Curator's Choice: Signatures left by Wesleyan Chapel builders at Constantine Heritage Centre

Tracey Clowes interviewed by Ralph Gifford | 16 June 2011
a photo of a smiling woman
Tracey Clowes, Curator at Constantine Heritage Centre© Photo Ralph Gifford
Curator's Choice: In her own words... Tracey Clowes from the Heritage Centre in Constantine tells us about the discovery made when altar rails in the Methodist Chapel where the centre is based were removed by during a revamp.

"I think all of us like to leave something behind for when we have gone. When I used to teach we would put together a box and bury it somewhere daft in the hope that somebody in a few years' time would dig it up.

In February 2008, the upstairs theatre space in the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel was being revamped, which meant the altar rails had to be removed so the workmen could go about their business.

When they detached them we discovered the tops of the altar rails, the tormentors, had pencil marks all over them. On closer inspection we found them to be the signatures of the workmen who built the Chapel around 1880.

Up until this time we didn’t have a clue who built the chapel and it was just so exciting to make this discovery. Across one of the tormentor tops we have the word “Helston”, so we can work out they were Helston builders. 

a photo of a piece of wood with handwriting on it
© Constantine Heritage Centre
On the other tormentor we’ve got information on the man who surveyed the whole site for the building, a man known to us as “Jake the Powell”. There is also the name of the builder, William Rowe, whose team built the chapel. I find it rather amusing that the person who has done the writing has called him a tormentor, too.

There also must have been a boy who was learning the ropes; “J Evans the boy” is written on one of the tormentors.

Interestingly, the writing mentions that on the 23rd of whatever month, they had seen a comet go across the sky on a Thursday.  It may seem irrelevant, but knowing these things gives us information about where our Methodist Chapel and the people who built it came from. To me, this is absolutely fascinating. 

We haven’t been able to find any relatives of the builders in the village but we do still have a strong Rowe family living here. In fact, it’s the Rowes who own the whisky shop and Post Office opposite, which is interesting because with the family being here all that time you’d expect there would be some connection. 

It would be fantastic to get someone in to do some research on the names. Evans isn’t a Cornish name, Thomas isn’t a Cornish name...maybe we have got some Welsh connections in there. 

The tormentors were on display during 2010 at Newlyn Art Gallery as part of the Exquisite Trove exhibition. They are quite extraordinary. It just gives us that fantastic connection to our past. It brings everything to life right in front of your eyes.”

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