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. 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!