Growing up in Lelant: The Early Years 5 - 11




Copyright 2010 Ian Olds


23 January 2010


Having arrived in Lelant in 1954 at the age of three, I only have very hazy recollections of my early life at the old vicarage. The house had formerly been a school for young ladies with riding as an integral part of the syllabus. Both the house and land were in a sorry state of disrepair when we arrived; nearly all the rooms on the ground floor were painted black. The cellar had rows of pews as it had been used as a chapel and the house was generally in a very shabby state. The garden and adjoining land were very overgrown. This of course was a perfect environment for an inquisitive three year old, before the days of a health and safety conscious society and in an age of innocence.

The family plan was to open the house, now named Brush End, as a guest house and use the land, some four to six acres, to grow produce, not only to be used in the guest house but also to sell any spare, or barter for things we did not produce. We did of course have the advantage of my grandfather running a farm in the village producing milk and all the associated products that is, cream, butter etc and beef of course. We used the stables to fatten pigs and rear chickens for meat and eggs. At a later date we converted the grass tennis court into a chicken pen for up to two thousand chickens at one stage. I believe to start with this all went very well, until the legislation on slaughtering of livestock changed which made the plan much less viable. I know that I was always very well fed and to this day I appreciate good fresh produce. For 1954 this seemed a very enlightened way of life.


My earliest definite memory of my childhood in Lelant was my first traumatic day at the village school. My mother was busy finishing breakfast for the guests, my father, who worked for South Western Electricity Board in Camborne, a very long commute in 1955, had left for work. The only person available to take me to school was my uncle Walter, who would drop me off at the school on his way back to the farm after delivering the milk to Primrose Dairy at St Erth station. I did not want to go to school so when Walter arrived in the pony and trap to pick me up I resisted and had to be restrained. I eventually arrived at the infants entrance to the school, had my coat removed, and was thrown into the classroom. Walter was not known for his tolerance of children or for the milk of human kindness so he left me distressed, crying and screaming inside the door, being gazed at by all the other children. This led to my first encounter with Miss Newman, well actually not her, but her feet, clad in sandals; they seemed enormous to a skinny five year old and have haunted me ever since. She appeared to me to be a big woman, not fat but tall, I suppose being tall she needed those feet. I very slowly grew to like her and with the benefit of hindsight I now know she was a very caring and skilful teacher with a lot of patience, which she was going to need with me.


The school had three classrooms and teachers. Miss Newman looked after the infants and what would now be known as the reception class. Mrs Golding, to whom one would progress when you were seven, and stay with until you where nine. My older sister was already about to leave Mrs Golding's class and join Miss Pickering in anticipation of the dreaded eleven plus.

Generally the school was a very happy place. There was an old tree built into the wall in the playground which had rotted from the inside and could be climbed on to and into; the school playground was a hard tarmac or concrete surface which would graze knees with ease. The playground is of course where children develop their social skills and involved games like "kingy," the rules of which escape me now; I am not totally sure I had a full grasp of them then but they seemed fun at the time. Having a hard surface playground presented some problems when it came to PT as great big heavy jute mats had to be placed strategically to land on after running and jumping etc. It always seemed to me that they had been strategically placed to trip over. The toilets were what one might call primitive, a blacked tar wall with a drain at the bottom with a cistern and pipe. I can honestly say I never remember going into or using the cubicle toilet while at Lelant school. I suppose I must have done but my overlying memory was that it was a fearful place. There was a wall dividing the playground segregating the girls from the boys. The wall had one gap in it which was patrolled by the teacher on playground duty. Lunchtime was interesting: many children would go home for lunch and some of the mothers of the very young children would collect them, but mostly the children would walk home on their own and without the benefit of lollipop ladies or the green cross code (oh happy days). I stayed for school dinners which I thought where very good and enjoyed. I think in my last year at Lelant school they were sixpence a day (I may well be wrong about that). Leaving school at the end of the day was very like lunchtime. I remember one incident: on the way home from school it started to rain, a very heavy spring storm. I had no coat and Mrs Ruth Tonks was rushing towards the school to collect her son Stephen with coat in hand; she covered me with a plastic mac and sent me on my way, having been scolded for not taking shelter. This was typical in the close community of Lelant village. On the way home from school a visit to Mrs Evans's sweet shop, which was the first house on the left at the top of Church Road, was often required. I vaguely remember using farthings to buy sweets, I don't think they were still legal tender. I bought gobstoppers and blackjacks and refreshers, loose wine gums and sherbet fountain with a liquorice tube to suck up the sherbet. Half pennies were still legal tender and went a surprisingly long way in those days.


In the class-two years, to which I now refer, Mrs Golding had left, and my understanding of the situation was that the numbers in the school had dropped and they could no longer justify three teachers. Miss Newman and Miss Pickering coped with the assistance of a series of part time or supply teachers I never really got to know.


Days out were a special treat at the school. Trencrom Hill was the destination for one memorable day. Some parents had been co-opted to help out. We were to walk to the top of Trencrom Hill, a fair hike for an eight year old carrying sandwiches and a bottle of pop. We were all marshalled into pairs and set off in good crocodile fashion. On reaching the summit we ate our sandwiches and drank our pop, we were given paper and pencils and told to draw what we could see. Some drew rocks and some drew people I remember having a bash at St Michaels Mount which ended up looking like Knills Steeple and soon got bored. Late in the afternoon we set off home again, Lucky it was all downhill. The interschool sports between Lelant, Trevarrack, and Nancledra were always a highlight of my year. The schools took turns to host the sports and a field near the host school was used, a running track was laid, out parents attended, all finished off with a good tea. As I was good at sport I nearly always came away with a prize.

The school got involved with the village produce show held in the village hall, paintings, and gardens in soup bowls, models, all displayed on the stage area of the old village hall. I call it the "old" village hall because when I was at Lelant School it had not yet been modernised and was nearly falling down. It had a balcony supported by big green columns and this could be accessed from outside by some steps, which went up to a very wide door. I only ever remember it being opened for very important guests. Generally entry was gained by double doors at the lower level. The auditorium had a wooden floor which was noisy to walk on even in plimsolls, so if you arrived late for an event there was a mass turning of heads and disapproving looks and harmony of "tuts". My mother was notorious for being late so we were often subjected to this humiliation. There was a stage arch and theatre curtains. All the paintwork was green There was a big cupboard in brown and yellow GWR livery just inside the front doors with Lelant Band written on it. The stairs at the back of the stage led down past a ladies toilet and into a kitchen area where the fruit and vegetables were displayed at the show. Gentlemen wishing to use the toilet were directed to a brick structure at the back of a little overgrown garden. Many of the gentlemen attending functions at the village hall preferred to use the conveniences at the Lelant Hotel (The Badger). I wonder why?


One incident related to the village show, I remember, started when my mother exhibited in the fresh eggs class six very brown eggs. She was approached by another exhibitor and asked how she managed to get her eggs so brown. Jokingly she said that she had stayed up all night dipping them in black coffee. When she went to view the results by looking to see which entries had prize tickets on them, she found her entry with a note saying they were disqualified. She was not pleased and didn't speak to somebody for a very long time. The village show was then, and I expect still is, very competitive.


The school Christmas party was always a scream and pee generating event. There were games, a visit from Father Christmas where everybody got a present, and country dancing to Miss Pickering's wind up gramophone, the Circassian Circle and the Gay Gordons, all great fun, and in a very different world.


The British education system allowed holidays, especially in the summer where in country areas children were expected to help with the harvest. This in my case provided the exact length of time to forget what had been learned in school in the previous year. And, yes, I do remember helping with the harvest (well I called it helping). In fact the whole family would gather for a big lunch/tea in the fields with pies, sandwiches, tea, and pop, and my grandmother's memorable ham with freshly picked tomatoes that smell of the greenhouse.


Most of the summer holidays were spent having adventures. I could clear off in the morning and not be seen again until teatime. Sometimes with friends playing cowboys and Indians imitating the actions of Roy Rogers, Buffalo Bill, and the heroic stand at the Alamo. Spending days on the beach getting extremely sunburned while digging holes until the water came in. Building sand defences to keep the sea at bay which they never did. The beach at Lelant was dangerous but we were locals and we knew where to swim and when. When friends were not available I was lucky, I could play in the garden, climb trees, build dens and annoy my sister. Saturday was change-over day. I was expected to do my bit at Brush End. Helping guests with their luggage, collecting laundry, cutting the grass (well helping dad cut the grass), trimming the lawn edges. I even earned money in the form of tips from guests, usually enough to keep me in sherbet lemons and Corona orangeade purchased from the village shop. If I went further up the village I could go to Polglase Stores which had a very distinctive smell a mixture of paraffin, cheese, and bacon, with a hint of cleaning fluid. It sounds revolting but it was reassuring.


While on the subject of smells, my mother would go on a midweek shopping expedition to Penzance. With dad being at work, and mother not able to drive, the number 17 Western National came into play. Mother, children, and a selection of baskets would be seen running up the village to the bus stop, outside the village hall. As I said before mother was not known for punctuality and often a bloody minded bus driver, as she would call them, would drive off leaving us gasping fifty yards short of the bus stop. When we eventually arrived at Penzance railway station we would head up Market Jew Street calling at various shops, gradually filling the baskets and gathering brown paper parcels tied with string, not a plastic bag in sight. I was allowed a drool down the window at Kneebones or Knees toy shop (I think it was called that) before being dragged whining to Jacobs, International Stores, and the fruit shop next to the White Lion. The last port of call was Halls on the corner of Alverton. Dad enjoyed cheese, especially gorgonzola. Halls sold very good mature cheese. A fairly respectable quantity of gorgonzola was purchased and wrapped. We now headed for the bus stop near the Davy monument and if my mother was true to form we would see the bus disappearing down Market Jew Street and would have to stand around for an hour. In the summer the Gorgonzola would start to sweat in the heat. And strangely enough we always managed to get a seat on the top deck and on one occasion cleared the top deck completely.


One of the things that really annoyed my grandfather was the way part of the saltings at Lelant between the railway line and the path behind the Woodlands Hotel (as it was then) was used. It was a landfill site, taking rubbish from the local towns of Hayle and, more annoyingly for the people of Lelant, St Ives. The smell used to permeate the village when the wind was in the right, or more to the point, the wrong direction.For a small boy who had a seriously inhibited sense of smell due to being confined with gorgonzola cheese on a hot day, and no fear of typhoid, cholera or hepatitis, it was the perfect playground. There were old pram wheels to make bogies with, bits of jagged metal to pull just to find out what they are attached to, glass in sheets and bottles to smash with stones, wonderful greasy stuff which would stick to shoes and stain carpets. Many a happy hour was spent on the village dump.


The estuary was a place of fascination and intrigue to a small boy. Boats of all shapes and sizes were moored there. A lady called Mrs Oliver lived on a houseboat at the end of the wall at Brewery moorings. She was a kindly lady and would often talk to us. I suppose she worked on the principle that it was better to talk to us and make her presence known, than have to tolerate the screaming and shouting of a gang of ten to twelve olds. There was an old steel hull moored there and it was a wonderful pirate ship; it would rock from side to side on the sand creating the storms of the Spanish Main.


Peter Scott and the BBC once made a programme on the estuary and several local children fancied their chances of stardom and were annoyingly trying to get into every shot, disturbing the birds, the real stars of the show. A BBC technician was despatched to deal with the troublesome youths. After a discussion, well, as much of the kind of discussion you can have with children, eventually money changed hands in the form of sweets, ice cream, and anything else that could be extorted from the poor hapless chap. We moved on to occupy a tree in Napiers woods from where we could watch television being made.


Related to the making of television, in 1954 when we moved down from Middlesbrough, we owned a television which had to be put into storage until a transmitter was built and broadcasts were started. I don't remember the actual date but I do remember the occasion. The television was dusted off and tested. The family were assembled: parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, children, and selected friends. At Brush End we employed some of the local women and a lady called Olive Courtice was busy in the kitchen when the broadcast started. Olive chanced to poke her head round the lounge door. On seeing the television in the corner she burst out with "ugh, work of the devil that is" and headed back to the kitchen. As it turns out she was a lady of great insight.


Another village event that as a family we got involved with was the gymkhana. It was usually held in a field at the top of golf road just before the crossroads on Longstone Hill. The field when looked at from the gate had a patch of rough wooded land in the far right hand corner. As a very young child the whole family, including the extended family from St Ives, would pull up in cars in a row next to the show ring and quite convenient for the beer tent. My grandfather, being on the committee, ensured this space was available every year as it was also near the committee tent. The highlight of the day for me when I was young was getting in amongst the foxhounds of the local hunt; they were beautiful animals with soft mouths and very strong bodies built for running. When I got a bit older I would meet up with my school pals, many who lived in Carbis Bay, and create havoc in the rough woodland enjoying ourselves so much our parents had to physically drag us away when they wanted to leave.


Come the beginning of November every young lad turned his attention to flambos and the gathering of. The flambo is the flower of bulrushes, a brown, velvety sausage on a long stem, it was soaked in paraffin and lit as a torch on bonfire night. The best source of flambos could be found on the Hayle River between the causeway and St Erth village on the right hand side in a boggy pond. The gathering of flambos was an art form in its own right. The secret is to stay on top of the aforementioned boggy pond by making a raft out of any available material which would support your weight, a calculation a small boy often got wrong, arriving at home covered in organic matter, very cold, very wet, and very smelly. Many extra baths were needed in November.


All too soon the eleven plus came to decide my future. It seemed that childhood was over, the carefree days of warm sunshine, warm people, and no responsibility had drawn to an end and the process of growing up had to start in earnest.