On this Day 13th January 1860

Did you feel the earth move?

The shock is felt throughout the county – from Land’s End to Callington. On a night unusually dark at St Ives; “thick and hazy with very little wind” out at Ding Dong; the earth moves.

It’s late, and most are abed. The time of the event – 10 30 in the evening – is still recorded as “local”. At Greenwich it will have been 10 52 – or, timekeeping in Penzance being what it is, something of that order.

Some at St Ives are woken, their beds rocking. Others, at Hayle, imagine that a special railway train is passing through.   But in the West Penwith mining area men are still at work, and the  effects of the tremor are carefully recorded. 130 fathoms below ground, men at St Ives Consols record “a rumbling noise” and “a trembling sensation”. At the Providence Mine, Lelant, the sound 130 fathoms below ground is like “a kibble* … fallen into a shaft, or a stull* …. given way”.

At sea, vessels shudder as if they have run aground. At Penzance pier a stoker is still on board HMS Bann- flat-bottomed, aground at low tide – and compares the sensation to “a house when a heavy carriage is rolling by it over a paved road”, the chain cables clanking “as if they had been dashed up and down upon the rocks”.

 But it is on the surface that the effects are most severe. At Spearne Moor Mine, St Just, objects on the mantle-piece are caused to “tingle”.  An agent at St Ives Consols describes hearing “a noise like a heavy train passing” and observing “a tumbler of water on the table in agitation”. An alarmed occupant of Penzance, still up despite the late hour, grabs for support. 

Over at the Mount, plaster falls and granite breaches the slate surfaces. And at Mousehole the coastguard’s daughter, preparing for bed, imagines her “toilet table.. as if a person had taken it by one end and shaken it violently”, making the items on it “positively appear to dance”. Alarmed, she cannot move: it is as if the floor is undulating beneath her feet.

The earth, the solid earth, is moving.

*Kibble is explained in the text as “an iron bucket”, stull as a wooden platform

The Celtic and Other Antiquities of the Lands End District, Richard Edmonds, 1862 pp 95-97

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Penwith Local History Group
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Growing Up in West Cornwall. A Publication by the Penwith Local History Group

"Growing Up in West Cornwall"

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Sally Corbet

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