St. Winwaloe is the parish church of Poundstock, situated in a secluded dell by a small stream. Alongside stands its ancient Gildhouse, now a Grade 1 listed building, the best preserved example in Cornwall of a late medieval church house which has been in continuous use since it was built.

The Gildhouse Story

Between the 1300s and the mid-1500s, church houses were built across the country to accommodate the more social side of church life, providing a space for fun and fund-raising and leaving the church building for worship and prayer. A dendrochronological report suggests that our Gildhouse dates from about 1550, right at the end of this phase of development. Built of cob, stone and slate, it would originally have had a large fireplace at one end, with a space for cooking, baking and brewing on the lower floor and a hall for social events above. The most notable of these events were the church ales – celebrations involving lots of eating and drinking, particularly at Whitsuntide and May Day, when ales were brewed and food cooked and sold to raise funds for the church.
  The Gildhouse St Winwaloe’s Church
The huge upheaval of the English Civil War in the mid-16th century left its effects everywhere, including Poundstock. With the growth of Puritanism, church ales were considered nothing but drunken disorders and were suppressed, and church houses, now without a use, were gradually abandoned, either left to tumble down or demolished, or quietly became pubs or cottages. Fortunately for us, Poundstock Gildhouse, tucked away in a quiet corner of a poor rural parish, did not follow this pattern. Someone decided it should continue to serve the community, and the large spaces were split up to provide a schoolroom for local children whose families could afford to give them some education (schooling commonly cost a penny a day) and accommodation for the poorest of the poor, initially for just two families.
Education within the parish became more widely available with the opening of the Wesleyan school at Bangors, and eventually it became the responsibility of the state. As the need for a schoolroom declined, more of the Gildhouse was converted to provide shelter for the poor. In the 19th century seven families lived here, each in one room with its own door and fireplace. Water came from the well across the lane; bathrooms were still far in the future. The last pauper inhabitants are listed in the 1891 census; by 1901 they were accommodated in Stratton Workhouse and the Gildhouse was again empty. According to parish records it was ‘in a state of decrepitude’: an old photo shows the roof in a sorry state and the walls smothered in ivy. Demolition was seriously considered, but somehow the Gildhouse escaped and money was found for a complete restoration project. In the early years of the 20th century a large-scale refurbishment took place under the sympathetic guidance of Exeter architect Edmund Stedding, and in 1907 the Gildhouse returned to its original role as a meeting place for the parish.
Stedding had done his work well. For most of the next 100 years the building served as a centre for year-round activities, exhibitions and celebrations within the parish. In mid-century it boasted a lecture hall, a meeting room with a piano, and a library, and there were regular whist drives and ‘full moon’ dances (when the full moon would light your way home through the churchyard). A new kitchen was installed, though it wasn’t until the 1970s that the building finally boasted electricity and running water. However, by the end of the century the same old problem was reasserting itself: the building was being used less and was showing its age more, both structurally and in terms of its facilities. Work was urgently needed to preserve it.

A timely bequest and a generous grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, together with other smaller grants and a great deal of local fundraising, made a new restoration project possible, but before the actual work could begin a great deal of research was necessary: the project required a full structural survey, a historical study, a conservation plan, provision for full accessibility and an interpretation plan. There is little written or printed contemporary evidence of the Gildhouse’s history, but the work done in the early 2000s has provided a much clearer picture of its long life.
Under the able leadership of architect Jonathan Rhind, work started in May 2007, with specialist craftsmen working in line with the building’s Grade I listed status. Over the next six months the building was made sound, with access and all facilities updated to a high standard. The restoration also involved installation of a modern kitchen, new toilets with disabled access, a hearing loop for the hearing impaired, and a heating system throughout the building.
The Old Well

We now have a magnificent Feasting Hall with a well-equipped kitchen upstairs while downstairs there is a smaller meeting room and a simple kitchen. Both floors have disabled facilities. Old and possibly original features have been carefully preserved: in one corner of the ground floor there is even a completely preserved little stable where the schoolmistress used to tether her pony, but to bring transport requirements up to date there is also a new and much needed car park at the top of the cemetery.

So after 450 years the Gildhouse is well equipped to enter the next phase of its life. We hope it will be used by the people of Poundstock and further afield for many more years to come.

To our delight the restoration work has been recognised by several awards, the most outstanding of which was the Europa Nostra Award for Outstanding Heritage Achievement. This prize is competed for by a wide variety of projects from across Europe, but against all odds our little Gildhouse won a Laureate as one of the top sixteen projects and became one of three Grand Prix winners in 2008 – a tremendous honour.

The general overheads and maintenance of such an old building are not small. To that end we run monthly talks, several musical events, a plant sale, a quiz night, and a Craft Fayre and Pumpkin Festival to raise funds to support the Gildhouse. In addition young and old groups alike enjoy being Tudors for a day or listening to heritage talks, and the Feasting Hall provides a wonderful venue for small, intimate wedding receptions and other celebrations. All the income from these helps to provide for this precious and much-loved building.

If you would like to know more about the history of the building the full-colour guide book is packed with information, and one of our souvenir mugs will remind you of your visit. All profits go towards the Gildhouse, so this is a great way to help with the preservation of this lovely and atmospheric place.

The Gildhouse is open every Wednesday between Easter and the end of October for people to come and explore; entry is free. Friendly stewards are always on hand and will be glad to answer questions and provide a cup of tea, again all free. We look forward to welcoming you!

 

Structural Survey , September 2004

Jonathan Rhind Architects

 

Access Survey, October 2004

The Sensory Trust

 

Conservation Plan, February 2005

Keystone Historic Buildings Consultants

 

Interpretation Proposals, January 2006

Imagemakers