The Centre of Cornwall & a rather Mysterious Tail

Everything has a beginning, a middle and an end.  The Tamar river in many senses marks the beginning of Cornwall and of course we all know where to find the End.

It is the village of Lanivet, not20160623_143152 far from Bodmin, that marks the middle.  You see this little place’s claim to fame is that it is meant to be the geographical centre of the county of Cornwall.

And in the centre of the village that is in the centre of Cornwall is of course the parish church.

And in the centre of the graveyard, in the centre of the village, that is in the centre of Cornwall, there is an ancient cross which historically is meant to mark the exact point that is the middle of Cornwall.

But not only that, according to Historic England this wonderful 10th century wheel-headed cross is also the most highly decorated in Cornwall.  Some of it’s intricate features are found nowhere else in this region and are unique to this particular cross alone.  The carvings may be fading now but there can be no doubt of how special this piece of stone was to the people who first carved it so many moons ago.

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At first glance there seems just a pleasing jumble of patterns and shapes. Strips and dots, lines and crosses.  But look closer and the figure in the middle panel that pops out at you.  Who is this rather bandy-legged chap I hear you ask?  The answer is nobody knows and just to add a little more confusion into the mix, although it isn’t really clear from my photograph or from Blight’s lovely illustration, our long-legged friend also has a tail!

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According to Andrew Langdon in his book on the Crosses of Mid Cornwall the carved man has some kind of Pagan associations but alternatively Historic England suggests that we are looking at an unidentified ancient saint (with a tail . . .?)

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I have had a little dig and there are a few global myths about humans with tails of various descriptions.  The Manticore, the Campe, the Cecrops and perhaps my personal favourite the Satyrs: a tribe of nature spirits with the body of men, pug noses, asses ears and horses tails.  But none of this mixed bag of freaky-looking creatures quite fit our funny little man’s description.

Historic England, as I mentioned, does have another theory however, they suggest that the ‘tail’ is in fact a string with a key hanging at the end.  There are several Saints that are

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Another cross in Lanivet graveyard

represented holding keys but probably the most popular is Saint Peter was said to who carry the Keys to Heaven with him.

 

Whatever you think, tailed-man or Saintly key-holder, this cross is a lovely piece of our history.  It stands about 9′ high (2.933m) with another 1′ below the surface and is splendidly decorated on all four sides. Sadly the wheel head has been badly damaged at some point but that doesn’t detract from it’s beauty.

Experts think that at one time there were as many as 12,000 of these crosses all across the English countryside, now less than 2000 remain.

I feel that they are another precious piece of our past to treasure and marvel at whatever your religious beliefs may be.

Oh and I will finish with just a word of advice, don’t put man with tail into Google images! Not for the faint hearted!

For another story about Cornish Crosses try: Three Forgotten Crosses

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A Giant’s Heart

The last time I visited the beautiful St Michael’s Mount, just off the coast of Cornwall, there was a steady stream of tourists crossing the tidal causeway ahead of me.  I have walked this cobbled path many times in rain and shine, it’s a place that is different in every season and in every light.  On this day it was the colour of the seaweed that stuck me, such an eye-popping green and lashings of it everywhere!

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When my feet touched the rocky island shore I quickly began to wind my way up the old Pilgrims Path, weaving in and out of the flock of visitors puffing up to the castle.  I had a different destination, the Giant’s Heart.

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Can you see it?

 

This stone heart suffers the undignified fate of being trampled under the soles of innumerable walking boots on a daily basis.  It is the ultimate down-trodden heart and legend has it it belonged to Cormoran the Giant.

Illustration by Percival Leigh

 

Cormoran built the huge stone castle that sits atop St Michael’s Mount but unfortunately he made nuisance of himself by waded ashore to the mainland every night and snatching livestock from local farms for his supper.

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Local villagers got really fed up and offered a reward in return for someone slaying the giant.  A local boy called Jack took up the challenge and he crept over to the island and dug a large giant-catching pit.  Hardly a mastermind of a plan.  But it was surprisingly effective.  When Cormoran awoke from his sleep he saw Jack on his island and charged at him.  Blinded by sunlight the giant didn’t see the pit that Jack had dug and promptly fell into it and disappeared.

Jack became a local hero and from then on was known as Jack the Giant Killer.

All that was left of Cormoran was his stone heart . . .

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and legend has it that if you stand still and listen hard you’re still able to hear the pounding beat of the giant’s unhappy heart.

I have a little stone heart that my other half gave me, it is always in the glove box of my car.  It is fascinating how we humans find patterns in the world about us, we see20160621_111522 faces everywhere and animals in the clouds. We search out meaning, we find the stories and hold on to seemingly worthless things as if they are some powerful symbol or charm.

The stone heart is another kind of the talisman.  So next time you climb the Mount at Penzance take a moment to stop and listen for the beating of a giant’s heart.

 

For another Giant story try: Anthony Payne: A Real Cornish Giant or for a different view of the Mount try: Shipwrecked

A Lostwithiel home: Yours for 3000 years!

Lostwithiel is one of my favourite towns in Cornwall.  It is peaceful even at the height of the season and wonderfully historic with many interesting buildings and lots of antique and curiosity shops to nose about in.  A beautiful Norman bridge crosses the river Fowey here, there is an ancient motte and bailey castle just outside the town and the rather grand Shire Hall, right in the centre, was built in 1272.

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But of course I came to Lostwithiel looking for something far less grand and dare I say a lot sillier!

Not far from the corner of North Street and Queen Street there is a little square house with an inscription quite high up on its walls.  The granite plaque wraps around one corner of the building and appears to have been built into the actual wall of the house, not added on later. It reads:

Walter Kendal of Lostwithiell was founder of this house in 1658. Hath a Lease for Three Thousand Yeares which had beginning the 29th of September Anno 1652

Now this was a man with long term goals I feel! A man thinking ahead . . . far, far ahead!  I am really not sure what Walter thought would be happening 4652 when his lease finally expires!

The National Archives at Kew still hold the original agreement which was made between Francis Buller and Walter Kendal for the “mansion house” in Lostwithiel.  Walter it seems was part of a impressively well-to-do family in the small town, his relations were members of parliament, Royalist army heroes and Masters of the Cinque Ports.  The Kendals built Pelyn House near to the town in 1601 and the family are still there to this day.  What Walter did, other than build his rather smaller abode and sign up to extraordinarily long leases, is not entirely clear.

He was born in 1608  to Thomas Kendal and Elizabeth Arscott and was the eldest of their eight children.  They are all represented praying in multi-coloured relief in an impressive plaque on the wall of St Bartholomew’s Church.  I think we can assume our Walter is the one on his knees just behind his considerably larger father.

Walter was married to Margaret Symon in 1642 and they had three children, Richard, Walter and Elizabeth.  Sadly I haven’t had any luck finding out what Walter actually did during his life although20160616_112100 when he married Margaret at St Winnow Church he recorded himself as a Gentleman.

Walter Kendal died in 1693 and was buried at Lostwithiel.  His lease still has 2636 years to run at the time of writing!

For more great Cornish characters try: Granny Boswell: Cornwall’s Gypsy Queen or Hannah Jory: Mother, Prostitute & Convict

Three Forgotten Crosses

I guess you could say that I am nosy by nature.  I would prefer to be called curious or inquisitive but really I just like to know stuff.  As a child I drove my parents up the wall with endless questions – why this? and how that?  But you see if you don’t ask you can’t know.  And sometimes there is the joy of the unexpected discovery!

There is a rather grand gateway that I have driven passed numerous times and always silently wondered where it leads?  What are those smart gateposts for?  The other day I had the opportunity to take a little peek and found something quite unexpected!

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The driveway beyond those fancy gateposts leads to the Bosvathick estate, a family owned house and gardens with a quiet history tucked away near the small rural village of Constantine.  The house has been in the hands of one family since 1760 and has recently starting opening it’s doors to the public during the summer months.  It was something beside the driveway however that caught my attention before I even arrived at the house.

A group of 3 ancient crosses huddled together in a kind of rockery.  As someone who has spent many years wandering around her local area looking at ancient pieces of granite how did I know nothing about these? And what were they doing here? You see. . . too many questions!

I went away and looked into their story and found that there was very little information available and a good deal of confusion! According to my ‘go-to’ author for insight into Cornish Crosses, Andrew Langdon, no one seems very sure where they came from.

The stones themselves it appears all date from the medieval period.  Many stone crosses such as these were used as way-markers, guiding the traveller from one church to another through what would have been un-signposted and lonely countryside.

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It seems that these 3 little crosses ended up here because they were “gathered together” by the land owner of the estate in the 19th century.  Thomas Moor Horsford was the owner in around 1860 and Lakes Parochial Guide to Cornwall says that he “considerably improved the mansion and the grounds” adding a pair of splendid stone lions to the gardens. I wonder if the crosses were his addition also.

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The records that I have been able to dig up suggested that the crosses were brought to their present location from other sites nearby. Two are thought to be from Trewoon, in Budock Parish, an ancient hamlet which appears in the Doomsday book and one from Boswarren (or Bosvarron) close to Constantine.  Charles Henderson, another fantastic source of local history, first recorded the crosses in their present position in about 1870 and there they have stood ever since, hidden and pretty much forgotten about for nearly 150 years.

But there are still so many questions, don’t you think?!

Access to the crosses is restricted, please bear that in mind and go to Bosvathick’s website (link above) to see when they are open for a visit!  It was well worth the wait!

For more forgotten places try: William Tresidder’s Grave or Cornwall’s Oldest Road

 

The Last Day

She pulled me up onto her lap and her woollen skirt scratched the back of my bare legs. I looked down at my grubby knees and the bruises like inky thumb prints down my shins. She reached, tired hand quivering, and brought down the photograph from its shelf. The frame was tarnishing, silver turning black in slowly spreading shadows from the edges.

I gazed at the family caught inside, frozen, their black eyes are staring straight out of the picture and I wondered for a moment if they could really see me. With a slow intake of breath, as if I had asked for this and she was bored with the telling, she began the story again. She smelt like blackcurrants and stale bread.

The esplanade was dotted with families taking the sea air, courting couples and nannies strolling with their bundled-up, dutifully silent charges.  The high season bustle was over. The gulls slid by on wires of air and swung above the promenading clusters of people.

In the damp haze of the September morning there was the slight sting of winter. Walter had suggested the portrait when they had first arrived nearly two weeks ago but the days had been satisfactorily filled with beaching, boating, crabbing and afternoon teas. It was unseasonably mild everyone had remarked but today was the last day, tomorrow the cold weather would arrive. It was the last day of the summer.

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The gold lettering on the glass door read: Messrs Allen & Henwood, Masters of the Photographic Art and when they stepped inside a bell chimed brightly above their heads bringing, bounding to their service from behind a red velvet curtain, the proprietor himself, Mr. Edward Allen.

Inside the studio there is a playful mix of the theatrical and the scientific, the smell of heady noxious fumes was the background note tingling in your nostrils as your eyes travelled to the various scenes assembled around the room, sets paused in anticipation of the next cast of players.

There was a library with floor to ceiling shelves and a parlour with a fake fireplace and a table set for tea; a Grecian temple, marble column and all, beside a canvas hanging painted with a woodland scene of bluebells and in one corner a nursery complete with toys and a rocking horse. All places and lives for the sitters to choose from.  The illiterate miner could position himself beside a wall of books, pince-nez on the end of his nose and the untraveled matron could find herself remembering the day she visited the temple of the ancients, a parasol to shade her face also provided.  Today however the family chose the standard setting to capture and preserve this moment, just plain but elegant drapery and stiff backed chair for the lady.

It was always a little difficult to get the children to look natural Mr. Allen thought, they tended to look wild eyed and fearful and as for getting them to stand still, well, he did have some tricks but he found seating them firmly on their mothers knee and a little intimidation usually achieved good results. Mr. Allen had also found that as long as the gentleman looked sufficiently masterful and fatherly he could usually sell a satisfactory number of copies.

He ducks under the black cloth and looks at the inverted image of the family. They are all in mourning clothes, dark shadows with just the odd flash of white lace in the ribbon in young girl’s hair and at the neck and wrists of the lady.  Hair greased flat. Black boots gleam. All was well polished and cared for. The little girl flaps a toy monkey about but she is looking straight at him, right down the lens of the camera.  A moment not to be missed.

“Now Mr. Beard would you be so kind as to perhaps place your hand upon Mrs. Beard’s right shoulder . . . super . . . chin a little higher . . . marvellous . . . now Master Percival could you hold the ball still young sir and look at me for just a . . .?” A slight adjustment in focus and  . . . boom! The flash makes the girl bawl and wriggle out her mother’s arms and the boy drops the leather ball with a dull thud.  It doesn’t matter however as they are there already. Snapped. The moment has been taken and captured on the glass sheet behind the eye of the lens. The smoke dispersed, the drift of grey melted away but the smell of burnt cinders from the blaze of the chemical flash lingered.

Later Mr. Allen will pass the negative to his rolled-up-sleeved associate, Mr. James Henwood who will work the magic of the development.  Looking down into those little chemical baths the image will swim into view. Float onto the surface. That instant caught under the snap of the flash will materialise, inky black, grey and silver. A perfectly preserved monochrome moment. It will then be fixed forever. That moment in time held. Time abated, halted. But it is the events to come that will make this important. Not now though, no one could know it now.  Mr. Walter Beard happily pays the fee, coins jangle on the counter, and promises to view the picture and order copies the next day. The very next day.

That evening back at the bungalow there was no mistaking the change in the air. Those brilliant shining evenings, when the sky drops to a rich deep blue, violet touching the sea, are gone. Winter is sliding in, creeping down through the valleys towards the shore. Soon the cold air will burn the leaves, turning them amber and crimson.  A bitter wind will press the trees towards sleep. Lying in bed Winifred imagines winter’s frosty gossamer cape wrapping around them all, a mantle and a shroud or perhaps a blanket? Comforting? She isn’t sure but there is the unstoppable silent tiptoe towards dark hibernation. Sleep. Sinking towards rest.  As she closes her eyes she hears the steady rolling rhythm of the waves on the beach and her husband’s breath and isn’t sure which is which.

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When they walk along the cliffs the next morning, the last day of their holiday, Winifred is struck by the change. The sky is slate grey, high clouds spin by wildly. The sea is brushed steel and the top of the waves foam white as tissue paper.

Looking down from the same spot where just days before they had gazed through a clear glassy window of the ocean surface to the seaweed and fish below, now it seems the sea has changed its chemical properties.  It is ashen, opaque and jealously hiding its depths. The horizon, where the bright little fishing boats which Percy loves count could usually be found, is an empty grey haze, undefined.

Dropping down the little twisting path to the beach the family splits into two. Percy and his father turn to the beach and Winifred and Phyllis to the bungalow to take a mid-morning nap. Winifred notices there are piles of bronze and brown seaweed strewn wildly about when just the day before there had been an empty golden canvas for their footprints.

“You’re not thinking to go in are you dear?” She looks anxiously at the inscrutable charcoal coloured water.

Walter chuckles “I think we may, what do you say Percy? It is our last chance this season, Winnie!” She smiles weakly and thinks how puffed up and pleased he looks.

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Sitting on the porch Winifred is unsettled, the sound of the waves and the wind fill her head but the beach is empty, they are almost alone, just a man fishing, a silhouette on the shiny leaden coloured rocks beneath the shadow of the cliff.  Her eyes drift to her husband who is now at the tides edge.

Walter is standing, hands on his hips, shoulders back, staring out to sea. He is courting the squall Winifred thinks, challenging the waves to a battle of wills, he was ever the same, childish, demanding and pushy. Baiting the world for battles he can’t win.  He had been on the boxing team at school and been flattened, he was muddied and bloodied weekly on the rugby field but had courted her relentlessly, incessantly into submission. After their wedding it wasn’t good enough to be a cobbler like his father, he became first man in Cornwall to sell ready-made, off the shelf boots and shoes. The empire of leather, laces and boot polish was his.

She watches as her husband and son take their first steps into the sea and shivers at the thought of the icy water touching their skin. She can almost feel the tug of the knotted seaweed pulling at their ankles. When they are waist deep it seems to her as if they have wading into oil, the water is so thick and dark. A shudder drums through her and at that moment the antimacassar slides off the back of the chair and drops onto her shoulder like a white parrot.  Flinching she gets up and fuses it back into its place.  A sharp noise on the air makes her pause thinking perhaps Phyllis is awake, she tilts her head towards the white shuttered window.  Nothing.  Stillness again.

When Winifred turns her eyes back to the sea they are both gone. There is nothing but undulating black water from the shore to the foggy horizon.

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The fisherman said later that he never even saw the boy and when he realised the man was in trouble he called out to him.  Walter had just put up his hands as if grabbing at the air and then went under, disappeared into the dark inky waves.

 

“They say he just disappeared, just went under, vanished.”  She is glassy eyed again, lost in her thoughts, fondling the memory.

The fettered family stare out of the photograph, their world is a world of black, white and grey and memory.  They are held under an inky spell within that silver frame. The frame of the story also, the frame of a bewitched moment and the frame of the memory of an old lady. The family unaltered, suspended and held behind glass in an act of preservation.

“When I look at this it is like time does not exist, I can smell the cinders and feel his hand on my shoulder, do you see?  I have them, they are still here with me.” I turned to look at the picture again, white faces looking out from the black.  I am eager to get down now from her lap and go out to play, I know the story has ended, as it always does, at the point it always does.

“It’s such a blessing that we captured them as they were.” She touches the boy’s face and he stares back from behind the glass, leather ball under his arm.

Outside on the beach I play games of prisoners held captive, castles and ship wreaks.  Gulls circle, the air is salt and brine.

She looks out the shuttered window at the tide rolling in again.  Charcoal and grey, pewter and black, mesmerised, bound, hostage. Time suspended.

They are not lost. They are here, held, captured and detained in a photograph.

 

This story was inspired by real events in my family history in the 19th century.

 

The Singular Mr Daniel Gumb & his house of rocks

Walking out in to the silence of Bodmin moor when the sky is bright blue and the air is still there is a kind of rare peacefulness for me.  The whisper of the breeze though the dried grasses and the buzz of various flying beasties seems so loud in that vast open space.  Tricked by the recent wonderful weather I can almost imagine myself living out there in the still isolation.  I have forgotten the wild winter winds that you can barely stand up in and the horizontal hail stinging your cheeks.

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Daniel Gumb must have loved it too because in the 18th century he made this moor his home, in fact in a way he became more a part of it, and it of him, than most can boast.  He was a stone-cutter by trade and built his very own house out of the giant slabs of stone that litter this ancient landscape. While he was alive no one paid much mind to the strange stonemason living out on the moor but after his death his house became famous, a bit of a tourist attraction for the Victorian day-tripper as the picture below illustrates:

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It may surprise you to know that Daniel Gumb was not out there alone, he and his wife Florence had 6 children in their strange little stone house.  There is a description of it in Cornish Characters and Strange Events by S Baring-Gould published in 1908.  It says that while Gumb was hewing blocks of granite on the moors near to the famous Cheesewring he discovered an immense slab – “this it struck him might be made the roof of a habitation”.  He apparently excavated under the slab and built up walls to support it, the house had a chimney, lime-cement walls and was “sufficiently commodious” for Gumb, his wife and their 6 children. According to a description from 1802 it was like an artificial cavern of roughly 12 feet (4m ish) square.

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I have to admit looking at it today it is hard to imagine it as it is described by Baring-Gould.  But for me the location is hard to beat!  The wonderfully odd rock formation known as the Cheesewrings rises up just behind and empty moorland stretches out beyond the front door for as far as you can see.

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Daniel Gumb was no fool.  He had another motive for his choice of back garden other than convenience for the commute to work.  He was a mathematician and a star gazer.  The roof of his house served as his observatory and the moors offered clear skies and peace and quiet for his calculations.

He even carved diagrams with his chisel into the rocks lying about his home.  Maths is not my strongest suit but my reading tells me that they are something to do with the problems of the Greek mathematician Euclid . . . Gumb also carved his name and the date, 1735, beside what was his front door.

Daniel Gumb died in 1776 at the age of 73 and his name has since disappeared into the moorland mist.  Hundreds of people come and visit this piece of the moor every year but they come to see the Cheesewrings.  Many pairs of walking boots stomp right passed this fascinating man’s front door without realising it.  I wonder what he would have made of it all.

Visiting Daniel Gumb’s house is easiest if you park at the car park in the village of Minions and walk from there, it’s an interesting walk which passes the Hurlers stone circles.  I have been told that the location of the house has changed and that it was moved from its original location when the neighbouring quarry expanded.  I am not sure how true that is but feel it needs a mention.

For more tales of Bodmin moor try: Remembering the Murder of Charlotte Dymond

 

 

Box Brownie: The Hi-Tech features!

If you have read any of my other posts about my Kodak Box Brownie No 2 you will already understand that one of the many things that attracted me to this camera to begin with was how easy it is too use.

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Some may say it is basic, primitive even.  I say it has a magical simplicity.

It is easy to forget with all our modern day gadgetry that at the time the Brownie was produced it was the latest thing.  This was Hi-Tech!  So with that in mind I thought I would highlight for you some of this camera’s specifications, it’s features if you will.

So this is my brownie:

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It was available in several colours including blue and red and was produced about 1920ish.

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It comes with one basis lens which doesn’t have any zoom or focusing capabilities per se.  The Brownie will find it difficult to focus on anything within about 6′ of the camera. But it will capture in sharpest detail anything in the middle ground . . .

 

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The shutter, which is ultimately how you take your picture, is this tiny little level on the side.  You flick it one way it takes a shot, flick it the other way it takes another shot.  It basically just opens the little door covering the lens.  If you find one of these cameras for sale this is the one feature, other than the condition of the lens, that you need to check . . . oh and the winder . . .

 

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After you have flicked your shutter switch in order not to have a double exposure you need to wind the film on.  This is the winder. Mine turns anti-clockwise.  Keep turning until the next number appears in the red window. . .

 

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This is the film counter window in the back of the camera it allows you to see how many of your 8 shots you have left, it also lets you know that you have loaded the film correctly in the first place as you wind it on and watch the little black arrows past behind it . . .

 

 

 

 

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There are two view finders, one portrait and one landscape to enable you to take the picture you like however be aware of your Parallax Error! For more information see: My Box Brownie camera, Adventures with Parralax Error!

 

 

 

 

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This little lever controls the aperture.  This Brownie has 3 different aperture settings. The lever pulls up out of the body of the camera in stages. When it is in a closed position, pushed right in, it is at it’s widest aperture.  This is for use on cloudy days/winter.  One click out, the middle position, is for bright evening/morning light.  The third position, with the lever pulled right out, is for very bright sunshine/summertime . . .

 

 

 

 

 

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The last feature is this tiny lever, pull this one out of the body of the camera and it allows you to take a long exposure picture.  Professionals call it the Bulb Setting I believe.  This lever basically stops the shutter from closing until you manually flick it closed by flicking it back the other way.  This is a feature I haven’t tried as yet.  Mostly because I don’t have a tripod . . .

 

 

 

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This is where your tripod (if you have one) would attach.  You see, Kodak thought of everything! What more could you want!?

Beautiful simplicity I think you will have to agree! Take a look at some more of my brownie pictures here.

For more Brownie fun try: Lady behind the lens and Box Brownie: The Perfect Reflection

 

 

Celia Fiennes: Through Cornwall, side-saddle!

Celia Fiennes was born in 1662 but she had very different ideas about what a woman of her time should be and how they should behave.  Celia refused to be bound by convention.  She never married and, at a time when making a journey for its own sake was a new and rather racy idea, Celia became an enthusiastic traveller.

She wrote in her diary that her journeys helped her “to regain [her] health by variety and change of aire and exercise”.  It seems that Celia, like myself, found meaning in her life from seeing, experiencing and finding out about different people and places.

This of course was a time when travel was for most people an arduous necessity that took planning and resolve.  The first stage-coaches didn’t appear in Cornwall until 1790, so nearly one hundred years after Celia’s travels, and even then the 100 mile journey from Exeter to Falmouth took 2 whole days. (About the same time as the A30 on an August Bank Holiday weekend then.)

But Celia was her own boss, with her own agenda and she did it all riding side-saddle in a frock.  She completed her “Great Journey to Newcastle and Cornwall” in 1698 on a horse accompanied by just one or sometimes two servants.  And of course as you might have guessed apart from my admiration for her as an independently minded woman it is her descriptions of Cornwall that also interest me.

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After a rather dramatic hour-long crossing of the River Tamar from Devon (there was no bridge at Saltash in those days) during which she catches a cold and wishes she had never started, one of the first places that Celia visited was Looe.  Here she describes crossing “a little arme of the sea on a bridge of 14 arches”.

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The bridge at Looe in 2016

That particular bridge no longer exists but the illustration above from 1840 gives us a good idea of what she might have seen.  She also writes that Looe is a “pretty bigg seaport” with “a great many little houses all of stone”.  I wonder what she would make of it now?

 

A little further down the coast Celia and her faithful four-legged companion made another river crossing.  This time at Fowey where she marvelled at the colour of the sea. “As green as I ever saw” she says.

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But perhaps my favourite episode in her diary is the entry of the night that she spent in St Austell.  It is easy to forget that Celia was what you might call a ‘well-breed’ lady, she had been brought up in privileged circumstances and here she was travelling into darkest rural Cornwall without an escort.  She was staying (when not at the homes of wealthy friends) in whatever accommodation was available when the sun set and she couldn’t go any further that day.  So on this particular evening Celia finds herself in some kind of lodging in St Austell which she describes as “barn-like” and she gives us a delightful look at the Cornish people around her.

After telling us about an excellent “apple pye” with which she partook of “clouted creame” (clotted cream) available only in these parts she goes on to describe her company.

I was much pleased with my supper tho’ not with the custome of the county, which is a universall smoaking both men and women and children have all their pipes of tobacco in their mouths and soe sit round the fire smoaking, which was not delightful to me  . . . I must say they are as comely sort of women as I have seen any where tho’ in ordinary dress, good black eyes and very neate.

I love this. Cornish women are indeed “comely”!

It reminds me also of later photographs of elderly men and women with a clay-pipes that seem to be as much as part of them as the nose of their face.  I imagine her as being as much a curiosity to the locals as they were to her.  I can see them all gathered about the fire, peering as her through their pipe smoke, mumbling . . . pretty much how I felt a few weeks ago when I visited the Bucket Of Blood Inn in Phillack but that’s another story.

As Celia rides out St Austell the next morning she is amazed by the industry in the area, the numerous mines and the “violent heat and fierce flames” coming from the furnaces.  These were hard times when a lucky few were making their fortunes on the backs of the many.  She comments again on the force of the industry  when she passes through Redruth describing it as “very bleake”.

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But Celia’s horse carried her on, right to the end of the county, her diary ends with a description of her clambering about on the rocks at Lands End.  And as she says her “horses legs could not carry me through the deep and so return’d to Pensands [Penzance]” and there “the Mount . . . looked very fine in the broad day the sun shining on the rocke in the sea”.

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Celia continued her travels intermittently throughout her life until at least 1712 and took her through most of England.  She comments that because of the various wars with England’s neighbours she is too nervous to travel to the continent alone but I have a feeling if she had been able she would have ridden her horse side-saddle for as far as its legs would have taken her.

Her diaries have been published and are actually an interesting read I promise! Link here.

For other tales of feisty Cornish ladies try: Hannah Jory: Mother, Prostitute & Convict or Granny Boswell: Cornwall’s Gypsy Queen

A Fort with a View

Sometimes the only way to escape the hustle and bustle of life is to take yourself away from it and try and gain a little perspective.  I am not suggesting in any way that Cornwall has the rush and drive of other areas of the country.  It doesn’t. In fact I have heard it said that if things get anymore relaxed in this part of the world they will just grind to a halt.  But just sometimes I find I still need to stop, take a deep breath and take in the view to really appreciate how fortunate I am.

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Trencrom offers I think one of the finest views in Cornwall.  This ancient Iron Age Hill Fort gives you a 360 degree panorama of the Penwith.  It is one of the few places from which you can see both the north and the south coast at the same time.

St Ives bay on one side . . .  (above)

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. . . and Mount’s Bay on the other.  Can you spot the shadow of St Michael’s Mount?

The fort itself is now just a higgledy-piggledy pile of low rocky walls and huge natural outcrops covered at this time of year with wild flowers.  But you can still make out its ancient fortress shape and there are two obvious gateways in to the enclosure which highlight man’s influence on this landscape.

For anyone who has read some of my previous blogs you will know that whenever I am somewhere like this my imagination starts working overtime and I always find myself wondering about the people who have stood where I am standing and what that place meant to them.  Most of the early travel writers that produced guides to Cornwall, the kind of books I love and collect, waxed lyrical about the views from Trencrom.  They weren’t wrong and I wonder how much the scene that I see today has changed, not too much I imagine.  Although Robert Hunt seemed to think he could see the hills of St Austell (50 miles away) from here, he clearly had better eyesight than I do!

Trencrom, also known as Trecrobbin meaning the round town in Cornish, is roughly 500m above sea level and as well as being a fortress it is also meant to have been the home of giants.  Those giants according to legend buried a golden treasure here so in the past this hill has been the site of some furious digging!

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But one aspect of this beautiful place is often overlooked however, the land was in fact given to the National Trust so that it would be a memorial to the men and women of Cornwall who gave their lives in the two World Wars.

I have been to Trencrom many times before but on that day last week, looking for some peace and quiet, it was the first time that I noticed the weather-worn memorial plaque hidden in the shadow of a huge boulder.   And it gave me all the perspective I needed.

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Trencrom isn’t difficult to find, it is just a few miles from St Ives, take the road for Halsetown and turn off left when you see a signpost for Cripplesease.  In less than a mile there is a narrow gateway on the right-hand-side of the road to a little car park.  From here it is a short, but steep and uneven climb, to the fort. (TR27 6NP)

 

For more posts like this try: The Raising of Logan Rock and Remembering the Murder of Charlotte Dymond