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
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
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
John Knill loved St Ives and more than 2oo years after his death St Ives is still remembering him.
This rather eccentric philanthropist (some say smuggler) wanted to provide for the people he had grown so fond of and to guarantee that his name would be remembered for all time in the town that he made his home, so he devised a ceremony to do just.
Every St James’ Day, the 25th July, the locals and hangers-on like myself, march up to the 15m high pyramid he built on Worvas hill above St Ives.
There is music, dancing and singing and at the end of it all the Master of Ceremonies asks the 3 trustees if they believe that all has been done as John Knill requested. If they all agree then the crowd disperses, job done for another few years! I have never attended the ceremony before as it is only held every 5 years and this is the first year that I have been able to (or indeed remembered) to go. But I have to say I am really happy that I did, it may not be as famous as the Padstow Obby Oss or as colourful as Helston Flora Day but I loved it.
It all starts in the town centre outside the Guildhall where the trustees – the vicar, customs officer and mayor- put their 3 keys into the locks on the chest that Knill gave the town and hand out the money that he provided in perpetuity for the day.
Remaining faithful to Knill’s specific instructions they choose 10 girls under the age of ten, who must be the daughters of seamen, tinners or miners and two elderly widows who must be the widows of seamen, tinners or miners, and a fiddler to accompany the dancing. Then they, along with the trustees and other notables, all proceed up hill to the Knill Steeple (these days by bus!).
The Steeple was built by Knill in 1782 and was intended to be his final resting place. Sadly he died in London in 1811 so his wishes in that regard were not fulfilled. His mausoleum is however a land mark for miles around and can also be seen far out to sea leading to tenuous rumours that he built it as a marker for his pirate friends.
Born in Callington in 1733 Knill was an important and respected man in St Ives. He was the Collector of Taxes, the Customs Officer and the mayor but it must be said that there are hints that the small fleet of privateers vessels that he formed to combat smuggling was, in fact, a front to cover up a rather lucrative trade in contraband goods. No wonder the town loved him!
The first ceremony at the Steeple took place in 1801 with John Knill present to supervise that all was done as he envisioned and it has continued in the same way ever since.
The huge granite pyramid has Knill’s coat of arms on one side and his motto, ‘Resurgam’, on the other. The motto translates to ‘I shall rise again’ and in a way John Knill does. He comes alive in our lives and in our minds every 5 years or indeed every time we visit his monument and breath in the beautiful views.
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
Grandpa Dale was a quiet, stern looking man who always wore a shirt, tie and waistcoat on the farm, even on the sunniest days. He was hard but never unkind and I adored him. I followed him about the farm like a puppy, getting under his feet. He always carried a roll of blackcurrant fruit pastels in his pocket and would stop now and then to pop one into my month with his rough shovel-like hands.
My Grandpa, Wilfred Dale (1903-1995), had been born into a large, hard-working farming family. Farming was his whole life and right up until just a year or two before he passed away, aged 92, he came up to the farm every day to “supervise” my father.
His greatest love however, other than my Grandmother, were his horses. As a young boy he would sometimes do deliveries on a horse and cart in the mornings on his way too school in Falmouth. He told me that when he arrived at school he would turn the horse around and give it a slap on the rear. The horse would make it’s own way home the 4 miles to the farm. He was a man of few words but ask him about his Shires and suddenly he became animated and engaged. It always struck me as amusing that this very tough, Victorian man named all his massive work horses after plants. There was Flower, Buttercup, Primrose, Marigold, Cactus . . .
Because of him I have always felt a connection to these giant animals and this summer I have taken the opportunity to go to a couple of our local shows to see them and of course all the other birds and beasties too.
I especially enjoyed the Stithians and Camborne shows as I know my Grandpa took his horses at those and many other shows back in the 1940s and 50s.
These wonderful animals have thankfully had a bit of a revival in recent years thanks to some passionate enthusiasts but after the World Wars and the Industrial Revolution they were in danger of vanishing from our countryside. The Shire was originally brought to this country some time on the Middle Ages to carry our rather weighty armoured Knights into battle. Their lovely calm nature but impressive strength made them perfect for farm work and pulling heavy loads – but tractors changed all that of course and the Shire fell out of favour.
Grandpa had to get rid of his horses in the 1960s, the demands of the mechanised farming world had become too great. Although he would never say why he also gave away all their brasses and leathers too, perhaps because he couldn’t bear to keep them. As a family we have nothing left of his horses apart from a few large rusty horseshoes and a couple of the silver cups that they won. But I do have the memory of that sparkle of joy in my grumpy old Grandpa’s eye when he spoke about them.
Every year I try and go to the Tregony Heavy Horse Show to see these beautiful beasts up close and in all their glory. Above are some of the pictures I have taken over the years. This year it is on August 14th and I am hoping for sunshine so I can go and sit on a hay bale and feel the thud from their hooves vibrate through my bones as they plod by! Grandpa would have approved!
For more of my family stories try: My Grandmother & Rope Walk, Falmouth
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
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!
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.
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.
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!