Accidental Meetings – A Place Where Past And Present Intersect


Most of my friends and family know of my fascination with photographing old churchyards and cemeteries. I can get lost in a one for hours if left alone and I was delighted when I first came to Cornwall to find John living in a village with a lovely church only a short walk from home.

Since marrying him and moving to the UK, I’ve spent a lot of time in the churchyard especially when I felt a need for a quiet moment, not that it’s very busy or noisy in our village of 500. It’s a peaceful spot to watch the birds fly in and out of the church tower or to photograph the seasons as they change and I used to stop there for a rest at the end of a run. Even though my runs have become more of run/walk in the last few years, I still like to have a look around when I’m passing by.

I am always interested in photographing the gravestones, especially the old ones, and I notice when I spot an unusual name. The gravestone below first caught my eye because it is next to one (not in the picture) that has Elizabeth on it. I know it may sound strange, but I always look for headstones with John and Elizabeth lying next to each other. Click here to see a post about a churchyard over looking the sea where I posted some gorgeous photos and wrote more about how we always seem to find our names together.

Like any small community, you can discover a lot about its history through the names on the gravestones. Unusual names like, Axworthy tend to make me head for my computer pretty quickly to see what I can learn, but I have to admit that until I met a member of the Axworthy family last Sunday, I had not followed up on the research.

The Return 2009

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day in the UK and I had the pleasure of meeting a woman who was born in the cottage which use to house the old post office for our village. She moved away when she was seven, but still comes back a few times a year to have a bit of lunch and a look around the village. I recognized her maiden name right away when she told me because Axworthy is one of the more interesting names in the churchyard. She was in the pub with her son and daughter-in-law who told me she still lived in a village nearby.

Gwendoline Axworthy

Gwendoline Axworthy

After she told me her name and where she had been born, her son mentioned that there was a photo on the wall in another  room of the pub that had some of their relatives in it. I went around ‘borrowed’ it and after talking about the men in the photograph, I asked her permission to take a picture of her holding a copy of the photo of her great-grandfather, Austin Axworthy and great-uncle, Edgar Axworthy.

Cornwall 2013

They are sitting in front of the cottage/post office where she was born in 1926. While I don’t think there are Axworthy’s in our village anymore, there are certainly Pengelly’s living here. Tom Pengelly was the postman according the family.

I was pleased to meet such a delightful woman with a history and link to this place that has become my home and I was happy that she and her family gave me permission to use the photo and share our meeting online.

The stone cottage she was born in has changed a lot over the years. You can just see the edge of it where the women are standing in the doorway in the photo above.


In this old black and white photograph provided by Shirley Runnells, the cottage that housed the old post office is on the right side with the phone box near the doorway. With a family living upstairs, I can’t imagine there was much privacy when trying to use the phone. The two cottages attached to it were later joined to form one.

Cornwall 2013

I took this photo taken last week and while you can’t see it, there is a window behind the blue car that used to be the doorway to the middle cottage. I am not sure when the two became one, but the old post office was housed in the white cottage until 1999.

Cornwall 2013

The stone cottage across from it is the ‘Old Smithy.’ I am not sure why we still call it that when we don’t have another blacksmith in the village.

When I researched the Axworthy name, I confirmed that it was Saxon in origin, something John had already told me, and the earliest recording of it in writing was during the reign of Henry VIII when Harry Axworthy was christened in 1542 in Lezant, Cornwall.

It might be easy for some to take the history of a place for granted, but in a country where you don’t have to go far to see something like the Celtic cross which marks the intersection of two lanes on the left in this photo, it’s difficult not to occasionally imagine the ghosts of those who lived here before me.

Talking with the great-granddaughter and great-great-grandson of the man in the photograph may have answered a few questions, but the real gift was more of a day-dreamy one as I imagined the lady before me as a baby and young girl learning to walk the same paths I’ve come to love in the village where we live.

Have you ever had an accidental meeting of a similar sort? 

Altarnun Church – Cathedral Of The Moors

Photo by John Winchurch

Alternun Church is known as the Cathedral of the Moors and while from the outside it looks at a glance like many other parish churches in Cornwall, this one has tower which is 109 feet tall (3rd tallest in Cornwall) and is partly constructed of moorstone which is not quarried stone, but granite lying about on the moor. The original church of St. Nonna was Norman and built in the 12th century, but only a few pieces still remain. Named after after the mother of St David who left her native Wales around 527, the church as you see it now was built in the 15th century.

In the photograph just above and below you can see a Celtic cross from the 6th century which would have been standing during St Nonna’s time.

The Celtic cross is to the left of the church gates.

Moving inside the church the first thing you see is the light from the long row of windows and the faces on the huge font below.

The baptismal font is one of the few remaining pieces from the 12th century church and according to a church guide written by William Kneebone (parish vicar from 1936 to 1967) is typical of the late Norman style. The faces and radial motif along with the square shape are typical of the period in contrast to the rounded fonts favored during the Saxon period.

I think they look fairly fierce in a simple sort of way.

I can’t imagine having a baby baptized over a font that has been in use since the 12th century.

One of the things this church is known for and one reason John wanted to see it was the collection of carved bench ends. These are also unusual in that the work is signed. As you can see above, the 79 bench ends were carved by Robart Daye during the years 1510-1530. Some are traditional Christian symbols.

Some depict scenes from the renaissance period like the medieval fiddle above.

On this one you see a jester which seems an interesting choice for a church bench.

Some of them have had the faces destroyed.

This box was interesting in that not only was it dated 1684 based on the carving you see, but it was still in use. There’s loads more in this church that is historical and interesting. To read more about it you can go here or come to Cornwall to see it for yourself.

All This And Each Other Too

Yesterday, after a working on my studio space which is almost ready for its big unveiling, John and I took a little walk. We went out the door with a clear mission seeking the first signs of spring. We were hoping to find Snowdrops, the flowers you see below.

Pushing through the earth on an old grave in the churchyard, we caught our first glimpse of the green and white flowers.

Moving farther down the hill, we went to a secret place we know of that will look like a carpet of green and white in a few weeks as the snowdrops raise their heads and begin to open. Most of them are still budlike and new, but if you go in close for a better look, scattered among the green stalks with their bowed heads of tightly closed petals, you can see a few opening with centers that look almost etched with color in vibrant shades of green.

We follow a familiar path as we walk through the buttercup field and cross over this water. As I take this photograph,  I comment to John that this is the shade of green I wanted to duplicate in my studio space when I bought the fabric to recover an old chair.  I promise you these are real colors saturated by nature, not Photoshop that light up like this even in the late afternoon light of a shadowy wood.

More shades of green with a leaf tucked in the space were it fell last fall.

The bluish purple of this water always calls me to this spot and I have tried to duplicate it in my studio color scheme. It is one of the many colors in the fabric I used to recover my daybed.

It was about here that John took my hand and said, ” We are so lucky to have all this and each other too. ” I often think the same thing and have said it myself. It’s lovely to know that we share an appreciation of our space and each other in such a similar way.

This celtic cross marks the way into our village and behind it you see a stile I cross over sometimes on my way through a farmer’s field. It’s from this field, I was able to photograph a snowy view of our village a few weeks ago with the church tower in the background.

These horses always come to greet me when I pass by. ( I must remember to bring the sugar cubes I bought for them )

After our walk, we stopped by the pub for a cider for John and diet lemonade for me before heading for home. I gave a few dogs in the pub a good cuddle and we chatted with some friends before stepping outside into the evening light. I couldn’t help but snap a few pictures trying to capture this peaceful scene as we walked up the hill towards home.