The Reverend Densham of Warleggan
The Reverend Frederick William Densham was Rector of St. Bartholomew Church from 1931 until his death in 1953. He was an interesting character – indeed, something of an eccentric.
On the one hand, he alienated himself from many through his determination to rid the parish of whist drives, his refusal to conduct Sunday School, and his dislike of organ music. He erected a barbed wire fence around his house to prevent his dogs worrying farmers’ sheep, but this barricade did little to make visitors feel welcome. He once painted the church in a medieval riot of colour, much to the annoyance of parishioners, and he was subsequently required to return the church to its original colour; and there was many a time that he preached to an empty church – indeed, he was meticulous recording the attendance (or lack of it) in the register, on one occasion writing “No fog, no wind, no rain, no congregation”.
On the other hand, he is fondly remembered by many parishioners as a kind and generous man who would bring rhododendron and camellias in spring to villagers and would send milk to people who were ill. He built a playground for children, and held slide shows – there are still some in the parish today who remember going to these slide shows when they were young. And he was friendly with the Methodists in the community.
Densham was, first and foremost, a Man of God. In many ways, he was ahead of his times. He would often be seen preaching at the Methodist chapel, this at a time when there was little tolerance between church and chapel, especially in a conservative community such as Warleggan back in those days. His father had been a Methodist preacher, and it is not known why he had become ordained into the Church of England.
Before coming to Warleggan, he had spent time in South Africa and it is believed he may have visited India. He revered Gandhi, and ‘ahimsa’ – compassion – together with strict religious Christian precepts, were key elements of his thought.
Much has been said about him – a mixture of truth and fiction, of memory and imagination – and different people have different memories of the man. But few who met him will fail to remember him.
Find out more about the Reverend Densham – fact and fiction:
- DVDs for sale, ‘Tales of the Reverend Densham of Warleggan’ – more info
- A Congregation of Ghosts (2009)*, a film starring Edward Woodward as Densham, directed by Mark Collicott.
- Discussion about the film and the man:
- ‘Revisiting the mystery of moor’s man of God’* – This is Cornwall, Oct 2009
- The Story of Reverend Densham* – an account by the late Laura Farnworth, based on eye-witness interviews carried out in the 1970s
- A detailed 16-page booklet about Rev Densham, researched from contemporary publications and drawing upon eye-witness interview accounts, is on sale at St Batholomew’s Church in Warleggan – cost £1 – in aid of church funds (see illustration, above right) – or let us know and we can post a copy to you.
- A blog about Densham, Forteantimes – see here*
- Other snippets of interest:
- Densham’s Delight – the Ancient Tree Forum have (in April 2013) verified the presence of a number of ‘veteran trees’ at the Rookery (the old Rectory), including the Densham’s Delight apple*, which, according to information posted has its own wassailing song*. Other trees identified include another apple tree (the ‘Warleggan Whopper’*), and a wild cherry – note that the Ancient Tree Forum is always interested in volunteer tree mappers to join their outings all over Cornwall (read what they say*) and also possibly to identify ancient trees in the parish.