On this Day

Astronomy, Antiquities and Appetite

The convinced, curious, the frankly sceptical:  all have gathered today at Tregeseal to listen to a report of the latest antiquarian enquiries based upon the work of Sir Norman Lockyer.



Sir Norman Lockyer, pictured about 10 years before his visit to TregesealThe great man was not with us, which is not surprising. After his visit back in 1906, people were saying that he was still a fine figure of man, but turned 70 – and becoming perhaps a little stout.  Even the most modern astronomers inherit the constraints placed upon human flesh. What a fine career he has to look back on, though. Discovering helium when little more than thirty, honoured by being appointed the first professor of astronomical physics in the entire world, and still editing Nature, the journal he founded forty years ago.

But in the absence of Mr Lockyer himself, we had the next best thing – Mr Thomas, who has worked tirelessly with Sir Norman, came along to read a paper based on Chapter 26 of his book. The title, admittedly, is a bit of a mouthful: Stonehenge and Other British Stone Monuments Astronomically Considered. But how thrilled we were to learn that both Mr Thomas and Horton Bolitho had been expressly mentioned by Sir Norman! The great scholar was kind enough to assure his readers that he was ‘chiefly indebted’ to them for his work, and complimented Mr Thomas particularly on his ‘very great’ knowledge!


An earlier illustration by William Cotton, 1827
By William Cotton - Illustrations of Stone Circles, Cromlehsand other remains of the Aboriginal Britons in the West of Cornwall, Public Domain

We toured around the remains – barrows, stones, and of course Carn Kenidjack itself – probing the grass with our sticks, and of course helping the ladies over the more difficult patches of terrain. And then we gathered at the special hut in the middle of the circle, built expressly to facilitate the taking of careful measurements – for make no mistake, we are operating here within the realms of Science. 

Sir Norman’s work demands precise measurement at exactly the right moment, regardless of weather. As we all know, the winter solstice, and even the summer solstice,  out at Tregeseal, are not always as the observer might wish; a hut is doubtless welcome should the wind blast or the rain teem down. And there have certainly been any number of careful measurements recorded in recent months, going back to the winter solstice of 1906. The weather was fine that day, and although 1907 was disappointing, the mathematicians did their work well and knew exactly what to expect the following year.

Patience was rewarded, and the world of antiquity is – faced with modern standards of observation and research - yielding up more of its secrets. Back on the 6th January this year, and again on February 4th and March 21st, those who had turned out for the occasion were privileged to see the sun rise directly over one of the surrounding barrows – or in one case, over what is certainly a very probable site.

Illustration of Tregeseal by W C Borlase 1872
By William Copeland Borlase (1848-1899) - Drawing - Naenia Cornubiae - Longmans 1872, Public Domain

Regarding the sunsets, it is admitted that we have been less fortunate. The declining sun has, all too often, been veiled from the observer’s eye. But nonetheless, Sir Norman and his fellow experts have every confidence that the sunset would have been jolly near to an ancient place.

And if all those dates and measurements came over as perhaps a little dry - perhaps perplexed some of the ladies and brought on headaches - we knew that the best of the visit was still to come in the shape of a ‘good tea.’ We all did the provisions justice and can assure you that ‘nobody shirked’ this ‘most important duty of the afternoon.’ And then we all ‘mounted the motor car’ and within minutes we were off:  through St Just, down to the Giant’s Grave, and back to town before dark.



Cornish Telegraph 2 7 1908 p 7;
Cornishman 2 7 1908 p 7 (identical reports)

(accessed 31-5-2019)

(accessed 31-5-2019)

For a more modern look at Tregeseal, here is a good starting point:
(accessed  5-6-2019)


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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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