Archive for the 'A bit of history' Category

The Penlee Lifeboat Crew Remembered – 30 years ago today

The Penlee lifeboat was called to assist the crew of the Union Star, a cargo ship on her maiden voyage as she was heading towards the rocks off the Cornish coast on 19th December 1981.

The Solomon Browne and its 8 crew from Mousehole were called at around 8.15pm. Trevelyan Richards the Coxswain of the lifeboat got the Solomon Browne alongside the Union Star from where it was thrown several times onto the deck of the cargo ship before sliding off. A Sea King helicopter above the incident was watching but unable to help due to the adverse weather conditions.  As the pilot of the helicopter looked on he later commented at the inquiry that ‘they were truly the greatest 8 men I have ever seen’. Eventually Trevelyan Richards got the boat alongside the Union Star and got 4 of the 8 crew off the ship and onto the lifeboat. Not content with rescuing the 4, he went back in to save the other 4 lives. At this moment as the Falmouth lifeguards were listening to the radios between the Union Star and the Solomon Browne it all went silent and something terrible had happened. Both boats were so close to the shoreline rocks and they had succumbed to the power of the sea. All 16 people were lost, 8 crew of the Union Star and the brave selfless men of the Solomon Browne.

Those men who gave their lives that night were

William ‘Trevelyan’ Richards – Coxswain

James Madron – Second Coxswain and Mechanic

Nigel Brockman – Assistant Mechanic

John Blewett – Emergency Mechanic

Charlie Greenhaugh – crew member

Kevin Smith  crew member

Barrie Torrie – crew member

Gary Wallis – crew member

The following day boys and men from Mousehole were stepping forward to replace the crew of the Solomon Browne, one young man who stepped forward was the son of one of the crew who had died the night before. He later became Coxswain of the Penlee Lifeboat.

These men are still remembered annually as the lights at Mousehole are dimmed between 8pm and 9pm in memory of their sacrifices.

Many a tribute has been paid to these men on the internet and much can be found on the net. However our favourite is a song by Seth Lakeman called Solomon Browne all about that stormy night.

…and aptly Seth also played this at the Minack theatre not far from where the lives were lost.

Russell Holland has also produced this together with the Cornish Wurzels I believe. The backing singers are the crew of the current Penlee lifeboat.

Tonight at 10pm on BBC FOUR is the Cruel Sea: The Penlee Lifeboat Disaster – first screened in 2006, is an account of what happened that night with real radio footage, eye witness reports and memories of the families who lost their loved ones.

To find out more about the Penlee Lifeboat visit their website here. Finally to make a donation to the RNLI please click here , its a very worthwhile charity.

The Shipping Forecast explained… by two fat badgers!

When we cannot sleep at night we often switch on the radio beside the bed and listen to Radio 4 and to whatever is being broadcast. At some point in the night there must be some kind of children’s entertainment on World Service because sometimes I awake feeling like I’m on speed as the children’s entertainment is not conducive to a good nights sleep. But more often that not if its been a late night we will doze off listening to the shipping forecast which also is not that conducive to a good night sleep…


As you are dozing it’s just words that don’t always make sense so I thought I would google it and find out what it all means.

Now where do the Two Fat Badgers come into it? Well, the two fat badgers run a website which in an independent look at places to visit around the UK and pubs to visit etc. They have also done some homework on explaining the shipping forecast.

Take a look at their website here to see what it’s all about.

Finally as I’m scratching my head deciphering the shipping forecast most of the time I will fall asleep to “Sailing By” composed by Ronald Binge in 1963, and performed by the Alan Perry/William Gardner Orchestra. It’s a beautiful track and can be listened to here.

It may be cold outside but I think its going to be a quiet one tonight – sleep tight!

The sea like a mill pond - Newlyn





Kennall Vale Nature Reserve

If you are looking for somewhere to walk off those mince pies after Christmas or in my case before Christmas then take a walk around Kennall Vale.

Old mill stone lies next to the River Kennall.

Situated between Redruth and Falmouth in the village of Ponsanooth, Kennall Vale is part of Cornwall’s rich heritage from the Tin mining era. Gunpowder was produced here with production starting around 1812. By 1860 some 50 men were employed in the gunpowder ‘factory’ until its closure in the early 1900s when alternative and more sophisticated methods of explosives were used in the Cornish mines.

Kennall Vale is now a tranquil and serene place to have a quiet walk and is very popular with dog walkers. The valley has a river (The Kennall!) running through it which would have provided the power to work the machines within the gunpowder mills.  Now,  just lies the ruins of the old granite buildings and parts of the cast iron wheels which once turned.

A walk around Kennel Vale is not for the faint hearted, it starts off with a nice wide even path with a slight gradient going under the canopy of large beech trees, as you walk along you can hear the water running in the nearby river but it’s not until about half a mile before you experience the whole drama of this amazing place. As you pass some old buildings and the old quarry on you left hand side (from where the granite was taken to build all the mills)  now filled with water you will turn a corner and the footpath then crosses the river (via a bridge). Take time to stop on the bridge and watch and listen to the incredible power of the water beneath you. As you walk across you will see many waterfalls in front from where the water was channelled down to drive other parts of the mills workings. Take care now along this path as you walk back along the river from the other side. This path is narrow, muddy, slippery, and everything you didn’t want to hear! But it all adds to a fantastic experience, as you wonder back imagining what it must have been like to work in such a place – producing gunpowder too!

And yes finally, for those who are interested in any gunpowder incidents which happened at Kennall Vale click on the

It’s a great walk, will take an average able-bodied person around 45 minutes  – 1 hour to do the circuit and it certainly burn off a few mince pies. –  Just remember to leave those cigarettes in the car!

Summer in Looe -1960

Yet another great nostalgic video put together by Robert Hocking, Stuart Armfield and Oliver Harborth of footage shot in Looe in 1960. Great to see the beach so alive with people, all the entertainment for the children and people enjoying themselves on the water.

Try and spot the tall guy in the beach too!

Have you heard the one about the Cornish Pasty in Mexico…?

No really, the Cornish pasty may well be linked with Cornwall but there is now a museum dedicated to the culinary delight near Pachuca, Mexico.

The Pasty was brought to Mexico in 1824 by the Cornish miners who went there to work in the mining industry, the recipes has ‘evolved’ over the years but the good old pasty is doing well down there in warmer climates.

To find out more about the museum have a look at this article in the Telegraph.




Memories of fishermen, Polperro.

If you fancy looking at a video of Cornwall in Days gone by then take a look at this great video put together by Robert Hocking of Cornish Voices.  Great interview by  father and son Ken and Tony Pengelly reminising of tales around Polperro. More entertaining than the Only way is Essex anyday!


A bleak day at South Crofty

Retired Miner at mine closure - South Crofty

“Cornish lads are fishermen and Cornish lads are miners too,  but when the fish and tin are gone, what are the Cornish boys to do?”

This ‘graffiti’ was written along the exterior wall of South Crofty not long after it closed down in 1998.  South Crofty was one of Cornwall’s oldest and largest mines which opened in the 1590’s. For several decades, up until 1860s copper was the only ore mined at South Crofty in shallow workings (down to approx 80 metres) The mine was dependent on copper until its reserves were exhausted and in 1873 after much financial investment in new machinery the mine was operating  significantly deeper (approx 480 metres) where only tin was found.

Mining provided a great deal of employment in Cornwall and South Crofty in particular was the main employer for many men in the Camborne and Redruth area. Sadly with tin being imported at a cheaper price than UK mines could supply the tin many mines closed down around the county and South Crofty was the last to close in 1998.

As a student I managed to get into the mine shortly before it closed down and took some pictures both underground and on the surface. I would have been one of the last non workers to have gone underground and for this I was very grateful of the experience. I have some more images I will share at a later date on the miners but for now please enjoy this gritty black ane white.

On a positive note South Crofty became operational again in 2007 with plans to extract further tin, copper and zinc.

To read more about the company who made South Crofty a viable mine again please click here.

Lakes of Truro Pottery Pasty

Like most holiday makers we will generally bring something back from our holiday as a memento of our good time away. Last year when I eventually popped the question to Becky ( see previous post) we had already bought our souvenir a day or two before the big event.

When I called Becky’s father for his daughter’s hand in marriage I was staring at the wall of the Truro railway station which had no bearing on our souvenir at the time, it wasn’t until we were browsing in a vintage curious shop in Fowey that we saw this old dusty terracotta pasty in the corner. As I picked it up the lady in the shop said ‘ that’s an old-fashioned souvenir Victorians would buy, made by Lakes of Truro, they used to be by the railway station you know’ ‘Huh’ I thought that could be a nice little memento of our trip to Cornwall this year, so after a little negotiation Cornish Lad Styli we left the shop with the most expensive pasty I have ever bought and probably the worst tasting one. So armed with our relic from the Victorian era we headed off, now all I had to do was ask the question which as you all know I did and the rest is history.

So about the maker of this wonderful little pasty. Lakes Pottery were based in Truro and set up their pottery business in 1872. Pottery businesses have been on the same site dating back to medieval times. Notably they were renowned for their large bowls made for times when households had out-door toilets and kitchen range fireplaces and homemade bread was a necessity to the household. Output of pottery was staggering with production serving the whole Cornish community.

Bernard Leach, the infamous potter of St Ives, drew reference to the work of the Lakes Pottery as the type of work he wished to carry out in new pottery. The pottery had a great influence to the work carried out at Leach’s Pottery and Bernard, his sons, their students and apprentices would visit Lakes on a regular basis to watch production tecniques of pots being thrown and handles being attached.

The pasty has been used as a mascot for the Cornish Rugby team for years and in 1908 Lakes Pottery made 3 terracotta pasties for the first appearance of a Cornish side in a final. Cornwall beat Durham 17-3 in front of 17,000 people in Redruth.

Lakes Pottery sadly closed down in the early 1990s when it was destroyed by fire.

Although I’m sure it’s not worth a trip to the Antiques Roadshow with our pasty I have never seen another one so keep an eye out when browsing antique shops and you may find yourself one too!

stamp on base of pottery reads LAKES CORNISH POTTERY TRURO

A Donkey Shay

Just chatting to my Dad on the telephone and he was telling me about an oil painting my cousin had picked up from a car boot sale of a donkey shay, the conversation went something like this:

Dad – Francis got a picture of a donkey shay going up hillhead

Me – Sorry a donkey in the shade? I said

D – No a donkey shay! Dad replied

M – What’s a donkey shade?

D – donkey shay!

M – What S. H. A. Y.?

D – Yes!

M – Whats that?

D – You know what a donkey shay is?

M – No I don’t

D – Like a cart, but a shay.

M – Let me Google it

M- Ah a donkey shay! Ok got it

Dad – (relieved sigh)

So, for those that didn’t know what a donkey shay is here is one, photographed in Leedstown Cornwall. Special thanks to the photographer who took this image for putting my mind at rest!

A Cornish Tacker

When I moved up-country some 12 years ago I worked in a photographic portrait studio in Marlow, Bucks. The main part of the business was photographing families and most of those were what was described as a FG1, a family group where the oldest child was less than 6. Quite often, on going up stairs to the offices and digital rooms your colleagues would ask how the session went. They had more often than not heard children rampaging around the studio beneath screaming at the tops of their voices for the last hour whilst they sat there retouching images, drinking coffee and listening to music.  With the sweat dripping off my brow, I would calmly say ‘fine, got some good shots’ as I downloaded my images in the hope it was not a reshoot. ‘What did you have? they asked. ‘O just a couple of tackers’ I would say.

Oblivious to what I was on about eventually one day someone said ‘Tacker? What is that?’

‘Small child!’ I said. ‘Ive never heard you say that before’ came the response. Convinced I had being using the term ‘tacker’ for year I explained that I called a small child a tacker. It turns out this is a Cornish phrase and I didn’t realise it was not part of the Queens English. Surely Prince Charles has been refered to by his parents as a little tacker!?

So, in doing a bit of research for you I have learned that a Tacker is in fact a small boy up to the age of about 10. It is now a term I have dropped from my vocabulary due to many confused looks from those up-country folk.

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