The past couple of days have given me such the rare opportunity of seeing the place where I live in Cornwall in a new way. The world has gone muffled and monotone. And I love it.
It’s been a little while since I posted anything about my rather lovely Kodak Box Brownie camera, if the truth be told I have been using my digital a lot more over this autumn and winter and part of the reason for that is the light, or lack of it!
I posted a little guide to the brownie’s features a while back and in that I spoke about how you to control the aperture on this camera (the amount of light you allow to enter the lens and hit the film).
My Brownie only has 3 basic settings. The lever which has 3 different sized holes in it simply pulls up out of the body of the camera. When it is in a closed position, pushed right in, it is at it’s widest aperture (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 . Continue reading
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.
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. Continue reading
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
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Roughly around 20 years ago I bought an old camera, second hand at a flea-market, it was a Minolta SR-7. I don’t remember what I paid for it but I wasn’t earning much at the time so it can’t have been expensive. I had fun with it for a few years and then the speed and light-weight convenience of the modern camera tempted me and the Minolta went in a drawer for a long rest.
Since I found my lovely Box Brownie in a charity shop I have been thinking that I should dig out my old Minolta and take it for a spin.
The summer sunshine always makes me wants to get out and about, even more so than I do normally, so this year I took the opportunity to visit some of the many local village shows and take some pictures of the things I go to see – big bulls, long eye-lashed cows, huge vegetables and steam engines.
Stithians Show is the one nearest to me and I think it is the best (controversial?). It has everything that you would find at the much larger and grander Royal Cornwall but without the mass crowds. Stithians still feels like a real village affair and a community effort (which it is) and, for a local girl like me, chances are you will see one or two people you know!
So one hot July day off I went to Stithians, the heavy weight of my old camera swinging by my side.
The Minolta SR-7, which was produced from 1962 – 1967, is far more complicated than any other camera I have. Where as in previous posts I have revelled in the simplicity of my Brownie, my Minolta is about as complicated as I ever want my photographic life to get. (I like to keep things nice and simple.)
I am afraid I am not qualified to give you a run down of all its features yet but needless to say I think I am going to enjoy the results! That is once I get the hang of the light meter I just bought on eBay! This model of the camera is completely mechanised (although it did have a built in battery-powered light meter it functions fine without it) which means that when you take a picture and wind on the film it makes all the clicking, crunching and grinding noises you could possibly wish for. An audio experience as well as a visual one!
The other thing that strikes me about these first pictures is that they have a real timeless quality about them. I realise the subject matter helps – the traditional country show – but still there is an almost ageless feel. The prize-giving picture above could have been taken when the camera was first produced in the 1960s.
I must just add that those cabbages are HUGE, cattle are surprising good at standing still for a picture and steam engines smell amazing!
I am really looking forward to further adventures with my Minolta!
For more of my photographic stories try: Box Brownie: The Perfect Reflection or Adventures with my Box Brownie: Part 2 How to load your film! or Lady behind the lens
Old buildings, I feel, always have a certain presence but ruined places somehow even more so. There is a special kind of mystery in a ruined place and I find myself drawn in and pisky-led. My rather over-active imagination can fill these ivy-clad, tumble-down spaces with life and lives that are entirely of my own invention. Maybe that is their attraction.
The church of St Cohan at Merther is one of those places. To begin with to find this little nowhere place leads you down a long, winding and dead-end lane. I saw a grazing deer on the road here once, that is how infrequent the traffic is. When you step out of the car there is no sound but the wind and the birds (maybe a tractor).
The tiny hamlet stands at the far reaches of St Clements Creek just a few miles from the buzz of Truro though you would never know it. The original building on this site is said to date to around 1370 but it was only named for Saint Cohen (Coan) in about 1480 when the poor chap was murdered in his hermitage near here during King Athelstan’s conquest of Cornwall.
And after that, well, it seems the life of the church continued peacefully as with each generation birth was followed by marriage, followed by death, followed by birth.
According to Henderson’s Cornish Church Guide Merther church fell into disrepair in the 1920s when a larger, smarter church was built at Tresillian a couple of miles away. Eventually that church took Merther’s 3 bells and its statue of Saint Cohen and the building was left to crumble.
But if you are looking for somewhere to take a walk with ghosts or perhaps get some atmospheric photographs then find Merther on a map (or try your Sat Nav but I am not promising) and hunt it down.
For another atmospheric ruin try: Those Ruined Places : The Vacant Farm
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.
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:
It was available in several colours including blue and red and was produced about 1920ish.
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 . . .
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 . . .
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. . .
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 . . .
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!
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 . . .
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 . . .
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.