(member 1878)

Withell from East Cornwall

Fowey, St Austell, St Blazey, Luxulyan, Torpoint

The surname Wythyall was recorded on the east coast of Cornwall at least as early as 1380 when Ralph Wythyall, commander of the Mary of Fowey was granted a licence to carry pilgrims to St. James of Galicia. Other surviving documents indicate that Wythells had acquired land and were involved in legal transactions in the Polruan, Fowey, Veryan and Bodmin area from as early as 1423. In 1545, the manor of Tretheake in Veryan was part of a wardship and marriage transfer between Elizabeth Wethyall, widow of John Wethyall and Sir Richard Edgecombe, kt.

Polruan and Fowey

Fowey was at the southern end of the ancient trade route across Cornwall which finished at the harbour at the mouth of the Fowey river. The town of Fowey is on the north side and Polruan on the south. This natural deep water harbour allowed trade to develop with Europe and from early times local ship owners often hired their vessels to the king to support various wars. The area developed a reputation for piracy as did many others in Cornwall. Communication between the two was by ferry and even today, road traffic has to go upstream via Lostwithiel. Fishing was to become important, but local merchants were often appointed as privateers and did some smuggling on the side. Tin, copper and iron mines, along with quarries and china clay pits became significant industries in the area.

Polruan was a small village involved in both fishing and boat building. It was a landmark for shipping, and also, in times of war, a vantage point for observing the approach of enemy shipping to the strategically important Fowey harbour. The ruin of St Saviour's church on the hill above Polruan dates to the 8th century. There remains a blockhouse fortification built in the 14th century which guarded the entrance to the river Fowey, one of a pair—its partner being situated on the Fowey side of the river. Between the two blockhouses a defensive chain was strung to prevent enemy ships entering the harbour, the chain being lowered for friendly vessels. This was primarily used during the wars with the Dutch.

The story of later Withells in East Cornwall is told in “Families.”