws away the fact that in the distance in the dark there is an altar and candlesticks and a timber framed roof, because the extremes in light and dark are all averaged out.

In a RAW file the camera says OK I give up, here's everything, you decide. So you get to fiddle with the image in an editing suite, I use Affinity, and there hidden away are details in the dark. This is more like the way you would see this church interior if you walked in. When you entered the church from outside you would be blinded by the dark, and then gradually your eyes would adjust and the details would appear from the shadows.

Consequently it was too dark to get many details, like the memorial tablets.

Those timber roofs are called wagon roofs and in this case are later 19th century.

This is the main window in the church, below, and is placed above the altar in the chancel, it was donated to the church in 1903 as a memorial window, more on this later. It features 8 main panels, each with a pair of saints. If you read them left to right and top to bottom, St Cyricus and St Julitta are in panel number 7. These are the two saints to whom the church is dedicated.

Their exact history is disputed due the the mists of time but the most common story is that they were put to death at Tarsus in AD 304. They had fled to Tarsus and were identified as Christians whereupon Julitta was tortured and Cyricus, only a child, while being held by the Governor of the city, scratched his face and was killed by being thrown down some stairs. Julitta rather than weep at the death of her son celebrated his martyrdom so the Governor ordered that she have unspeakable things done to her which left her extremely dead. But there's more.

Their bodies were thrown on the heap of other bodies lying around outside the city, it sounds like a lovely place, and her two maids rescued their bodies and buried them nearby. Theodore of Mopsuestia sent a letter with the account to Pope Zosimus. If somebody did make all this up they had one hell of a vivid imagination.

Tarsus still exists as a city and is served by Adana Şakirpaşa Airport and is connected by Turkish State Railways to both Adana and Mersin. Hopefully it has changed a bit since then.

Zosimus, an unlikely name for a Pope, I admit, was Pope number 41 and ruled for 97 days. He fell out with Emperor Honorius and got himself exiled. To give some context the current Pope is number 266.

This is a detail from panel 5, below, and it piqued my curiosity. It is held by St Laurence. If you are thinking it looks like a fire grate or the bottom of a barbecue, you are not far from the truth.

If you thought the previous story was far fetched, wait until you hear this one. We turn back the calendar a little to Pope number 24, Sixtus II. Laurence and Sixtus met in Spain and travelled to Rome together, Sixtus was a famous teacher. After they travelled to Rome Wikipedia jumps to....."When Sixtus became Pope" with no preamble as to how this happened. Maybe they were just glad to see him.

As Pope he appointed his best mate Laurence as Archdeacon of Rome, putting him in charge of finances and all the wealth of the Catholic Church. Quite a promotion. It's a bit like being an ex politician one day, a Baron the next and Foreign Secretary the next, with no election. Highly improbable. I did warn you it was far fetched.

Then out of the blue, the Emperor Valerian just issued an edict that all bishops, priests and deacons should immediately be put to death, just like that. Sixtus, who thought he was Pope was quickly caught and separated from his head. Easy come easy go. He should have stayed in Spain.

Having removed Sixtus the prefect of Rome demanded Laurence turn over all the cash, and there was a lot, this was Rome. Laurence dilly dallied for several days because he had a plan. As well as being in charge of all the cash he was also in charge of giving cash to the poor and indigent. The indigent were the people who had had their cash taken off them already by the church. Laurence spent three days giving all the cash back until there was nothing left, a bit like lockdown grants in Covid, only in reverse. In Covid they gave us borrowed money and now they are taking it back.

On the third day, have you noticed that Biblical tales are always three days, the prefect said, OK, where's all the cash? Laurence had invited who Hillary Clinton would have called the deplorables round to meet the prefect, thousands of them. Laurence was what the media would call today Far Right as he roused the populace against the unelected elites. He presented the deplorables to the prefect and said,

"Behold in these poor persons the treasures which I promised to show you; to which I will add pearls and precious stones, those widows and consecrated virgins, which are the Church's crown."

He was trying to point out that the wealth of the church was in fact it's people.

Now we get to the barbecue. The prefect was so angry that the deplorables got all his cash that he had a big barbecue set up with a gridiron over red hot coals. Laurence was placed on it and sizzled away in agony for a bit whereupon he "cheerfully declared" according to Wikipedia, "I'm well done on this side. Turn me over!".

This was how St Laurence became the patron saint of both chefs and comedians. I am not making this up, although an editor on Wikipedia might be. This got me to thinking about the concept of the comedy roast, is this where the term originates? The word roast originally meant to cook on a gridiron, it does seem like a big coincidence.

This is the other side of the cross we saw earlier and is it just me or can you now see how Christian symbols may have evolved from pagan fertility symbols?

This is a more modern cross based on the wheelhead type cross of old.

The tower is in three stages with embattlements on the top, and a pointed arched doorway below and it has a beautiful set of bells inside. Now about a hundred years ago, when you started reading this post it had a title, which by now you have completely forgotten about. The Travails of Silvanus Trevail. The bells in this tower were paid for by this man just over a hundred years ago, the man with the unlikely name. Before visiting this church I had never heard of this man and it's likely that you have never heard of him either.

In fact it wasn't until I started writing this post and editing these photos taken 7 months ago that I zoomed in on that beautiful stained glass window and read in the small print at the bottom that it was in fact donated as a memorial to Silvanus Trevail by his sister. The unusual name intrigued me so I wondered, who this man was. What a tale of both huge success and huge tragedy I stumbled upon.

So I will finish this post with the story of Silvanus Trevail.

Silvanus was born in Luxulyan parish in 1851. From this Victorian rural backwater Silvanus rose to become the Mayor of Truro, the President of the British Society of Architects and an International Architecture medal winner in Paris and Sydney.

He was educated in St Austell and later became an "Associate of Arts" at Oxford and took honours in English, Mathematics, Differential Calculus, Trigonometry and Drawing at Cambridge. He built 50 of Cornwall's Board Schools and some across the border in Devon. He also built many churches at Penzance, Redruth and Mevagissey to name but a few. Many of Truro's key buildings were designed by him including the Post Office. He also turned his hand to hotels, and many of Cornwall's grandest edifices are his, like the imposing Camelot Castle hotel of Tintagel.

Royal Cornwall Gazette - Thursday 16 October 1902

LUXULYAN CHURCH - Mr. Silvanus Trevail and the Luxulyan people generally had a gloriously fine day Tuesday for the celebration of an event which will go down to posterity as one of the most joyous in the parish history—the dedication of an enlarged and re constructed peal of bells, which, through Mr. Travail's munificence, has been presented to the parish in honour of his father and his deceased mother. It was a glorious autumn morning, after the late heavy rains, when on Tuesday people flocked from all parts of the countryside to Luxulyan village, up through the beautiful tree-clad village, over the adjacent moorland wastes, and along the narrow tortuous lanes, where the lingering wild flowers of summer still peeped out from the hedgerow, and mingled their genial presence with the autumn-tinged foliage of the bramble and the bracken.

This I might add is a daily newspaper, at a time when journalists wrote stuff and didn't just copy and paste clickbait. I am now right there and can see and feel and smell the place.

One could imagine how delightful these things must have been to the memory of one like Mr Trevail, when after seeking his fortune in the world, and not having sought in vain, he turned his steps to the old scenes of boyhood, saw the familiar sights and heard the familiar sounds. But there was one sound wanting. He would have listened in vain for the ringing of the village bells which forms so sweet a memory to the village child in after years. Coming home to lay his beloved mother in her last resting place in the old churchyard, and seeing the respect that everywhere was paid to her memory. Mr Trevail's heart was stirred and he resolved to bestow upon the parish a gift that should be a delight to the parishioners of all time.

Three of the old bells were recast, these had dates engraved on them from the 1660's, and three new ones were added. On the day of the dedication of the bells there was a celebration luncheon and we are lucky to have Mr Trevails own words from a speech he gave. First some levity about the arrangements....

You may not know it, but we have been exceedingly unfortunate in our relations with the Great Western Railway over this business. The bells arrived alright, but the clappers went astray, and were on the line six days before they were discovered (laughter). I have a sincere and warm friend associated with the railway here today all the way from Swindon - Mr Brewer (loud applause), and you may be sure it was not his fault (applause)....... soon about one hundred telegrams were despatched all over the system (laughter) and where do you think we discovered them ( A voice: "Don't know") (and laughter). There they had been at Newquay station all the time, but they were too lazy to go to the goods station to find out about them. That is the sort of smartness you get at Newquay (laughter). There are two consignments of Moselle still on the line (laughter), and I have consequently to apologise to you on behalf of GWR because they are not here time enough for this luncheon. The last thing I learn is that the pastry has gone astray (renewed laughter). I am sorry to have to apologise therefore for such a poor luncheon (cries of "No!")

It would have been impossible for anyone in attendance at this happy celebration in October 1902 to ever dream of how tragically all of this would end only a year later. There follows a report of the death of Mr Trevail, as described by witnesses, in some detail, so if you think you would find that distressing please do not read any further.

Cornishman - Thursday 12 November 1903

Suicide of Mr. Silvanus Trevail.

A Fatal Revolver Shot.


A painful sensation was created, not only throughout Cornwall, but in a much wider district, on Saturday as the news spread that Mr. Trevail, of Truro, had been found shot in the up-train which arrived at Bodmin Road shortly before quarter to one.

Mr. Trevail left his residence at Lemon Street, Truro, about half-past eleven in the morning, apparently with the idea of attending the funeral of his uncle at Luxulyun. He wore a frock coat and silk hat, and rode to the station, where he took a third-class single ticket for St. Austell, first stopping place of the fast train. No particular notice seems to have been taken of him until after the train had passed Lostwithiel Station. He occupied a seat in a compartment of a corridor coach which had a lavatory each end. In the compartment next to the ladies' lavatory four or five ladies were seated, including Mrs. May, wife of Captain May. of Par, who was on her way to see her husband at Plymouth. Mrs. May had a corner seat next the corridor and looking towards the lavatory.

After the train had passed Lostwithiel she noticed a gentleman dressed in mourning pass along the corridor towards the lavatory. She thought that strange and improper, and had her hand on the handle of the door with the intention of telling him so. While she hesitated in this attitude the gentleman came out and looked back along the corridor, putting his hand on the brass bar inside the window as if to steady himself. His appearance was so strange that Mrs. May decided to remain where she was.

When Mr. Trevail noticed the lady was watching him he put his stick against the corner of the window and backed into the lavatory again, using his stick to help him in doing so. A few seconds passed, and then, just as the train was slowing down for its stop at Bodmin Road Station, a report was heard. Mrs. May exclaimed: "That gentleman has shot himself !" opened the door, and rushed into the lavatory, where she was shocked seeing Mr. Trevail in a crouched position, his hat, stick, and revolver on the floor, and a bullet wound in the centre of the forehead. She shouted to the men in the carriage and to the porters as the train drew up at the station. P.C. Holwell, of St. Austell, who happened to be in the train, and Porter Pinder, of Bodmin Road, went to the lavatory.

Dr. Shore, travelling by the train was called and pronounced life extinct. By this time everyone on the platform and most of the passengers in the well-filled train knew what had happened, and the removal of the body to the waiting-room, under the direction of the stationmaster (Mr. E. C. Kenti, produced a painful impression. Dr. Anderson, of Bodmin, came out in response to a message from the stationmaster, and he at once confirmed the previous medical decision.

It is somewhat remarkable that Mr Trevail took a ticket for St Austell, as that station is quite a long distance from Luxulyan, which could be much more conveniently reached from Lostwithiel. Mr Trevail was a bachelor. His nearest relative is Mrs R Rundle of Trevollard, Duloe.

Mrs R Rundle was his sister and it was she that commissioned the memorial saints window in the church. At the inquest it became clear that Mr Trevail had not been of sound mind. Friends stated that he had been very depressed and also concerned about his business affairs, feeling sure there were "detectives after him". The Coroner said it was quite clear that "the poor fellow's mind was unhinged". There were actually no money or business problems found. A verdict of "suicide while temporarily insane" was returned.

If you are depressed there are now many forms of help available not the least of which is The Samaritans. The Samaritans operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Call 116 123 for free.

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