Tintagel or Trevena (Cornish: Tre war Venydh meaning village on a mountain) is a civil parish and village situated on the Atlantic coast of Cornwall, England. The village and nearby Tintagel Castle are associated with the legends surrounding King Arthur and in recent times has become a tourist attraction. Treknow is the largest of the other settlements in the Tintagel parish.
Tintagel Castle is a medieval fortification located on the peninsula of Tintagel Island adjacent to the village of Tintagel (Travena). The site was possibly occupied in the Romano-British period, as an array of artefacts dating to this period have been found on the peninsula, but as yet no Roman-era structure has been proven to have existed there. It was settled during the early medieval period, when it was probably one of the seasonal residences of the regional king of Dumnonia. A castle was built on the site by Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall in the 13th century, during the High Middle Ages. It later fell into disrepair and ruin.
*** – History – ***
A small cliff castle was established at Bossiney in Norman times, probably before the Domesday Survey of 1086. In Domesday Book, there are certainly two manors in this parish. Bossiney and Trevena were established as a borough in 1253 by Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall. Bossiney (which included Trevena) was held from the monks of Bodmin by the Earl of Cornwall: there was land for six ploughs and 30 acres of pasture (before the Conquest it had been held from the monks by Alfwy).
The monks of Bodmin held Treknow themselves: there was land for eight ploughs and 100 acres of pasture. Tintagel was one of the 17 Antiqua maneria of the Duchy of Cornwall. The parish feast traditionally celebrated at Tintagel was 19 October, the feast day of St Denys, patron of the chapel at Trevena (the proper date is 9 October but the feast has moved forward due to the calendar reform of 1752). The market hall and the site of the fair were near the chapel.
Trebarwith was the scene of the shipwreck of the Sarah Anderson in 1886 (all on board perished), but the most famous of the wrecks happened on 20 December 1893, at Lye Rock when the barque Iota was driven against the cliff. The crew were able to get onto the rock and apart from a youth of 14 were saved by four men (three of these from Tintagel: one of them Charles Hambly received a Vellum testimonial and three medals for bravery afterwards). The story is told in verse in Musings on Tintagel and its Heroes by Joseph Brown, 1897; the youth was buried in Tintagel Churchyard and the grave is marked by a wooden cross (his name is given in the bureaucratic Italian usage, surname first: Catanese Domenico).
On 6 July 1979, Tintagel was briefly subject to national attention when an RAF Hawker Hunter fighter aircraft crashed into the village following an engine malfunction; the unusual incident caused significant damage and consternation, but no deaths.
The borough of Bossiney was given the right to send two MPs to Parliament c. 1552 and continued to do so until 1832 when its status as a borough was abolished. For the purposes of local government, Tintagel is currently a civil parish and councillors are elected every four years.
*** – Antiquities – ***
The largest of the Bronze Age barrows is at the highest point in the parish, Condolden, another is at Menadue, and there are a number of others along the cliffs. In the Iron Age there were probably fortifications at Willapark and Barras Head, and inland at Trenale Bury. Two of the Roman milestones found in Cornwall are at Tintagel (the earlier of the two is described under Trethevy: the later one was found in the walls of the churchyard in 1889 and is preserved in the church. The inscription can be read as '[I]mp C G Val Lic Licin' which would refer to the Emperor Licinius (d. 324).
There are many other relics of antiquity to be found here such as the so-called King Arthur's Footprint on the Island and a carved rock from Starapark which has been placed outside the Sir James Smith's School at Dark Lane, Camelford. Rodney Castleden has written about these as Bronze Age ritual objects. "King Arthur's Footprint" is a hollow in the rock at the highest point of Tintagel Island's southern side. It is not entirely natural, having been shaped by human hands at some stage. It may have been used for the inauguration of kings or chieftains as the site is known to have a long history stretching back to the Dark Ages. The name is probably a 19th-century invention by the castle guide.
Stone crosses, of which there are two, have both been moved from their original positions: the plainer of the two is Hendra cross (see Bossiney). Aelnat's cross which was found at Trevillet and then moved to the Wharncliffe Arms Hotel at Trevena, is finely carved. The inscription can be read as 'Aelnat fecit hanc crucem pro anima sua' (Ælnat made this cross for [the good of] his soul) – the back of the stone has the names of the four evangelists. The name of this man is Saxon, and together with Alfwy mentioned in 1086 he is the only Anglo-Saxon recorded in connection with the area. One of Thomas Hardy's poems, "By the runic stone" (1917) was interpreted by Evelyn Hardy as referring to Aelnat's cross.
The village has the Tintagel Old Post Office, which dates from the 14th century. It became a post office during the 19th century, and is now listed Grade I and owned by the National Trust.
Tintagel Primary School was built at Treven in 1914 to replace the old church school (founded 1874) and has been extended since. Those who go on to a comprehensive school attend Sir James Smith's School, Camelford. The Gift House was purchased by the Trustees of Tintagel Women's Institute from Catherine Johns. It adjoins the Old Post Office.
The former Vicarage was built in the early 17th century and substantial additions were made in the late 18th and mid-19th centuries. In the grounds is Fontevrault Chapel and a columbarium which is one of the best preserved in Cornwall. The site and glebe lands were the home of the vicars as early as the mid-13th century when the benefice came into the hands of the Abbey of Fontevraud in Anjou, France. In 2008, the Diocese of Truro decided to acquire new accommodation for future vicars and to sell the vicarage.
King Arthur's Hall at Trevena is a substantial building of the early 1930s. It was built for custard powder manufacturer F. T. Glasscock as the headquarters of the "Fellowship of the Knights of the Round Table", behind Trevena House. A variety of Cornish stones are used in the construction and the 73 stained glass windows illustrating the Arthurian tales are by Veronica Whall; there are several paintings of scenes from the life of King Arthur by William Hatherell.
In 1927, the "Order of the Fellowship of the Knights of the Round Table" was formed in Britain by Frederick Thomas Glasscock (a retired London businessman, d. 1934) to promote Christian ideals and Arthurian notions of medieval chivalry. Glasscock was resident at Tintagel (in the house "Eirenicon" which he had built) and responsible for the building of King Arthur's Hall (an extension of Trevena House which had been John Douglas Cook's residence and had been built on the site of the former Town Hall and Market Hall). The hall is now used as a Masonic Hall, and is home to four Masonic bodies.
The Church of St Materiana (Tintagel Parish Church) has been Anglican since the English Reformation. It was originally built in Norman times. Writing in 1951, Nikolaus Pevsner was uncertain about the dating and suggests that the Norman work has some Saxon features while the tower may be 13th or 15th century in date. It stands on the cliffs between Trevena and Tintagel Castle and is listed Grade I.
The first church on the site was probably in the 6th century, founded as a daughter church of Minster: these are the only churches dedicated to St Materiana though she is usually identified with Madryn, Princess of Gwent. The existing church may be late 11th or early 12th century: the tower is some three centuries later and the most significant change since then was the restoration in 1870 by James Piers St Aubyn.
An area of the churchyard was excavated in 1990–91 by the Cornwall Archaeological Unit. There are modern stained glass windows, three modern copies of Old Master paintings, and a Roman milestone. The parish war memorial stands at the western end of the churchyard and a modern churchyard cross (c. 1910) near the south entrance. There was a Norman chapel of St Julitta at the castle, now in ruins, which was excavated in Ralegh Radford's excavations. It is a simple rectangular building and the chancel is of a later date than the nave.
At Trethevy is the Anglican St Piran's Chapel. There was formerly also another Anglican chapel at Treknow. In the Middle Ages, there was also a chapel of St Denys at Trevena: the annual fair was therefore celebrated in the week of his feast day (19 Oct). From 1925 until 2008 part of the Vicarage outbuildings were also in use as a chapel (the Fontevrault Chapel). The name commemorates the abbey in France which held the patronage of Tintagel during the Middle Ages (the commune is now known as Fontevraud-l'Abbaye), founded by Robert of Arbrissel.
The Methodist Church has chapels at Trevena and Bossiney. Formerly there were more chapels of various Methodist sects (Wesleyans, Bible Christians), including at Trenale and Trewarmett: the Methodist Cemetery is at Trewarmett. Wesleyan Methodism in Tintagel began in 1807 at Trenale and over the next sixty years gained many adherents though divided among a number of sects (Wesleyan Methodist, Methodist Association, Bible Christian): chapels were built at Trevena in 1838 and Bossiney in 1860.
In the 1830s and 1840s, the Camelford Wesleyan Methodist circuit, which included Tintagel, underwent a secession by more than half the members to the Wesleyan Methodist Association. The various Methodist churches were united again by the agreements of 1907 and 1932. Mary Toms, a Bible Christian from Tintagel, evangelised parts of the Isle of Wight.
*** – Tintagel Castle – ***
Cornish historian and archaeologist Charles Thomas noted in 1993: "So far, no structure excavated on [Tintagel] Island... can be put forward as a Roman-period settlement, native-peasant or otherwise." Despite this, a quantity of apparently Romano-British pottery has been unearthed on the site, as has a Roman-style drawstring leather purse containing ten low denomination Roman coins dating between the reigns of Tetricus I (270–272) and Constantius II (337–361). This suggests that "at face-value... either the Island or the landward area of the later Castle (or both...) formed the scene of third-fourth century habitation" even if no evidence has been found of any buildings dating from this period.
It was in this regional background that settlement continued at Tintagel Castle, with the creation of what is known by archaeologists as Period II of the site. However, there has been some dispute amongst archaeologists as to what the site of Tintagel Island was used for in this period. In the mid-20th century, it was typically thought that there was a Celtic Christian monastery on the site, but "since about 1980... [this] thesis... has... had to be abandoned", with archaeologists now believing that it was instead an elite settlement inhabited by a powerful local warlord or even Dumnonian royalty.
Archaeologist and historian Charles Thomas believed that they did not stay at Tintagel year-round but that they moved around: "A typical king with his family, relatives, dependants, resident hostages, officials and court-followers, and a private militia or war-band — in all, probably between a hundred and three hundred souls at least—moved around with his cumbersome entourage; at least, when not busy with inter-tribal campaigning or in repelling invaders and raiders." The site was also made more defensible during this period with a large ditch at the entrance to the peninsula, leaving only a narrow trackway that had to be traversed by anyone approaching the peninsula.
Various luxury items dating from this period have been found at the site, namely African and Phocaean red slip, which had been traded all the way from the Mediterranean. Examining this pottery, Charles Thomas noted that the quantity of imported pottery from Tintagel was "larger than the combined total of all such pottery from all known sites [of this period in Britain and Ireland]; and, given that only about 5 per cent of the Island's accessible surface has been excavated or examined, the original total of imports may well have been on a scale of one or more complete shiploads, with individual ships perhaps carrying a cargo of six or seven hundred amphorae." This evidence led him to believe that Tintagel was a site where ships docked to deposit their cargo from southern Europe in the early medieval period.
The castle was built in a more old-fashioned style for the time to make it appear more ancient. However, the dating to the period of Earl Richard has superseded Ralegh Radford's interpretation which attributed the earliest elements of the castle to Earl Reginald de Dunstanville and later elements to Earl Richard. Sidney Toy suggests an earlier period of construction in Castles: a short history of fortifications from 1600 B.C. to A. D. 1600 (London: Heinemann, 1939).
John Holland, 1st Duke of Exeter was appointed constable of Tintagel Castle in 1389. After Richard, the following Earls of Cornwall were not interested in the castle, and it was left to the High Sheriff of Cornwall. Parts of the accommodation were used as a prison and the land was let as pasture. The castle became more dilapidated, and the roof was removed from the Great Hall in the 1330s.
Thereafter, the castle became increasingly ruinous and there was progressive damage from the erosion of the isthmus that joined the castle to the mainland. John Leland visited in the early 1540s and found that a makeshift bridge of tree trunks gave access to the Island. England was threatened with invasion from Spain in the 1580s, and the defences were strengthened at the Iron Gate. The manor of Tintagel was among those seized by the Commonwealth government of the 1650s as Duchy of Cornwall property, returning to the Duchy in 1660. The letting for sheep pasture continued until the 19th century.
The Rev. R. B. Kinsman (d. 1894) was honorary constable and built the courtyard wall and a guide was employed to conduct visitors into the castle. Until his time, the steps were unsafe on either side of the isthmus, though the plateau could be reached by those who grazed sheep there. From 1870, a lead mine was worked for a short time near Merlin's Cave. In the 20th century, the site was maintained by the Office of Works and its successors (from 1929 onwards). In 1975, the access across the isthmus was improved by the installation of a wooden bridge.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, nothing had been excavated except the chapel, and so ideas were given currency such as the garden being a cemetery and King Arthur's Footprint being a place for King Arthur to leap to the mainland. "King Arthur's Footprint" is a hollow in the rock at the highest point of Tintagel Island's southern side. It is not entirely natural, having been shaped by human hands at some stage. It may have been used for the inauguration of kings or chieftains, as the site has a long history stretching back to the Dark Ages.
He goes to war against Gorlois, the Duke of Cornwall, to capture Gorlois' wife Igraine, with whom Uther has fallen in love. Gorlois defends himself against Uther's armies at his fort of Dimilioc, but he sends Igraine to stay safely within Tintagel Castle which is his most secure refuge, according to the legend and the Historia Regum Britanniae. Uther besieges Dimilioc, telling his friend Ulfin how he loves Igraine, but Ulfin replies that it would be impossible to take Tintagel, for "it is right by the sea, and surrounded by the sea on all sides; and there is no other way into it, except that provided by a narrow rocky passage—and there, three armed warriors could forbid all entry, even if you took up your stand with the whole of Britain behind you."
Geoffrey of Monmouth's story goes on to explain how the wizard Merlin is summoned and magically changes Uther's appearance to that of Gorlois to help get them into Tintagel Castle, while also changing his own and Ulfin's appearances to those of two of Gorlois's companions. Disguised thus, they are able to enter Tintagel where Uther goes to Igraine, and "in that night was the most famous of men, Arthur, conceived."
Geoffrey's History mentions Tintagel Castle as the site of Arthur's conception, but "it nowhere claims that Arthur was born at Tintagel, or that he ever visited the place in later life, or that in any sense the stronghold became his property when he was king." However, the legend and the book continued to become hugely popular, spreading across Britain in the Late Medieval period, when more Arthurian texts were produced, many of them continuing to propagate the idea that Arthur himself was actually born at Tintagel. There is now a footpath from the site to Cadbury Castle in Somerset called Arthur's Way.
*** – Visiting – ***
English Heritage have introduced limits on visitor numbers to help keep everyone safe, and you won’t be able to visit without your booking confirmation. If you’re a Member, your ticket will be free, but you still need to book in advance. To book your visit, click here.
Although things might be a little different when you visit, you’ll still be able to enjoy exploring the places where history really happened. And you’ll still be given a warm and safe welcome by their friendly – if socially distant – staff and volunteers.
*** – Facilities – ***
Location : Tintagel Castle, Castle Road, Tintagel, Cornwall, PL34 0HE
Transport: Camelford (National Rail) then bus . Bus Routes : Western Greyhound 595 (with connections available at Wadebridge, Camelford, Bude and Boscastle).
Opening Times : Daily, 10:00 to 18:00. Advanced booking required.
Tickets : Adults £14.50; Child £8.70 Concession £13.10
Tel: 01840 770328