Crantock’s hidden rock carvings & a name for a mystery lady

A visit to the north coast of Cornwall brings you to a place of high cliffs and wild seas.  A favourite these days with surfers and holiday-makers.  In the past however it was the scene of many ship wrecks and foolish bathers were often lost in fierce and unpredictable tides.



Crantock beach’s flat sand is backed by tumbling dunes at one end and dramatic black cliffs at the other.  The flatness of the sands mean that the incoming tide can be frighteningly quick.  The cliffs, which make an excellent home for nesting sea-birds, are as impassable as fortress walls to anyone caught below.  It would be a very dangerous place to find yourself.


Hidden in a deep cleft in those rocky cliff walls there are numerous little caves but there is one which holds a beautiful secret. A woman’s face shines from the flat wet stone, her lips almost smile, beside her craved into the solid rock are these words:

Mar not my face but let me be,

Secure in this lone cavern by the sea,

Let the wild waves around me roar,

Kissing my lips for evermore.


The name of the woman at first alluded all my research. It seems that the man who fashioned her face in the stone and craved out the poem in her honour was once common knowledge in the area – Joseph Prater.  But who was the woman in this quiet cave, water dripping from the roof, sand and seaweed at her feet?

The story that is told locally is that sometime in the early 1920s a woman was riding her horse along the beach. For some reason she didn’t notice or couldn’t escape the incoming tide.  Sadly she and the animal were both trapped and drowned in this cleft in the cliffs.  Her heartbroken love, perhaps her husband, was said to have craved her image here on the flat grey rock in remembrance of her.

How true this story I can’t be sure, I haven’t been able to find a newspaper account to verify the tale and at that time in our press’ history we took great delight in publishing those kind of stories in all their dramatic and romantic detail. 2016-04-04-14.28.58.png.png However Joseph Prater was a real man.  He is listed in Kelly’s Directory 1930 as Joseph Henry Prater and living at West Pentire, just above the cave, and working as a dairyman.

Joseph was baptised in Cubert church just two miles from the beach in 1860 and was the son of Nathan and Susan Prater.  His father was a farm worker and it is possible that the family home was at Halwyn in Crantock parish.

Records show that Joseph H Prater did marry in 1913.  His wife’s name was Lillie Jenkin.  So is it possible that the name of the woman in that cave Lillie Prater?

As yet I haven’t been able to find any further record of Lillie but of course something must exist and I will keep looking until I find her!


For more tales of the north coast of Cornwall try my other posts Trevalga’s King and Mermaids sighted in Cornwall (honest!)


14 thoughts on “Crantock’s hidden rock carvings & a name for a mystery lady

  1. Alex Davies April 7, 2016 / 7:34 pm

    Hello. I’ve been to see the cave carvings many times but I have learned a slightly different version, I do not know where from, that the lady drowned because her horse being frightened wouldn’t leave the cave and instead of leaving herself, she stayed with her horse. She drowned and the horse survived. It all adds to the mystery. I’ve also read somewhere, that it was her father that carved. But the most intriguing thing to me is that surely someone must have re carved it or wouldn’t all the sand and rocks washed up in the tides, have worn it away? I was amazed when visiting the cave, a couple of years back after the big storms, that the while carving was covered by sand and we could almost touch the ceiling of the cave! I love the carving very much and the words of the poem bring a lump to my throat every time. I’ve also showed many friends the carving and everyone is moved by it. Also…….have you ever ventured in the amazing mineral well cave at Holywell Bay, with its natural basins of water that legend says, people used to dip their poorly babies in to cure them? That’s very bit as amazing as the Cave at Crantock!!!!! 😊


    • esdale77 April 7, 2016 / 10:07 pm

      Very interested to read your comment! Have corrected the spelling error! Not sure how that happened!! Your versions are interesting to know and if you ever remember the source let me know. I think whatever the truth it is a wonderfully moving place! Thank you for your thoughts!!


      • Tracey August 31, 2017 / 12:59 pm

        Hi I have recently visited Crantock and a man told me about the poem and showed it to me. I took some photos and when I got home noticed something in them. I looked up on google and saw your post so thought I would share it with you. Further down on the right there is a faint outline of a figure that appears to be leaning one arm on a rock. You can make out some fingers too. If you could send me an email address I will send it to you.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hannah June 21, 2016 / 8:49 pm

    How can I contact you about this story?


    • esdale77 June 21, 2016 / 11:00 pm

      Hi Hannah, thanks for your comments, do you have some more info to share about the rock cravings? I’d live to hear what you think!


  3. Hannah June 21, 2016 / 11:04 pm

    This story is shrouded with many theories – and there are a number of Joseph Prater’s [A father, a son and a grandson] all within the sane family does make it rather confusing!
    The Joseph Prater to whom the carving is attributed was born in London in March 1862 and earned his living from painting [he died in 1932 aged 70 and in buried at Abney Park Cemetery, Stoke Newington].
    We cannot accurately date the carving but it is generally suggested to be in the early 1900’s. It is said that Joseph Prater lost a lady friend through drowning [however, to date a great deal of research has failed to discover who this lady was] and it was he who carved the head of the lady in the cave at Piper’s Hole on Crantock Beach along with the poem.

    The horse was added in the 1940’s by Mr James Dyer of Crantock. Mr Dyer has been unwell and off work at this time was looking for something meaningful to do – so he set to work carving the horse which actually had no tail until Sarah Stewart – Smith added it when she redid the poem and removed some graffiti in 2011.

    His father [also Joseph!] was born in Crantock to Francis and Elizabeth Prater, but went to London to find work sometime before the 1841 census and married Jane Harriet nee Larkins. Joseph and Jane had a large family – 8 boys and 1 girl [including Joseph the cave carver].

    Several of the Prater brothers were artist and illustrators, and Joseph cave carver’s two eldest brothers Francis moved to Crantock in later life is buried in Crantock with Julia, and William moved to Crantock and painted in a studio opposite the Old Albion [the studio has long since gone!] and is buried in Crantock Churchyard.

    The Joseph Prater mentioned in the blog was Joseph Henry Prater known as Harry. Harry was the son of Francis and Julia nee Stephens [of Treago Mill, Crantock]. He was born in London around 1890 and was the nephew of Joseph the cave carver. In the 1911 census he was living in Cornwall on Rosewarne Farm, Camborne and working as an agricultural student. He married Lillie Jenkin and they both lived and farmed at Halwyn Farm, West Pentire until the 1950’s.

    I have more detail I can add to his story – but this is the rough outline


    • esdale77 June 21, 2016 / 11:09 pm

      Oh gracious thank you, that is a lot of info to take in, I will have a proper look at it in the morning I promise, I have just finished work so a little cross eyed to get my head round all the Joseph’s! Thank you for taking the time to contact me though!


  4. Louise September 27, 2016 / 7:37 am

    Fascinating . I’ve only once visited Crantock beach and enjoyed a breezy tramp along the sands with my dog … If I’d known this I might have taken a peep . Lovely to get feedback on the background story … maybe it will never be unravelled !

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Nick Lauder January 14, 2017 / 12:12 pm

    I have all great great uncles unfinished watercolour paintings, Joseph and William Prater. I was brought up in Crantock by my grandmother Frances Lauder nee Prater at Halwyn and Seaview.

    Frances was the daughter of Julia and Headley Prater, all related to Joseph and William both buried in Crantock churchyard. Julia and Headley are buried in the Methodist chapel in crantock.


    • esdale77 January 14, 2017 / 12:26 pm

      Hello Nick thank you for getting in touch! I am fascinated to hear from you, do you know anything more about the rock cravings in the cave? Elizabeth


      • Nick Lauder January 14, 2017 / 12:50 pm

        Hi Elizabeth

        All I can tell you is the carving was done I was told by Joseph but which one I am not sure as there were brothers an uncles with the same name.

        I was as a child taken to the caves to see josephs carvings and knew mr Dyer who lived in the village. It was always presumed the lady was something to do with both families.

        All my paintings are of crantock, penpol, Newquay, and polly joke.

        The Prater family lived and farmed at arundle west pentire crantock and built the crantock bay hotel, and the Bowgie was the farms pigstyes!

        I have many albums of the family Prater and some family tree going back to 1500 in Madron Penzance .

        Liked by 1 person

      • esdale77 January 14, 2017 / 12:53 pm

        Fascinating stuff! 🙂 I really hope I have the right Joseph! I would just love to solve the mystery of who the lady was!


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