President: Mrs Hilary Thompson 01872 580573
Chairman: Mr Ralph German 01326 270558
Membership Secretary: Mrs Jean Rigley
Treasurer: Mrs Margaret George
Recorder: Neville Meek 01872 581817.
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The December meeting of The Old Cornwall Society was a fascinating talk by Jan Pentreath on Dolly Pentreath, the last native Cornish speaker. Jan grew up in Mousehole, the home of Dolly, and discovered he was the only Pentreath in the village. This sparked an interest and he wondered if he was related to her and so carried out considerable research but found he was not a descendant.
Cornish was widely spoken prior to the 16th century, however, certain events which then took place led to the start of the dying out of the language. These being the destruction in 1548 of Glasney College in Penryn during the Reformation, the Prayer Book rebellion in 1549 and numerous battles. Owing to these events the Bible & Prayer Book were not translated into Cornish and the language declined together with The Miracle plays in Cornish.
Dolly stimulated interest amongst some eminent men who were interested in the continuation of the Cornish language. Several papers were written and letters exchanged between them. Dolly was “discovered” living down a narrow lane in a hut, a fishwife. It was alleged she could not speak English until she was in her twenties. The reason that Cornish lived on in Mousehole is thought to be that it was a hot bed of smuggling mainly with Brittany, where they understood each other’s language.
Dolly died in 1777 and was buried in Paul Church. There was some dispute as to her actual resting place. There was no record of her death but there was a record of a Dolly Jeffrey. It is believed that her illegitimate son’s father was a Jeffrey and her son buried her using his name. Prince Louis Lucien Bonaparte (interested in languages) and the then vicar of Paul erected a memorial to Dolly. It was not until later that a local man stated that the monument was in the wrong place and so after investigation it was moved to its current position. Dolly had her portrait painted by John Opie which now hangs in St Michaels Mount. After her death poems were written, Staffordshire figures and other portraits were produced all in her memory and so she became a celebrity.
The Society’s AGM in October was followed by an illustrated talk by Charles Fox, of Glendurgan on the gardens created by his ancestors at Rosehill in Falmouth and their residences at Glendurgan, Trebah and Penjerrick. The Quaker Fox family were established as ship agents in Falmouth in 1759.
Alfred, the son of Robert Were Fox, created the garden at Glendurgan, ‘considered by some as the best planted and designed valley garden in Cornwall’ In addition to the many plants and trees, the garden at Glendurgan contains the maize, a popular feature for visitors. The garden is now owned by the National Trust and open to the public during the summer months.
The talk, with many interesting anecdotes, was accompanied by a collection of slides, demonstrating the beauty of this garden on the banks of the Helford river.
St Anthony Visit
On Wednesday 8th May the Old Cornwall Society paid an evening visit to St Anthony in Roseland. The Society had prepared a short guide to the history of the area which was very informative.
St Anthony is geographically almost an island, bordered by the sea and the Percuil River. It is connected to the “mainland” by a relatively narrow isthmus at Porth. Although now joined with St Gerrans, St Anthony was historically its own parish with the parish church situated at Place. In 1821 the population was 179, whilst in 2016 the Electoral Roll records just 35 adult residents. The name Anthony comes from the name of a 6th or 7th Century holy man Entenin, who settled in the area.
The visit commenced with a tour of the Battery on the headland which was first built in the late 18th Century. Much of the present fortifications and buildings were built in the late 19th and early 20th Century. The site was manned in both WW1 and WW2. It was an important coastal battery guarding the entrance of the Carrick Roads, but also as a site for anti-aircraft guns defending Falmouth. The headland is now owned by the National Trust.
The group visited Drake’s Well on Zone Point, an ancient dipping well. According to local legend, Sir Francis Drake returned from a voyage to the West Indies in sore need of fresh water. He searched the headland for water, but finding none he plunged his sword into the ground whereupon fresh water gushed forth from the hillside and has flowed ever since.
At Bohortha the group visited the site of the 19th Century Coastguard Cottages, recalling how the rocket apparatus was stored in a barn at Manor Farm. The site of the former Pig and Whistle Pub was of interest; this was the scene of music and dancing on the Feast of St Anthony. It also contained the “town oven” which produced the famous St Anthony’s buns at Easter. Other sites of interest included the Old School and the former Methodist Chapel.
This fascinating visit was enjoyed by all, many of whom returned to Gerrans for much needed refreshment. A possible future visit to St Anthony will probably include Place, Froe and Porth.
Old Cornwalll Society Pilgrimage to RAF Portreath
On the cliff top between Porthtowan and Portreath is a cordoned off area which is RAF Portreath. It was here on the 11th June that a group from the Old Cornwall Society met for a fascinating afternoon pilgrimage. On being greeted by RAF personnel we were shown a video presentation of the site. The building of RAF Portreath was started in 1940 and opened in early 1941 as an RAF Fighter Command station. From late 1941 it was used as a ferry stopover for aircraft to and from North Africa and the Middle East. It was also used as a temporary stopover for USAAF and RCAF units and then finally as a Coastal Command Station. After the war it was run down and eventually in 1950 was handed back to the government by the RAF. The area then reverted to its original name and was known as Nancekuke. It became an outstation of the Chemical Defence Establishment at Porton Down. It was here that Sarin was manufactured and quantities of the nerve agent were stock piled during the period of the Cold War. In 1976 transfer of the work was moved to Porton Down with the decommissioning of Nancekuke. A remediation project was then carried out and the ground landscaped, cleared of any contamination and put back to nature.
In 1980 the area was reopened as an RAF radar site. There are now 20 full time staff providing a 24 hour, 365 days a year cover of the south western approaches. Unknown aircraft are monitored as they approach UK airspace. Together with RAF Boulter and Alnwick, decisions are taken as to what action is considered necessary. This could ultimately result in the scrambling of two RAF Typhoon jets together with the refuelling aircraft to intercept the intruders.
Following the video presentation we were given a tour of the site where we were shown the radar installation within its protective housing and the associated monitoring equipment contained in a small building nearby. The rest of the site is virtually unused except for a radio antenna and some small buildings. As we neared the end of the tour we stopped and entered a large bunker which was in use during the Cold War. Bomb proof and underground, all that remains are half empty offices with telephones and alarm systems now silent together with standby generators ready to provide power in an emergency!
Everyone agreed that it was a most interesting visit and to finish it off we went to the canteen where we all enjoyed tea and cake.
Our meetings are 7:30pm on the 2nd Wednesday of the month at Gerrans Memorial Hall Portscatho, TR2 5EE. Visitors are very welcome (admission £2.50)