PLHG News, December 2016

News update from the Penwith Local History Group,
December 2016

Ground-truthing on Pistil Meadow

The Royal Anne Galley sank off Lizard Point on 10 November 1721 with the loss of nearly 300 crew and passengers. Ever since the tragedy there have been stories of mass graves in Pistil Meadow, which lies on the cliffs adjacent to the wreck site. Research on the site has now led to the conclusion that "burials of the scale described in the accounts written over 120 years after the event would have been discovered during this work, leading us to conclude that the legend may have no basis in fact, being little more than romanticised invention." (

Cornwall Archaeological Society hosted a splendid West Penwith day at the Queens Hotel in Penzance on 26 November. The rapid disintegration of the historic West Penwith landscape back in the late 70s and early 80s (Nick Johnson) was the prelude to four papers which looked to synthesise the tremendous amount of work and data which has been amassed in over thirty years of archaeological activity. Continuity was the underlying theme throughout the prehistoric and medieval periods (Andy Jones, Jacky Nowakowski and Pete Herring) until we reached mining and industry (Adam Sharpe) where, particularly in the industrial age, the defining activities simply ignore all earlier landscape-shaping human activity. Connections with the world beyond was another theme Henrietta Quinnell revealed Neolithic trade links in the flow of Penwith greenstone hand axes across southern Britain while Pete Herring gave the more 'personal' view that the early maps of Cornwall, all drawn for the Crown, reflect fear of the foreigner while the traditional Cornish view of the foreigner, as represented by Pytheas, was rather more welcoming and hospitable. The day concluded with talks on recent advances on photo and laser aided interpretation of petroglyphs (Tom Goskar); the St Michael's Mount Hoards (Jim Parry); and the work of CASPN (David Giddings).

The work of the CAU conducted over the last 30 years has been in the recently launched Archaeology and Landscape at the the Land's End: The West Penwith Surveys 1980-2010, (CAU 2016).

John Swan of the Pendeen Pottery holding the Lanyon pancheon which he made based upon a fragment retrieved from excavation.

Pottery sherds found during excavations at the Lanyon tye house included one piece which has been identified as being part of a 17th century Lostwithiel Ware pancheon, or cream separator. So what are items of dairy ware doing in this early industrial complex? The proposition is that it represents a piece of cross-over technology. The tye is part of a tin processing works beginning with a stamps where ore was crushed to produce tin bearing slurry; further down the line that tin has to be separated from the slurry in a process based upon the fact that the tin is denser than the waste material. The pancheon, it is thought, was being used for tin separation in a technique akin to panning or vanning. (

The controversial St Ives Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP), which requires that new build homes in the area should be the owners' primary or sole residence, has won the support of the High Court in so far as Mr Justice Hickinbottom dismissed the claim for a judicial review of the NDP which had been brought by developers RLT Built Environment Ltd.

The bal maidens database at has recently been updated and now contains the names of 30,106 women and girls. The database is searchable by name and retrieves basic census data plus any additional notes which the compilers have added to the record.

"Hard rock breeds hard men

Who slip between earth's cracks for a living,"

The Wheal of Hope, James Crowden

Sunday 27 November saw the official unveiling of the miner statue at Geevor by Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall Col. Edward Bolitho. Created by artist Colin Caffell, the statue honours and commemorates the people of the St Just Mining District who spent their lives winning, breaking and dressing the tin and copper ores of the parish.

The professional education of young mariners in West Penwith is the subject of an article by Steph Haxton in the 2016 edition of the Royal Institution of Cornwall Journal. The study is based on the notebooks of John Tregerthen Short of St Ives (he of diary fame) and Thomas Kelynack of Paul, who were learning their trade in the early 19th century. A fascinating read with illustrations that make the reader want to get to the Cornwall Record Office at the earliest opportunity.

The latest number of the Journal of the Trevithick Society, no 43, 2016, is another treasure trove for the industrial historian. Of particular relevance to the Penwith local historian is the second part of Penny Watts Russell's "Cry of Tin" which this time focuses on "Pascoe Grenfell (1729-1810), Tin Merchant." If you like pictures of beautiful mineral specimens take a look at Barry Pitt's article on the Caradon mines - the spangolite on p98 is particularly attractive.

A roof in West Penwith. Choughs have been back in Cornwall since 2000 but we've never seen this number together in one photograph. I make it 19, some are jackdaws.


About 18 months after it was struck by lightning the engine house stack at Wheal Drea, St Just, is finally under repair. Wheal Drea is the abandoned mine whose waters flooded Wheal Owles, drowning 20 men on 10th January 1893.

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The Morrab Library showing the new extension
The Morrab Library showing the new extension.
Photo Glyn Richards
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