A History of Brown Edge, a Staffordshire Moorlands Village

I have always been fascinated by the story about a young travelling evangelist, William Trebilcock, who came to Brown Edge and died here in 1892 .  I remember my family telling me that his parents couldn’t get here from Cornwall and that the village paid for the headstone.

What on earth bought a young man from Cornwall all the way to Brown Edge and why was he buried outside the main door in such a prominent place?  To me it seemed such a strange thing, especially as I have seen flowers on his grave.  He must have caused quite an impression.  Anyway when on holiday in Cornwall in 2008 I spotted a Trebilcock shop (bakers shop I think) in Truro so I wrote to the West Briton and asked if anyone had any connections or knowledge with this person.  A few months passed and bingo, a Jean Lapham made contact. Her grandfather was his younger brother and she had some information about him.  Today 12 May 2009, Jean and her cousin visited his grave and gave me the following fascinating account about what turns out to be an increddible young man that melted the hearts of a tough mining village in three short weeks.

The following is a synopsis of Williams life by Jean Lapham

William John Trebilcock 1869 to 23rd July 1892

William John was born at Carnon Downs in the Parish of Feock, near Truro in Cornwall in 1869, the eldest son of Captain William John Trebilcock and his wife, Elizabeth (nee Gay).
His grandfather, another Captain William, lived at Venton Davey Farm at Playing Place in the parish of Kea. As well as farming at Playing Place, Capt. William had a haulage business, carrying tin from themines and retuning coal for the mine engines initially from Roundwood Quay, now a part of the Trelissick Estate, owned by the National Trust, south of Truro, on the banks of the River Fal.
An astute businessman, when stone was needed to tarmac the roads, he invested in a river barge, called The Mary, and thus continued to adjust the business as the mines closed. The other investor was a County Surveyor, before Capt. William purchased the remaining shares at a later date. They continued to haul stone to tarmac the roads from the quarries at Porthoustock, near the Manacle Rocks at the Southern end of Falmouth Bay near St. Keverne.
This business was continued all through the last war, carrying stone to make roads for the American Forces in preparation for D-Day. Lasting until the 1950s when the barge was sold, as road transport became the norm.
(My father, again, the eldest son, was named William John, and worked on the barge with his father, The evangelist William John’s younger brother, Charles Henry, the second son of Capt. William.)
Thus, that is why in Historical Records, William John, B. 1869-1892 is referred to as a Mariner. As the eldest son, he had to help his father run the family business. The “Feock Trebilcocks”, a large family, had strayed into the neighboring parish of Kea, because the farm was divided by a stream which was the Parish Boundary, so that is why they are difficult to trace.
When living at Playing Place, the family attended Kea Parish Church where William and Elizabeth are buried.  At the bottom of the headstone is written.

Carnon Downs, Feock, Truro, Cornwall.

When Captain William retired, the eldest son, John took over the farm and William, the second son ran the family barge, Mary. As this was moored in the Restronguet Creek on the River Fal, the family moved to Carnon Downs and lived at 7, Higher Carnon.
(From the 1891 census) Household Record. 
7 Higher Carnon, Carnon Downs, Feock, Truro, Cornwall.


William Trebilcock Head 53 Kea Master Mariner
Elizabeth Wife 51 Feock Mariner Wife
William J. Son 22 Feock Mariner
Charles Henry Son 20 Feock Mariner
Catherine Ada Dau 17 Feock Mothers Hem
Elizabeth Sarah Dau 12 Feock Scholar
Thomas James Son 10 Feock Scholar

All the children were baptised at Carnon Downs Methodist Church of the Wesleyan tradition, and now a listed building. Captain William became one of the trustees and leaders of the Society there and the children attended the Sunday School. (From the Methodist Baptism Register, Truro Circuit).
William John was born there and attended St. John’s National School, Devoran (formerly a Church School, which doubled as a church until 1856) as did all his siblings, Emily, Charles Henry, Ada, Lizzie, Thomas James and Maud.
Their parents, William and Elizabeth, had to pay a penny a week for each child to be educated there. As twelve was the leaving age at that time, William would have helped his father on the barge from 1881, and from the 1891 census he is listed as still living at Carnon Downs with his family. (William is top left)

Devoran, at that time was a busy port.
Coal was imported from Wales to supply the mines at Redruth, and bring tin back to be taken to South Wales for smelting. A mineral railway was constructed from Devoran to Redruth, named the Devoran — Chasewater Railway, even though it did not go near Chacewater!

The barges were very busy bringing supplies to Devoran for distribution in the mining area. (Just recently therehas been a programme of railway walks when this route, ending at Portreath on the north Coast was featured).

Family memories.
Obviously William John did not appear to enjoy life at sea, and when a relatively young man, he stated that he wished to become a missionary.
My late aunt, Maud Trebilcock, had told my cousin, Ann Towsey, that he wanted to become a Methodist Minister, but instead, he was accepted as a Methodist Local Preacher and an Evangelist. He had wished to become a missionary abroad, but instead he was sent to Brown Edge. The story goes on. While at Brown Edge he was very respected and loved, but it was reputed that he slept on damp sheets in the lodgings, and died of rheumatic fever which turned to pneumonia as a result, at the early age of twenty- three.
The parishioners paid for three photographs to be sent to his parents, and I possess a copy of the originals of the burial in the churchyard. We assume that his parents could not travel to Brown Edge for the funeral, as William had five younger siblings.
Meanwhile I have done some research and found an account written by his youngest brother Thomas James, as a part of a talk given by Thomas in 1953 to the people at Camon Downs Methodist Church and taken from his brother’s autobiography.

William John was employed by his father on the barge, Mary, and was delivering stone to Gweek, on the Helford River, where he had to stay the night on board. After attending a service there, he felt that he was called to become an evangelist, and soon joined the Methodist Church as a Local Preacher, leading many missions locally. Soon afterwards, owing to the success of his missions at Carnon Downs and at various chapels in the Truro Circuit, he was accepted as an evanglelist by the Revd.Thomas Champness, the head of Cliff College, then situated at Castleton Hall, Rochdale, and sent to Brown Edge. As he was still living at home at the time of the 1891 census, taken in April- May, so he could not have spent more than a year at Brown Edge before his untimely death in July 1892.

William John Trebilcock.
The following is an excerpt from the memorial Number of the Joyful News, a Cliff College publication, dated June 8th 1893, which has been confirmed by the
Archivist of Cliff College on April 22nd 2009.

“A stranger to most of our workers, William John Trebilcock, a Cornishman, a strong, robust looking, sturdy young man, and when he was sent to work in Staffordshire, among the miners of Norton-in-the-Moors, his manly Christianity won from them respect and love. His ministry to the rough colliers was greatly blessed. 
A revival broke out, and many of the most Godless turned from sin and became truly converted. Mr. Trebilcock spared no paths for their salvation and it was when putting forth extra effort to bring some of them to Christ that he caught the chill, which brought on rheumatic fever that laid him low.
A loving, weeping people bore him to his grave in the country churchyard on the Staffordshire hillside and his name will ever dear to many who will be his “Crown of rejoicing” in the day of the Lord.
He loved his work: no greater joy or honour would have he desired than to die as he had lived, preaching the glorious truths of the Gospel of Christ.
We have just heard that a new chapel is to be built at Newton-in-the -Moors and we believe it is largely owing to the devoted labours of Brother Trebilcock that such an even has become possible. (I understand this to be Sandy Lane Chapel.)
We praise God for this good man’s connection with us, and feel that it is no small honour to have his name among the list of the glorified saints of the “Joyful News” Mission.
Bro. Trebilcock departed this life on July 23rd 1892.”

The Impact

The Rev Page MA Vicar of Brown Edge wrote the following in 1915 “….The memory of Trebilcock is still green and his last resting place is cared for by loving hands. His visit to the village lasted three weeks, some days of which were spent in bed with pneumonia caused by sleeping in a damp bed,ended his service here.  People still speak of his open air meetings and of his fearless crusade in the public houses, where, accompanied by his melodian, he sang his songs of deliverance and knelt to pray, too often amidst the jeers of those seated there. But he lived long enough to do some reaping, for ten men changed their lives owing to his faithful words. He speaks still and like John Wesley from a village Tombstone, reminding us we are here to reap and gather the eternal fruit, pointing men to the mansions on high

The Present Day

I hope that this has given a little insight to the life of William John Trebilcock. In the early fifties Ada’s daughter, William’s niece, Enid with her family visited the grave, and her daughter Catherine remembers this. Most of the rest of the great nieces and nephews still live in the area and many of us are active in church life.
At Carnon Downs Methodist Church the descendants of William’s brother, Charles, and sister Ada, work tirelessly among many others, to spread the Christian Message in caring for our “neighbours”, and for the maintenance of the building as visual evidence of the Christian Presence in the Village, the only building, as the nearest churches are at Devoran, Feock and Kea. They are, in order of age, Jean Lapham, Catherine Lobb, Jane Davey, Ursula Hughes, and Vera Mannell,. All have many faceted roles in the life of the church and village.
Other cousins are active in the churches in their community.
At – Frogpool — Rachel Richards
At Threemilestone — William Charles Ewart (Ewart)
At – Penpoll— Edwin Trebilcock (Ted)
At – Perranwell – Ann Towsey
Carnon Downs is a very different community now than in 1880s, but we try to continue the old values of supporting each other, going out of our way to be friendly, helping those who need help, and probably some who don’t, while trying to include all the new residents in village life. It is largely a dormitory village for Truro, with a large proportion of mature residents as well as families. We have a doctor’s surgery, Supermarket, a Post Office, a Village Hall, which is very fully used, housing all kinds of activities for every age group. As well as the Sunday Morning Service and Church Groups, from Bible Study to Mothers and Toddlers Group, other organisations use the Sunday School Hall for their meetings. We run a Village friendship Coffee Morning every Friday, and a Soup Lunch once a month, on the last Friday on the month. We aim to be a central force in the Village and provide a service to all. Everyone is welcome to all these activities.
We are always pleased to welcome visitors, and many walkers and visitors to the Village Camping Site are regular visitors. We hope that when you visit Cornwall you will visit us at the Church in Carnon Downs where William was raised.
I thank the Cornwall Record Office for their help, the Archivist of Cliff College and many family members who helped me compile this document.
Jean Lapham. April 22 2009

A note to add.  Jean and her family said that William was in “looked after” by two spinster sisters.  That is almost certainly the Heaton sisters which might explain how such a community was mobilised to regard this young visitor as someone worthy of such high esteem.


9 Responses

    1. I would like to know about James Henry Trebilcock, borned in Cornwall between 1830 e 1850 who came to Brazil to work in the MG; mines.
      He has many children, Alberto, Henrique, Fany, Georgina,…
      Thank you

  1. Having now lived in Cornwall for some 29 years, I found this a very interesting article. I am more familiar now with a lot of the places referred to in Cornwall in the article than I am with those of my native surroundings. Indeed I recall a few summers ago being confronted by Peter Turner in High Street here in town, I am embarrassed to say that I did not recognise him. It’s very odd to realise that I have now spent more time living in Cornwall than I did in Brown Edge, it’s almost like having lived two separate lives. Anyway, I still love to visit my home village and always return to Cornwall loaded down with oatcakes and the odd Wrights pie. All the best to you all, Paul Whiston, Coxswain, RNLI St Ives lifeboat.

    1. Hi Paul
      I see you most years. Last year I was having a pint outside the Sloop talking to some ex Halfords lads I met and you came past in a Grey A30 van!

      1. Hi Pete
        Yep, it was an A35 van. Had it for a few months & sold it on. It went back up to Derbyshire.
        I have a blue Austin (Morris) 1000 pickup which I use most of the time when it’s fine.
        Next time you are down, give me a call & if I can, I’ll join you for a pint.
        Regards Paul
        PS It was great to meet the Queen last week, thanks for putting something in the parish magazine, plenty in the Cornishman & West Briton but not read by many in Brown Edge.

  2. Many thanks for those who have taken the time to find out this information and list it here for all to see – i have lived next door to brown edge church now for 12 years and have often wondered why this man was buried here, and so close to the church entrance. he must have made a huge impression on the villagers. Its great to see thse pictures of the burial, which makes me wonder whether my great great grandfather smith is amongst the mourners
    best wishes and thank you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *