Camelford and District Old Cornwall Society


President: Ethel Broad
01726 882 798

Chair: Rod Keat
01208 851792

Vice Chair: Margaret Mabson
01840 212 549

Treasurer: Peter Broad
01726 882 798

Secretary: Grace Keat
01208 851792

Programme Secretary:
Ethel Broad 01726 882 798

Recorder: Susan Theobald
01840 211 790

Programme for 2011

Anyone is welcome to come to these meetings which are held on Mondays at The Clease Hall, Camelford at 7.30 pm or, during the summer, at other locations of interest.

Summer meetings

May 9, meet at Grampound Museum (with clock tower) in main street at 7.30pm

June 13, Blisland and the Jubilee Stone - meet on the lower side of Blisland Village Green, near the Church at 7.30 pm

July 11, Wesley's Cottage at Trewint. Go to Altarnun, drive through up the hill to Five Lanes. Turn Right by King's Head pub. Trewint is about 300 yards, with the cottage on the left

Contact Rod Keat 01208 851792 or 07511 384616 if you have problems

Programme 2011

January 10My Life as a Bevin Boy
Peter Ascott
February 14The Grampound Tannery
illustrated talk
Ron Hicks
March 14The History of a Cornish Village - Delabole
illustrated talk
Catherine Lorigan
April 11Cornish Country Houses
illustrated talk
Paul Holden
May 9A visit to Grampound Village Museum
follow up to Ron Hicks' talk
June 13Visit to Blisland and the Jubilee Stone
July 11Wesley's Cottage at Trewint
September 12Holy Wells in Cornwall
Dr Joanna Mattingly
October 10Richard Trevithick - his place in the History of Steam
Kingsley Rickard
November 14Wrecks on the Eddystone Reef
illustrated talk
Duncan Matthews
December 13Annual Dinner
Bowood Golf Club

Reports 2011

Wrecks on the Eddystone Reef
Duncan Matthews

The November meeting began with Chair Rod Keat's report on the OCS Winter Festival in Liskeard. Issues surrounding the cataloguing of archive material held by local societies had been highlighted as societies employed a range of systems. To make the wealth of information readily accessible would entail a consistent method of recording throughout the county, a monumental task that would entail the development of an appropriate IT system.

Duncan Matthews, President of Liskeard OCS, then gave a talk about the construction of lighthouses on the Eddystone Reef. The reef is about the size of two football pitches and submerged at high water, and has caused the loss of many lives. It is about 22 miles from Rame Head.

Winstanley's wooden construction in 1698 was swept away in a storm. This was followed with attempts by Rudyerd and Smeaton. Smeaton's tower, now seen on Plymouth Hoe, was finally succeeded by Douglass's masterpiece, constructed from St Breward granite, and completed in 1882. Great skills and accuracy by stonemasons were employed in making the present Douglass tower, where stones were dovetailed not only to each other on all sides, but each course was dovetailed to the next.

Richard Trevithick - his place in the History of Steam
Kingsley Rickard

At the Society's October meeting, members learnt with sadness of the resignation of their President, Peter Ascott, due to ill health. Peter's support and contribution to the Society over more than 25 years was acknowledged and had been greatly appreciated.

A presentation by Kingsley Rickard, Chair of the Trevithick Society, followed some of the wide-ranging achievements of Richard Trevithick. Growing up in an age when mining was in its heyday, his practical talents were soon focused on solving how to use steam at much higher pressures than in earlier engines, Trevithick developed the first steam driven road vehicle, the Puffing Devil, which appeared on the streets of Camborne in 1801. To mark the bicentenary of this major achievement, the Trevithick Society constructed a full-size replica of the original, without plans or reference materials, and with the support and expertise of individuals and around 50 companies.

Trevithick's broad range of ideas and fertile mind contributed to the development of engineering in the mining industry, both here and abroad, and solved many mechanical problems in an assortment of contexts. To improve the efficiency of cargo storage in ships, Trevithick was instrumental in developing iron tanks to replace wooden casks. Trevithick designed the 'Cornish boiler' which, being horizontal, improved efficiency. He developed the 'Cornish engine', the most efficient in the world at that time, for the mining industry. In 1816, nine of his pumping engines left Penzance for Peru where they were installed in silver mines at 15,000 feet, the parts all designed to be of a size transportable by mules.

The next meeting of the Society will be on 14 November when Duncan Matthews will give a talk on 'Wrecks on the Eddystone Reef'. All members of the public are welcome to attend at 7.30pm in the Clease Hall, Camelford.

Holy Wells in Cornwall
Joanna Mattingly

Thirty members attended the September meeting, which began with the AGM when Chair Rod Keat reported a successful year with increased membership. The wide range of talks and summer visits had attracted excellent support.

The AGM was followed by a presentation by Dr Joanna Mattingly on Holy Wells in Cornwall. Early Cornish wells were often marked by a cross, but later mediaeval ones had well houses, some of which incorporated elaborate structures, including statues of saints. Wells became 'holy' when priests washed bones or relics of saints in the water which was then used for baptisms and for medical cures or healing.

Steam enthusiasts will be particularly interested in our next meeting at 7.30pm on 10 October at the Clease Hall, Camelford when Kingsley Rickard will present a talk on 'Richard Trevithick - his place in the history of Steam'. All visitors will be most welcome.

Visit to Wesley Cottage at Trewint

Travellers on the busy A30 near Altarnun would be amazed by the road that passes Wesley Cottage at Trewint just 100 yards away. It is barely 7 feet wide in places and was on the main coaching route between Launceston and Bodmin. It was here in 1743 that John Wesley's agents asked for refreshment at the home of Digory Isbell and his wife, so starting a long association of the cottage with Wesley.

Members of the Society visited this small cottage in July and were entertained by John Hogarth, the enthusiastic curator. He told us how John Wesley, an ordained minister of the Church of England, and son of a minister, made many visits to the cottage on his travels to Cornwall. Wesley endured incredible hardship and resistance, but through his preaching eventually established a very enthusiastic Methodist following in the county, largely from a very underprivileged class. The conditions for most people in the 18th century were so bad that some credit Wesley and his followers with quelling a possible revolution, similar to that which occurred in France towards the end of the century.

Wesley Mills at the front porch of Wesley Cottage.
Note the very narrow road,
which was Cornwall's main highway.
Curator John Hogarth at the lectern
in the very small Wesley preaching room

Stories in the Bible led Digory Isbell to build a one up one down extension or 'Prophet's Chamber' for a man of God. The downstairs part could only be used for preaching to a very small congregation - in fact the cottage at Trewint boasts the smallest Methodist preaching place in the world. More often Wesley and his followers preached in the road outside the cottage. The area eventually had a large enough Methodist following to build a chapel in Altarnun at the end of the 17th century. This was followed by a larger chapel in the village.

Wesley Cottage, restored from a near ruin in the 1940s, and its artefacts, remains as a testament to these great endeavours, and still offers light refreshments to visitors, following the example set by the Isbells. Later we visited Altarnun Church with Peter Ascott to see the impressive tomb of the Isbells and some of the work of famous Cornish sculptor, Neville Northey Burnard.

The Society's next meeting and AGM will be at 7.30 pm on September 12th at the Clease Hall, Camelford with a talk about Holy Wells in Cornwall. Anyone is welcome to join us - more information on 01208 851792.

Visit to Blisland

We were fortunate with our visit to Blisland in having Arthur Ludgate from the village, who was a very knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide to the church and Jubilee Stone.

The church, which John Betjeman described as the most beautiful in the westcountry, has Norman and early English origins, but it was its relatively recent sympathetic renovation in 1894 that enhanced it, for example with the introduction of a rood screen adorned by golden carved fugures, reminiscent of those to be found in the baroque churches of southern Europe. The nave has a fine wagon-style roof and many carved figures, with some of the woodwork distorted into zigzag patterns because of subsidence and movement of the large granite support columns caused by the many burials that took place in or near the south aisle. The six bells exemplified the self sufficient nature of the community in that they were cast in the churchyard from iron extracted from ore obtained in the parish

The nave and chancel in Blisland Church
Detail of inscriptions on the Jubilee Stone

The Jubilee Stone is a huge rounded granite boulder not far from the village which has been carved to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the accession of King George III in 1810, a turbulent period marked by ongoing Napoleonic wars. Many other carvings are now found on the stone, including the figure of Britannia on the front, the inspiration of Lieutenant Rogers who came from a local family.

We hired the Old School building as an insurance against wet weather which didn't materialise, but it served as a good refuge from the chill air for coffee.

Our next visit is to Wesley's Cottage at Trewint on the 11th July. Anyone is welcome to join us - more information on 01208 851792.

Visit to Grampound Village Museum

As a follow-up to our recent talk by Ron Hicks on The Grampound Tannery, we paid a visit to the Grampound Museum. Some of us had travelled the busy A390 between Truro and St Austell many times, but didn't realise that the rooms under the prominent clock tower in the main street held such a wealth of information on the village.

The museum building - nearly 9 pm when we left
In the council room over the museum

Peter Wooton, chair of the Grampound with Creed Heritage Project, gave us an excellent account of the history of the village, including its Norman origins and its early status as 'Rotten Borough' when it was represented by no less than two MPs. The name Grampound comes from Norman French: grand (great), pont (bridge), referring to the bridge over the River Fal. Grampound was famous for its tanneries and the last, Croggons, closed in 2002. There are now just as many small businesses in the village as ever, but many do not need shopfronts any more. We also found that Grampound has a number of things in common with Camelford, including the very large volume of through traffic.

The Museum, originally the site of an old open marketplace, now has the parish council rooms above. It is an inspiration for small communities wishing to provide a comfortable small meeting place, equipped with modern audio visual aids and display facilities - clearly the result of much work by dedicated volunteers.

Our next summer visit will be to Blisland and the Jubilee Stone on June 13th to which all members of the public are welcome. Meet by Blisland Church at 7.30 pm.

Cornish Country Houses
Paul Holden

For the April meeting, Camelford OCS was delighted to welcome back Paul Holden, House and Collections Manager for The National Trust at Lanhydrock House. Following his previous talk on the history of Lanhydrock, he presented a fascinating account of his research into The Country Houses of Cornwall. The county is richer in these buildings than most would have imagined, with approximately 60 major and 240 minor country houses.

Although some of these houses have, sadly, been demolished long since and some have succumbed to devastating fires, others remain and reflect the contribution of nationally recognised architects. Many of the houses evolved over the years, maybe starting life as a mediaeval building with a hall and central hearth, then with later additions such as a porch, new facade, or additional wings. Rich patrons in the county would follow national fashion, albeit somewhat behind the mainstream.

The huge wealth of some of the major families in Cornwall, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries, has given us an enduring legacy of houses with fine interiors and exteriors, many providing an enticing opportunity for the public to explore. Others have assumed new roles and have become hotels, or provide venues for conferences and weddings to retain their viability in a social and financial climate that has radically changed since their conception.

The History of a Cornish Village
Catherine Lorigan

Extra seating had to be brought in to accommodate the large group of people who came to our March meeting, a talk on 'The History of a Cornish Village' (Delabole) by local author Catherine Lorigan. Catherine spent six years researching the topic before the publication of her book 'Delabole: The History of the Slate Quarry and the Making of its Village Community', to be followed by 'Connections: Aspects of the History of North Cornwall'. See here for more information on these books.

The presence of the slate quarry for over 800 years has underpinned the development of Delabole. Employing 700 men at its height, the quarry produced slate that William Borlase described in 1759 as 'the best covering we have in Cornwall'. Life was hard for the quarrymen who worked exposed to the elements, and in the 20th century toiled from 7.30am to 5.30pm with just 15 minutes break for breakfast, 30 minutes for lunch and 10 minutes 'smoke time' in the afternoon. And all this was often followed by the long trek home.

In the 19th century, quarrymen emigrated widely, including to elsewhere in Great Britain, the USA, South Africa and Australia. Catherine described some of the emigrant families from Delabole and their journeys that she had traced. Despite the rigors of travel in the 19th century, these intrepid and determined Delabolians sought their fortunes wherever there was slate to be quarried, and founded dynasties, many of which survive today.

Grampound Tannery
Ron Hicks

Ron Hicks, a former employee of Croggon's Tannery at Grampound, described the tannery and the processing of hides. It took about a year to turn hides that came mainly from one of the local slaughterhouses into fine leather. Ron used old photographs to illustrate the process which began by soaking the washed hides in a solution of lime for two weeks to remove hairs and traces of flesh. The hides were than suspended in vats with oak bark, or ground Turkish acorns after 1889, and soaked in tannin for about a year. On final removal from the vats, the leather was passed through rollers and cod liver oil was applied

Since the leather produced was only exposed to natural materials, it was in demand for surgical uses as it was non-irritant. Bespoke shoe makers were also supplied. The longest pieces of the hide were used to make harnesses, and there was also a demand for leather for repairs.

Such was the demand for quality leather, that two hundred years ago, Grampound had 5 tanneries. The last surviving tannery in Cornwall, Croggon's, ran from 1712 - 2002.

My Life as a Bevin Boy
Peter Ascott

At the meeting in January, Peter Ascott recounted his time as a Bevin Boy. So called after Ernest Bevin, then Minister of Labour and National Service, nearly 48,000 young men were conscripted between 1943 and 1948 to perform vital support services underground. Their contribution remained largely unrecognised, but in 2008, they were awarded a badge to mark their efforts.

Initially, Peter's tasks called for few special skills, including working seams, shovelling coal and clearing blocked conveyor belts, most of which was quite arduous, and all undertaken in an environment in which health and safety left much to be desired. However, once his skills gained as an engineering apprentice became known, he was able to maintain and operate the pumps that kept water out of the mine and even found time to complete The Telegraph crosswords underground. He was also employed in the search for new coal seams using deep drilling to extract ground core samples.

The Ollerton colliery in Derbyshire at which Peter worked had no pit-head baths although regular miners had baths at home which were supplied with hot water from the colliery. There was a local Miners' Club and various local hostelries that provided welcome beer to quench dusty throats!

Programmes for previous years: 2010 2009 2008

Federation of Old Cornwall Societies website