Lewannick Parish borders Bodmin Moor. Some partially reclaimed fields in the south west corner of the parish are still scattered with granite boulders. Just a stone’s throw outside of the parish boundary are hut circles and burial mounds – evidence of life several thousand years BC. The population at this time would have been small. Evidence of early life in the lower areas has probably been obliterated by later occupation but a Bronze Age burial cist was said to have been found in Lewannick village when the foundations for the original School were being excavated.
As agriculture developed there may have been a migration to the more sheltered and fertile valleys of the Lynher and Inney. At year 0 there would probably have been a sparse scattering of settlements through the parish, the beginnings of some of the currently existing homesteads which can be dated to at least Medieval times.
There is evidence that St Martin’s Church has ancient origins. The two Ogham stones have dual inscriptions in the Ogham script of Celtic/Irish origin and in Roman lettering – dating to the 5-8th centuries AD. Before it was destroyed by the fire of 1890 one of the carved bench ends was dated 1546, and when the floor was excavated during the repairs evidence of an earlier building was reputed to have been found. The layout of the church within the raised oval church grounds is unusual and thought to be evidence of an early religious settlement. Use of the name ‘Priory’ in land and buildings nearby may be evidence for an early religious settlement. Blaunders Well is medieval or older, possibly holy and may have been the original source of water and the reason for the location of Lewannick village. St Joan’s Pitcher, another ancient water source in the woods nearby is reputed to have medicinal benefit for the eyes.
Following the Norman invasion of 1066 and the reign of William the Conqueror, society was governed by the ‘Feudal’ system. Based around agriculture, the land was mainly owned by the crown and controlled by relatively few important noblemen, barons and bishops who would have lived in ‘manors’. The Domesday Book, completed in 1086, records four such settlements within the Parish at Trelaske, Trewanta, Trevell and Polyphant. In the south west corner of the parish, Upton Castle is thought to be a 12th century defended manor house, the only one of its type to exist in Cornwall. The majority of the population would have led a peasant lifestyle and were known as ‘serfs’ or ‘villeins’, working the land in exchange for protection from the ‘lord’. This state of affairs continued little changed for hundreds of years.
Later Medieval settlements include Upton Barton, Newtown, Trevadlock, Trevell, Knighton and several others.
While development of steam power revolutionised mining in surrounding areas it would have had less effect on this parish where the principal industry has always been farming (until recent times predominantly dairy farming). Evidence from past centuries exists in the field boundaries and the many farm buildings. Several water mills existed for grinding grain which is likely to have been barley or oats. There are many stone quarries in the parish, some thought to be medieval and one in particular which is the source of Polyphant Stone, a dark and easily carved stone which was used for pillars, ashlar, church fonts, window mullions and transoms. This was used both in the parish and further afield. Polyphant quarry is mentioned in the Domesday book. Manganese and ochre were also quarried/mined in the parish, and extensive woodland and the damp climate probably provided material for a thriving trade in timber, required for mining and building.