NGR: SW 9910 5961
The settlement of Roche sits on a prominent ridge on the northern
edge of the St Austell Downs, close to the headwaters of the Fal
River, Cornwall’s longest river. The area appears to contain a large
number of local springs, river sources and holy wells, as well as a
supposedly magical pool near Roche Rock, itself a striking rocky
pinnacle of tourmalinised granite, and a geological Site of Special
Roche Rock appears from prehistory to have had a long standing as a
significant local religious centre. The earliest evidence for
activity in the area was found only recently when housing
development to the north of the rock uncovered remains of pits
containing Neolithic pottery and other remains. Settlements in the
vicinity take their name from this remarkable natural feature. The
name of nearby Tregarrick, first coined in the early mediæval
period, means ‘the farming settlement of the Rock’ and Roche itself
is a Norman-French name meaning simply ‘Rock’. The abundance of
antiquarian descriptions and illustrations of the site indicate that
the site has retained its iconic status to the present day.
The association of Roche parish church with Roche Rock to the south
has long been an important one and, until modern development
obscured the way, there was a visible connection between the church
and the ruined chapel on the rock. The history of Roche church goes
back to Norman times with a font of that period and a cross in the
churchyard of unusual proportions and decoration. The current church
dates to the fifteenth century, albeit with an interior modified in
the late nineteenth century, and its exceptionally tall tower looks
across the tree tops to Roche Chapel, also built in the early
fifteenth century and dedicated in 1409, as is common with chapels
in high places, to St Michael.
The chapel, built on the precipitous outcrop, ingeniously
incorporates the bedrock in its structure. Built of large squared
blocks of granite, probably quarried from the surrounding moor, its
construction in this position must have been a masterpiece of
mediæval engineering. It stands two storeys high with a lower room
in which, according to tradition, lived a hermit attended by his
daughter who fetched water for him from a hole in the rocks known as
Gonetta’s Well. The room above served as the chapel. Although the
west wall has all but disappeared, the east wall survives to almost
its full original height, with a large arched window now missing its
tracery. Old drawings of the rock hint at further buildings on top
of the rock, but these have long disappeared, as has the chapel’s
roof. Access to the chapel was originally by rock-cut steps but is
now by an iron ladder (take care!).
The precise reason for building it is unclear. It may simply
represent continuity of religious activity on a site long-venerated
or may be a pious but very visible reminder of the importance of the
person or group that funded its construction. One suggestion is that
it could have stood as a light or beacon for guiding travellers
across the moors; another that it was set up in imitation of the
most famous place of pilgrimage of St Michael in Cornwall, St
Michael’s Mount, perhaps even with the aim of attracting pilgrims en
route for the Mount.
The monument stands in a small area of heathland with open access.
It can be reached by public footpath from the road leading out of
Roche towards Carbis.
Herring, P and Smith, J, 1991. The Archaeology of the St Austell
China Clay Area. Historic Environment Service, Cornwall County
Cahill Partnership and Cornwall Historic Environment Service, 2005.
Cornwall Industrial Settlements Initiative: Roche. Historic
Environment Service, Cornwall County Council.
Cole, R and Jones, A, 2003. Journeys to the Rock: archaeological
investigations at Tregarrick Farm, Roche, Cornwall. in Cornish
Archaeology 41-42, pp107-143.
Ground & Aerial photographs