St. Day lies within the Manor of Tolgullow, an ancient manor first recorded in the reign of Ethelred the Unready in AD 1005. It had witnessed from much earlier times the passage of pilgrims making their way from Canterbury to the important shrine at St Michael’s Mount. Sometime in the Dark Ages a shrine was established at Tolgullow which the eminent Cornish historian, Charles Henderson, considered to be the most important shrine in Cornwall after the Mount. His opinion was based on the fact that the number of legacies to ‘the Shrine of the Holy Trinity’ was second only to the Mount.
The mediaeval church, dating from the 14th century, would almost certainly have been built on what was already hallowed ground, via the site of the Holy Shrine. That site is identified precisely in Thomas Martyn’s Map of Cornwall of 1748, where it is depicted with a tower. The church was abandoned following the Reformation and ‘the Old Towere’, as it became known, was finally demolished in 1797. The place name ‘St. Day’ is first encountered in the mid 14th century, the manor eventually becoming ‘The Manor of Tolgullow alias St. Day’.
From that religious background the community experienced an organic growth, slow at first based on what was surely an early form of ‘tourism’, but mining was beginning to play its part in the expansion of the population. Tin had long been associated with Cornwall generally and tin streaming certainly was practised from Roman times and earlier in the area around St. Day. The great expansion of population in St. Day and district followed the discovery of rich, very rich, deposits of copper ore which led to its being widely recognised as the centre of the world copper industry.
By the mid 1880s copper deposits had been discovered in South America, notably in Chile, where production costs were much lower than in Cornwall, as a result of which the Cornish mines, unable to compete, became uneconomic and one by one closed down. In the heyday of the mining activity a number of commercial enterprises, concomitant with mining, prospered alongside the mines. Among them we find rope making, explosives, brick making and services such as haulage, including mineral railways, whilst from 1858 the mainline railway station at Scorrier provided communication with faraway hitherto inaccessible places.
With the closure of the main employers, the copper mines, came mass emigration. There was world-wide demand for the skilled hard-rock men, who, according to a mid 19th century American mining journal, shared with the Germans the reputation of being ‘the best hard rock miners in the world’ and gave rise to the oft-quoted expression ‘wherever there is a hole in the ground, you’ll find a Cornishman at the bottom of it’.
It was now that St Day entered its period of decline, which was to last for decades with unemployment rife and poverty widespread. The monthly cheques from South Africa, America and other mining districts of the world kept poverty at bay for many families. The Great War of 1914 -1918 took men away to serve in the Army and the Navy and those lucky enough to remain found work at the engineering works, in the shipyards and on the farms.
The 1920s saw a return to mass unemployment with a slow revival from the mid-thirties up to the outbreak of the Second World War.
Throughout that long period of depression some social activities survived. Among field sports rugby and cricket were popular; the Women’s Institute, the Mothers’ Union and the Girls’ Friendly Society met in the evenings and from time to time concerts in the Church Hall given by visiting performers provided entertainment for winter evenings. St. Day Feast received a significant boost in the 1928 – 1930 period with the gift of the Playing Field (‘the Rugby Field’ ) by Mr Peter Michael Williams, and the timely intervention of W. J. Mills who set up trusts to ensure the celebration of St. Day Feast for all time.
St. Day and Carharrack Silver Band has long provided music for the Feast processions on Feast Monday as well as the two St. Day Dances through the streets in the evening.
The Feast of St Day has been observed through long ages, probably from the day of the dedication of the 14th century church and undoubtedly has undergone many changes. Originally a solemn religious observance with no secular event, it has now taken on a ‘holiday’ aspect, as indeed have so many surviving Cornish Feast Days.
St. Day Parish Council, established in 1985, has effected much environmental improvement through its successfully planned and ongoing programme of regeneration with the aid of money from European grants, central government, and various other sources.