Camelford and District Old Cornwall Society


President: Ethel Broad
01726 882 798

Chair: Philip Lessels
01840 230397

Vice Chair: Margaret Mabson
01840 212 549

Treasurer: Peter Broad
01726 882 798

Secretary: Sue Letch
01840 213106

Recorder: Susan Theobald
01840 211 790

Programme for 2014

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

Programme 2014

January 8thMember's Evening
February 10thPoundstock GildhouseTim Dingle
March 10thA L RowseValerie Jacobs
April 14thThe Pentewan Railway and the Teatreat Train Robert Evans
May 12thA visit to St Cleer to see the Dissenter's Chapel*
June 9thCrackington Haven and its vicinity*
July 14thA short walk around St Austell, followed by a visit to the St Austell OCS Museum in the Market House*
September 8thThe Lanhydrock Atlas Paul Holden
October 13thChina Clay in Cornwall Ivor Bowditch
November 10thCousin Jack's Mouth Organ - The Cornish in North America Dr Alan Kent
December 8thAnnual Dinner - venue to be announced

*Summer visits

Reports 2014

Member's Evening

23 members braved the rain for the first meeting of the year on Monday 13th January. Phillip Lessels welcomed us all and we exchanged New Year wishes. There was no speaker as it was a members evening.

We looked at the programme for the year ahead, which was put together by Ethel Broad and kindly printed by Denis Lusby. Denis updated us on the attempts to improve access to the Charlotte Dymond memorial. This is located at Roughtor. Ethel compiled a Cornish quiz which resulted in many heads being scratched. I think some of us even learnt something! The evening concluded with the usual raffle and refreshments.

Our next meeting at The Clease Hall, Camelford will be on Monday 10th February at 7.30pm. Mr Tim Dingle will be giving an illustrated talk on The Gildhouse at Poundstock. Everyone is welcome.


The Gildhouse at Poundstock

Sandy and Tim Dingle

Chair Phillip Lessels introduced our speakers, Sandy and Tim Dingle, whose subject was The Gildhouse at Poundstock. It was built around 1540 by the church to raise money for church funds. Money and/or materials were donated by wealthier families of the parish, such as the Trebarfoots and the Penfounds. The lower floor walls were constructed of sandstone, with the upper floor walls of cob under a slated roof. The lower floor had kitchens and a feasting hall above. Many celebrations took place here with Whitsun being the largest and everyone paid a penny or two to attend with dancing and fun following a feast. This went on up to the Civil War.

Around 1700 the Gildhouse was used as a school room and a poor room, due to a change in social need. An additional chimney was put in to enable the two end rooms to become poor rooms. The middle room of the upper floor then became a school room for about 50 children, which was accessed via an internal staircase. Eventually the Methodists built their own chapel and school room and by 1841 the Gildhouse became a poorhouse. If you found yourself destitute, you had to be taken in by the parish in which you were born. Ironically, the Penfounds lived in the poor house during the 1860s, 70s and 80s - having lost their money in the Jacobite rebellion. The introduction of workhouses took place around 1880 -1890 leaving the poorhouse redundant. The building gradually fell into disrepair.

In 1907 an architect called Sedding stabilised the building. He removed internal partitions, installed a copper in the kitchen and layed parque flooring. Butresses were erected outside. By 1910 it was used by the community for dances, a men's club and whist drives etc. A new parish hall was built and gradually the use of the Gildhouse, once more, declined.

In 1980 it achieved a Grade 1 listing. Whilst considering the installation of a new kitchen and toilets a huge lump of cob fell off and it became apparent that the Gildhouse had big problems. The Heritage Lottery Fund was approached to enquire if they could help with some of the funding. It took two years to gather all the surveys and information together and get the application in. The estimate for the work was £400,000. Happily, the application was approved although more funds had to be raised to cover the shortfall. Eventually restoration began. The roof was ok although five courses of slates had to be removed to lengthen the overhang to the gutters. Every window was taken out and repaired. A new kitchen, disabled toilet and car park were built. It won the 2012 Europanostra Award - a European prize for cultural heritage.

Now, once again, the Gildhouse is used by the community. Approximately twelve schools per year visit to see what life was like in Tudor times. Historical groups visit and it can also be hired for functions and wedding receptions. Without the efforts of dedicated people like Sandy and Tim these types of projects would fail and we would lose important parts of our cultural heritage.The evening concluded with the usual refreshments and raffle.

Our next meeting will be on Monday 10th March. Mrs Valerie Jacobs will be giving us an illustrated talk on A.L Rowse. Everyone is welcome


Alfred Leslie Rowse

Valerie Jacobs

22 members and friends attended when our speaker, Valerie Jacobs, spoke aboout the author and poet A.L.Rowse for whom she was housekeeper at Trenarren near Mevagissy, during Rowse's later years.

Alfred Leslie Rowse was born in 1903 in Tregonissey. His father worked in the clay pits and his mother was a shopkeeper. It was therefore quite something at the time for someone from such an ordinary background to win a Christ Church Scholarship at Oxford. His talents were so great that he achieved a First in History and became the youngest ever to be appointed as a Fellow.

As his financial situation improved he was able to buy many books for his research. Added to the extra monies from tutorials and teaching his success became apparent. In 1953 he moved to Trenarren where he lived until his death in 1997. Having amassed around 10-12 thousand books, and with Trenarren having nearly thirty rooms it was ideal for storing all those volumes. It was clear that although he often went back to Oxford and travelled abroad, his happiest times were in Cornwall.

Valerie shared some of her memories of her time spent at Trenarren. Her husband, Brian showed us some of the slides of Trenarren and some of the beautiful objects he was able to acquire over the years. In 1968 he was made a Cornish Bard and during his lifetime he wrote 98 books. In the Queen's honours list he was awarded Companion of Honour.

A commemorative stone to Rowse is situated on Black Head - almost in sight of his beloved Trenarren and there is also a plaque in Truro Cathedral, both public tributes to a great Cornishman.

We thoroughly enjoyed Valerie and Brian's talk. They are both interesting and amusing and we thank them very much. Should anyone be interested in learning more, Valerie has written a book called A.L.Rowse The Cornish Years.

Our next meeting will be on Monday 14th April at The Clease Hall, Camelford. The topic will be The Pentewan Railway and The Teatreat Train with Robert Evans. Everyone is welcome.


The Pentewan Railway and the Tea Treat Train

Robert Evans

22 members attended our meeting on Monday 14th April. Our chairman, Phillip Lessels greeted our speaker, Mr Robert Evans, who gave us an illustrated talk on The Pentewan Railway and the Tea Treat Train.

Pentewan harbour opened in 1826 and cost £22,000 to build. A channel ran from the dock to the sea which allowed the ships access. Clay was carried down to the harbour by horse and wagon. Sir Christopher Hawkins put down a horsedrawn tramway in 1829, which ran from St Austell to Pentewan. The tramway was on a slight incline and the wagons were given a push to start off with, steadily gathering speed. This often resulted in the horses galloping along to keep up! After about two miles the tramway levelled out, the horse was then harnessed up and pulled the wagons on into Pentewan. In 1872 the tramway was turned into a narrow guage railway. There was a kind of wooden viaduct type structure on the south side of the harbour which had loading chutes on it. This made it easier to load the ships. Clay was shipped out and coal was brought in.

From the 1880s Sunday schools would hire the rail trucks for the children and families annual outing. The trucks would be cleaned out for the people to ride down to Pentewan, where they spent the day and had tea, before riding home again. Back then people didn't travel far and this was quite an occasion. Everyone wore their "Sunday Best" and from the photographs most people wore hats. They crammed into the trucks like sardines, with much excitement and laughter. Tables were laid out near the beach for tea. It looks like they had saffron cake and splits amongst other things and their tea was served in silver teapots! After a fun filled day they took the train back home again and no doubt couldn't wait for next year so they could do it all again.

The harbour closed in 1918 due to the fact that the entrance to the harbour kept silting up and the arrival of the Great Western Railway in Par and Fowey. We had a splendid evening and Mr Evans was both informative and entertaining. The photographs helped us to picture what it was like and a newspaper report from 1911 was most amusing. I hope we will have Mr Evans back to entertain us again.


A visit to St Cleer to see the Church and Dissenter's Chapel

Eleven members met at the Church of St Clarus, St Cleer, for our first summer visit of the year. We were greeted by Derris Watson, who introduced us to the vicar, Keith Lanyon Jones. He showed us all around the church and pointed out some of the most interesting features within it, while telling us of its history. It was built in 1273 and added to in the 14th and 15th centuries. The two rows of pillars in the church are not the same. A newer addition to the Church is a most impressive Millenium Map which hangs by the north door. Hundreds of local people worked on it and shows what a wonderful community exists here. After thanking the vicar we were taken down the road to The Dissenters Chapel, passing the Holy Well on our way.

The chapel and cemetery were dedicated in 1864 and there is a plaque inscribed above the door. It was built for people who were not of the established church and therefore, not entitled to be buried in consecrated ground. Many of these were miners and their families who worked down the local mines. In 2005 an application was made to the Heritage Lottery Fund to assist with the cost of restoration works. This was eventually granted and the restoration was completed in 2006. The cemetery is still in use today and it is expected that there will be enough space for the next 20 years. All the graves and the occupants are recorded, and are available for research purposes.

Ethel Broad kindly provided refreshments in the chapel. If you are ever near St Cleer and have a little time to spare it is well worth a visit.


A visit to Crackington Haven

12 members visited Crackington Haven for our second summer visit on Monday 9th June. We met Jane Anderson who took us down on the beach and explained some of the geology of this site of special scientific interest.

For more than 100 million years there was a vast process of mountain building, during the Carboniferous and Devonian periods. This was caused by the collision of moving plates of the Earth’s crust (plate tectonics) formed under the narrowing sea. Huge volumes of sand and mud sediments became deeply buried and turned into rocks. They were folded and pushed up into mountains when the Continental plates collided. This continued for over 100 million years during which time many layers of rocks were formed – slates, mudstones, sandstones etc.

At Crackington Haven these layers are clearly visible. However, the rocks on the left hand side of the haven have been folded over. This enabled us to see flute cast and groove casts in the rock. When you have been told how these casts are formed and shown what precisely you are looking at, the rocks become quite fascinating. Jane made everything quite easy to understand and was extremely interesting.

We concluded the evening with tea and biscuits (kindly supplied by Ethel) and a look at some old photographs and postcards. Our next visit will be on Monday 14th July. We will have a very short walk around St Austell, followed by a visit to St Austell Old Cornwall Society’s Museum, which is in the Market House. Meet on the church steps at 7pm. Everyone is welcome.


A visit to St Austell

Members enjoyed our last summer visit, on Monday 14th July, with Brian and Val Jacobs at St Austell. We began by looking around in the St Austell Old Cornwall Society’s museum, which is situated in part of the Market House. It was formerly used as a lock up by the town policeman and you can see the old police cells. One is set up as a cell and the other is as a Cornish kitchen would have been. On display are many original handbills and posters - some of which date back to Victorian times. Although the museum is housed in quite a small space there is lots in it. There are several items from Camelford Museum as well as many other interesting displays from the local area. Do pop in if you have the time. Some items will send you on a little trip down memory lane. The Market House itself was completed in 1844 and cost £7000. It was deemed that there would be no more street trading in St Austell.

We concluded our evening with a walk around St Austell. It is quite surprising that although you may be familiar with a place, many things simply go unnoticed. In the churchyard we saw the Mengu Stone. It does not look particularly special, however it is extremely old and was embedded in Menacuddle Street at the boundary of 3 manors (Treverbyn, Trewington and Trenance). It was the focal point for payment of rents, sale of cattle, reading of proclamations and other important local activities. Having been moved in July 1893 it was resited again in 1972 for its own safety. Following the path through the churchyard there is an ancient granite cross. This was found in 1879 in Treverbyn manor and erected in its current position in 1891.

We walked down the main street and came to The China Café artwork. It measures 10 metres high x 9.5 metres wide and although I have driven past it, I have never really known what is was all about. There is a seating area and an information board which explains who is who and gives you the opportunity to study it in more detail. Basically, it is famous or well known people that were born or lived in St Austell and the surrounding area, all at the fictional China Café.

Our thanks go to Brian & Val for another interesting and informative evening.


A journey through Cornwall by Slideshow

Mac Waters

Our chairman, Mr Phillip Lessels welcomed all the members to our September meeting and introduced Mr Waters

We were taken on a journey through Cornwall by slideshow. The slides were of old postcards – some of which were painted. The oldest slide was of a postcard from 1857 which showed the erection of the Albert Bridge at Saltash. We even went to Egypt! This is actually near St Dennis if you don’t already know. Mr Waters clearly has considerable knowledge of Cornwall and is, I believe, a Bard. We were all most impressed with the slides and enjoyed a very pleasant evening.

Our next meeting will be at The Clease Hall on Monday 13th October. Mr Ivor Bowditch will be giving an illustrated talk on China Clay in Cornwall. Everyone is welcome.


China Clay in Cornwall

Ivor Bowditch

October’s meeting began with our chairman, Phillip Lesells, welcoming everyone, followed by the AGM. Sadly our President, Mrs Ethel Broad, tendered her resignation due to health reasons. We all recognise the outstanding contribution that Ethel has made over the years, having been involved since 1985. We would like to express our thanks and good wishes for a happy and healthy retirement. Phillip then introduced Mr Ivor Bowditch who gave us a very informative and interesting talk on China Clay in Cornwall.

China Clay, or Kaolin, is decomposed granite and is found in parts of Devon and Cornwall. William Cookworthy patented a way to use the clay in 1768, with its particularly fine quality being recognised by the large British potteries. This enabled the gentry to have white porcelain instead of earthenware and stoneware. As well as for pottery, clay was also beginning to be used to whiten paper.

The extraction of china clay was very labour intensive and therefore provided employment for many men. In the early twentieth century wages were low and working conditions poor. By 1910 Cornwall held a virtual monopoly on world supply, producing nearly one million tons a year, 75% of which was exported. It was shipped out from places like Par, Charlestown and Boscastle. Clay is obtained from open pits, the walls of which are sprayed with water at high pressure. This carries everything into the bottom of the pit. After repeated washes the clay becomes separated from the waste and pumped to the “Micas” on the surface where it undergoes further washing and filtering. The waste is conveyed to the top of the burrow and tipped. The clay is moved to the “dry” where the surplus moisture is removed. These dries were once coal fired. They had a furnace at one end and the floor was heated to create the warmth needed to extract the surplus moisture. The North Cornwall Clay Company built six of these at Wenfordbridge.

In 1919 English China Clays was formed through the amalgamation of three of the largest producers (Martin Bros, West of England China Clay and Stone and North Cornwall China Clay Co). These companies accounted for about half of the industry’s output at the time. Between 1929 –1931 output fell by a third. The solution was a merger of three of the leading producers and assets transferred to a new operating company – English Clays Lovering and Pochin. By 1954 all the minority shares were owned by ECC and four operating divisions were created – china clay, building, quarrying and transport.

Concrete which used spoil from the clay pits was in great demand for Cornish Unit houses. In 1944-1950 there was a great demand for these units, the houses being built for local authorities. In the 1960s ECC was also building over 1000 private houses a year. By 1969 the industry benefited from a growing market at home and abroad. This was helped by increased demand for coated paper. The pit structure was modernised and new plant was invested in.

In 1999 ECC was acquired by the French company Imetal – now Imerys. It currently exports 90% of its production to countries such as Finland, Sweden and Germany for use in paper manufacture. There has also been an increase in demand in the niche markets such as pharmaceuticals and ceramics.

Mr Lessels thanked Mr Bowditch for such an excellent talk. The evening concluded with refreshments and a raffle. The next meeting will be on Monday 10th November at The Clease Hall, Camelford at 7.30 p.m. Dr Alan Kent will be giving a talk on The Cornish in North America. Everyone is welcome.


Cousin Jacks Mouth Organ – travels in Cornish America

Dr Alan Kent

Despite the dreadful weather almost 20 members and friends attended this months meeting. Phillip Lessels welcomed everyone and introduced Dr Alan Kent who gave us an illustrated talk on his travels across America following in the Cornish immigrants footsteps.

It is estimated that 250,000 Cornish emigrated between 1861-1901. Evidence shows that the first immigrants still spoke the Cornish language. Interestingly, goats were used in the mines instead of ponies. Once a migrant found work and was settled there, vacancies were often filled by relatives or friends from home. Some moved to Pensilvania in the east, which has several slate quarries. However, many Cornish communities were left behind as miners followed the Gold Rush toward the West.

Cousin Jack is a Cornish miner who migrated abroad. Some say they were always asking for a job for their “cousin jack” back home, and some say everyone called each other “cousin” and Jack was the most popular male Christian name in Cornwall. America, Australia and India are only a few of the countries they migrated to, taking their skills and their customs with them.

The “mouth organ” referred to in the title is a pasty. It was held by the crimp and eaten across ways like you would play a mouth organ. Apparently it was eaten this way to avoid being poisoned from their dirty hands (eg from arsenic).

In Grass Valley, which is twinned with Bodmin, the male voice choir go down into the mine and sing on Christmas Eve. It is quite something to hear.

We are very grateful to Dr Kent for sharing his knowledge with us. He was an excellent speaker who added humour as well as facts.

There will be no meeting in December as we will be having our Annual dinner.