Week St Mary
Week St Mary
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.
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
Cornish Archaeology 31, pp143-153.
Ground & Aerial photographs