Bernard WALKE

Rev Bernard WALKE

The husband of the artist Annie WALKE (nee Fearon), Bernard Walke merits his own entry in this Index, being closely associated with the artists in west Cornwall working alongside his wife during the first part of the twentieth century. What follows is a revision (2014) of an article by Christopher 'Gus' Garrett (2006-11) entitled 'Bernard Walke and Polruan', which was originally published in the Lanteglos Parish News 2006-7).

The years 2004 to 2013 were the centenary of the period Bernard Walke lived and ministered in Polrun in the parish of Lanteglos-by-Fowey. Why is he still remembered and revered when many of his contemporaries throughout Cornwall have been long forgotten? One clue is that his friend in later life, Frank Baker, said Bernard Walke was 'a good man who could never be dull'.

Bernard Walke was the eldest of three sons born to Rev Nicholas Walke (1833-1899) and Eliza Anna Coope who had married on 1 September 1869 at Clifton, Bristol. According to the record of his birth at the General Register Office (GRO) he was born on 15 June 1874 at Redlynch, Wiltshire, although others have given the date as 14 June. Rather strangely his birth was registered about a month later just as 'boy' with no name stated (just over a year later the birth of his next younger brother, William Coope Walke, was recorded similarly). He was subsequently christened Nicolo Bernard Walke, his first Christian name 'Nicolo' being the name by which his father Nicholas was always known.

Because of his birth in Wiltshire and his subsequent training in the south-east followed by his first appointment in London, there is a tendency to think of him as an 'up-country' person. This time of his life was the anomaly, his parents' roots being firmly in Devon and Cornwall. Bernard Walke's father 'Nicolo' was born at Kingston in South Devon, and prior to his marriage had been curate at St Peters in Plymouth, Carmenellis in West Cornwall and St Charles the Martyr in Falmouth. It was presumably through this latter appointment that Bernard Walke's parents met: Eliza Anna's father, William John Coope, was rector of Falmouth from 1838 to 1870 and lived at Gyllyngdune House, Falmouth, which had been built by his father, General William Jesser Coope. [The Rev. William John Coope was the first Anglo-Catholic priest in Cornwall].

After being educated at home in the Vicarage of Redlynch Church, Lover near Salisbury on the edge of the New Forest, Bernard Walke attended Chichester Theological College. He began his ministry as a curate at St Michael and All Angels in Walthamstow, a large Anglo-Catholic church, under Father Ernest Blaxland Clarabut MA, who later became Rector of Blisland, Cornwall from 1913 to 1935.

In 1902 Bernard Walke became Curate at St Ives, Cornwall: at that date St Ives only had the Parish Church and a Mission Room, St Nicholas' Mariners' Church not being opened until 1905. One feature of Bernard Walke's ministry there was taking the service out of the church to the people, for example on the quay, and another feature was leading processions through the streets. [Such events were recorded by the artist W H Y Titcomb in his paintings 'A Pilot' and 'The Church in Cornwall: A Rogation Day Procession' respectively, the former depicting Bernard Walke as the preacher].

He left St Ives during 1904 after being removed from his duties by the Bishop of Truro, essentially because he and the Vicar agreed that they could not work together. His leaving was much to the dismay of many parishioners, from fishermen to artists, and the subject of a memorandum from them to the Bishop of Truro which was full of praise for his qualities and achievements there. Essentially he had achieved precisely what the Church had found very difficult in the preceding fifty years, namely to make the church attractive to 'the working classes' and particularly to those for whom religion had not played any major part in their lives previously.

St Ives' loss however was Polruan's gain: a vacancy for a curate at Polruan arose and Bernard Walke was appointed to it. Whilst John Trounsel Mugford was the Vicar of Lanteglos the Mission Church or Chapel of Ease of St Saviours had been built in Polruan to seat 350 people; the first service being Matins on 22 October 1891. Mugford left the parish in 1902 and in 1903 Charles Francis Trusted became the new Vicar. It appears that he and Bernard Walke developed an agreeable partnership dividing the responsibilities of the parish and its two churches, Trusted concentrating principally on Lanteglos Parish Church, including its restoration, and the country parts of the parish whilst Bernard Walke concentrated his efforts on St Saviours and the people of Polruan. From reports it would appear that Bernard Walke continued in Polruan as he had done in St Ives, with outdoor services and processions, and with similar effect on increasing the church's congregation. During his period in Polruan a daily mass became the norm and it appears that the church was always full for services, particularly on Sundays.

On 6 September 1911 Bernard Walke married Annie Fearon at St John the Baptist Church, Marlborough Street, London. It appears likely he and Annie had first met in St Ives, presumably through her sister Hilda. [Hilda had come to Cornwall earlier, during 1900, and was in St Ives continuing her art studies under Algernon Talmage.] Henceforth she became known and addressed as 'Annie Walke' by everyone including her husband. Prior to marriage Bernard Walke is understood to have lived in a number of locations in the village, including 'Hill House'. After marriage he and Annie Walke lived at Number 1 Fore Street, Polruan over 'The Corner Shop' which is now 'Crumpets'. Interestingly on the GRO record of their marriage in London he gave his address just as '2 West Street', the inference is a London address but it appears to be more likely a Polruan address!

Their life in Polruan and his ministry here unfortunately came to an end only a year or so later when Rev. Trusted left the parish. However fortunately Bernard Walke was immediately offered the living of St Hilary near Marazion where he remained from 1913 until his retirement in 1936, this period of his life being vividly described in his autobiography 'Twenty Years at St Hilary'. Whilst there he became well known nationally during the mid-1920s to mid-1930s as a result of writing and directing a number of Nativity plays, most notably 'Bethlehem' which were broadcast live nationally from St Hilary in the early days of 'the wireless'. But that is another story, another chapter in the life of this remarkable and fascinating man.


Tovey, David (2022) Lamorna - An Artistic, Social and Literary History - Volumes I & II, Wilson Books