Cardboard Congregation


Carl Mydans, Rector of Warleggan, 1953


Carl Mydans, Rector, 1953

Reverend Frederick William Densham, the aged and eccentric Rector of St. Bartholomew’s Church in Warleggan, England, walks the path alongside the church to which he was appointed in 1931. On account of his eccentricity, the entire congregation abandoned his services and the Reverend was left to preach to cardboard figures he made and placed in the pews. His Service Register was said to have read “no fog, no wind, no rain, no congregation.”

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8 Responses to Cardboard Congregation

  1. David Coppin says:

    I have family and friends in Warleggan (I just spent two weeks there), and Rev. Densham is unfairly maligned. He loved children and built a playground for them on the rectory grounds. He was a brilliant, but strong-willed man who found himself at odds with Nicholas Bunt, the head of the parish council. The Bunt family was very influential in Warleggan, and when Nick told people to stop attending church there, people did not dare cross him, and attendance waned.

  2. Jenny Tunbridge (nee Farrell) Daughter of Ralda Coppin says:

    Hi David

    Came across you again whilst doing some more research. You kindly sent me some information over the last couple of years – the Aussie connection. Would you believe I was going to e-mail you anyway, as just returned from Cornwall. Visited Warleggan, Cardinham, etc. and notice your name in the Visitors Register at the churches a month before mine. Kindred spirits I would suggest. I will write to you but thought I’d pop a “Hi” here as I have somehow come across this page whilst researching Warleggan. An afternoon at the church was truly ‘spiritual’ (if that makes sense). What a gorgeous place . . only managed to find Castle Dewey (farm) that my Great Great Grandfather Hugh Coppin worked at but just loved the area (Temple as well). Take Care. Jen

  3. Cathy Farnworth says:

    David Coppin is right. Unfortunately Daphne du Maurier wrote a very colourful description of Rev Densham in her book Vanishing Cornwall, which has mythologised a man certainly eccentric and lonely, but who had travelled widely and who became quite close to the Methodists in Mount and Warleggan due to his ‘low church’ attitudes.

    A good number of people living here still remember him and tell how he took people armfuls of rhododendron flowers from his garden each spring, and sent milk from his cow when people were ill. He could be very witty at times. One of Daphne du Maurier’s stories is certainly a fiction – that he had cardboard cut-outs as a congregation in the church. Rev Densham was a vegetarian and interested in Indian Independence.

    We are making our own film based on eyewitness recollection about him, and a book. The sales of both will be in aid of the church in the picture.

    Cathy Farnworth

  4. heather clohessy says:

    I lived with my grandparents who were leasing the rectory at the time, I think 1963 until 1967, and I remember the ghost stories. If I am correct, Cathy Farnworth’s husband was a relief teacher at Liskeard School for a while. I have very fond memories of Warleggan. My grandfather is the man with the berret and Jeep mentioned in Vanishing Cornwall.
    –Mr Richard Peski

    • Cathy Farnworth says:

      Dear Heather, It was my father who was the relief teacher at Liskeard and I attended that school from 1975 to 1980. If you are still in Cornwall, please let me know and next time I am home will try and get in touch with you. Very best, Cathy Farnworth

      • Kara Oosterman says:

        I stumbled across the ‘story’ of Frederick William Densham while researching other things Cornwall – family connection in Egloshayle.

        Having read bits and pieces I then came across the photo above of the sweet old man with the smiling eyes! Could this be the person the stories were about? There seemed to be a mismatch and I was pleased to read the other side of the story here as I was trying to find out more about the man – in 83 years his life must have meant more than the distorted truths of the last 20.

        F W’s father William was an Independent Minister in the Congregational Chapel when Frederick was born in 1870. There were two older siblings at home in 1871 a 12 year old sister and a 7 year old brother – long gaps like that between children tend to indicate deaths of others in infancy. There were two boys born after FW within the more expected timeframe for the day, 1872 and 1875. FW and his brother Edgar (1875) were boarding together in Durham in 1901 a Chartered Accountant and a Bank Clerk. By 1911 Frederick is a clergyman in the ‘Established Church’. Still gaps to fill in. There is mention of his being well travelled and of India so a lot more to learn.

  5. Dear Kara, this is interesting information indeed. I have captured some of it in a booklet I have written about the Rev Densham which is for sale in the church and through (see history page). I did not know he was boarding with his brother but I have filled some of the gaps you note. Cathy

  6. Richard clohessy says:

    Hi am Richard Clohessy the late heathers brother we spent our early years at the rectory I have happy memories of the place and time on occasion I find myself driving to warrlegan and wondering around it seems like nothing much has changed

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