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Mediæval
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Week St Mary
 
 
  Week St Mary
Week St Mary

North Cornwall
NGR: SX 23720 97600
 
 
Week St Mary is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as the manor of Wich, an English name most probably meaning 'dwelling or village', with St Mary added later to distinguish it from other places with a similar name. In 1086, Wich had six villagers and ten smallholders and was held by Richard Fitz Turold, a steward and principal tenant of Robert of Mortain.

The manorial centre was the Norman castle that is situated to the west of the church. The low circular mound visible today is the remains of a Norman motte or ringwork, with a platform on top which would have provided the foundations for a timber or stone tower. Slight evidence for a bank surrounding the rim of the mound may suggest provision for a wooden palisade. Between the motte and the churchyard are earthworks representing the bailey or defensive enclosure that would have held the domestic buildings. Further earthworks, to the south, are probably the remnants of enclosures and buildings that sat outside the castle area but were still part of the manorial complex. To the east, the parish church probably originated as the manorial chapel.

In a county characterised by small hamlets, Week St Mary stands out as a substantial village with a church, open greens, and until recently a small cattle market. This is explained by the fact that in the 13th century the manorial lord established Week St Mary as a borough with a charter that entitled it to hold a market, fairs, and elect a mayor.

The plan of the modern village is notable for preserving the layout of the mediæval town, with a close relationship between the castle, the church and the market place. The market place was originally a large triangular area enclosing the churchyard in its’ top north-west corner and is still traceable despite some modern infilling. In this large open space stalls could be set up and traders with goods and people from surrounding farms would have thronged once a week to buy, sell and transact business. Maps clearly show the long thin burgage strips running back at right angles to the market and the main streets, marking out the individual plots of land held by the free tenants or burgesses, with a single house fronting onto the street. Although the mediæval town plan has survived, most of the houses present today are much later, with the exception of the old Grammar School and the church.

The best-known daughter of Week St Mary was Dame Thomasine Percival (born Bonaventure). Much of her repute depends on a romantic poem by the Reverend Stephen Hawker, but her life was nevertheless extraordinary. She was born in Week in about 1430 but on marriage left for London, where her third husband, John Percival of Macclesfield, eventually became Lord Mayor. Despite good fortune, Thomasine never forgot the place of her birth and she made a lasting tribute by endowing a chantry and grammar school. The grammar school was founded in 1508 ‘with fair lodgings for the school master, scholars and officers’; but the foundation was suppressed in 1548 and by the 19th century the buildings were in a ruinous state. Nevertheless, substantial remains survive, including three buildings, a battlemented wall and a well, one of the buildings having been restored sympathetically by the Landmark Trust in 1974.

The current church building dates predominantly to the 14th and 15th centuries, although there are fragments of the Norman stonework remaining and some of the moulded stonework of the east window and the piscina in the chancel are of 13th century date. The chantry chapel of St John the Baptist, founded by Dame Thomasine Percival in 1508 at the same time as the Grammar School, is in the north aisle. Both buildings are constructed of coursed greenstone, the only apparent examples of such within the town. The unbutressed west tower with carved plinth and string courses, is traditionally said to have also been paid for by Dame Percival.

Week St Mary Castle can be accessed by a stile on the west side of the churchyard; the field in which it is set is under a Countryside Stewardship agreement, with open access over the whole field.

Sources
Preston-Jones, A. 1987. Week St Mary. The Archaeology and Interpretation of a Parish. Historic Environment Service, Cornwall County Council.

Preston-Jones, A and Rose, P, 1992. Week St Mary, Town and Castle in Cornish Archaeology 31, pp143-153.
 
 
 
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Week St Mary Castle can be accessed by a stile on the west side of the churchyard; the field in which it is set is under a Countryside Stewardship agreement, with open access over the whole field.

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Nearby sites

Kilkhampton Castle
Penhallam Manor
 
supported by HLF and compiled by the Historic Environment Service of Cornwall County Council  
last updated: 05/09/2007