The Plain-an-Gwarry or ‘playing place’ which stands at the heart of St. Just is one of the few surviving examples of a medieval open air theatre in Cornwall and is Scheduled Monument DCO1247 (Cornwall 26), and lies within the St. Just Conservation Area. The structure was possibly originally a ’round’ or enclosed farming settlement which would have been constructed during the Iron Age and would have probably continued in use during the Romano-British period. During the medieval period it was converted into an open air theatre for the showing of religious mystery plays – the ‘Cornish Cycle’ known as the Ordinalia, these having been written at Glasney Abbey in Penryn.
The original Plain-an-Gwarry had an external ditch, though this seems to have been infilled with urban waste over the years. Originally, it seems to have had terraced seating around its inner periphery (though these have been landscaped away) and a tunnel leading in from the exterior (the Devil’s Spoon) which allowed the figure of Satan to appear in the middle of the stage area at the centre of the Plain. The modification of the original form of the Plain-an-Gwarry seems to have taken place through the 19th century as its original religious importance became forgotten. The bank was considerably heightened by the addition of late C19 and early C20 urban rubbish, and the level of the inside has been raised with china clay waste to help combat flooding. The site became increasingly used for public events and celebrations including stone drilling competitions undertaken by local miners. It is likely that the rubble stone revetting around its exterior was added during this period (this being shown in early postcards and views of the town).
Today, the Plain-an-Gwarry is owned and managed by St. Just Town Council and is the focal point of the town centre and much valued by the local community. It continues to be used by local groups and organisations, including taking centre stage in the annual Lafrowda Day celebrations in July. The Plain can be hired for public events on application to the Town Council. Applications MUST be made no later than four weeks before the event. Failure to meet this deadline may result in the event not taking place.
Copies of the relevant form can be downloaded here: