PLHG News August 2017

News update from the Penwith Local History Group,
August 2017

In July members of the group made their annual visit to Wicca as guests of group member and Wicca farmer Jean Nankervis. After arriving on foot, by car and by bus Jean conducted the members around her solidly built granite house and garden, telling the story of how the house developed into its current form as she went. The roots of Wicca lie back in the bronze age while the house probably goes back to at least the 16th century. Out in the fields the ancient line of the bronze age enclosure can still be clearly seen, as can the line of the tin lode crossing the farm from Trevega Bal to the east. Wicca is a captivating place where history comes to life, especially if the farm is approached on foot along the church path from Zennor. Many thanks to Jean for her hospitality and to Ros for organising the traditional cream tea.

Water Features
Once again, members of the group had the privilege of contributing to the Penzance Literary Festival, presenting a well-attended slideshow in Penlee Coach House on Friday 7th July. Four members offered up their recent research, which took as its title the 2017 Festival theme of Uncharted Waters. Contributors found ingenious and varied ways to highlight water-related aspects of Penwith’s past – and show how research can lead the historian into uncharted and unexpected places.

Jenny Dearlove opened proceedings, talking about the “cross-currents and doldrums” that are part of the researcher’s journey, and using as her examples some fascinating details on how young unmarried mothers were helped and managed in 19th and early 20th century Penzance. Dawn Walker gave an account of the Battle of Copenhagen, conveying both the excitement and the horror of this engagement which involved both Horatio Nelson and Dawn’s own ancestor, a purser in the British fleet. Cedric Appleby re-lived the recent renewal of the old Penzance borough boundary stones – an example of research to a practical end, undertaken as part of the town’s 2014 anniversary celebrations – and explained how the 1614 boundary extended out into the then-uncharted waters of the Bay. Finally, Linda Camidge presented a brief history of the bathing business in Penzance.

The Festival also featured a number of other performances and presentations on historical themes, many of which members enjoyed.

St Just Wesleyan Chapel
The Chapel has been covered in this column before following the announcement that it would be closed and boarded up in August 2017 unless someone was willing to take responsibility for it. Boarding up is now no longer on the immediate horizon and that groups such as choirs and others who wish to make use of the magnificent building are being encouraged to do so. The first event is Take a Pew, a antique, book and curio fair to be held on Saturday 9th September. Contact for more information or to rent a pew. The event is held to help raise funds for the renovation of the chapel.

Tehm's Take on Tintagel
If you're a habitual browser in the world of history and archaeology you've probably already encountered quite a lot of material on English Heritage's treatment of Tintagel. You may have had enough of the subject but if not, take a look at Tehmina Goskar's Authority, Authenticity and Interpretation at Tintagel There is much to consider in Tehmina's piece but to me one of the key topics deals with the lack of engagement with the specific location of Tintagel in time and place by English Heritage, who have instead primarily engaged with a myth which is used to provide a doorway into “England's story”. Tintagel, a significant site in British culture and history (not English) has been appropriated and turned into a quaint and entertaining playground in much the same way as Scottish traditions such as the kilt, banned for a century after Culloden, were reintroduced as a bit of local colour and tradition for tourists. There is a big difference between a shopkeeper selling King Arthur's fudge and a national institution charged with the management of historic sites basing interpretation and presentation on a myth with virtually no historic substance and ignoring the actual substance provided by history and archaeology.

Myth Busting and Pumping Engines
There are many apocryphal tales about mines engines in Cornwall, not least the 1720 Wheal Fortune engine in Ludgvan. Rick Stewart's Mine Pumping Engines in eighteenth Century Cornwall takes a sceptical look at these claims as well as providing an entertaining and immaculately sourced account of all other aspects of the subject. The book includes lists of engines by builder, as in Newcomen, Boulton and Watt, Ned Bull etc as well as brief biographies of the engineers, some more famous than others. If you want to know which was the first Newcomen engine in Cornwall you'll have to read the book and decode for yourself whether Rick has teased apart myth and history to successfully provide an answer to the question.
R. J. Stewart, Mine Pumping Engines in Eighteenth Century Cornwall, Trevithick Society, 2017  

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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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