When my grandmother became too old and confused to live on her own she announced that she was going to move to the Methodist home in Falmouth. We tried to persuade her to come and live at the farm with us but she was, as she had always been, determined.
Falmouth was the town where she had spent most of her childhood and married life and so I always felt that, even when she had lost all sense of whether I was her sister, mother, daughter or granddaughter, she still knew that she was somewhere where the air and the light was familiar.
Her bedroom window looked out on to Arwenak Avenue and when she first moved to the home she would walk up and down this shady, flat path and sit on a bench watching people bustle passed. She told me then that the old people of Falmouth had a different name for this road. They called it the Rope Walk.
The picture on the right was taken by Francis Firth in the 19th century, the one of the left was taken by me last week.
I believe the first record of the ground being used for rope making was in 1737 when Mr Thomas Deeble was leasing the ground from Arwenak Manor for that purpose at a cost of £5 per year. The famous Packet ships ensured a constant supply of traffic coming to the then busy harbour. Numerous tradesmen provided for the needs of the crew and the ships themselves. There were sail-makers and fresh water suppliers, carpenters and coopers. Rope making however required a long straight piece of land so that the separate stands could be twisted together, first by hand and then later by machine. The avenue was ideal for the purpose.
When my grandmother finally passed away in her 90s we were of course incredibly sad to lose her but in many ways as her dementia had advanced she had felt lost to us for a long time before she actually passed away. But the one thing that remained with her almost to the end were her memories of the old people and places of Falmouth. As the years have gone by I have gradually missed her more and more, for her advice and wisdom that I didn’t realise I valued so much at the time and for the immediate connection that she provided with those moments and people from the past.
As silly as it may sound Carry On films, fish-fingers and the Rope Walk in Falmouth will always remind me of her.
For another post about family and the importance of home try: Hireth
The names spin by outside the car, Buryas Bridge, Drift, Catchall and then I see the tiny turning that I need and swing the car in, on to the dirt road. This is the track to Boscawen-un, one of the first ancient places on the Penwith that I ever came to. That was probably 20 years ago and it was very different then, all overgrown with bracken and with the silent peace of a place rarely visited. Whenever I came here I was alone with the skylarks.
Since then this Bronze age monument has had some maintenance and the site has been cleared revealing this special place a little more. And it is special for several reasons, for a start this stone circle is not a circle – its an oval! The placement of the 19 upright stones apparently follows the course that the moon takes across the night sky.
There is a central stone which leans at quite a dramatic angle and to the south side the largest stone is a beautiful solid piece of bright white quartz, reminiscent of the stones at Duloe I recently wrote about. There are so many stories about this circle which I don’t need to repeat here but the idea that always sticks for me is that places like Boscawen-un were multi-purpose. Stone circles were meeting places and market places as much as a focus for worship and ceremony. If you look at a map of this area, because of the lack of development, you can easily trace the old routes through the countryside. There are tracks that weave naturally through the landscape from village to standing stone to quiot to circle to village to harbour and so on. These ancient ways fascinate me and I love walking along them. Its strange sometimes to think that many of our modern roads follow those old routes. The A30, which is the main road connecting our peninsula county with the rest of the country, is believed to follow the original Roman road west. And no doubt the Romans were following a much older route themselves. Layers of history beneath our feet.
To visit Boscawen-un is pretty easy, although in winter the track to the stones can be VERY muddy (wellies on!) and parking is limited but in all likelihood you’ll be alone anyway.
From the A30 you follow the track which winds a short distance towards a farm, you can park your car where the track widens out and there is a large triangular stone sticking up out of the hedge. From here go the rest of the way is about 20 mins on foot, keep the farm and barns on your left and follow until you reach a split in the track with a wooden signpost, take the right branch.
Just keep following this leafy lane, sometimes it can get a bit wild and overgrown, until you see a small wooden gate on your left, there is a small sign here too. You have arrived. Breath deep and enjoy the quiet.
For more another stroll to one of Cornwall’s ancient places try:
The Mole . . . absorbed in the new life he was entering upon, intoxicated with the sparkle, the ripple, the scents and the sounds and the sunlight, he trailed a paw in the water and dreamed a long waking dream.
The Wind in the Willows: Kenneth Grahame
Lerryn is a tiny, tucked away village sitting at the far reaches of a long and winding creek – the river Fowey. It is one of those little places that is a long way from anywhere and reached down miles of backroads. The banks on either side of the tidal creek are covered in untouched woodland and make for peaceful walking at anytime of the year. In some ways I prefer winter when the bare branches allow you a wider view of the river Fowey.
But Lerryn’s claim to fame is that the creek here was meant to have been the inspiration for the river in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows.
Kenneth Grahame never lived in Cornwall but he holidayed often in these parts and even honeymooned in St. Ives. In 1907 he stayed at the town of Fowey, further up the river and the story goes that he took a boat trip to Lerryn and spent a day messing about on the water. This it seems became the inspiration for the first chapter to the book when Mole and Rat meet and take a paddle up the river.
After his stay at Fowey Grahame spent some time at the Greenbank Hotel in Falmouth and it was here that he began to write the story that would become The Wind in the Willows, it initially took the form of letters to his young son Alistair.
The woods on one side of the river at Lerryn are owned by the National Trust and are known as Ethy Woods but I have to wonder if they are the Wild Woods from Graham’s story. Next time I am there I will definitely keep my eyes open for Rat and Mole.
“Beyond the Wild Wood comes the Wide World,” said the Rat. “And that’s something that doesn’t matter, either to you or me. I’ve never been there and I’m never going . . .”
I was given my first camera aged roughly 8 or 9 years old. It was a Hanimex Auto Grip 110F which took those funny cartridge films. It was small and clunky but I felt so proud that it was all mine! Many of the pictures that I took subsequently, mostly of my cats and chickens, were blurry and at less than arty angles but I kept every one in an album which I still have to this day.
In my teens I moved on to my grandfather’s old Minolta and life became complicated in more ways than one but that’s a whole other story, I digress!
The reason for this post was a different kind of reflection all together. In short, isn’t there something just magical in the perfect reflection? I just developed a new Brownie film and I felt like sharing! I often feel that if you find pleasure in the small things the rest will follow. So here are some of my recent reflections! I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed taking and developing them!
I think I am literally in love with this image! There is something about the scene that I find other-worldly, like many of the Brownie pictures it feels utterly timeless.
This proves that I did go over and sit on the bench in the previous picture!
There is a haze to this one, not really sure why because it was a clear crisp morning in Penryn but I love the gentle ripples in the water.
Not a reflection I realise but its water and I just love this picture. The swans had just been over to investigate my potential for snacks, I had failed to provide them with anything so they left in silent indignation.
I feel that my photographs are just as much as part of this blog as the stories that I aim to tell and those blurry snaps from 30 years ago are as much a captured memory from my life as these reflections above.
I find researching and writing about an ordinary person from the past fascinating (perhaps it is my natural nosiness). At times it is captivating, at others, difficult to comprehend. After all these folks aren’t around to explain their actions or to defend themselves. Records for the regular person on the street are scant, we often left with small snippets of information, and those few tantalising facts can have your imagination running wild.
When I started researching Hannah Jory it was because of a West Briton article I had seen about her in 1841. She was described as ‘Hannah the Sweep’ and she had been imprisoned for 3 months for ‘riotous behaviour’. I thought that she sounded fun so looked into her a little further.
What I found out both intrigued me and distressed me. And my next problem became how to write it all down.
This was a woman that history had forgotten completely and yet her life was full of colour. This story doesn’t have a happy ending, however but it is the fascinating tale of one woman’s life in 19th century Cornwall, warts and all.
Hannah Jory was already a prostitute by the time her story hits the newspaper columns. And it was not her first appearance in a courtroom when she stood before a judge in Truro with two other women, Elizabeth Davis and Mary Payne, in 1839.
That day the three women were described as prostitutes and charged with assault and theft. Life for women in the early 19th century was very difficult, especially at the lower end of the social scale. If you fell into poverty or suffered some kind of scandal, there was very little support, you could quite literally end up in the gutter. Life was hard and society unforgiving.
Hannah first appeared in the West Briton as a witness giving evidence in the case of a murdered child. It is a very unpleasant trial which saw the mother, the only suspect, walking away because of insufficient evidence. But what of Hannah? She was only in the courtroom because she and her 2 very small children are sharing a house, with a number of other women and children, in Charles Street, Truro. Why she is there without her husband isn’t clear. The court describes her as a married woman, not a widow. But from this point on Hannah’s life descends into chaos.
As far as I can gather Hannah was first sent to Bodmin Gaol in the late 1830s. I am guessing something happened for Hannah to find herself in this situation because at this point in her life she had been married for nearly 10 years and had two small children, Courtney (her maiden name) born in 1832 and Elizabeth born 1836. Her husband William Jory was a chimney-sweep, hence her nickname, was 20 years older but I can find no other record of him.
Hannah was convicted 8 times over the next few years, mostly for theft and drunken behaviour. She was described in the papers as ‘a nymph’, ‘a notorious prostitute’ and a ‘riotous drunk’. It seems that she was smart and sassy too, mostly preying on men drinking alone in beer-houses in the side streets of Truro. When she stole John Mayor’s wallet in an Inn on Calenick Street in April 1839 he rather comically reported ‘she took off like a hare’.
We have a full description of her from her gaol records, she was 5’4″, brown hair, hazel eyes, fresh complexion, she had a tattoo on her right arm and could read but we only know all this because she got caught . . . a lot! The West Briton said in 1840 ‘Hannah Jory . . . is very familiar with the inside of a gaol’. And of course inevitably at some point the Law was going to run out of patience.
In July 1842 the West Briton reported the following:
Hannah Jory, aged 32, notorious character in Truro, was charged with stealing ten shillings from the person of ROBERT LIDDICOAT in the streets of Truro, on the evening of the 11th of May. Much of the evidence in this case, and still more the defence set up by the prisoner was of a disgusting character, such as we cannot attempt to publish; but we regret to say that it did not appear to affect the modesty of any of a large number of apparently respectable females in the Grand Jury Gallery. Ten Years’ Transportation. The Chairman, in passing sentence, said the Bench had reason to believe that this prisoner had been eight times before in gaol, for different offences. On receiving her sentence, the prisoner burst into tears, and begged, for mercy’s sake, that she might be allowed to have her dear child with her.
Hannah’s youngest child, Elizabeth, was 6 at the time of her mother’s conviction. On the 7th September 1842 the Garland Grove sailed for Tasmania, Australia with 191 convicts on board, they were all women.
The ship arrived at its destination in January 1843 and the women were put to work at the Launceston Female Factory just outside Hobart. Ironically the name Launceston would have been very familiar to Hannah, it’s namesake was a small town in east Cornwall. In this facility the woman were put to work as seamstresses and laundresses. It was an overcrowded house of correction where the poor diet and conditions led to frequent rioting. Hannah died about 12 months later aged 33 on 21st March 1844.
We will never know the exact circumstances of Hannah’s life and it will always be difficult for us to judge her looking back over the intervening 150 years or so. But she gives us a window into what could be a different world. And for me real lives such as hers are as exciting as any Soap Opera and tell us so much about ourselves and our county’s history.
Hannah’s children disappear into the mists of time, I can find no further record of Courtney after the 1841 census however a girl called Elizabeth Jory, of the right age, is working as a domestic servant for a large farming family in 1851. I hope she managed to shake off her past and went on to live a happier life than her mother.
Since I found my Brownie camera in a charity shop I have been on a sharp learning curve as I have got to know it and have gradually built up a picture of how this funny black box actually works. I plan to do a couple more blogs on the anatomy of my Brownie and its few but important features. It, like me, is not a complicated soul but may need a little coaching to get the best out of it!
Today however I just wanted to share some pictures with you because these my friends are the firstpictures that I have developed myself!!! And I have to say despite all my nerves about whether I was going to be able to do this or not I loved it. Needless to say these will not be the last prints I make with my own hands!
I am not even sure that this post needs words. Like all of us all work and no play does me no good what so ever! I am one of those people who loves being busy but has to also make the most of the time off when I get it! For me that usually means getting outside and walking, often alone, somewhere in the beautiful Cornish countryside.
But once a year though there is a place just a stones-throw from my front door that I always find time to visit. It is the stunning Enys Gardens near Penryn and of course the reason for my visit is to see their wonderful bluebell fields.
Enys is considered the oldest formal garden in Cornwall, established in 1709. In Spring the park land around the house, known as Parc Lye, comes alive with bluebells.
This ancient parc, it is believed, hasn’t been ploughed for centuries so the little Bluebells blubs have been allowed to thrive. And what a sight they are! You may have to go back a couple of times to catch them at their best but believe me it is well worth the trouble!
Sadly the old family that gave the estate it’s name, and filled the more formal gardens here with tropical plants, has gone. The house stands silent and empty. I often peer in at the windows and try and imagine how it would have been when the whole place was a family home.
Their absence is in many ways good for us though, it allows us access to this stunningly beautiful private world that they created.
Helston Flora is one of my favourite days in the Cornish calendar. I have happy memories of visiting as a teenager and more recently helping my oldest friend in her shop for what is just about the busiest day of the year for the town.
For the uninitiated Flora day is a celebration of the arrival of spring and takes the form of several “dances” through the course of the day. The first is at 7am, followed by the Hal-an-tow (my favourite) the most pagan-rooted part of the day, the Children’s dance, the Furry Dance at mid-day and finally the 5 O’clock.
During the Furry Dance and the 5 O’clock the couples dance an ancient route which involves them often going in and out of the shops and houses. Great fun to watch.
But perhaps my favourite part of the day and most certainly the most rowdy (please remember that the pubs all open at 7am on Flora Day) is the end of the last dance which culminates outside the Guildhall.
The Helston Town Band, who are to me are absolute heroes, play their final round of the song that sticks in your head for days after and there is such a wonderful feeling of warmth and pride. I just love it and this year I recorded those last moments of the day to share with you!
There are some women in history that I really wish I could meet and Granny Boswell, Gypsy Queen, would be one of them.
Granny Boswell was of course not always a granny, Ann Boswell was born in 1813. She and her husband, Ephraim, locally known as the King of the Gypsies, are said to have come from Tipperary, Ireland. In 1861 however she gave birth to the first of her six children in a ten on Kirland Road, Bodmin.
I know this because Ann and Ephraim had their new daughter, Love Unity Boswell, baptised and the circumstances of the family were recorded in the register. This is quite strange by the way, Ann appears to be in her later 40s when her children are born, not impossible but very unusual.
Ann and Ephraim were gypsies and made their living on the move, Ephraim was at times a labourer or a cane worker and at others a cabinet maker. When family settled in Helston Ann soon became a bit of a celebrity. She was considered the local Wise-Woman and people went to her for advice, curses and charms. (A curative bag of black spiders on your bedpost was just the thing apparently.)
Ann was a diminutive 5’1″ tall, had a wicked tongue and a taste for drink, a story confirmed by the Bodmin Prison Register which has Ann imprisoned on at least 3 occasions for being drunk. (I might add that this took place while she was in her 80s/90s and just for 7 days at a time.)
Granny Boswell’s grave
But there is however one story about her which I just love.
In around 1906 Ann was leaving a pub in Helston one day when a motor-car, perhaps the first she had seen, was coming down the high-street. Ann was fascinated and stepped out into its path to get a closer look. The driver, agitated by the old woman blocking his route, rudely sounded his horn. Ann was furious and brought forth a torrent of abuse, cursing the man and his vehicle, saying they would never make it out of Helston. By all accounts the car only made it to the end of the road before breaking down, eventually it had to be towed away by horses.
Driving out of Zennor village towards St Ives there is a house known as the Eagles Nest perched on a crag looking out to sea. It was in the valley below this house that D H Lawrence spent 1915 writing Women in Love and just opposite its white painted gate there is a track leading out across the downs. This is the start of our walk.
Just over the brow of the hill there is a pull-in on the right with space for a car. The view from here towards the coast is across some of the oldest farmed land in the world. The field systems are pre-historic. Leave your wheels, walk back and take that track uphill . . .
This is one of those paths that feels timeless, like it has always been there and I imagine all the footsteps before mine. Don’t forget to look back behind you to the sea, Lawrence said it was always peacock-coloured and I hope it is for you. Oh try not to stand on the violets . . .
Keep the rocky hill-top on your left . . .
When the track bears right there is a footpath off to the left hugging a low wall . . . take it and look for the ruin on the hill ahead . . .
Beside these ruined walls, maybe an old barn or cottage I’m not sure, there will be a path striking out right across the downs, follow and look for a silhouette on the skyline . . .
When I am here I am often completely alone and the landscape seems empty too, just those silent rocky outcrops, the wind in the grass and on this particular day a distance Cuckoo . . .
Your destination is the impressive Zennor Quoit, a Neolithic burial chamber. It’s enormous capstone, which weighs around 12 tons, slid off sometime in the 19th century but William Borlase sketched it for us in 1769 . . .
This wonderful historical site seems to stand alone on the Amalveor Downs, solid, mysterious but there are signs of ancient people everywhere here, numerous barrows and hut circles lie hidden in the bracken. We are never quite alone in the landscape.
This walk isn’t difficult, although the tracks are uneven and not signposted, it takes me about 20mins to the quoit. Longer when I am breathing in the stunning views. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.