The ‘kennels’ are probably one of the best known features in Helston but could you answer the following questions?
- What was the original purpose of the kennels?
- When were they built?
- Where does the water come from?
- Where does it go?
- Who is responsible for their maintenance?
- Why are they important now?
This online exhibition will examine these questions and celebrate the Wendron Leats and Helston Kennels system through text, photographs, video and audio recordings.
Click here to read an introduction to this exhibition written by Martin Matthews, Freeman of Helston and former Museum Curator
What was the Original Purpose of the Kennels and Why Were They Built?
There is much speculation as to when the kennels were first installed and their original purpose.
The Wendron leat system is thought to date back to the 15th Century when it was used to provide a water supply to the town. Many people are of the opinion that it was not a primary source of drinking water but was used for tin assaying and related activities. File notes from the Town Clerk of the time suggest that monks from the old Monastery did the works in 1605. Others reference a far earlier start to the leats and suggest that it began in the Wendron area in medieval times.
Read more about the origins of Wendron Tin Watercourses and Finds so far of Watercourses on the Helston Town Water
As tin working expanded along the Cober towards Helston the leats also expanded and the town leat was built for the very purpose of reaching the charter town. It runs parallel to the 18th century leat that fed the tin stamps at Trelubbas Wartha.
It is surmised that over time the town leat evolved into a public water supply for street cleaning as it provided a ready means of removing animal and human detritus. There is evidence that a central channel once flowed down the middle of the road. In the town the leats became known as the water channels or ‘kennels’ – a term found elsewhere in the UK. With the increase of wealth brought about by tin mining to Helston at the beginning of the 19th century, colourful cobbles and dressed granite were used as a process of enhancing or gentrifying the town. The kennels were created along the main streets.
See also: ‘The Leats of Helston’, a feature for The Countryman c.1970
Helston’s kennels are part of a complex, and now mostly hidden system bringing stream water through many streets in the town. Look closely and you may even see tiny insect life washed down from the higher reaches of the River Cober where the water is diverted into the Town Leat to supply the kennels.”David Turnbull for the Discover Helston Magazine 2020/21, Click here to read the full article
Wendron Supply Leats
Trenear and the Sluice Gate
Water is taken from the Cober under three licences for the following reasons:
- Town Leat – to go through the town kennels
- South West Water for tap/drinking water via Wendron Water Treatment works
- Driving a Hydro Electric Power Plant
Water for the main leat is extracted from the River Cober downstream from Trenear, behind Wendron Church. The photos below shows the current sluice gate which was constructed in 1994.
Cornwall Council holds the licence for the Wendron leats and Helston kennels system and the volume extracted can be increased or decreased by lowering or raising the sluice gate.
There is a hierarchy for the abstraction of water as follows:
- South West Water – for domestic water supply
- Ecology of the River
- Town Leat – supplies
All of the water eventually ends back in the Cober/Loe Pool, some via the sewage works!
Where Does the Water Come From?
The origins of the Cober are in the hinterland between Helston and Redruth and the water of the Cober is the result of naturally flowing streams and run off from agricultural land and highways surface water run-off.
Coverack Bridges – Hydro-Electric Leat
At Coverack Bridges, downstream from the extraction point of the Town Leat, another leat extracts water from the Cober to drive a hydro-electric plant operated by Western Hydro Ltd.
This photo shows the water-driven conical screens that filter water entering the leat. The hydro-electric plant produces power at a rate of 145 kW per hour, which is sold to the grid operator.
At Trelubbas Wartha the open leat provides drinking water for livestock. On the steep slopes below the farm there are many hidden remains of the area’s industrial heritage.
Water-Ma-Trout splitting point
The supply leat channels the water from the sluice gate to a bifurcation chamber approximately 3 kilometres away at Water-Ma-Trout (blue line on the map below)
From this point it splits into the ‘North’ and ‘East’ leats which continue in different directions to supply the kennels system. (green lines on the map)
To keep the leat falling over such a long distance was an impressive feat of engineering at the time in the absence of theodolites or other modern setting out equipment.
Between Trenear and Water-Ma-Trout, the leat courses through a rural landscape crossing land belonging to 13 different owners.
These ‘riparian’ owners have a clear legal responsibility to keep the water flowing by regularly cutting back overgrowth and clearing any blockages that might impede the flow.
The kennels system is heavily reliant on such riparian owners meeting those responsibilities to ensure that the water continues to flow, creating a visual and sensory amenity that encourages visits by local residents and tourists and contributes to the vitality and viability of the town centre and the well-being of its citizens.
The kennels system within Helston is extensive, as illustrated in this colour-coded map, but it should be noted that this does not show the Meneage Street kennels which were covered to enable widening of the road.
Much of the infrastructure dates from the early 19th Century, probably to Victorian times (1837 – 1901) but there is evidence to suggest that a less sophisticated system existed at a much earlier date.
The kennels in Godolphin Road, Penrose Road, Coinagehall Street, Church Street and Almshouse Hill have all been listed Grade II by Historic England as early examples of a sanitation system; they form an integral part of the streetscape of Helston contributing significantly to the character of the town, together with the numerous listed buildings which line the streets.
i) Trenethick to Turnpike
Beyond the bifurcation chamber the East Leat first continues through modern housing developments at Trenethick and Gwealdues. In this section the leat takes the form of open channels in private gardens or underground culverts, some of the latter running beneath buildings
ii) Godolphin Road/Penrose Road/Church Street
iii) Wendron Street (below ground)/Coinagehall Street/Almshouse Hill
iv) Meneage Street (now covered)
Kennels on Meneage Street were covered in 1957 to enable widening the road
i) Water-ma-Trout to Church Street
The course of the North Leat runs from Water-Ma-Trout via underground culverts across the grounds of Helston College and open channels behind gardens in Fir and Brook Closes and Grylls Parc into Church Street.
In Church Street it runs alongside the east wall of the churchyard before crossing underneath the road and running downhill passing The Willows and many other characterful properties lower down the hill, many of which have granite or slate bridges over the kennel in their front entrances.
At its lowest point the water heads below ground and drains westwards towards the Cober at St John’s via the Town Leat, passing through gardens at Lismore and Leslie House on its way.
Extraction licences and hierarchy
The hierarchy of extraction from the river is as follows:
1) Public water supply
South West Water abstracts water from the River Cober for public water supply across the local area. As their abstraction is downstream of the leat abstraction, it is important that all users of the river water only take their licenced volume, so that an appropriate amount of water remains in the river for other users and to support the natural environment.
South West Water also release water from Stithians reservoir into the Cober during the summer to make sure there is enough water in the river for their abstraction. They can also pump water back into the reservoir during winter, although this is energy intensive so is only done when it wouldn’t naturally refill enough.
See more about how South West Water supply water to Wendron, Helston and the Lizard Peninsula or their Water and Sewerage Services
2) Ecology of the River Cober
One of the Environment Agency’s roles is as the regulator for the abstraction of water from natural water sources including rivers, streams, lakes, reservoirs and groundwater. It does this by issuing abstraction licences.
Abstraction licences are granted based on “water availability”, which involves using projected, current and historical flow data and modelling each new licence taking its maximum requested abstraction volumes, while causing no ecological ill-effect or affecting the rights of existing licence holders.
3) Leats and kennels
Cornwall Council holds the licence granted by the Environment Agency which permits the extraction of 79,500 litres of water per day for the leats and kennels system.
Under common law you are the riparian owner of any watercourse within or adjacent to the boundaries of your property. Where a watercourse is sited between two or more property boundaries, each owner may be equally responsible. Such landowners are known as riparian landowners.
Common problems affecting watercourses include:
- Failing to keep vegetation growth under control.
- Poor management of trees.
- The disposal or storage of domestic rubbish waste etc. on the banks of watercourses.
The primary responsibility for watercourse maintenance rests with the riparian landowner. Environment Agency guidance advises that landowners should maintain their vegetation where this will reduce flood risk. As with vegetation, the primary responsibility for the management of trees rests with the riparian landowner. Storage or disposal of garden or domestic rubbish next to or in a watercourse is an offence under the Land Drainage Byelaws. This may also be an offence under The Water Resources Act, The Environmental Permitting Regulations or other environmental legislation.
More information on riparian landowner’s responsibilities can be found here.
Operation, Maintenance and Governance
Keeping water flowing in the leats and kennels has been a perpetual challenge due to the following:
- Structure leaks and collects groundwater and agricultural run-off
- Old structure originally clay puddle lined
- Ongoing problems with burrowing animals, especially when the water is not flowing
- Ongoing problems with collapses and repair costs that are outside of approved budgets
- Access/permission issues relating to private ownership of the leats
After the Unitary Authority was formed, Cornwall Council took responsibility through CORMAC for the maintenance of the system. Prior to that Kerrier District Council were in charge. After reorganisation, the old ways continued with experienced staff members being fully aware of work required to keep the system operational. However, over time many have sadly died or retired, leaving scant knowledge left for management to work with.
Many sections of the Grade II Listed kennels within the town are in poor condition and need to be renovated to conservation standards to enable them to contribute to Helston’s unique selling point – its heritage. However, due to financial constraints, they are not being maintained to a standard befitting their Listed status.
In the autumn of 2018, following repeated problems with water flow Cllr. Mike Thomas, working with fellow CC councillors Loveday Jenkin and John Martin, requested the formation of a working party to explore the future of the watercourse. This was readily supported by Kevin Bryant, Cornwall Council’s Head of Highways and Infrastructure, who recognised that now was the moment to study the watercourse to see what was needed to sustain its future.
The scenario going forward was that there would be limited funding available to support a system for which there was little direct economic justification. In addition, CC had just received secured legal advice that work previously done under their land drainage management remit was, in law, the responsibility of riparian owners.
The first meeting of the Wendron Leats and Helston Kennels Group was held in December 2018 under the Chairmanship of Kevin Bryant and brings together all three local authorities involved, Cornwall Council, Wendron Parish Council and Helston Town Council as well as South West Water (SWW), the Environment Agency, Loe Pool Forum and interested local community members.
Cornwall Council’s Future Role and Responsibilities
Many sections of the kennels in Helston are used as rainwater drains for roads and also for adjacent property. In preparation for the introduction of a more sustainable system that places more responsibility on the local councils, particularly Helston Town Council, Cornwall Council is in the process of doing the following:
- Monitoring the extraction of water with a view to establishing the levels required to satisfy the needs of river ecology, domestic water supply, agricultural needs and keeping the kennels flowing.
- Surveying the leats to identify leakages and repairs required prior to handover.
- Mapping the sections for which CC is legally responsible.
- Estimating the cost of repairs required to the kennels to inform future funding bids to external bodies.
Cornwall Council Highways recognises the importance of the Leats and Kennel system to the Town of Helston. They are an important grade 2-listed structure and contribute to the beauty of the streetscape in this well-known Cornish Town. Officers warmly welcome the decision by Helston’s Museum of Cornish Life to hold a virtual exhibition. This will certainly help to explain the interesting history that the Kennels have, and why we fully support the efforts made by the town to preserve them for future generations.”Kevin Bryant, Head of Transport and Infrastructure
CORMAC are very pleased to support The Museum of Cornish Life’s virtual exhibition about the Kennels and Leats of Helston. The Kennels perform a very important highway drainage function in the town. They help to remove surface water from the roads at the top of town by quickly transporting it through the streets to the River Cober below. Our engineers are very knowledgeable about their structures and quickly respond when a blockage, or collapse occurs on a CC highway.
CORMAC are always pleased to advise riparian owners when blockages and problems occur on their land. CORMAC can see that the exhibition will help to explain to the public how the Wendron Leats and Helston Kennels work”Andy James, Business Director, Team Service Contracts
The Way Forward: Wendron Leats and Helston Kennels Friends Group
Arising from the Leats and Kennels Group meetings initial ideas have been drafted for the creation of a partnership support group to oversee future management and maintenance of the leats and kennels system. This will involve Wendron Parish and Helston Town Councils working together with Cornwall Council/Cormac and other stakeholders.
Please click the following link for further information: Wendron Leats and Helston Kennels Friends Group
It is envisaged that the role of such a group would include:
- Monitoring and reporting on the operation and condition of the system
- Liaison with riparian owners
- Offering to help riparian owners carry out regular clearing and repairing leaks
- A first point of contact in Helston and Wendron
- Disseminating information to the public
- Fundraising to cover the costs of maintenance.
Ecology of the Cober, Loe Pool and the sea
Water flowing along the leats and kennels system discharges back into the River Cober. Irresponsible or accidental littering or pollution of either is therefore likely to have an adverse impact on the water quality, ecology and environment of the river, as well as that of Loe Pool and the sea.
Within Helston the kennels are an integral component of the Highways drainage system and have coarse metal grilles capable of filtering out only the largest items of debris. This means that litter commonly deposited into them such as plastic bottles and wrappers and cigarette filters has a largely unobstructed route into the river and beyond where it causes much damage to fluvial and marine wildlife. It can take 450 years for a plastic bottle to break down in the sea. It is for this reason that Helston Town Council has signed up to the Plastic Free campaign.
Loe Pool is Cornwall’s largest natural lake and designated as a Special Site of Scientific Interest. It is located within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is therefore an area with a high conservation value which needs to be well protected. It is managed by the National Trust.
In the past the water quality and ecology of Loe Pool has been adversely affected by an excess of nutrients flowing into it from agricultural run-off and other sources. This causes algae blooms which deplete the water of light and oxygen and have an adverse impact on plants and wildlife. The Loe Pool Forum was set up in 1996 to address this issue. Its core members are the National Trust, Natural England, and Cornwall Wildlife Trust.
For more information on the work of the Loe Pool Forum, including research and reports on the River Cober catchment, please follow this link: Loe Pool Forum
Benefits to the town
Environment – distinctiveness of town centre streets.
Helston is the second oldest town in Cornwall and its exceptional built heritage is of crucial importance both to the community and to the town’s distinctiveness and economic potential.
The Helston Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Strategy (Alan Baxter Associates, 2010) identified the Grade II Listed kennels as a precious feature of the town which must be preserved.
The kennels, with their babbling and glistening flow of water and tooled granite kerbs are historic, visual and sensory assets which are widely held dear by the local community and a significant component of the visitor offer.
Economy – town centre vitality
Helston’s town centre has experienced a decline in vitality, particularly in respect of empty retail premises, which have increased rapidly in the last three years to a level (15.5%) well above the Cornwall and national averages (12.6% and 12.9% respectively). This situation is likely to be made worse following the Covid-19 pandemic.
The significance of heritage and cultural assets and their potential to act as economic drivers for the town centre has been recognised in the Helston Place Shaping Plan (2021) developed by Helston Community Interest Company (CIC) working in partnership with local Cornwall Councillors, the Town Council and the local community.
Technical development of projects within the Plan is now proceeding with support from Cornwall Council’s Town Centre Revitalisation Fund, which will help to improve prospects for securing strategic capital funding. It is hoped that support for restoring some sections of the kennels in Coinagehall Street might be secured ultimately as part of the Reimagining Helston’s High Streets project.
Although they are yet to be fully quantified repair liabilities for the Listed kennels within the town are considerable and efforts to secure funding for their restoration and upkeep will need to be a continual focus. It is envisaged that fundraising for this purpose will be one of the roles identified for the suggested ‘Friends’ group.
Community – instil local pride and sense of place
Amongst the key points raised in consultations held by Helston CIC to contribute to the development of the Place Shaping Plan were the following:
- The loss, by dilapidation or development, of Helston’s heritage features and structures is diluting its attractiveness and causing the visual decline of what should be its unique selling point.
- The situation is causing a decline in the community’s pride in their town – a dangerous factor which, based on experience of other parts of the UK, has an accelerating effect on town centre decay
This exhibition has sought to raise awareness of the wonderfully distinctive Wendron Leats and Helston Kennels system and the issues facing it with the aim of stimulating community pride and interest and encouraging the establishment of a sustainable partnership management group to secure its future.
With thanks to:
with additional thanks to Wendron Parish Council