Penwith Local History Group News - March 2017

News update from the Penwith Local History Group,
March 2017

This month's news is limited to a report on the CALH Spring Conference held in Newquay 25 - 26 February.

A CALH (Cornwall Association of Local Historians) event is always both informative and enjoyable, and the Spring Conference held on February 25th and 26th 2017, at the snug Kilbirnie Hotel in a rather blustery Newquay, was no exception.

Taking as their brief the provocative title Not Just a Bundle of Old Documents, the conference speakers did indeed show us that – while documents are often fascinating in themselves – there is much more to history and indeed to archives than assize records, tithe maps and manorial rolls.

Following the Association’s AGM, Dr Lesley Trotter opened with a fascinating account of the treasures yielded up by a pile of bundles from a solicitor’s office. Yes, these were certainly documents, and certainly old – and what’s more, most were concerned with the financial preoccupations of a particular family. But inside the bundles could be found a range of treasures, including plans for the proposed Newlyn, Penzance and Cornwall light railway and records of disputes arising from shipwrecks in Mount’s Bay.

After lunch Jan Scrine spoke amusingly about another collection – this time, from her own family – and the difficulties encountered while checking through and finding homes for the contents of “Uncle Frank’s box”. Ian Thompson also gave an interesting presentation on milestones, and Oliver Padel took us back to mediaeval times for a detailed look at those assize rolls, which he had helpfully catalogued and listed on a handout. The Latin of these documents (not to mention the handwriting) holds no terrors for Oliver, and he had picked out several fascinating snippets which often raised more question than they answered: for example, why did the people of Cornwall all run away into the woods when the judges appeared over the horizon in 1233?

The first day concluded with David Thomas, always popular as a summer outing leader and winter conference speaker alike. David’s Tales from the CRO included the story of how a range of valuable material was salvaged from Cornish and Birtle’s solicitors in Penzance (now Phoenix House), and mention of the CRO’s most requested document –that letter about Captain Avery’s treasure. A hoax? Or a genuine copy of a document from Avery’s time? David will have his own ideas on that, but he retained a scholarly detachment on the subject - although he did add that he had no immediate plans to retire.

The second day started by getting us away from the documents altogether, with Ivor Bowditch’s interesting and well-illustrated talk on the history of the china clay industry. This was followed by Jan Wood on Cornish Records at Devon Heritage Centre. Jan had plenty to tell us, and more of it than might have been expected was relevant to West Cornwall. Diocesan records prior to the establishment of the Truro diocese in 1876, for example, are all held at Exeter and relate to the whole of Cornwall. The diocese would not only keep testimonials – including one from the late 18th century about James Parkin, a Penzance clergyman who was evidently in a spot of bother – but also material pertaining to surgeons’ licences.

After a few short presentations from members, and lunch, the National Trust’s Paul Holden spoke entertainingly about Dusty Attics, Damp Cellars and a Chesty Cough – and also about some of the questions he has been asked. Paul had some great stories to tell, along with interesting and original insights concerning many of the great domestic buildings of the county, and has developed his own descriptive typography which is both amusing and helpful.

The final full-length presentation looked forward to the future as Deborah Tritton enthused us all with her presentation on the new Redruth Archive Centre, Kresen Kernow, due to open at the end of next year, and this was followed by a short piece on the Old Cornwall Society records which led to an interesting discussion; how will 21st century records be preserved? Members went away into the drizzly afternoon with plenty of ideas for more research, updated on current concerns about conservation and storage demands – and perhaps resolved to give that “bundle of old documents” another look.


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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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