A delightful short story from Cornish author N.R. Phillips
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A SWEETHEART REMEMBERED
At that time, she was in my class, Miss Mitchell’s class, up school. She went to the same Sunday school as me too, so I belonged to see her nearly every day, ’cept in the holidays when I only saw her if we happened to go down beach or along the prom with our parents after chapel. I was one of the youngest in Miss Mitchell’s class, she one of the oldest, yet I was taller. Just a inch or so taller, mainly ’cause I had longer legs I s’pose. I ran for the class team on school sports days. She was a swimmer, so her developing body was firm and muscular with no fat, like cheldern were in they days. Miss Mitchell (tha’s not her real name) taught the third year up the new school so it’s nineteen forty four and five I’m telling of here, still war time. My Lor! Ceant believe it was s’ long ago. You never forget them, you know, all they early experiences. They’re like the words of old songs that come into your mind when least expected and weant go away. I still remember the words of the hymns, though I abm sung none for years now, and the tunes of the day. ‘Red sails in the sunset, way over the sea, bring back my loved one, home safely to me.’ They can still fill ‘ee with emotion, you, specially that one if your Da was fishin’ or away to sea in the Royal Navy. We never had pop, what they d’ call. She was quite a good little singer in Sunday school, while I jus’ more or less moved my lips and kept quiet, listening to her, looking at her hair. You wouldn’t hardly call her a blonde, even then, and her hair got darker as she grew older. I mean it was a nice fair colour with a bit of a wave in ‘n when the wind catched ’n and she never had no hat on.
You would think I coudn’ talk fitty, the way I’m going on here, but in they days we never talked fitty among ourselves, only to they who didn’ belong, strangers and teachers from up country. You d’ tend to revert to the old ways in later life, yet not knowing whether to talk fitty or no. We both did well in our careers, got on, and much of that was down to Miss Mitchell. Looking back, I reckon she knew what was going on between we two, and she was well aware of the trouble young girls could get into. Remembering it now, I can see that there was just, sometimes, a fleeting look of wisdom and understanding that was quite disconcertin’ in a way, but she never said anything. Miss Mitchell was one of we. Why yes, I should have known it at the time, that she knew what was going on among all the boys and girls in her class, but there we are, I can see now that she was wiser than she let on. What wonderful vistas appear in hindsight, eh?
We didn’ talk much at first. To each other, I mean. Fact is I didn’ hardly talk to her at all for the first two years up school. I thought she’d never give me a second look, yet I remember the first time she smiled at me. I’ll never forget that, you. It was after Easter one day when the springtime sunshine was coming though the windows and I was looking out at the white clouds drifting behind the trees along the lane to the woods. Miss Mitchell told me to stop daydreaming and pay attention. I glanced across at her when Miss Mitchell turned her back to write on the blackboard. She was smiling. I thought she might have smiled in derision, but no, it was a smile of conspiracy and unity, with a little pout of the lips. I think I blushed.
After that I tried to walk downlong with her after school. Not every day mind you, for she had piles of admirers besides me, even then. That Billy Thomas made her one of they whistles, a peeweep, out of a fresh young twig of a sycamore tree. They took a brea while to make, time you chose and cut the twig and loosened the bark by tap tap tappin’ with a penknife till it come loose and you could slide ’n up and down the twig on your spit. Davey Williams climbed a elm tree in the wood and brought down a rook’s egg to show her, green with brown speckles like a pebble off the beach. I couldn’t compete with stuff like that, but sometimes she gave me a look that said she didn’t mind, so we walked home from school together quite a lot that term. Once, I picked a buttercup and held ’n under her chin, just to see if she did.
In the summer holidays I kept going to Sunday school, just so I could see her, though I thought we were both too old for it. After Sunday school, or pr’aps in the af’noon, after dinner, we’d go for a walk along the quay like everybody else, all best-changed. It got so that I wanted to see her on her own, just we two together, instead of always with piles of other people. I kept thinking about her, all the time.
One day, it was a hot day, blue skies, she didn’t turn to go downlong but walked uplong, with me beside her wondering where she was leading me. She led up the old mine burrows, along the path through the fields, over the stiles, to the lane that led to the woods. It was lovely having her just to myself, at last, but I didn’ know what to say to her. We just walked, close together. There used to be minin’ where the woods are now and, in they days, along the fringe of the wood, there were heaps of spoil that didn’t grow much more’n moss and a few ferns. Off the path, we came to one of they little places, soft and mossy, hidden between trees and tall bracken. I couldn’t find the place or even tell ’ee where it’s to, now, ’cause it’s all overgrown with rhododendron.
We took off our coats and put them on the moss, lining downwards. Everybody did that when they sat on the ground in they days. The sun was hot. It was in July month, don’t ‘ee know. She sat down and hugged her knees and I still didn’ know what to say to her. She smiled, and I could hardly bear to look at her but that was the first time I really looked at her, into her eyes, and saw the whole colour of them. They were brown but a kind of light brown, with flecks of green in them that I hadn’t seen before, not dark brown like mine; nearly black mine are.
After a while she sighed, and gave a little laugh, turning her head to one side as she looked at me, then she fell back beside me on her coat, with her bare knees in the air. I lay back too; our arms were touching. I had never been so close to her. There was the sound of bees and a big brown bird circling in the blue sky above our heads. Her skirt had slipped right down to her hips, showing all her legs. She turned her head to me, our faces so close together, with the warm sunshine closing our eyes. This feeling came over me. I was afraid of what might happen, not knowing what could happen. When she spoke, her voice was very soft.
‘You can kiss me,’ she said, ‘if you mind to.’
I’d never kissed anybody in me life more’n me mawther and faether, but they kisses didn’ count.. I felt myself tremblin’ with nervousness and fear and with what I later come to recognise as what they call desire! I put my lips to her cheek and she turned a bit so that her mouth met mine in such a soft encounter that I hardly felt ’n. My whole body was trembling like a leaf in the wind as our lips brushed against each other. I could hardly breathe. I drew my lips away to get some air.
‘Didn ’ee like it?’ she said.
Like it! I’ve kissed a few more maids since then, and enjoyed most of them, but never one that thrilled me like that. It was, well, a revelation really, to know that life could be so exciting. I turned over a bit and kissed her again, put my arm over her. Her breasts were more developed than most but they still wudn more than little mounds, not big enough to need a brassier yet. I was afraid of touching them. This time, I felt her trembling too and didn’t want to ever take my mouth away from hers. She tasted sweet, like you’d think honeysuckle tasted, or like vanilla. As we kissed she kept slowly opening and closing her legs with slight convulsions that seemed to shake her whole body. I just lay there, with our cheeks brushing, wantin’ to say so many things but not able to string two words together.
‘Touch me,’ she said. ‘You can touch me.’
She pressed her head against me. ‘Touch me. I want ’ee to touch me.’
Her cheeks, her neck, her bare arms, were like velvet under my fingers. She said, ‘I like being touched.’ My hand was on her knee. We kissed again, and again, tasting each other until, with her mouth against my hair, she whispered ‘Touch my quim. I want ’ee to touch my quim.’
I didn’t know how to do it. I wudn sure I wanted to do it. Then she was looking at me with that smile that said, Do it. Just do it. I want ‘ee to do it. So I slipped my hand down her thigh. I shall never forget that first touch of skin so delicate I thought it might tear under the gentlest of caresses. It was like… well it was like nawthen I’d ever felt before. She turned towards me and I felt her own warm hand on my leg, under the hem of my skirt.
She said ‘We can touch each other, Helen.’
‘If you mind to,’ I said.
But first we bust into giggles and just held each other, with lots more kisses. Tell truth, I think that might have been the best part of it. I don’t know what t’tell ’ee. It was all so long ago.
And now for some Cornish humor!
Readers enjoy the humor in The Miner & the Viscount, much of it rooted in the characters. It was inspired by the warm Cornish humor I grew up amongst. Now please enjoy this wonderful example from the collection of stories and poems Rainbows in the Spray by the marvelous Cornish author N.R. Phillips.
Cresmass comes but once a year. The trouble is, the way they’re going, they’ll soon last ’leven months. They’ll have us hangin’ up our stockin’s on Good Fridays d’reckly. Mark my words, we shain’t know whether they’re full of chocolate eggs or shiny balls. Mind you, it d’ take that long to decide what present to buy some for people. And the closer you are to people, the more difficult it is. Somebody up country, they that you hardly ever see, you can send them a voucher for a book, or something to heave in the bath, or smother on their chacks, and that’s that.
The Cresmass before last, I honestly did not know what to get her. She idn easy, see. The trouble is, she idn one of we. She idn a local maid. She’s from up country, Herts. I sent away for her. Lonely hearts. Poetic, I thought, Romantic. I learned it d’ sometimes take a brear while to know just how, why, I mean, some hearts are lonely. But there we are. That’s life. With Cresmass coming up, I went trailing round the shops like one in a trance. There was plenty of nice things. I edn saying there wudn plenty of nice things. Fact is, I was spoiled for choice. There was a ‘ansome knife in the fishermen’s Co-op. It had six blades and a saw and a scissors and I don’t know what. She already had plenty of knives and scissors, though.
She don’t eat nicey, and she don’t admit to shavin’ and it was no good buying something for the car, you knaw, a gift-wrapped shammy or somethin’, cos she abm got one. A car I mean. I was eucered, sure ’nuff, you.
Then, in the window of wusacall’s shop, up to Tregenna Hill, I saw this plant, this here, Coleus, he said it was called. I’d never heard tell of no such thing. It was ’ansome. All colours. Reds greens yellows all though the leaves. It was quite small but wuscall told me how to look after ‘n, and said it would graw bigger, and it looked like it ought to cost a lot more than it did, I thought. So I bought ’n, and had ’n put by till Cresmass eve. Job done.
Now, I have to confess that she was no horticulturist, what they d’ call, and I’ve never grawed nawthen in my life. I d’ do fretwork. That’s what I d’ do. I d’ make pipe racks and bookends and stuff. And as I don’t smok or read much I always had plenty of presents for other people, but not for she. Oh no. No fretwork for she. We don’t always see eye to eye, as you might gather. But that’s life.
Come Cresmass mornin’, I had my doubts. I didn’t knaw how she was going to take it. Some have green fingers, what they d’ call, and some don’t, and I’d never gov her a plant before. It might have meant the end of a beautiful relationship, like they d’ say. Well, I tell ‘ee what… she was delighted. Said she’d never seen anything like it in her life. Over the moon, she was. We put ‘n in the kitchen winda and it was like a thing grawed there. All the colours glowed like a sunset over Clodgy five points on a summer evening. Perty! Zackly.
Now, nawthen succeeds like success, as they d’ say, and though this new venture was mainly hers, I couldn’t help but become a bit interested. I mean, we do live in the same house. That little Coleus grew away like a weed. One day when I was quietly thinking what a good, and prudent investment that plant was, I had an idea.
‘Here!’ I said, ‘if you cut the top of that off, you can shuv ‘n in some compost and have another one to go alongside ‘n.’
‘Not likely!’ She said. ‘I know you. You want to kill it. You’re fed up with it already.’
‘No I edn,’ I said. I’m only tellin ’ee what he in the shop said when I bought ’n. But you can please yourself.’
‘I intend to,’ she said. And she immediately took the kitchen scissors and cut the top off.
‘Not that much!’ I yelled.
‘I knew you wanted to kill it,’ she said, almost in tears now.
‘No, I dedn,’ I assured her. ‘Look, put the bit you cut off in that ice-cream carton and then you can have two. Graw them side by side.’
‘I intend to,’ she said.
And then we had two. Very soon the first was quite a plant, with four strong stems, and the second one was as big as the first one was before we had two.
‘If you cut all the bloomin’ heads off,’ I laughed, ‘you can have seven.’ I thought I was pretty good at satire, what they d’ call.
‘I intend to,’ she said. Like it was her idea all along.
Now, I knaw they looked very nice along the winda ledge, with their rich pinks and reds and greens, and no two alike, even though they all came from the same plant. I have to agree, nature is wonderful. But… after a couple of months, they needed trimmin’ again.
Now, every time you nip one out, you get four new branches on each stem, plus the cuttings, and… well, as I say, you can’t go wrong with Coleus. Anyway, I came in from doin’ my fretwork in the shed one day and there was twenty-four of them lined up along the winda ledge. Seventeen were new cuttin’s in plastic ice-cream cartons.
‘Now you’ve got twenty-four,’ I said. ‘A very good Cresmass present, if you ask me. How many more do ’ee want?’
‘Never mind,’ she laughed. ‘You just eat your ice cream!’
‘You heard! Eat your ice cream. I need the cartons.’
I’ve never seen her so happy.
I did some cackulations. Twenty-four now, of which seventeen were new cuttin’s and would provide one additional plant each at the next trimmin’. The original plant would make sixteen more and the second plant another eight. And a couple of months after that?
‘Here,’ I said, ‘don’t ’ee think you’ve got enough of they Coleus.’ I was getting’ quite used to using the Latin by now.
‘You be quiet,’ she said. ‘You’re only jealous. Just eat your ice cream and get on with your fretwork’.
Come last Cresmass, the kitchen got too crowded, and she persuaded me to try some around the sittin’ room shelves instead of my book-ends, and the big one instead of a flower vase on the table. I should have refused, I could see that afterwards, for pretty soon she had them in the dinin’ room too. Then it was the hallway, the bedroom, the toilet. She asked me to make little fretwork stands to go on the piano, the tables, anywhere where there was space. I made some giant pipe racks with holes to take the cartons, and a three tier whatnot with cut out stags at bay and rococo legs to stand in the hall. It became a full time job and cost a fortune in plywood and fretsaw blades. They d’ break very easy when you’re workin’ in a hurry.
‘All those lovely plants,’ she said. ‘And all for free.’
‘Free?’ I said. ‘What about the plywood?’
‘Never mind the plywood,’ she said. ‘Look at the colours.’
‘This is like livin’ in one of they tropical rain-forests,’ I said, loosing my patience. ‘I wish I’d bought ’ee something a bit more deciduous, what they d’ call.’
Well, it was all too much. I put on weight from eatin’ all that ice cream, and dreaded free offers from the supermarket at trimmin’ time. She became thin, with carrying water and mixing compost. Last of all, I found half a dozen cartons lined up on my workbench in the shed. That was it. That was the limit. After the hours I’d spent designin’ and manufacturin’ all they pot holders. There wudn a space on the walls or any level surface without its red and green Coleus. I longed for a change in colour, and developed this morbid fear, what they d’call, of tomata and cucumber sandwiches. I was beginning to despair but, one day for afters, I had sliced peaches saved over from the wreck of the Bessemer City and felt thinner at once.
‘No more cutting,’ she trilled. ‘No more cuttings. No more ice cream.’
‘Thank the Lord for that,’ I said. ‘I’m getting too fat for my garnsey.’
‘I’m going to let them flower,’ she said.
I peered round the original magnificent specimen that was the centrepiece of the crowded dining room table. ‘Good idea,’ I said. ‘The house is a bit full, don’t ee think?’
She didn’ answer.
‘Where are you to?’ I said.
‘I think I’m by the fireplace,’ She said.
‘Stay where you are.’ I said. ‘I’ll crawl over. This is daft,’ I said, ’when a man can’t find his way ‘round his own house.’
‘You’re right,’ she said. ‘I’ll put markers on the floor.’
That was the end. I‘d had enough. I removed the cuttings from my shed and hung them from the bathroom ceiling. The shed became my hideaway with a new lock to keep she out. I bought one of they combination ones, where you have to line up the numbers. ‘Es, well, I admit that caused a few problems. None of our memories are as good as they was.
I couldn’t afford to buy more plywood for a while, so I spent hours out there reading my fretwork magazines and sharpening my tools and making drawings while I planned some projects other than pot holders. That was A1 for a while.
Then, one day when I was designin’ a fretwork screen to hide the telly, if ever I could find it again, it suddenly dawned on me what would happen when all they Coleus flowered. They long spikes of tiny, purple blooms. There was thousands of them coming. They was totally insignificant compared to the brilliant leaves, but how many were the seeds? Oh my Lor’! I rushed into the house to look for her.
‘The Seeds!’ I shrieked as I hacked my way from, room to room. ‘The Seeds. You’ve got to stop them seeding.’
‘Don’t you dare,’ I heard her say from somewhere in the foliage. ‘This is my hobby. You get out there and get on with yours.’
‘It’s my home,’ I cried. There was no reply.
‘You hear me?’ I yelled into the undergrowth.
Nawthin’. There was no sight nor sign of her.
It was a waste of time trying to find her. She wore a green and red dress which blended into the background like one of they chameleons in Africa. I tried lying in ambush at the kitchen door, hoping she would come out for food, and took to beating drums. But still no sign of her. She had disappeared like that there Colonel Fawcette in the Matto Grosso. In desperation, I took a scissors and began snipping off the buds. I went through the house like an Assameese tea-picker, with a bag over my shoulder, carefully dropping them in, in case they fell on some compost and took root but, for every one I snipped, there became two then four… sixteen. I was desperate. I left them in litter-bins and other peoples letterboxes until I was followed by a policeman with an Alsatian dog trained, so he said, to sniff out pot plants. Then I made up the buds into neat brown paper parcels, which I used to leave on trains and long-distance buses. And only when she wudn watching me, but this wudn too difficult, for I hardly saw her now. Just a rustle in the foliage or a slurp of National Growmore on the carpet.
Well, they d’ say if you can’t beat them, join them. So, in the end, join them I did. And wha’s more, became very keen, with renewed enthusiasm, what they d’ call.
I abandoned all the silly old fretwork and moved my gear out of the shed. With the ’elp of a Henterprise Hallowance and a subsidy from the Ministry of Agriculture, as it was, I started the Coleus Foundation. This non-profit-making organisation (well, to be honest it d’ make a bit of a loss) is dedicated to Promoting the peaceful use of Coleus for the benefit of mankind in the new millennium. Hee, hee!
For a few pence, you can have a Coleus cuttin’ sent in a plain envelope from Down’long to anywhere in the world, and I’m experimentin’ with the juices to make dye for instant Cresmass wrappin’ paper, paisley ties, and the feathers on mackerel hooks. There’s no end to the benefits of this wonderful plant.
And you’ll never guess wha’s in your Cresmass parcels.
* * * * *
More Stories Behind the Story
Chapter 49 and 50 tell stories that reveal the amazing inventiveness and ingenuity of our ancestors in creating revolutionary progress with primitive tools and despite cumbersome systems.
Chapter 49 – “Management”
The May Day cost book meeting held at Wheal Hykka in the spring of 1762 was the first attended by Edward Eliot after asserting his power in Cornwall. He had felt it important enough to leave his duties in London and travel down to Pendeen in the far western end of the Cornish peninsula. Profiting from his success in acquiring interests in the Lanhydrock mines was the next step in Eliot’s plan to rebuild the family fortune.
Edward, at Catherine’s insistence, spent the evening with her before he set off. There were matters she wanted to discuss with him before he became embroiled in the meetings with Dunbargan and the other mine adventurers. They were in their sitting room after dinner, and she poured him a goblet of tawny port.
“Edward, you know how much I love you, but I also want to impress on you how much I admire you and all you have accomplished for our family.”
“I appreciate your words more than I can say, my dear,” said Eliot. “What prompts them?”
“Then perhaps I can speak frankly, Edward,” she continued. “I am concerned about this mining venture.”
So here it was. Edward sighed. “Oh, what troubles you? There are tremendous opportunities to make a great deal of money.”
“You’re involved with Dunbargan. He is not a sound or trustworthy man of business. I admit that you are managing him very well with the Liskeard Turnpike project where you are on your home ground. You have certainly asserted your influence of late and you see clearly that he is not only a rival but also a rogue. And I want you to think carefully about how to outmaneuver him; to sum up the strengths and weakness on both sides.”
“At heart he is a playboy,” said Eliot, standing up. “He is idle. He has more bluster than wisdom. His attention is limited: money, gambling, hunting, women.” He took another deep sip of his port and refilled his glass from the decanter on the sofa table. “I on the other hand do pay attention. I work hard at what I judge is important. I did not inherit the kind of wealth that fell to Dunbargan, and I cannot afford his risks. I must take care to rebuild Eliot wealth, step by step.” Edward resumed his seat.
“Frankly, my dear, you do not possess the temperament to take risks,” said Catherine. She looked away, hoping she had not gone so far as to lose the ground she might have gained in influencing her husband. “You have other quite marvelous qualities. You take pride in attending painstakingly to detail. Far from despising your underlings because of their class, you respect them because of their ability and industry. They are loyal to you because they respect you, not because they fear you. Herein lies your opportunity, Edward.”
“I don’t quite understand, my dear.” Now he was thoroughly puzzled.
“When you go to that meeting show a deep interest. Ask questions until you understand everything about making mining pay, how the work can be made more efficient. Demand explanations, facts and figures.”
“Ah, I see. Then the captains, the pursers, the head clerks, the stewards, even Bolitho, will know that I am to be reckoned with. They will be obliged to manage their charges well because they will be accountable to me. Is that where you are leading? I believe I have already made it clear that I will not accept slackness or carelessness to gain favor.”
“Yes, and more, Edward,” Catherine pressed. “They will grow loyal to you as they see that you make the effort to understand their issues and show them respect, provided they perform their responsibilities conscientiously and well. I know, of course, that you will be courteous towards them, but also firm. They will follow you, instead of Dunbargan, because you are a good leader.”
Over the next two days Eliot was thoughtful as he rode down to Wheal Hykka with Polkinghorne and Bunt in attendance, to protect his person on the journey as well as his interests at the meeting. He would conduct himself in ways that would enhance the dominance and wealth of Port Eliot. He and Bolitho had both advised Viscount Dunbargan to attend. His lordship was secretly loath to forsake the card tables and gambling clubs, less averse however to abandoning the debates of the House of Lords. As Eliot observed, the viscount preferred not to divert his attention from his pleasures to his business, and rather to simply trust the reliable and conscientious Joseph Clymo to keep an eye on the details.
The letter Dunbargan received from Thomas Bolitho stating his intention to attend contained an unwelcome message. In the old baron’s days it would have gone without saying that the Bolitho firm would exclusively represent the Trenance family and Lanhydrock, but no longer. It seems now that Bolitho felt that his partners’ profits depended more on acting impartially to protect the interests of all of the adventurers. It was due to that fellow Eliot’s interfering ways no doubt. Not only dull but meddlesome. All work and no play. Never saw him at the gaming tables. Hardly ever had too much to drink with those good fellows at the club. However, he could hardly stop Bolitho from being there and having his say; had too much money tied up in the Lanhydrock affairs. He would have to get Clymo to speak up.
To Addis Penwarden’s relief, Joseph Clymo had asked Mr. Bolitho to chair the Wheal Hykka cost book meeting. Addis felt that he had enough experience as mine captain by now to handle the responsibility, but he was nervous about dealing with the viscount. He’d been around enough to learn of his lordship’s reputation for arrogance and anger, even cruelty. But it was more than that. The more he thought back to that encounter over the rabbiting with the youthful Honorable James Trenance, the more he was discomfited by the fact that the boy and the viscount were one and the same. He had not treated the Honorable with deference, and he had seen him at his weakest as a coward and a crybaby. The viscount would not like to be reminded of that.
Joseph Clymo’s advice saved the day. “We’ll be taking important decisions that will affect the whole future of Wheal Hykka, Cap’n Penwarden,” he said. “And Mr. Eliot will be attending for the first time in his new position. We have to sound him out. I must warn you in confidence that the viscount can be difficult. You should avoid being seen taking sides between them. I have asked Mr. Bolitho to take the chair. He is diplomatic but firm, respected and widely experienced. We can count on him to guide the meeting towards wise decisions. His firm’s money is indispensable to our employers and, what’s more, his power does not depend on their favor.”
“You’re right, Mr. Clymo,” agreed Penwarden. “I appreciate your advice.”
Also John Williams was coming over from Poldice. There would be technical details as well as general business matters to discuss. Captain Williams had a quiet authority about him. He only spoke when he had something worthwhile to say. People listened to him. He knew mines and mining. And these days he had a small but influential ownership interest in the Lanhydrock mines. On the day following this meeting he would have his own cost book meeting with many of the same participants back at the Poldice mine. Like his protégé Penwarden, he was dressed formally in top hat and black morning coat and trousers, as befitted his position.
And then there was the man whose presence would make this meeting different from any that had come before. He was John Smeaton, one of those great geniuses who would change the face of mining in Cornwall. He had arrived last evening after riding down from Plymouth. He had stayed upstairs in one of the guest rooms above the count house, where he and Addis Penwarden had met for the first time. Addis had spent the night too so he could devote more time to picking his guest’s brains. Addis knew that Lizzie didn’t much like being left home alone, but she would just have to accept it. His job came first. He did think of his family anyroad and had brought young Jemmy to Wheal Hykka with him. Perhaps one day Jemmy would follow in his father’s footsteps. He would gain more useful knowledge observing his father at work and meeting clever inventors than spending all his time at some school.
Jemmy had been thrilled to meet Mr. Smeaton. There were so many questions he wanted to ask that he hoped he too would get a chance to talk to him in the next few days. He had asked his father if he could listen to the goings on at the meeting. Addis told him he could sit quietly on a stool by the fireplace and bring out refreshments to the adventurers when they asked.
Once everyone had arrived at the count house from varying directions, Thomas Bolitho called the meeting to order. “Gentlemen, silence please, and take your seats at the board table. We have a long agenda to get through.”
“What I want to know,” said Dunbargan, “is how much money I will get out of this and how soon. That’s what I bloody want to know. Took the trouble to come all the way down here when my presence in London on important matters is sorely needed.”
Eliot just managed to stifle a snort.
“All in good time, My Lord,” said Bolitho firmly rapping his gavel on the table. “The first order of business is to introduce our distinguished guest who is here to advise us on potential improvements that will increase the production of your mine.”
“Profits too, I trust,” grumbled the viscount under his breath.
“Indubitably, my lord,” said Bolitho. “Now, if I may proceed. I have the honor to introduce the great mechanical engineer and eminent physicist, Mr. John Smeaton. He is a Yorkshireman, but we mustn’t hold that against him.” A polite laugh went around the Cornishmen seated at the table. “He is a Fellow of the Royal Society, which recommended him to the task that he completed here in Cornwall in ’fifty-nine, that of designing and building the new lighthouse on the Eddystone Reef, nine miles out in the English Channel off Rame Head.”
“Indeed,” said the viscount, “capital fellow. My father had an interest in ships plying the channel. One was saved from shipwreck on Eddystone during the big storm a couple of years ago. Valuable cargo from France.”
“Despite the Royal Navy’s blockade of the French ports?” asked Eliot, smiling slightly. “Pray what was the nature of that cargo?”
“Gentlemen, gentlemen, let us leave that topic to a more suitable occasion,” said Bolitho. Dunbargan glared at Eliot.
“The former lighthouse Rudyard built saved many ships, many lives,” said Smeaton, “and it lasted nigh on fifty years. But his mistake was making the outer shell of wood; it burned. I perceived that the structure that best stood up to stormy winds was the grand old English oak tree, so that’s what I modeled my tower after, but constructed it of Cornish granite. Then I designed a method of dovetailing huge blocks of granite together for structural strength and durability. We shaped them on shore and ferried them out to the reef. I designed a hoist and tackle for erecting them.”
“But how did you fasten the joints?” asked John Williams, fascinated. “You had the tidal waters of the Channel to contend with.”
“I had to invent a new kind of cement,” said Smeaton, warming to his subject. “I conducted hundreds of experiments, and eventually I discovered the components that would give to lime the property of hydraulicity, the ability to set hard and resist decomposition under water.”
“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” said Bolitho, rapping his gavel once again. “With apologies to Mr. Smeaton, while this is an interesting discussion we have much ground to cover. We have brought Mr. Smeaton here on an errand affecting the Lanhydrock mines. We will get to Mr. Smeaton’s ideas in due course. He will join us for dinner later, and you can talk of other matters then. For now, we must provide the incomings and outgoings report to the adventurers. Mr. Penwarden?”
“At last, about bloody time,” said Dunbargan.
“I’m pleased to report, gentlemen,” said Addis Penwarden, avoiding the viscount’s eye, “that the chief clerk has figured that the mine workings ’ave been satisfactory for the first quarter of 1762. A record quantity of tin stuff has been brought topside, and copper ore too.” There were murmurs of approval around the table. Addis paused and nodded acknowledgement. They all looked pleased except the viscount who scowled. The captain continued. “Thanks to putting in a new buddle, we’ve separated more ’eavy sand from waste and sent more sacks of good ore to the smelter. Prices are strong and the market is growing. Us is ready to drive more shafts and mine more ore.”
“Tell me, Captain Penwarden, what is a buddle?” asked Eliot. “What prices are we getting, and what are your costs exactly?”
“Some damn heathen contraption, Eliot,” said Dunbargan. “No concern of yours or mine; let them worry about it. Let’s get to the profits.”
The mine captain turned to look at him, and the viscount stared Penwarden straight in the eye. Yes, by damn, it was the young poacher who had thrown him to the ground, seen him cry, knew the secrets of his weakness. So now he had been jumped up in the world? Penwarden had better understand where his orders came from, his livelihood. He himself was a man now, a viscount no less. He would show the captain who was in charge, make no mistake.
Penwarden cleared his throat and continued. “After the boys and the bal maidens have crushed the ore with their hammers and picked it, us shovels it into the buddle to sort the heavy tin from the tailings. That way we don’t pay to send waste to the smelters. Last quarter, Mr. Eliot sir, stamping and dressing cost three shillings and six pence per hundred sacks of tin stuff.”
“You don’t have to overdo it, Penwarden,” said Bolitho. “As a smelter I don’t mind charging you a little extra.” There were appreciative chuckles around the table except for the viscount, who scowled again.
“I could design and build a mechanical stamp that would do it cheaper and faster,” Smeaton said.
“Sounds expensive,” said Dunbargan, “money better paid out to the adventurers.” He would show that upstart new captain to pay attention to his concerns, not chase off after Eliot’s ramblings, or that Smeaton fellow, thinks a lot of himself.
“We must take a long view, my lord,” said Eliot; “we must be patient and look to tomorrow. I’m sure Mr. Bolitho would appreciate that.”
“That’s all very well for you to say, Eliot. I’ve got expenses to meet today,” said Dunbargan.
“Indeed, my lord,” said Eliot. “Captain, how much tin stuff is in a sack?” He had pulled an inkpot and pen towards him and was now making notes.
“Around Wheal Hykka, zir, ’tis eighteen gallons. That’s our standard. One mule can carry two sacks. Some mines further away from the smelters send only eight gallons per sack, easier on the mules over distance. Course, smelters pay by the ton, depending what the assayer says the metal content is. They pay on twenty hundredweight to the ton. Mostly there’s a hundred and twelve pounds to the hundredweight.”
“Twenty hundredweight to the ton is just for tin, Mr. Eliot,” said John Williams. “For copper we have to send twenty-one hundredweight. The price is set at the public Copper Ticketing, based on dry weight. The mining agent has to sample the ore a fortnight before. The smelters write their offer on a ticket and pass it to the chairman of the meeting, who by custom is the purser of the mine sending the biggest lot. Of course, the smelters take off the returning charges before paying.”
“What are they for? How much? And how do you calculate the dry weight, Captain Penwarden?” asked Eliot. There was a brief silence. Addis gave a little cough and looked across at John Williams pleadingly. Jemmy felt sorry for his father, whom he had never before seen at a loss. Joseph Clymo jumped in to save embarrassment for the man who had become something of a protégé.
“I believe the returning charges recently amounted to two pounds and fifteen shillings per ton, right, Mr. Williams?”
“Right you are, sir, and that covers extracting the metal, carriage, agencies, interest on capital, and profit to the smelter.”
“Bloody outrageous!” said Dunbargan. “We would be better off in the smelting business.”
“One thing at a time, my lord,” said Bolitho. “My partners would not be pleased if you went into business in competition with them.”
“God in heaven!” interrupted Dunbargan. He wasn’t going to put up with any more of this claptrap. “When are you going to get to the point? I did not come all this way to listen to endless blathering about sacks and mechanicals and sorcery, and how peasants pass their days. I’ll leave you to it. Let me know when you get to the money. I’m going out to see what the bal maidens are up to. Got to study methods, you know,” he added giving Eliot a smirk.
“My lord,” said Eliot, “it is important that we understand what is going on. I for one have a lot at stake. Gentlemen, please continue.”
“Gadzooks!” thundered Dunbargan, grabbed his hat and coat and stormed out of the room. “Conversation’s enough to make a dog laugh,” he muttered as he slammed the door.
Chapter 50 – “Inventor”
“Gentlemen, please continue,” pursued Eliot, “as adventurers we must pay attention to details. I for one have a lot at stake. We were discussing return charges. How do you arrive at the correct weights and measures?” He dipped his quill into the ink and prepared to resume making notes.
John Williams gathered up the thread. “For one thing, the smelter won’t pay for wet tin stuff. So we accurately weigh out a sample of one pound of ore, then dry it over a fire and weigh it again. This gives us the neat weight, the percentage of reduction. Then we weigh the whole parcel wet in pounds and calculate the neat weight of the total by taking the percentage reduction.”
“What would be the weight of the whole parcel of tin stuff that you send off?” asked Eliot.
“It varies. We’ll give you a recent example. Look in your Assay Book, Penwarden, that’ll tell you,” said Williams.
“The last sample came from several kibbles, sir,” Addis said, reaching into his desk, pulling out the leather bound ledger and thumbing through the pages covered with his assistant clerk’s neat copperplate penmanship. He was not very quick at reading words yet but he could readily discern figures. “’Yes, ’ere ’tis. This last lot was one ton, five ’undredweight, three quarters, seven pounds and eleven ounces.”
“I see,” said Eliot, raising his eyebrows.
John Williams warmed to his subject. “The rule of thumb is that every pennyweight of black tin produced from a sample of one gill of ore, wine measure, will give a hundred pounds avoirdupois in one hundred sacks. Of course, that would be eighteen-gallon sacks, beer measure. Did I say avoirdupois? That’s tin. Copper produce is weighed in troy.”
“I see,” said Eliot again, scratching his chin. “At least I think I do. Wine measure, beer measure?”
“Oh yes, sir,” said Williams. “There’s thirty-two gills in a gallon, but a wine gill holds twenty-two percent more than a beer gill. Course, if you were asking about noggins, I’d say there are sixteen in a pint.” Eliot put down his quill and stared at Williams.
Willy Bunt’s jaw dropped. He was about to ask a question when Polkinghorne caught his eye and put a finger to his lips. Bunt kept his counsel but wondered whether someone clever enough could devise a simpler system. Bunt realized he must be educated, learn reading, arithmetic; he needed education to earn more responsibility in his job, get better wages. But how would he ever understand all the different standards and customs for different materials, even different parishes? Thomas Bolitho interrupted his musings.
“Now that you raise the question, Eliot, I must say that my own curiosity about some of the pertinent details is aroused. How exactly do the assayers know the value of the ingot when it comes back from the smelter?”
“Oh, nothing to it, Mr. Bolitho,” said John Williams. “It just depends on the purity of the tin. The assayer needs experience, of course. He puts the ingot on a bending machine. As the tin flexes it makes an eerie sound from which he judges its value. They call it the cry of tin.”
“Amazing,” Eliot said, looking back at the notes he had been furiously penning, hoping that in time he would make sense of them. Penwarden looked relieved that he did not have to give the answer to that question. “Speaking of ingots,” Eliot continued, “I trust all of the Lanhydrock mines are properly clipping the Duchy’s coinage from each and every one?”
Joseph Clymo spoke in a loud voice. “Indeed, sir, I can personally assure you of that. I have taken the responsibility of informing all of the mine captains of their duty, to be ignored at their peril.”
“The Duchy is anxious to receive its dues in return for granting licenses to mines,” said Eliot. “I personally am gratified that Wheal Hykka’s record-keeping seems to be in order.”
“I may say you will find the same at Poldice,” said John Williams.
“It’s about time all this random way of taking measure was put on a scientific basis,” said John Smeaton. “Weights and measures, testing methods, assay values. His Majesty’s government should lay down national standards; eliminate this local variation and custom. Make it more efficient for everyone to do business.”
Willy Bunt smiled quietly. Now that Smeaton was a clever gentleman. He had hit the nail on the head. Must be some kind of mind reader.
“No doubt Lord Dunbargan would want to keep the government out of it,” said Bolitho. “Give them an inch and they’ll be employing more revenuers to bother us. Ruin the smuggling trade,” he added with a smile. “I must say I agree that Cornishmen can manage perfectly well without His Majesty interfering in private matters. Now, let us proceed without further delay to Mr. Smeaton’s presentation. How can you help our captains mine and process more ore at the lowest cost?”
John Smeaton rose to his feet, clasped the lapels of his frock coat and rocked on the balls of his feet as he spoke. “Gentlemen, I have been studying the challenges of improving the workings of mines for some time, and I am an authority on the efficient design and use of mechanisms for generating power and replacing the horse. I have used mechanical power for pumping out water, tramming ore along the tunnels and raising it to the surface, and also stamping it to recover the precious metal. No doubt one day we will be able to carry the miners down the shafts and back up to the dry by mechanical means.”
“What do you reckon will work best for Wheal Hykka?” asked Addis Penwarden. “Us fancies the Newcomen steam engine, but it’s ’ungry for coal.”
“Mr. Newcomen showed us the way, but I am greatly improving his design,” said Smeaton. “What are the proprietors of his invention proposing?”
“Them’ll license us to erect an engine at our own cost, we trust with your ’elp of course. For a rent of eight pounds a year for eight years, us can build an engine with a steam cylinder no longer than nine feet and a diameter of no more than twenty-eight inches. They can have the most difficult parts built and supplied to us: the cylinder, the regulator, the valves.”
“What would their cylinder be made of?” asked Smeaton.
“Brass, I reckon,” Penwarden said.
“Too expensive,” Smeaton said. “Cast iron is cheaper, but it’s been too hard to cut or bore, too slow to heat up or cool down. I’ve worked out how to make the walls thinner yet strong enough. And I’ve experimented with attaching a broad leather belt as a seal. Less steam leakage and altogether more efficient.”
“The proprietors tell us their engine will do the work of five horses and be fed with eighty mule loads of coal a day,” said Penwarden. “Reckon you can do much better than that?”
“I’ll stake my reputation on it,” said Smeaton, beaming.
“Good man,” said Captain Williams. “How will you do that? Now we’re getting somewhere. Is that a promise, for Poldice mine too?”
“I am confident that my experiments will double the efficiency of the Newcomen engine,” said Smeaton, looking around the table at each of them in turn. “I am convinced that you can only efficiently manage that which you can measure. So I have developed a standard for measuring the performance of the steam engine.”
“Interesting,” said Captain Williams, “what is it? What exactly do you measure?”
“I have called it ‘duty’, and I define it as follows,” said Smeaton. “It is the number of pounds of water which can be raised one foot by burning one bushel of coal.” He smiled, pleased with himself.
“That seems to cover all important aspects,” said Williams.
“As a farmer I am curious,” said Eliot. “Does a bushel of coal weigh the same as bushel of corn?”
“Ninety-four pounds, sir,” said Smeaton. Eliot nodded.
“You say you can double the Newcomen’s efficiency?” challenged Penwarden.
“Maybe three or four times eventually,” said Smeaton. “My experiments demonstrate that the chief impediments to performance are the poorly designed boiler, ill fitting pistons, and faulty valve gear.”
“Three or four times, that’s impressive,” said Bolitho, “that will save on the cost of coal.”
“Ah, but I will not rely on steam power alone,” Smeaton said, and paused to take in the effect of his words on his attentive audience.
“You see,” he continued, “I have been working with water power for some years, with excellent results. My clients in the Yorkshire coal mines have similar challenges to yours. But the Yorkshire fells are higher than the Cornish hills, so the burns develop more power than your streams. When I was brought in they were using wheels of only twelve to fifteen feet diameter, but I saw the possibility of linking them in series. At one mine there are as many as seven wheels, each one above another, so the total power generated was greatly multiplied. The size of the wheels was only limited by their construction. Fortunately, I happened to be able to design a superior axle out of cast iron. Now I can with confidence propose to you a more powerful wheel, with a diameter of thirty feet.”
“Thirty feet!” exclaimed Addis Penwarden. “That be a powerful ’un indeed! Trouble be, Mr. Smeaton, it rains in Cornwall a lot, but ’bain’t heavy. And in summer maybe ’er won’t rain for days on end. What do us do then? Build bigger ponds to store water, more leats to channel the flow? That will cost a lot. Or go back to using whims with mules or ’orses?”
“I’ve already thought of all that, captain,” said Smeaton, smiling. “I can build a way of linking an improved Newcomen steam engine to a big water wheel. That way, when there is plenty of water flow you will have plenty of cheap power. When there is too little water, you switch to steam power. Costs more, but it’s more reliable and fills in the gaps in water supply. No interruptions to production.”
Young Jemmy was doing as he was told, sitting quietly in the corner. But he was listening closely to every word. Mr. Smeaton knew so much about so many things. He wished he could be like the great man. Perhaps he would be after he had been working at the mine a few years, listening to what his father said and watching what he did. He should learn from Captain Williams as well.
“So that way we have the best of both worlds,” said John Williams. “I like that idea, the power of steam as well as water. Production won’t have to wait on weather.”
“Steam engines don’t get tired like mules,” said Penwarden, “but them can be dangerous. I ’eard a miner got scalded bad over Botallack way. Them’s afraid ’e might die.”
“I can prevent some accidents,” said Smeaton.
“At considerable expense, no doubt. We have to watch our pennies, Mr. Smeaton,” said Joseph Clymo, “then the sovereigns will look after themselves.”
“Quite,” said Bolitho. “All very interesting, Mr. Smeaton. But you are going to have to advise us how much all this is going to cost. And now, gentlemen,” he paused and looked around the board table, “it’s time we asked Viscount Dunbargan to rejoin us. Captain Penwarden, would you send your boy out to fetch his lordship? Make himself useful.”
During the break, Eliot wrote down a few more details. Presently, the viscount strode back into the room, slamming the door behind him. “Well, have you got through your nonsense and down to brass tacks? How much do I get?”
“My lord,” said Bolitho, “we were just getting to that and thought you’d want to be here.” Dunbargan sat down, and Bolitho turned to Smeaton and said, “We all have an interest in this quarter’s returns. You were just explaining how you could help us make more profit in the future by investing wisely now. How much will your machinery cost, sir?”
“I can only venture a guess at this stage,” Smeaton said, “until I study the lay of the land under question more closely. But the most recent steam engine I installed cost in the realm of two thousand pounds, with all its appurtenances. Adding safety devices would add to the cost.”
“My god, man,” expostulated the viscount, “that amount would keep me in comfort for several weeks. Pay off some damn creditors too.”
“Indeed, Mr. Smeaton,” said Eliot, “you certainly don’t come cheap. Why, one can buy a seat in parliament for that kind of money.” Dunbargan shifted in his seat and narrowed his eyes at Eliot.
“If I may be so bold, gentlemen,” said Joseph Clymo, “the mines can repay such a cost many times over out of the bigger quantities of ore we can get out of the new deeper shafts.”
“And there can be less danger to the miners,” said Addis Penwarden.
“Work out the figures with the mine captains, Mr. Smeaton, and give me a detailed plan in writing,” said Bolitho. “No doubt the adventurers would support my partners advancing an additional loan if they can be sure the investment will pay off.”
“That is a sound approach, Mr. Bolitho,” said Eliot. “I would be inclined to support it. I just need to understand the costs, the level of risk compared with the size of reward we might reasonably expect.”
“All very well for you, Eliot,” said the viscount. “You don’t have to meet immediate needs. I have a position to keep up. But I must say, if Mr. Smeaton can guarantee to make us more profit in the near future, I suppose I would go along with you. But don’t waste any of my hard-earned funds on fancy appurtenances to make sissies out of the miners. Mining’s a dangerous game, but it pays well. That’s what my father always said. He knew what he was talking about. You have to take risks to make money.”
Willy Bunt had been listening intently to the discussion all along. He found it fascinating. He wished he could be as wise and inventive as John Smeaton. Perhaps he could some day; just needed the education. But, as usual, the viscount’s arrogance had got under his skin. “Seems them what takes the biggest risks don’t make the biggest money, that’s what it seems to us. Sittin’ back in some posh ’ouse countin’ sovereigns ain’t dangerous.”
“Hold your tongue, Bunt,” said Polkinghorne, “sit quiet and pay attention to your betters.”
“You need a good whipping, young fellow, teach you manners,” said the viscount. He turned back to Bolitho. “Now, once again, how much do I get?”
“My lord, the facts are,” said Bolitho firmly, “your advisers have decided to withhold distributions for now and to use the monies for needed improvements for a more prosperous future. I have prior to this meeting discussed this approach with the other adventurers and my partners. They are sufficiently in agreement to proceed.”
“That is preposterous!” Dunbargan protested. “I agreed to admit new adventurers in order to ensure my own payments.”
“Be patient, my lord,” Eliot said. “Mr. Bolitho and I have taken your interests into account. After our meeting at Port Eliot, I further approached the Duchy of Cornwall with my proposal to grant additional mining leases to Lanhydrock to permit driving shafts under the sea. As I have told you, the Duchy has confirmed its approval, subject to my taking a substantial position as an adventurer, to which you have already agreed in principle. Captain Penwarden informs us that preliminary borings are promising. Accordingly, Mr. Bolitho has agreed to advance funds to enable Wheal Hykka to proceed, with Mr. Smeaton’s advice on mechanical enhancement of our workings.”
“But I can’t stand by . . .”
“My lord,” Bolitho said, “a sufficient amount to meet your needs may be included in the plan, in view of the agreements with which you concurred at the Port Eliot meeting.”
“I see,” said Dunbargan. “What do you think, Clymo?”
“Everything seems cut and dried, your lordship,” said Clymo. “It will be to your advantage in the long run. I’ve seen to that.”
“My lord, you have little choice but to agree,” Bolitho whispered in Dunbargan’s ear. He then announced, “Now gentlemen, shall we conclude our most satisfactory meeting? Captain Penwarden’s staff has prepared a feast for us. We will eat from Wheal Hykka’s beautiful new tin dinner service. We are adjourned.”
Chapter 26 tells the story of Christmas customs in 18th century Cornwall – “Christmas Goose”. And I reveal how I developed the character of little Jemmy Penwarden.
I must confess that Jemmy Penwarden has a resemblance to a little boy in my family, which comprised one little boy with two big sisters. The little boy was very inquisitive. He pestered his mother with questions all day long and always saved one to ask his father when he came home from work and tucked him into bed at night. A special one was, “Dad, how long is a whale?”
In Chapter 26 the Penwarden family celebrates their first Christmas in their new home after Addis has been made captain of the Wheal Hykka mine. Lizzie decorated the house and prepared a traditional roast goose dinner with all the trimmings. I describe her baking a saffron cake. Young Jemmy is unstoppably inquisitive and distracts his mother with questions.
“Why do us put ’olly in the ’ouse at Christmastide, Mum?”
“Us be rememberin’ the birth of the baby Jesus,” explained Lizzie, “an’ people say the red berries be ’is drops of blood when ’e were crucified.”
“But why do us put up stuff loike the crucifixion on ’is birthday?” Jemmy asked, “don’t make sense. Wouldn’t put a coffin on my birthday table.”
“That’s just what people say,” said Lizzie.
“What people?” pressed Jemmy.
“Well, I ’spect it says so in the Bible,” Lizzie tried.
“Where in the Bible?” Jemmy persisted.
“You’ll ’ave to ask Reverend Perry when you see ’im down chapel; he’ll know for sure,” parried Lizzie.
When I was researching work in the tin and copper mines and the tools and methods used, I learned about the danger of blasting with loose gunpowder. It often resulted in fatal accidents. An ingenious miner invented a safer fuse, called the Rod of Quills. I tell the story as if Jemmy had discovered it. On Christmas Day, when his mother was not keeping an eye on him, Jemmy made his own toy. His father sees promise in it and later adapts it to test it successfully down the mine.
Addis had been experimenting with gunpowder, wrapping up small amounts in twists of paper, trying to work out a safe way of detonating it. Jemmy had found the almost empty tin, taken some of the quills plucked from the goose wing, cut off the tips and filled them with the powder. Then he threw them in the stove where they smoldered and sizzled and then burned with a satisfying whoosh, filling the kitchen with a dreadful smell of burning feathers. Addis to Lizzie’s surprise did not scold Jemmy for his mischief. Rather, a look came over his face that signified that he had an idea.
“That lad will be a real somebody some day,” Addis said to Lizzie, when they were out of earshot of Jemmy.
One summer when my family was on holiday at Tregrill Farm, Colin Hocking the farmer’s son and I made charcoal and ground it up, then mixed it with sulphur and saltpeter to make gunpowder. We exploded it on the old-fashioned cast iron kitchen stove with a satisfying whoosh. Not very safe! When my wife Penny and I visited Cornwall on a research trip in 2012 we stayed at Tregrill where the milking barn had been converted into guest cottages. I’m glad to report that the stove in the farmhouse kitchen is still intact.
Read all Chapter 26.
Richard Trevithick, Redux
Outside of Cornwall, and except for die-hard fans of steam locomotion, few have probably heard the name Richard Trevithick. Yet his inventive mind, centered on the development of high pressure steam propulsion, made a lasting impact not just on his native Cornwall, but also the world at large.
According to Wikipedia, Richard Trevithick was born at Tregajorran (in the parish of Illogan), between Camborne and Redruth, in the heart of one of the rich mineral mining areas of Cornwall. He was the youngest-but-one child and the only boy in a family of six children. He was very tall for the era at 6 ft 2in, as well as athletic and concentrated more on sport than schoolwork. Sent to the village school at Camborne, he did not take much advantage of the education provided – one of his school masters described him as “a disobedient, slow, obstinate, spoiled boy, frequently absent and very inattentive”. An exception was arithmetic, for which he had an aptitude, but arrived at the correct answers by unconventional means.
Trevithick was the son of mine “captain” Richard Trevithick (1735–1797) and of miner’s daughter Ann Teague (died 1810). As a child he would watch steam engines pump water from the deep tin and copper mines in Cornwall. As he matured and observed how the mining operations were conducted, Trevithick began tinkering with steam and the rest, as they say, was history. His crowning achievement was the development of the world’s first steam-powered, high pressure railroad engine, which, of course, dramatically upended how goods, services and people were transported. Yet he died a pauper and was buried ignominiously. Much later, a statue in his honor was erected outside the public library in Camborne, Cornwall. Oddly, Trevithick is memorialized in a stain-glassed window in Westminster Abbey. The head of St Piran appears to be a portrait of Trevithick himself and the figure carries the banner of Cornwall. (More on St. Piran below)
Now, Trevithick is being remembered in a book and companion CD. The book, “Horses Stood Still,” by Simon Parker, recounts Trevithick’s last days based upon some 25 letters he wrote to his daughter, Elizabeth, as he lay dying in an inn in Dartford. A companion CD has opera star Ben Luxon, CBE, giving voice to the inventor’s private thoughts and concerns.
The Legend of St. Piran
The Cornish love nothing better than a good story: the heroic deeds of King Arthur, the wisdom of the Druids, the tin trade with the Phoenicians and the Romans, the visit of St. Joseph of Arimathea, the battles of the saints with the giants, the little people.
One especially favored story is the the legend of St. Piran, which speaks to Cornwall’s mystical origins rooted in the Celtic culture and language and to the importance of tin. Piran, or Pyran (Cornish: Peran) was an early 6th-century Cornish abbot and saint, supposedly of Irish origin. It was Piran’s demise (and escape) that gives him legendary status. According to many contemporary accounts, Irish heathens, perhaps Druid priests, tied Piran to a mill-stone and rolled it over the edge of a cliff into the stormy Irish sea. The storm immediately calmed and Piran floated safely over the water to land upon a sandy beach on the Cornish coast that became known as Perranporth.
Piran became the patron saint of tinners and of Cornwall. He is celebrated every year on March 5th, St. Piran’s Day.
COUNTRY HOUSES IN CORNWALL
Three great Cornish country houses play a major role in the book. At one time they were all priories. There were churches close by the houses, set in thousands of acres. Then under the guise of the Reformation, Henry VIII, aided by his tough councillor Thomas Cromwell, pulled off the greatest real estate scam in history – and divorced his queen to marry Anne Boleyn. The monks were thrown out and the estates sold by the Crown to laymen for huge profits.
You can visit these magnificent houses when you are in Cornwall: Port Eliot in St. Germans, the home of the Eliot family www.porteliot.co.uk; Boconnoc near Lostwithiel, former home of the great Pitt family, now owned by their descendants the Fortescues www.boconnoc.com; Lanhydrock near Bodmin, former home of the Robartes family, now owned by the National Trust www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lanhydrock
Historical Novel Society is a literary society devoted to promoting the enjoyment of historical fiction. We are based in the USA and the UK but we welcome members (who can be readers or writers) from all round the world.
Here’s an article with photographs about my home town of Liskeard, Cornwall. It was created a royal borough in 1240, which entitled it to 2 Members of Parliament. At the time of my story there were 32 voters. The borough was “in the pocket” of the Eliot family of nearby St. Germans. www.thatsmycornwall.com/liskeard-an-ancient-cornish-town
The Cornish American Heritage Society is committed to providing resources and information on Cornish settlement, culture, and history in North America. It publishes a newsletter and sponsors and participates in a variety of events throughout North America. www.cousinjack.org
The National Trust is a British charity that protects some of the most important spaces and places in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It takes care of historic houses, gardens, mills, coastline, forests, woods, fens, beaches, farmland, moorland, islands, archaeological remains, nature reserves, villages and pubs – and then we open them up for ever, for everyone. www.nationaltrust.org.uk
The Trevithick Society, named after the great Cornish engineer Richard Trevithick, preserves historic machinery in Cornwall including steam engines and waterwheels, especially installed in the mines.www.trevithick-society.org.uk
Who’s Who in The Miner & the Viscount?
One of the joys and, indeed, challenges of writing an historical novel is creating fictional characters and integrating them with real people from the time of the book’s events. Interweaving real people with fictional persons helps enliven a bygone era and engage the reader in a way a dry, historical account might not.
I have my own favorite characters in The Miner & the Viscount; I wonder who yours might be.
Here is the cast of characters — the imagined and the long dead — which you can also find in the front pages of the book.
The Historic Characters
ELIOT FAMILY, of Port Eliot
Edward Eliot (1727-1804), created first Baron Eliot 1784
Catherine Elliston Eliot (1735-1804) his wife;
Edward James Eliot (1758-1797) their eldest surviving son;
John Eliot (1761-1823) their second son, first Earl of St. Germans;
William Eliot (1767-1845) their third son, second Earl of St. Germans;
John Eliot (1742-1769) younger brother of Edward Eliot
PITT FAMILY, of Boconnoc
Thomas “Diamond” Pitt (1653-1726) East India merchant, Governor of Madras;
Robert Pitt (1680-1727) his eldest son, married Harriet Villiers (c.1680-1736);
Thomas Pitt, (1705-1761) elder son of Robert, former Lord Warden of the Stannaries, married Lucy Lyttelton;
William Pitt, the Elder (1708-1778) second son of Robert, married Lady Hester Grenville (1720-1803);
William Pitt, the Younger (1759-1806) second son of William Pitt the Elder;
Harriot Pitt (c. 1758-1786) younger daughter of William Pitt the Elder;
Other Characters of Note:
Ralph Allen (1693-1764) Postmaster of Bath, entrepreneur;
Thomas Bolitho, merchant, investor, man of business;
Frances Boscawen (?-1805) widow of Admiral Edmund Boscawen, member of Blue Stockings Society;
Hannah More, intellectual, educator, member of Blue Stockings Society;
St. Piran (c. 6th century) patron saint of Cornwall and of tin miners;
Joshua Reynolds, portraitist, patronized by Eliots;
John Smeaton, inventor, first civil engineer, Fellow of the Royal Society;
Philip Stanhope, illegitimate son of Earl of Chesterfield, MP for Liskeard and later St. Germans, diplomat;
Reverend John Wesley, founder of Methodism;
John Williams, captain of Poldice Mine;
James Davis, Mayor of Liskeard;
Edwin Ough,Town Clerk of Liskeard;
Stephen Clogg, Councilman of Liskeard;
Thomas Peeke, turnpike witness
The Fictional Characters
Addis, a tin miner in the Poldice mine; mine captain at Wheal Hykka; Lizzie, wife of Addis;
Jedson, a tin miner and younger brother of Addis;
Jeremiah (Jemmy), his firstborn son;
Jedson, second son;
Jennifer, his infant daughter
TRENANCE FAMILY, of Lanhydrock
Sir James Trenance, his son; becomes Baron Trenance upon the death of his father; later acquires title of Viscount Dunbargan
Lady Elianor, his wife
Honorable James Trenance, their son;
Honorable Gwenifer Trenance, their daughter;
Willy Bunt, valet and footman at Lanhydrock , then worker at Port Eliot;
Mary Bunt, née Abbott, Willy Bunt’s wife and former maid at Lanhydrock;
Catherine Bunt, their daughter, goddaughter to Catherine Eliot;
Charles Bunt, their son, godson to Charles Polkinghorne;
Joseph Clymo, steward of Lanhydrock estate;
Morwenna Clymo, his daughter
Tom Kegwyn, member of a mining family, ringleader at Wheal Hykka;
Reverend Peter Perry, Perranporth, Methodist minister;
Charles Polkinghorne, man of business for Port Eliot estate.