What connects Cornwall, Ketchup & Charles De Gaulle?

I really don’t remember the last time that I visited Lands End, for me the famous point that so many travel to see has been turned into some kind of strange theme park, expensive and overcrowded.  I do however still love it’s sister headland, Cape Cornwall.

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In the summer it also has it’s fair share of visitors but the cliffs here seem to me to still retain all of their natural dignity and drama without the added “attractions” of an action hero King Arthur, Shaun the Sheep (weird I know, not sure why he’s there) and being over-charged for a photograph in front of a signpost.

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Joking aside this truly is a stunning stretch of coastline by anyone’s standards and it now belongs to the nation because of a rather unlikely benefactor.  In 1987 to celebrate their centenary year H J Heinz Co Ltd purchased Cape Cornwall and then generously gave it to the National Trust.

I have a suspicious feeling that their choice of purchase may have had something to do with the rather distinction (ketchup-bottle-shaped?) red chimney that can been seen from miles around in every direction!  It is what remains now of this headlands mining past and was built in 1864.  When the mining ended in 1883 the chimney was left in place to act as a day mark for shipping.

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And as for Charles De Gaulle . . . you are really wondering where I am going with this one aren’t you!! Well just off the coast of Cape Cornwall there are a couple of massive rocky islands known on the maps as The Brisons however I found out recently that they have another local name too . . .

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They are known as De Gaulle in the bathtub.  And if you look at their wonderful profile above I think you will agree it is a rather fitting description.

For more tales of the coast try: Langarrow: Cornwall’s Sodom & Gomorrah or Newlyn: The Last Port for the Mayflower

 

 

Billy Bray’s Dancing feet

Once while on one of our trips my other half and I were taking in just another orange Caribbean sunset when we heard what we thought was a party just a few dusty streets away.

It may have been the rum or the weeks on the road with little in the way of night life but we quickly decided we had better investigate further.  To our surprise what we discovered was not a night club but a church.  The place was so alive. The parishioners were dancing in the aisles, whooping and singing, clapping and laughing. The children were running about playing, there was no solemn formality, just joy.

Outside the night was now deep dark and I remember looking in the windows at the warm glow of the lightbulbs and feeling the happiness shining out.  We both agreed right then if church at home in England had been like that we would have gone every Sunday.

There was one man I think that would have known exactly what we meant.  During his lifetime and in some ways to this day his joy in his religion is what has made him so loved

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Billy Bray 1794-1868

and so memorable. It is also what has made him in some ways a little bit of a joke too.

Billy Bray found religion after hitting rock bottom (almost literally).  He was a poor miner and a riotous drunk and it was a near fatal accident at work that stunned him into thinking about his life.  Quite suddenly and to the astonishment of those around him he found God and became a preacher for the next 43 years.

But the main reason that Billy Bray is still remembered all this time later is that he was renowned for breaking into spontaneous singing and dancing in the middle of his sermons.

He would say “He has made me glad and no one can make me sad. He makes me shout and no one can make me doubt…”

In fact as well as his happy feet Billy also became renowned for his enthusiastic little sayings:”If they were to put me into a barrel, I would shout glory out through the bunghole!”.

When someone told him that they were less than impressed with his singing voice he is said to have replied:   “God would just as soon hear a crow as a nightingale. I’ll sing all I want to sing and if I shut my mouth, my feet would still shout. Every time my left foot hits the ground, it says ‘Amen!’ And every time my right foot hits the ground it says, ‘Glory’ and I just can’t help myself.”

The first person that Billy converted was his long suffering wife, Joanna who it seems had supported them and their children during his former drunken life before his conversion.  But Billy was a changed man and as well as the 7 children they had together he also raised 2 orphans and built 3 chapels.  The ‘Three Eyes’ Chapel at Kerley Downs is the only one that remains and it is beautiful peaceful little place that is open to the public.  (The Three Eyes name is in reference to its windows I believe.)

I for one think that Mr Bray must have brought a great deal of fun and laughter to those around him.  He certainly left an impression on the local miners by providing Sunday School outings of hundreds of their children in the Carharrack area.  One such day out was reported in the West Briton in 1847, the article says that the 200 ragged children were entertained with a band and a choir of singers and that this was followed by lashings of tea and cake for everyone.

I am not religious in the conventional sense but the way I see it is that faith should be about supporting and enlivening the lives of those around you and that Billy Bray most certainly did.

For more local legends take a look at my page devoted to Cornish Characters: Cornish Folk

Those Ruined Places: Garrow Tor’s Lost Village

At the beginning of the year I wrote about the Cornish word Hireth, meaning a longer for somewhere, and I discussed how many people can feel a deep affliation or connection to a place.  For me Bodmin Moor with its wide skies, open space and jutting horizons is one of those places.

Canon Elliott-Binns’ 1955 book Medieval Cornwall contains this description – “The hills . . .  are very rugged, having been scored by the torrents of innumerable winters, and ravaged by the rays of summer suns . . . These wild tracts, stretching lonely and inhospitably beneath vast spaces of sky seem to have changed but little since first the eye of man fell upon their bewildering undulations.”

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The Canon makes the moor sound slightly grim and unpleasant which it is I guess on a cold rainy day but it is also so much more.  Garrow Tor in particular speaks to me.   I think often about the walking there, memories flit through my minds-eye. The rustle of the grass against my legs, the summer heat rising from the granite or the trickle of the De Lank river, the only sound apart from the wind. I even wrote a short story about it.

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But in this post I have a different story that I want to tell about the ruin of a cottage and a village that has vanished under the turf.  A cottage carefully built beside a slow running steam, with a hearth and a tidy garden wall and now it’s a cottage with no name and no roof.

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There was once a little medieval moorland village here, known I believe as simply Garrow (sometimes Garrah).  From the 13th to the 15th centuries the community thrived but by 1841 it had been reduced to just one farmstead occupied by shepherd Thomas Green, his wife Elizabeth and their 6 sons.

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When my cottage was finally abandoned I am not really sure.  The state of it’s decay indicates that it was a fair while ago.  There is no sign of glass in the windows and nettles grow out of the fireplace.

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No one has tended this garden for many years, although the sheep seem to love the richer grass that you find around old habitations.  I find other peoples memories in what remains – an old metal gate hanging still attached to its granite post, the view from a window of the horizon, the sound of the wind in the leaves of those beech trees planted for shelter and shade.

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Bridge made of solid granite crossing the river to the cottage

The stone bridge, the weedy hearth and those stunted beech trees are all that remain of the last owners hard existence out on this moor.  Their cottage’s shell still stands, but only just, beneath the looming shadows of Cornwall’s highest hills – Brown Willy and Rough Tor.  Still one of my favourite places to be.

For more ruined places try: Those Ruined places: Merther or Those Ruined Places : The Vacant Farm

The Ground Beneath Our Feet

When exactly mankind first discovered the art of smelting metal is a mystery but what we do know is that tin has always played a major part of the history of our county and up until recent years a vital part of our economy and our culture.

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My pride in all things Cornish was well and truly pricked by the wonderful Man Engine which has journeyed across the Cornwall this summer promoting our mining heritage.  The 33ft tall mechanical giant miner certainly drew unexpectedly large the crowds wherever it went but for me it was its creator Will Coleman’s passionate commentary on mining that filled me with enormous pride and just a little sadness. He reminded us who were once were.

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The Man Engine in Truro

 

Tin veins are not at all common and there were very few sources in the ancient world and very few today.  Mining in Asia began around 3000 years ago but the archaeological clues in Cornwall date the first tinners here at 1000 years before that.  Four thousand years of history!

The earliest signs of the industry come from prehistoric finds in old tin-working sites discovered during later mining activity.  Finds from the early Bronze Age are very rare but have been unearthed at 4 sites in Cornwall: St. Erth, Caerloggas Down near St. Austell, Levalsa Moer near Pentewan and the Carnon Valley near Truro.

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Part of Carnon valley

The early methods for extracting tin were very basic and known as ‘streaming’.  In certain river valleys the tin was so abundant that the mineral could quite literally be picked up out of the river bed. The sand, earth and general debris were gathered and ‘washed’ so that the heavier tin deposits were left behind.

One man took a very particular interest in the tin ground of the Carnon valley, near Truro,  his name was William Jory Henwood (Jan 1805- Aug 1875).  He was a member of the Royal Society and had written unprecedented papers on rocks and minerals travelling the world for his work.

Henwood wrote numerous articles for the Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall and it is one of these papers published in 1873 which interests me.

It is snappily titled ‘Observations on the Detrital Tin-Ore of Cornwall’.  In it he describes a very unusual discovery made on 29th March 1823 by workers in part of the Carnon Valley Stream works.

“About half way from Tarnon-dean [Tarrandean] to the Arsenic manufactory” the workers “were removing a quantity of mud” and ” at sixteen or eighteen feet below the surface, some 2 or 3 tons of large, rough angular masses of quartz were found resting on a bed of silt, shells and vegetable matter.  Immediately beneath the stones, at some 22 feet below high water an entire human skeleton was discovered.”  Henwood goes on to describe the scene in great detail and the original article includes sketches of the position of the find.

Henwood’s drawing of the Carnon Valley skeleton

Some of the more interesting points include that the body was enclosed within a frame of roughly hewn pieces of timber, possibly oak and that it faced north, the knees were drawn up and the right arm was above the head.  The remains were lying on the surface of the tin ground. No hair, cloth or any other objects were found apart from the skull, teeth and antlers of a red deer stag nearby.  An examination determined that it was the prehistoric remains of a man roughly 5’5″ tall, who had good teeth and was no more than middle aged when he died.

Henwood adds that the remains created deep public interest and so the discovery was left on view for some time.  The skeleton was then given to the Royal Institution of Cornwall (now Truro Museum) who have since apparently ‘misplaced’ it.

How this man died and how he came to be buried isn’t clear.  It is worth noting that the hills around the Carnon valley are dotted with numerous ancient barrows, many now sadly disappearing into housing estates or being ploughed up by farming, and the whole area is considered to be a prehistoric cemetery site. Was it the tin that brought them there?  The skeleton is also not the only evidence of this valley’s ancient past, on display in Truro20160729_104736 Museum is a beautiful tinner’s pick, which was dug up in 1790 but dates from around 2000BC.  The tool is made from a deer antler and is one of two that were found.  (That same 18th century dig also unearthed a skeleton but I am unable to find any details about it.)

Other finds included oak shovels, one of which is also on display, a tin bowl and a Bronze Age flat-axe 15.5cm in length.  Also interestingly Murray writes in his ‘Handbook for Devon and Cornwall, 1859’ that fossilized ‘trunks of trees’ were discovered at the same site.

The Carnon valley river flows into Devoran creek, near Perranarworthal and from there out towards the Fal and the open sea.  The observations of William Pryce demonstrate the extent of the

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Heap of detritus left by mining in Carnon valley

mining industry in just this one small area of Cornwall around 1708.  He writes that “the low lands and sands under Perran Arworthall [sic], which are covered almost every tide with the sea, have, on its going off, employed hundreds of poor men, women and children washing the tin ore out of them, as they are incapable of earning their bread by any other means”.

 

Although mining for tin has now ended it is worth remembering that work still continued in the valley up until the 1980s  and with good reason.   Henwood says that “the tin ground was nowhere else so rich as at the confluence of the Carnon valley with the vales which extend through Perran Wharf and from Taran-dean [sic] through Perranwell”. He paints us a vivid picture with this description from 1855: “The tin was found in boulders or rounded lumps, varying from the size of a man’s fist to a grain of sand, the smallest generally the richest.  But I have seen lumps as large as a man’s fist nearly pure black tin”

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Just this glancing look at our mining heritage reveals such a rich past that it becomes easier to understand why some many in Cornwall greeted the Man Engine with such joy and enthusiasm.  Despite the fact that hardly anyone in the county still works in the industry as a people we have a infinitely long and strong connection with the ground beneath our feet.  Our county was once the centre of the tin mining industry right from its birth in the Bronze age through to its unhappy end not so long ago, the remains of this long association dot our countryside and it seems it is still very much part of our national Cornish identity.

For other posts on ancient man try: Tregiffian Barrow & the Cup-marked Stone or on Cornish industry take a look at Precious Powder, Our Cornish White Gold

 

 

Rock Solid Love

I grew up in a household where farm work and animals came first above anything else.  Don’t misunderstand me, I am not complaining, I had a blessed childhood with a kind of freedom that sadly very few children experience today.  It taught me not only independence but also the

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Me and Dad, Lemon Quay car park c 1980

importance of hard work and responsibility.  However it did mean that we never went on family holidays and days out were very few and far between.

 

I was, and still am, a bit of a daddy’s girl and I hope that my father has had a strong influence on the person that I have become.  One thing that I know he did instil in me from a young age was an admiration for a good piece of granite.

Those days off I mentioned were never spent on the beach making sandcastles.  They were spent on the Penwith or the heights of Bodmin moor or Dartmoor tramping through undergrowth looking for ancient pieces of stone.  It is a tradition that you may have noticed I still enjoy as often as life allows!

In the summer of 1999 my father and I spent a whole day together driving around the west of the county looking at big rocks.

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My father standing with an outlying stone near Boscawen-un, 1999

We admired their size and shape, marvelled at their probable weight and puzzled over how ancient man had moved them and raised them up.  You see my father had a plan.

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At Mulfra Quoit

 

He wanted his own standing stone.

 

 

Our farm is a hill and the highest point affords beautiful views across the valley and the tidal creek below, it was the ideal spot for our very own monolith.

He took himself to the local granite quarry and spent hours walking around looking at the available stones.  He wanted a piece of granite that was as natural in shape as possible with no obvious signs that it had been split by drilling or handled by machinery.  Like ancient man all those thousands of years ago I am sure he had a particular piece of stone in mind.

I am sure the workmen thought he was balmy but perhaps that is where I also get my own nonchalance with regards to looking silly myself.  He found his perfect stone and had it delivered to the farm.

The pit was dug and with the help of todays modern mechanised assistance our standing stone was raised to mark the year 2000.

We have never really spoken about it, my father is a man of few words, but I think he really enjoys the idea of something so lasting, so solid and unmoving marking his time on the land he loves so much.  And so do I.

For more family stories try: My Grumpy Grandpa & his Shires or maybe My Grandmother & Rope Walk, Falmouth

 

Falmouth’s Mystery Pyramid

Isn’t it strange that you can see something a thousand times in your life and never really question what it is or why it is there?  That was how I felt when one day I actually stopped and looked at the Killigrew monument in the centre of Falmouth.

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When I got home I had a quick read and found out that this pyramid was built in 1737 by Martin Lister Killigrew.  I can tell you it’s vital statistics.  It stands 44 ft high, cost £455 and is made of dressed granite from a quarry near Trevethen Beacon.  But to cut a long story short I can’t really tell you why it is there, no one it seems is entirely sure what exactly it is for or why it was built.

The pyramid under construction/deconstruction.

Martin was the last of the Killigrew line.  Martin Lister took the Killigrew name when he married Anne Killigrew, clearly the couple had the intention of continuing the family line but it wasn’t to be.   They died with no heir, it’s seems that the monument was meant as some kind of memorial by the last in the line of that ancient Cornish family.

The Killigrew’s it is said made Falmouth.  The family were very wealthy and had a long connection with the town, constructing much of it’s waterfront at the time and having streets named after them. But there are many unsavoury tales of piracy, greed and ill-gotten riches mixed up with their name also.

When Martin commissioned his pyramid after he had left Cornwall for London, he never saw it completed but he sent detailed instructions as to where to source the materials and how it was to be constructed.  He also made it clear that it was to have no mark of any kind on the outside – no date, no initials, no inscription. 20160307_110028 (1)

Unfortunately for me there are many conflicting accounts of the pyramid’s history.  I will try and wheedle out what seems to be real.

It appears that it originally stood in an area of Falmouth known as The Grove because of the elm trees Martin had planted there but the monument has moved twice since then.  Once in 1836 to the end of Arwenak Avenue (also known as the Ropewalk) and then again with the arrival of the railway to its present position in 1871.

It seems that at some point during these moves there was a strange discovery.

Local legend has it that the men who were dismantling the stone monument in 1836 found two glass bottles inside sealed with wax. Some accounts say that the bottles were empty (unlikely I think), some say that one contained parchment and the other coins.  And yet another account says that one of the bottles was added during the final move and inside it was placed an account of the pyramids history.  I can’t tell you which story is true, perhaps someone out there knows.  Perhaps Martin did leave us a message, a clue as to what his obelisk really meant, he wrote that he wanted it to beautify Falmouth’s waterfront but was that all?

No one it seems appears to know what happened to those bottles . . . whether they were removed or whether they are still inside the great granite tomb of Killigrew’s Monument?

This is Lady Mary (butter-wouldn’t-melt) Killigrew as a young woman

I have an idea! Mary Killigrew, Anne Killigrew’s ancestor, was a pirate (supposedly).  Mary was meant to have stolen some Spanish treasure and hidden it in the garden of the family home -Arwenak House – which still stands very close to where the pyramid is today . . . did Martin, the last of the Killigrew’s, leave us a Treasure Map perhaps, were those coins in the second bottle part of the treasure or . . . or oh . . .hang on a minute . . . has my imagination just run away with me  . . . again?! Bother.

For more tales of piracy try: Who was Pirate John ‘Eyebrows’ Thomas? or for another pyramid story try: Celebrating the Rather Eccentric Mr Knill

Rogers Tower no folly!

I went on a really wonderful walk the other day.  The sun was shining, I was all alone and there was so much history along the way that I am hard pressed to decide which part should be the subject of this piece of writing.  In the end I came to the conclusion that the conclusion or end of the walk should be the focus point of my tale.  Folly? (Sorry!)

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This is Rogers Tower.  And it has often called a folly.  The dictionary definition of a folly is “a costly, ornamental building with no practical purpose”.  I admit have to concede that Rogers Tower probably does fulfil that brief.  But was Mr Rogers foolish to build a little playhouse here for his family to picnic beside on a sunny day?  I would say certainly not!

The tower was built in 1798 by one of the Roger’s family from Treassowe manor below the hill on which it stands which is also known as Tonkin Downs.  It is uncertain which member of the family was responsible but the most likely candidate would be John Rogers (1750-1832) who it has been said had the money and the wit to undertake such a plan.

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The tower stands high above Mount’s Bay commanding immense views across the countryside in all directions and out to sea.  It is a Folly but it is also wonderful!  There is only one downside to this view.  The land between the tower and the village of Castle Gate is part of a giant granite quarry and for more than 100 years machinery has been gobbling up the hill side. (A large explosion went off while I was balanced precariously on the top of the OS trig point taking a picture! I nearly fell backwards into the ferns.)

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There is only one downside to where John Roger’s built his tower.  He built it on the outer ring of the ancient Iron Age hillfort that covers the top of the hill but to be fair I doubt he had to get planning permission and what is valuable to us now was in many ways just a pile of rocks to them then.

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St Michael’s Mount and beyond
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There is a hillfort in these ferns I promise!

As I said there is so much history in this small place that I think I will have to return to it again for another walk and post!  You have been warned!

For more high places and hillforts try: A Fort with a View or perhaps Zennor Quoit: Take a walk with me

 

 

Those Ruined Places : The Vacant Farm

I have always loved the mystery that a ruined place creates.  They are on one hand like a blank page on which I can jot down any story that my imagination likes and then on the other they of course already have a real history to discover.  Real characters and real events.  The past halted in time by decay.

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On high ground known as Tonkin Downs, close to Castle-an-dinas, there is the remains of an old farmhouse.  It has no roof, it is now open to the elements and it’s glassless windows stare blank-eyed out across Mount’s Bay.  It is all that remains of all it’s past owners planning as they sat beside the fireplace that once glowed with hot coals.

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This building has stood empty since 1953 when its last family left, driven out by the blasting noise from the near-by quarry.  As I stand at the empty thresh-hold I wonder if they still locked the front door when they left for that last time.

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On the surface this would have been a wonderful place to live.  The views are breath-taking and even now with the quarry’s activity still rumbling you are surrounded by space and birdsong.  But even before the arrival of the earth-shaking quarry I expect that a life farming here would have been particularly tough, especially in the winter.  The ground is poor, only cleared relatively recently by the hopeful James Hosking in 1813, and there is very little between this farm and the harsh elements.

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The last people to live at Castle-an-dinas Farm were the Wooldridge family, before them was William and Christine Pearce and their 4 children and before them William Martin and his family.  Generations of hands that pushed open the yard gate, rubbed their chilblains in front of the Rayburn or pressed fresh white plaster to the walls.  Until finally they are all gone.

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The ghostly sadness of an empty home jostles oddly with my enjoyment of poking about someone else’s house and day-dreaming the forgotten life of this shell of a cottage.

For more atmospheric places to visit try: Those Ruined places: Merther