Groundhog Day at Dynamite Quay

Maxwell Adams 2002, 2007

Version 24 May 2007

There was a debate in 2002 about a right of way for people down the approach road and across the dramatically named Dynamite Quay is a rerun of a row that simmered during the 1920s. This is an account of the earlier dispute but let me warn you, however, that, although this lies on the edge of living memory, it is a tangled tale, the records are imperfect, there is much assertion, and there is no sure conclusion.

In 1920 the Tyringham estate sold off much of its property in Lelant, virtually all the houses and the prosaically named "Lelant Wharf with approach road," this latter including the site of a coal yard let to WB Gilbart and a weighbridge house let to Thomas Pomeroy. Demotically, the wharf or quay was often in the past referred to as plural, Lelant quays. Since the Second World War it is usually called Dynamite Quay.

The sale document makes it clear that RWG Tyringham, the then owner, considered there was not a right of way for the general public. The new owners of the quay were Thomas W Ward, a well-established company that dismantled ships at several places in Britain and which had bought the quay at Lelant for 2800. It was in effect a recycling operation.

Within two years there was a furious debate in the village about the question of a right of way. Presumably the new owners had blocked off the route to stop the public from using it. The parish council and villagers were adamant: farmers had the right to go along it to the beach to get sand and people had used the route for years without hindrance and that made it a right.

At the same time a row was developing about a right of way along the Saltings to the railway station, what is now the metalled public road but was then a track of indeterminate status (Cornishman 6 September 1922).

In April 1922 the parish council had its first debate about the contended right of way at the quay (Lelant Parish Council Minute Book). It badgered the rural district council. In September the parish council learned that the district council had written to the new owners, Wards, to say it thought there was no right of way. The parish council responded by declaring that "there had been a right of way before the quay was built" (Cornishman 6 September 1922). It had letters from villagers who had used the route for many years.

A brief article in the Cornishman of 13 September that year gives an account of the village side of the case. I have put in brackets some glosses to help us find our way through the tangle.

"When the St Ives line was built, an old roadway to the beach was closed and superseded by the road of which the railway bridge forms a part [this is the broken-surfaced approach road which was built about 1876 and at that time was called a cart road].

That road was used by the public going to the ferry; together with a path across the green below the ferry bridge connecting with this road.

Up to the time the Trevethoe quays [Dynamite Quay] and land changed hands [1920], farmers drove to the beach for sand and others used the road to the ferry. According to the Trevethoe Estate, the taking of sand was a concession to tenants [villagers living in houses owned by Tyringham, practically everyone in Lelant before the 1920 sale] and farmers; but according to the local inhabitants and general public there was constant and uninterrupted usage.

The closure and prohibition was only made by Messrs Ward and Co, the new owners.

A public meeting was held in the village...

The activities of Messrs Ward and Co in employing labour and utilising the quays which have long been idle is recognised as a welcome and desirable thing; but residents of Lelant and visitors are astonished that they can be shut off by new barricades from the quays and ferry."

The issue rumbled on with nothing being resolved. The next year, 1923, a petition was put up in the post office and sent to the county council in support the right of way (Lelant Parish Council Minute Book, August and September). Nothing was resolved.

Then in 1925 the question broke out again. I am not clear whether this was the same closure or a new one by the owners. On 22 July 1925 the Cornishman reported, "The closing of the road to the beach by Wards, who occupy a wharf there for the purpose of breaking up old warships, has aroused considerable indignation." In 2002 the local newspapers were reporting similar anger about a closure.

In 1925 county councillors came down to see the obstructed route for themselves and met some local residents at the site. The county passed the question back to the district council. Because the farmers' right to go and get sand was affected by the closure, the farmers' union was asked for help.

Seventy people went to a public meting on 15 July. The parish council announced to the meeting that it had counsel's opinion that the inhabitants of Lelant had a good case for there being a public right of way. The Cornishman report of 22 July falls into drama reporting comments by Thomas Harry, a Lelant councillor:

"Mr Harry stated that when the county council committee visited Lelant, one of the members advised the parishioners to pull the obstruction down; he had said the people of Lelant were too slow (Hear, hear)."

Did they rush to the barricades? Did they pull down the obstruction to their claimed right of way? Well, what do you think? The people of Lelant set up a committee; they vowed to ask the local farmers' union to get involved; they decided to write to the MP and the quay owners, Ward. And as far as I can see, that was that, apart from a last throw in 1926. In that February Lelant parish council asked the district council when it was going to assert the public right of way over Lelant Quay and in March the minute book records that the parish council declared:

"This council is strongly of the opinion that the public have a right of way over the Lelant Quay and can produce living evidence to prove that it has been used for over seventy years without interference."

As far as I can see, it fizzled out though people did at some undetermined point begin to use the route again. Nothing was resolved, and that's why, seventy six years later, we had Groundhog Day at Dynamite Quay and debated again whether people can freely pass along the approach road, over the wharf, and on to the beach.


Cornishman as quoted

Cornishman 17 October 2002 (article page 4; letter); 24 October 2002 (article page 6)

Lelant Parish Council Minute Book (Cornwall Record Office: B/St Ives/13)

St Ives Times and Echo (article page 3; letter page 6); 15 November 2002 (version of this article)

Trevethoe/Tyringham Estate sale catalogue (Cornwall Record Office)

In 2002 there was at Merseyside Maritime Museum an exhibition of the shipbreaking work in Lancashire of Thomas W Ward.