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St Columb Major

OS Grid ref:- SW 9163

The historic town of St Columb Major, often referred to as just St. Columb, lies around seven miles (11 km) to the southwest of Wadebridge and six miles (10 km) east of the seaside resort of Newquay.

Twice a year the St. Columb Major plays host to 'hurling', a medieval game which was once common throughout the county of Cornwall but now only played in St Columb and St Ives. It is played on Shrove Tuesday and then again on the Saturday eleven days later. The game involves two teams of several hundred people (the 'townsmen' and the 'countrymen') who endeavour to carry a silver ball made of apple wood to goals set two miles (3 km) apart.

The place name, Sancta Columba, is first recorded in the thirteenth century. St Columb Major was granted its market charter in 1333 by King Edward III in reward for Sir John Arundell supplying troops to fight the Scots at the Battle of Halidon Hill near Berwick-on-Tweed.

During the reign of the boy king Edward VI and following the Prayer Book Rebellion of 1549, William Mayow the Mayor of St. Columb was hanged by Provost Marshal, Anthony Kingston outside an inn in the town in punishment leading a revolt in Cornwall. John Kennall, a staunch Roman Catholic was still holding Mass at St Columb Major as late as 1590.

In 1645 during the Civil War, Sir Thomas Fairfax and his Parliamentarian army were advancing from Bodmin towards Truro, on 7 March the army halted for the night, around four miles (6 km) beyond the town of Bodmin. King Charles I's forces were quartered near St. Columb, where a skirmish took place between the Prince's regiment and a detachment of the Parliamentary army under Colonel Rich, which the latter won.

The parish church is dedicated to St Columba, who was a holy woman and probably came from Ireland to preach to her fellow Celts here and in Brittany. According to tradition Columba was pursued up the river by a heathen tyrant who wished her to marry his son, and was martyred at Ruthvoes, about 2 1/2 miles from St Columb. For most of the Middle Ages the church belonged to the Arundells of Lanherne and was lavishly endowed. Within the church were two chantry chapels served by six priests altogether. The fifteenth century tower consists of four stages with battlements and pinnacles. It rises to 80 feet (24 m) high and contains eight bells re-hung in 1950. In 1920 the chiming clock was added as a memorial to the men of St. Columb who died in the Great War.

The building contains some fine monumental brasses, including one to Sir John Arundell (1474-1545) of Lanherne, Receiver-General of the Duchy of Cornwall, and that of Eleanor Grey his wife who was the granddaughter of Elizabeth Woodville, who was Queen consort of King Edward IV. In 1676, the largest part of the church of St Columb was blown up with gunpowder by three youths of the town. The holy well of Saint Columba is situated in the hamlet of Ruthvoes, around two miles from the town, where legend states she was beheaded.

The Old Rectory, also known as the Old Bishop's Palace, was designed in 1851 by the renowned architect William White, the rectory was intended to be the home of Cornwall's bishop, before it was decided a cathedral would be built in Truro.

The iron-age hill fort of Castle an Dinas lies around 2 miles (3.2 km) to the east of St Columb. The earthwork is generally thought to be one of the most significant hillforts in the British Isles. It is thought to have been occupied circa 400BC to 150 AD. The Devil's Quoit, situated at OS grid reference SW923619 is the capstone of a megalithic burial chamber which dates to the neolithic period. The monument was destroyed in 1870, although the capstone was preserved by St Columb Old Cornwall Society.

Cornish Towns and Villages