This week saw the opening of a new major exhibition at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall. Telling the story of the famously unsinkable ship, the Titanic, the exhibition takes a fresh look at the facts and the myths behind this endlessly fascinating event.
Titanic was meant to be the ship that even God couldn’t sink but on the night of the 14th April 1912 history was made. It was the huge vessels maiden voyage from Southampton to New York but when she stuck an iceberg an estimated 1496 passengers and crew lost their lives. Continue reading →
Since I first came across Andrew Lanyon’s book A Fairy Find many years ago I have been fascinated by his work. He challenges me to see the world in a different way, a weird and wonderful, and often slightly perplexing, way.
His latest exhibition which opened last weekend at Falmouth Art Gallery is called Nature’s Laboratory is a collaboration with some 37 other artists. This fantastical collection of diverse pieces asks you to take a moment and consider the work of Nature and her influence, her power and her control. Continue reading →
As you drive towards the main campus of Falmouth University sharp modernist buildings fill the skyline. This once grand private estate has now been a place of learning and education for more than 70 years. Since Tremough Convent School closed its doors in 1993 however the old buildings have mostly been swallowed up by new development and forgotten.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 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 . . .”
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!
At 2 O’clock in the afternoon on the 1st November 1755 the sea in Mount’s Bay , Penzance rose rapidly and without warning to about 6ft above its normal level. Then it “just as quickly ebbed away”. The water continued to rise and fall in this way repeatedly for the next 5 hours. In neighbouring Newlyn however the effects were more dramatic, a
deluge of sea water was said to have charged ashore at a height of 10ft engulfing everything in it’s path.
That day a large earthquake had struck the city of Lisbon in Portugal. Despite the epicentre of the quake lying over 1000 miles south west the force was great enough to send huge waves of water rolling into the Cornish coast.
An 18th century French writer, Arnold Boscowitz, wrote at the time that “a great loss of life and property occurred upon the coasts of Cornwall”. I have been unable to verify how many lives were lost but this strange and dramatic event must have been viewed as a very frightening to the folk in the area. John Davy, brother of the scientist Sir Humphrey Davy, wrote that the people of Penzance
were “very superstitious” and that a “belief in witchcraft maintained its ground there”, they must have feared what this biblical flood of water meant.
Coincidently a few months ago while looking for something entirely different in the Annual Reports of the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society I came across a curious entry which had been written by Mr Robert Hunt, who amongst other things, was their Secretary at the time. The article was entitled ‘Particulars of the Earthquake felt in parts of Cornwall on Feb 17th 1842’. In it Hunt summarises various historical accounts of earthquakes in the county. He refers one in Falmouth in 1757 which “was attended by a great noise” and felt as far away as Camelford. The same quake caused water to gush up through mounds of lifted sand on the beaches.
Another tremor occurred in 1759 when “a bright Aurora Borealis was seen in the evening”, this time the shock waves were felt as far as in Liskeard nearly 50 miles away and also by hundreds of miners deep underground. In 1836 there was a quake in Stithians and Hunt also tells us that Mr William Henwood, who was a geologist born at Perran Wharf, had communicated to him information concerning three other shocks felt in various areas around the county.
It seems however that it was a quake in 1842 which prompted Mr Hunt to write his article. Mr Hunt, who was eating his breakfast at his home in Berkeley Vale, Falmouth, heard “a peculiar rumbling sound” which was followed by the doors and windows of the house
shaking. Many people he spoke to thought that there had been some kind of explosion at the busy harbour. Further inland Mr J S Enys, of the Enys estate near Penryn, spoke of a sound like “a heavy weight falling” and “the shaking of articles in the rooms” Again the tide rose and fell very quickly.
But down in the valley at Perranarworthal 5 miles away the earthquake was described as a “considerable” shock, so much so that many people there thought that near-by the gunpowder works at Ponsanooth had blown up. The villagers of Perranarworthal set out for the Kennall Vale works to see what help they could give. Of course they arrived to find that all was well and that the people of Ponsanooth were as confused as they were.
There were reports of tremors that day in Mabe, Constantine, Lanner, Pool, The Lizard, St Mawes, Helston and Porthleven. The stories ranged from people being shaken in their beds to books falling from shelves and tea cups rattling in their saucers. Many had been very frightened and perhaps none more so than the miners deep underground. One of them described a rush of air which was strong enough to blow their candles out and a ‘great noise’ that could be felt as well as heard. Rather them than me!
The Falmouth Packet reported that the quake lasted for around 30 seconds and that shaking was accompanied by a noise like distant thunder. The paper also said that ‘the motion in the granite districts was so violent that many people left their homes’. The Packet draws comparisons in its article with the Lisbon quake a century before and adds that the town of Falmouth is waiting with interest for the arrival of the Lisbon Packet Ship and any news it might bring which could shed light on what had happened.
I picked up another film from the developer this week. And as always it is that moment of trepidation that is half the fun, what will the pictures be like, did I breathe and blur, have I managed any double exposures and is that a good or a bad thing?
The gentleman behind the counter took my docket and reached for the packet which was sitting waiting by the till. “Can I just ask what camera you are using?” he said while handing it across to me. When I told him he seemed surprised and during the conversation that followed he explained that he hadn’t seen a Brownie film in a long time and was impressed by how good the pictures were. I left a very pleased lady. Please note he was impressed by the camera, not me but still . . .
I was even happier when I saw my new pictures, is it me or am I really getting the hang of this? Perhaps then it is time to talk about the details. In my last article My Box Brownie camera, Adventures with Parralax Error! I gave my so-called top tips, maybe it would be helpful to explain a little more on how to use this natty little camera. Of course as I have explained before it is just soo complicated!
This picture is apparently what my friends imagine I look like when I am out with my Brownie. It is understandable in a way, the idea of me roaming the Cornish cliffs with a camera which is heading for 100 years old is comical I suppose. It does conjure wonderful, soft-edged reminiscences of the past. I am sure that when George Eastman and Kodak put the first Brownies on sale on 1901 they had no real inkling of the revolution the little black boxes would create.
It was in fact Queen Alexandra who really began the craze for the Brownie. When the papers let it be known that she was using one to capture memories of her children all of a sudden everyone wanted one. The ingenious simplicity of Kodak’s little camera meant that photography was something that everyone could do. It was a magic that we could all be a part of! And lets face it we have never looked back, even in todays digital age of the selfie and camera phone we still delight as much as ever in capturing those moments in our lives, big and small to look back on.
I mentioned before coming to grips with my Brownie and how it works was a bit of a trial and error experience so I thought that I would provide a little ‘How to load your film’ slide show just in case I have inspired anyone to give it a go!
So it seems it is finally here, after what felt like a very long winter with rain of near biblical proportions it is at last the spring equinox. Nothing says spring has arrived more than the riot of colour that is the Falmouth Spring Flower Show. Despite being more than 100 years old this historical little show is often over-looked by locals and visitors alike. This year I decided I would not only attend but enter something in one of the classes.
As I entered the Princess Pavilion yesterday my winter-cosseted senses leapt into life. The large hall is a positive hive of life, all bright gaudy colours and sweet scents. There are long tables laid out with the most vibrant splashes of pinks and yellows. Daffodils, narcissus, magnolia, rhododendron, camellia and all manner of spring colour is here and after such a long dark winter it’s a joyful sight.
This year for the first time as I said I decided to become an exhibitor. My grandmother, a proper Falmouth girl, regularly showed off her pot plants and cut flowers but sadly I didn’t inherit her green fingers, I put one of my pictures into the photographic class. Each year there are different themes to choose from, I picked ‘Cornish mining landscapes’. I found that there are a couple of advantages to being an exhibitor, you get to see your work on display, which was a first for me, and you don’t have to pay the entry fee (although a rather reasonable £3 is hardly going to break the bank). No prizes for me this year however but I must say I was very happy and proud to see my name there amongst the others and I have picked up some tips for next year!
After having my nose in all that pollen I really do hope that there is a fine summer on the way. It feels like it might be time to dust off my sandals and dig out the sun screen, or perhaps I really am getting ahead of myself, lets just enjoy the fruits of a well earned spring first shall we?