Following the loss of member Jim Hosking in the autumn, we are sorry that we now have to report the recent death of one of our founder members, Veronica Chesher.
One of our members has provided this personal tribute:
“I knew Veronica from about 1970, when I took up a post at St. Austell Grammar School. At that time she was an extra-mural tutor with F L Harris of the University of Exeter working in Cornwall. Veronica fulfilled the task of extending the university in her particular subject beyond the lecture rooms and the Exeter campus to Cornwall where, at that time, there was no university. One has a picture of a tutor going out to towns and villages to lecture to adults anxious to extend their knowledge of a subject. For Veronica it was more than that. She encouraged people to participate in the study of local history and I did join one of her groups and I was very grateful for the encouragement she gave me.
My own approach to teaching history had been dictated by the syllabus but I did feel the need to explore the daily lives of people more. Veronica was meeting that need in the groups which she led. I say ‘led’ - but she was very good at listening and exploring the interests of the members of a group. She would step in to offer guidance - or to make us think again.
How to read documents and interpret them was an essential part of what Veronica taught us – but only one part. She also made us very aware that Cornwall was different from much of what was beyond the Tamar as the title of the book which she wrote with her husband, Frank - ‘The Cornishman’s House’ - shows. Veronica wrote a very important paper on industrial housing in Cornwall and I remember that she came to St. Erth to see a row of nineteenth century cottages in Fore Street and introduced us to ‘grope passages’- gated narrow passages between houses leading to other houses behind the terrace. This interest in vernacular houses never left her, even in advanced age.
Just as Veronica could read houses, so she could read the landscape of fields and farms. Field work was very important to her and local history should not be separated from archaeology. She told us how to find the age of a hedge, and what the plants that grow in the hedge tell us about the history. Her part in bringing the university out, beyond the wall was certainly (not ‘perhaps’- she hated that word) wonderfully achieved.
Despite advanced age and loss of memory, Veronica remained a pleasure to meet. When she received a postcard or greetings card showing a church or a house, she would still be analysing: wondering where this church was, or the age of that house.
The Gorseth of Cornwall honoured Veronica as a Bard in 1977, at St. Columb, as Gweresores Studhyoryon Ystory (Helper of History Students).”
Another member wrote this as part of a speech given in 2013, on the occasion of a joint celebration marking two members’ birthdays – one of them Veronica’s:
“I first met Veronica in the 1960s when she was researching for her book ‘The Cornishman’s House’. It is a classic, and still referred to today. Veronica, you have been inspiring me for so long … we owe the birth of this group to you so it is very fitting that we should celebrate your birthday today. Let us raise our glasses.”
We raise our glasses indeed, to the memory of one of founders –who was clearly an inspiration to the next generation. We hope she would be pleased with what the group has made of itself in the 21st century.
So – what are we doing next? The group is looking forward to a programme of events which includes a visit to the new Kresen Kernow research centre at Redruth, and a tour of the town. So if you see a group of eager investigators, more interested in the architecture above the shop frontages than the goods displayed, that might just be us. Although not strictly speaking in Penwith, Redruth is a fascinating town with a great historical presence.
And apart from pursuing and discussing our own research interests, some of the members are involved in ‘outward-facing’ events over the coming months. Camidge and Stringer (50% of which is a member of PLHG) have been presenting multi-media performances at Redruth Library during the winter, on subjects ranging from disappointed literary visitors to ‘Cornishman’ editor Herbert Thomas.
Camidge and Stringer present
‘Herbert Thomas’ Twelve Days of Christmas, December 2019
The final show in the series, telling the story of Dylan Thomas’ time in Cornwall, takes place at St Ives Library on Wednesday February 19th.
Group member Susan Soyinka is well known throughout West Cornwall as an entertaining speaker, and for her well-researched and highly professional books which include ‘From East End to Land’s End’ and ‘Albert Reuss in Mousehole’. Susan will be in conversation with John Halkes, Director of Newlyn Gallery, at Truro Cathedral on the evening of 27th January as part of Holocaust Memorial Day.
Susan has done a great deal to promote interest in Albert Reuss, who fled persecution and came to live in Mousehole until 1948, staying in the village until the end of his life. There will be an exhibition of his work at the Cathedral until February 9th.
Works by Albert Reuss on show at Truro Cathedral until February 9th 2020
Finally, if rather belatedly, we would like to wish a very Happy New Year to all our readers. And this is a good point at which to remind you that we are always interested in your local history events, website links and queries – keep ‘em coming!