Recreation in Lelant
© Maxwell Adams 2004-2006
Version 20 September 2006
Today we have television, cinemas, pub and clubs, eating out, and innumerable other recreations at home and out of the home. The young have the more energetic recreations such as skateboarding and football, and sizing up the opposite sex, as ever. What did people in Lelant do in the past when many of our present recreations were not around? I have gathered here, often but not exclusively in sample reports from local newspapers, activities which were not part of organisational life and which are not generally mentioned in other articles on the website. They stretch, arranged or spontaneous, from the harmless and educative to merriment and devilment. I have suppressed the people's names and the dates for the more recent recreations in the Miscellany section. Of course some of the most interesting activities of the young that I have been told about are too bold for detailing in this article.
In the late 1940s lots of villagers went down to the Old Quay House around lunch time to watch the London/Lands End motor rally pass by.
Every Christmas the church choir and Sunday school visited the pantomime in Penzance: 1940s.
There were weekly film shows in the village hall. The hall was full of children, entry cost three old pence. Mostly cowboy films were shown. The films were shown by a man with a projector and van: 1940s.
Sunday school treats
The Anglican and Methodist churches in Lelant ran annual "treats," a picnic and games, for their Sunday school attenders. An example was on reported for Wednesday 16 July 1902: the St Uny Sunday school treat and tea took place "in glorious weather. The children assembled on the vicarage lawn at 3 o'clock. After the singing of a hymn they went to the field and played at various games till 4, when they had tea. At 5 o'clock the fathers and mothers and a large number of friends, including a contingent from Towednack, had tea in front of the vicarage...After tea there was donkey riding, swinging, races for two legs, races for three legs, egg and spoon races, wheel barrow races, etc" (St Uny church magazine August 1902). The day raised fifty shillings. The vicarage at this time was at Brush End.
There was an annual outing too for the Sunday school. In 1909 the annual trip for St Uny's Sunday school and choir was a river trip at Truro (St Ives Weekly Summary 18 September 1909). That must have been an exciting and rich experience for village children.
Villagers had a choice of edification or merriment. Unfortunately the report we have does not say which was more popular.
"Whit Monday is considered a general holiday here, and the recreations available are varied...an edifying and ...entertaining lecture on Self-government was delivered at the Primitive Methodist chapel in the evening...the members of the St Ives Dramatic Club made time pass merrily at the National School with song, jest, and farce" (Cornish Telegraph 13 June 1876).
Towns often had commercial dance halls but many villages had dances in whatever place was available. In Lelant Margaret Brooke, the ranee of Sarawak, who lived at the house now called Badgers Holt, arranged an annual dance. This is a cliched account of it in 1934, a couple of years before she died.
"There were so many young people dancing at the Lelant village hall on Friday night...no function is more enjoyable than the annual gathering of her village friends of all ages and both sexes, who trip to the music of the Lelant Band, and are refreshed later in the evening with choice creature comforts and cheery companionship" (Cornishman 9 May 1934).
These were a popular Victorian activity, combining modest entertainment with an earnest celebration of instruction and knowledge, a forerunner of the present public quizzes. There is an account of one by Cyril Noall in the Cornishman of 9 January 1964. He describes the spelling bee at Lelant National School on 21 April 1876 where there was also musical entertainment with songs and five people playing strings and piano. Noall explains how a spelling bee was conducted.
Fifty people were involved in hare coursing at Gonwin (St Ives Weekly Summary 23 January 1909).
Lectures and education
Public Lectures were cheap, needed little equipment, and worthy. They supplemented the inadequate elementary schooling that most villagers had received.
There was a lecture on Friday evening at the National School in Church Road on tariff reform (St Ives Weekly Summary 30 January 1909).
The Wesley Guild held debates on various questions. The Cornishman on 2 January 1909 reported an evening one.
The National School ran continuation classes for the young who had left school and wished to continue their education in useful subjects. They were run by WJ Taylor, the headteacher. The Cornishman of 17 September 1896 reported that there were continuation classes for all males over the age of thirteen and on 24 September it reported that Taylor lamented the absence classes for girls while pointing out that each lesson cost one shilling.
There was a nostalgic lament about the decline of May Day as a celebration and recreation in Lelant. "The only celebration of May day was a bonfire near the station. The old custom of children carrying garlands and singing from house to house has quite died out" (St Ives Weekly Summary 8 May 1909).
"A musical entertainment was given at the Lelant National Schoolroom on Thursday evening last. The program was of a higher class than is usually considered advisable in country places, if favourable pecuniary results are looked for, but in this case a numerous audience showed that they fully appreciated what was provided...It is not often that country folk hear high class music well played on pianoforte and violin" (Cornish Telegraph 16 January 1877). One of the songs sung was Hearts of oak.
St Uny's church magazine for March 1903 reports: "On Feast Monday the usual entertainment was given in the National Schoolroom, when an excellent program of tableaux vivants, vocal and instrumental music and recitations was carried out." We are not told how classy or bucolic this evening was.
The young men of the village spent some of their free time just hanging around. A letter, failing to understand the pleasure of loitering with your mates, asked: "Is it not possible for a room to be purchased for the young men to spend their evenings in reading and amusements instead of loitering about the corners" (Cornish Telegraph 5 March 1896). This was speedily followed up by a petition for a reading room but the wealthy benefactor approached declined to help: John Passmore Edwards rejected on 22 July a petition from Lelant for a reading room (Cornish Telegraph 30 July 1896).
A few reports point to the place of alcoholic drink in the lives of many villagers but, since Victorian public morality vigorously disapproved of alcoholic drink and its potential for mayhem, we do not come across many references to its recreational pleasures. Lelant village had two public houses until the late nineteenth century and since then has had one with another outside the village near Griggs Quay.
The West Briton on 26 August 1880 said that the landlord of the Ship in Church Road had been charged with keeping late hours on Lelant fair day; and the same paper of 29 December 1881 said that he was fined for keeping late hours. Behind these two brief reports lies an untold tale of pleasant evenings passed by villagers in easy companionship but no one wrote down what an evening at the Ship or Badger was like. The account of the drowning of the Lelant ferryman and his passengers in late 1880 also shows how drinking played a part in people's lives.
The influx of railway navvies in the 1870s must have profoundly affected life in the village but only unhappy events have come down to us. A villager wrote that drunken men were rambling through Lelant on Sundays "from half past two in the afternoon till late at night" (Cornish Telegraph 15 September 1875). The combination of drink and sabbath was powerfully wicked for many Victorians. In the next week's newspaper (22 September 1875) another villager wrote indignantly that the true culprits were railway navvies and the villagers themselves were blameless. I wonder, but perhaps the villagers were too busy drinking after hours to be out on the streets.
Some activities were more sedate. On 22 January 1903 there was a party for St Uny's church choir and young women's bible class at the vicarage (St Uny's chuch magazine February 1903). The churches in Lelant spent much effort putting on activities for the villagers. I suppose they thought that occupying them would keep them from mischief and irreligious activities, but for many villagers, adults and children, the churches' recreations were a brightness in lives of too much toil and dark.
Boys like to throw things and stones are most readily available and free.
A long-gone court case gives a glimpse of the unchanging boisterous spirit of young people (CRO DDH 44/2 pages 39-40). In his evidence to the court James Peters, a sixty five year old native of Lelant, looked back with lively affection on his youth around 1775 and recalled regular friendly warfare with the boys from Lelant and the boys of what we now call Hayle throwing stones at one another. The court record says that
"...when a boy, of about twelve or thirteen years old he recollects the boys of the three parishes of Uny Lelant, St Erth, and Phillack would often assemble – Uny Lelant boys against St Erth and Phillack boys to throw stones against the other and contend for the mastery – The Penpoll River was always the place of action – Uny Lelant boys taking their stand on the western side – the St Erth and Phillack boys on the eastern side of the river – and sometimes it has happened the Uny Lelant boys have been driven back to [their] own parish – and they sometimes rallied and in their turn driven back the St Erth and Phillack boys – and when they had driven the St Erth boys across the Penpoll River they used to give three cheers, and exult that they had driven them out of their own parish – That he has many times in the course of these conflicts taken stones from the bank above alluded to in Penpoll River to throw at the St Erth boys."
Next time you are on the river beach at Lelant look over to the Penpol and picture the hail of stones, the boys surging forward and running back, and, under the lawyer's talk of three cheers and exultation, hear the raucous crowing from Lelant.
Peters even tells us how he used to sit to wash his feet in the river and exactly whereabouts he did it:
"...when a boy he has often sat down upon a rock on the eastern bank of the Penpoll River a little to southward of the step in the quay and taking off his shoes and stockings has washed his feet in the Penpoll River."
In 1896 a band of Lelant boys were catapulting and throwing stones and the newspaper said that they "care not on what or where the stones fall" (Cornish Telegraph 10 February 1896). Some fell on greenhouses and a fowl was stoned. Thirty years later Lelant parish council complained about schoolchildren throwing stones at notice boards (CRO B/St Ives 13, Lelant parish council minute book April 1926).
Putting worms on the railway line
Putting pennies on the railway line
Putting teaspoons on the railway line so that you could use the lavatory at the station
Crawling under the railway platform and staying there as the trains went past; it was noisy and smelly and dirty
Swinging underneath the railway bridge as a train passed over
Walking on the handrail of the wooden railway bridge when trains were coming
Putting a thunderflash in the keyhole of the railway station door
Trying to drop sandals down the train funnel
Spying on misbehaving adults
Apple scrumping, though children were allowed to collect windfalls at another house, Hawthorn Cottage in Church Road
Parties in the sand dunes
Playing unauthorised golf on the 'triangle' course over the railway line and being chased by Learmonth
Rolling rubber tyres down Station Hill: there was a stone so far down and the aim was to make the tyre bounce over the stone
Playing football in the street, there being very few cars.