Memories of Lelant: 1940 0nwards
by Rosemary Balmer
© Michael Tonking 2005
Version 15 January 2005
When I was a child in Lelant there was a distinct class system. At one end of the scale was the local Aristocracy (usually wealthy) and at the other end of the scale were the Village People.The former had mostly lived here for some years, even generations, in big houses with servants galore, whereas the latter were either 'in trade' or worked for the gentry as cooks, maids, gardeners, chauffeurs, etc but who had lived here for generations. There was a third class, in the middle I suppose, which were those people who had originated from the village, moved elsewhere to work and had returned to escape the bombardment of the Capital. I was one of these.
I thought the best way to record my memories was to recall the houses I remember and the families who lived in them. When it comes to the actual centre of the village, my memories are obviously less clear than those nearest to my own home. I will start at the Carbis Bay end of Church Lane (a relatively new name) and work my way down.
I have not a clue who lived here but it was a relatively small house surrounded by a sea of greenhouses. Their advertisement appeared daily in the personal column of the Times and Telegraph: 'Mum and Dad and Auntie Glad send anemones by post.'
The Wearnes have lived here for as long as I can remember. Mother knew them but I only know Graham who is still a young man. This farm was a large one for this area and stretched from the cliff path (both ends) to Church Lane and on the opposite side of Church Lane down as far as opposite the Golf Club. My first memories of the Carbis Bay Horse Show was when it was held in one of the Wearnes' fields. Miss Passy, of whom more later, started this show well over fifty years ago, as I attended the fiftieth anniversary celebrations a few years ago. This was one of our big events and included pony racing which was most exciting.
The first people that I can remember living here were a family called Rowe. They had a son, Robin, who was mentally handicapped and another very successful (at what I don't know) son called Derek. I cannot remember if there were any other families living here before Sam and Bealty Brooks and their friend moved in.
Of course, at this time, Spindrift was just a field but the only people I can remember living here were Peter and Lorna Buchanan and their two daughters. Gentry of course!
Captain (or it could have been Major) and Mrs Kneebone ran this and during the (1939-1945) War a number of Army personnel were billeted here. They threw the odd children's party which caused great excitement as there were jellies, cakes and various goodies never seen at home.
By the side of the Links Hotel there is now a small golf course - at the top of this was a small copse. Often in the autumn my mother used to take us there, with a picnic, to go 'wooding.' Picking sticks for our fires was a priority occupation during the autumn months. Apart from myself there was my older brother, Michael, and our neighbour from Chygwidden (now The Manor), Simon, who was about the same age as my brother. I was very envious that Simon brought whale meat sandwiches whilst ours were only marmite. However, as he often had whale meat, he was quite happy to exchange one for a marmite one. Well, the whale meat could have been smoked salmon and I thought it was very exotic! I can still remember the flavour.
The Golf Club
This has played a very important part in my life and has always been there for celebrations and commiserations. I think the book Century on the towans probably has written all there is to be said about it, although I do have many memories of it.
My mother often took us to tea there when we were little. Tea was served in the sun lounge by two uniformed maids (live-in of course) in their black frocks and white caps and aprons. The sun lounge had a glass roof and cane tables and chairs - it was unbearably hot in the summer.
The Golf Club was one of the places where the class system was very noticeable. Ordinary working people or 'Village people' were artisans and allowed to play the course at certain times but were not allowed to use the facilities in the Clubhouse. Members were mostly the local aristocracy and some professional people. Mother was OK because father was an army officer.
Inside the Golf Club, the men's bar was forbidden territory for ladies. It was rather gloomy with dark wood pannelled walls, a small hatch for serving drinks and a coal-burning stove for heating. All around the walls were cartoon pictures of members, drawn and painted by Mr Shaw Baker who lived at the Violet Nurseries (April Cottage now).
The ladies bar - men were allowed here - was rather more elegant with a semicircular dark wooden bar with green velvet curtains which were closed when the bar was shut. There was a lovely open fire - blazing in the winter - and I remember sitting on the floor in front of it.
When my brother and I were in our teens, tennis dances used to be held during the summer months and these were the highlight of our social calendar. I had nothing to wear apart from my school uniform so I cut off the long sleeves from my confirmation dress and sewed scarlet velvet ribbon bows with trailing ends on either side of the waist. Music was usually provided by the Blue Rhythmics who will be remembered by those who used to go to the Guildhall hops on Saturday nights.
There have been many stewards (now managers) over the years and some of these became very good neighbours and friends.
When I was in my last years at the village school, a family came who had a daughter of my own age, Diana. Diana's aunt, Miss Myson, also helped them out. She was an ex-county ladies cricketer and had short grey hair and was very jolly. One Sunday, mother invited Miss Myson to lunch. Even in the harsh years of rationing, mother always managed to produce a splendid Sunday roast. Our large dining table was always set with the best lace table mats on Sundays. Apart from Sundays all meals were taken at the table where children were to be 'seen but not heard.' We each had our own napkin rings with white damask table napkins. On this particular Sunday, Miss Myson, at the start of the meal, raised her knife and fork aloft and I wondered what on earth was coming next. She proceeded in a loud voice, 'One word's as good as ten, hoggin'. Amen.' I was horrified but mother didn't bat an eyelid and started to eat her meal.
Later, Diana's family moved away and Miss Myson and her friend Mary, later to be married to Lionel Holson who had a tobacconists shop in Penzance, took over the running of the Club. When they left, perhaps because of the marriage of her friend, Miss Myson took over the management of the Lands End Hotel where she had a flat overlooking the Longships Lighthouse and I remember going to tea there. I never knew what happened to her when she left Lands End.
The next family I remember were the Williams family. I think Mr Williams was an ex-policeman and his two daughters were called Ruby and Pearl. I also became friendly with them and used to go for walks with them and their Alsatian dog. One evening, we were playing with the dog and were throwing a ball. I was about to throw the ball when the dog jumped for it and got my finger as well. It bled and bled and I still have a scar. I have been very wary of Alsatians ever since.
Some time later came the Woodruff family who also had two daughters although they were a few years older than myself. Mrs Woodruff made the most fabulous pasties and, although mother's were generally thought to be excellent, they weren't quite up to Mrs Woodruff's standard. For a few weeks mother went up on pasty days to learn Mrs Woodruff's secrets and we too were able to enjoy mother's new-found skill.
The Woodruff girls eventually met two young men from Culdrose and then became engaged. Sylvia was married in St Uny Church and I went to church with her for three consecutive Sundays to hear the banns read. Sylvia became Mrs Edge. The family moved on.
The people I, as will a lot of other people, remember very well were Mr and Mrs Stevens who stayed at the Club for ten years which was, and still is, a record. Mrs Stevens very kindly organised my wedding reception in April 1961. I think this was the first wedding reception ever held at the Golf Club. The ladies had decorated the dining room with beautiful flowers and we had sherry, champagne and a magnificent buffet for fifty guests. The total bill for the food was �11.50 and for the drinks, �27. Even for those days, this was an extremely cheap 'do' and well within my budget as my father had given me �60 towards it. We were all very sad when the Stevens retired.
After the Stevens came many more families whom we came to know very well but others will also remember them as well as if not better than, myself.
This name was only given to the house recently and I cannot remember what it was called before. However, when I was a child, a family called Sleeman lived there. They were a middle-aged couple, both rather short and dumpy and they had two grown-up daughters. The Sleemans had, or rather, kept goats which lived on the bank of their front garden and the grass verge opposite the Golf Club.
Now here my memory may have played me false. I well remember Mr and Mrs Wilson coming to live here after moving from the lovely Little Park Owles at the Ann's Pantry end of Carbis Bay - I assume they sold this house to Peter Lanyon. Before them, at some point, I seem to remember a jolly farmer-type gentleman who was called Johnny and I cannot recall his surname. What I am sure of is that he was our Carnival King in the days of the Lelant Carnival.
The village carnival
I don't recall when this event started or died out but it was quite a big village occasion. The first time I entered was when I was about eight. At this time I was all teeth and legs (nicknamed Toothy Tonks at Grammar School). I borrowed a black velvet bodice and frilly white blouse and became a Hungarian Peasant. When the judge asked me what I was supposed to be I replied, "'A hungry pheasant"'! The Carnival King was resplendent on a trailer pulled by a tractor. I never remember a carnival queen in the ceremonies. later a whole gang of us entered - one year as pirates and another year in assorted nightwear.
The judging took place above Denis Oates's house. I don't think we ever won a prize but had great fun planning the event for days before.
I understand that this house was initially designed and built for the Basset family. It was for a short time after this a boarding school and the people who owned it and lived there when we first rented Chygwidden Cottage (now Church Cottage) in 1940 were the Magors. The land belonging to Chygwidden stretched from the building itself to the corner of Church Road and Church Lane and as far as the farm on Church Road and included both both Chygwidden and Church Cottages.
The house was rather gloomy with many rooms and a huge kitchen. I remember the garden better than the house. A wide pathway ran from the main entrance in Church Lane right through the garden, with another entrance, now the entrance to the Owl's House, in Church Road.
In front of the house was a gravelled area and beyond this, bordered by granite mushrooms, was a lawn, then a bank leading to another lawn which became the croquet lawn. Then came the Orchard, with two wells, the old tennis courts and the vegetable garden. These were all on the right hand side if you face East. Actually, I have forgotten the summerhouse which was on the path side of the croquet lawn. This was a green wooden building on an iron track so that it could be turned round for the front to face the direction of the sun. The croquet mallets and balls were kept in here. Between the croquet lawn and the Orchard was a swing where I spent many happy hours.
On the left hand side of the path, stretching down as far as the end of the croquet lawn, was a wooded area which we called the jungle - it was here that Michael and Simon would hide when they got fed up with me tagging after them. I would go running home to mother wailing, "'They've run away from me in the jungle!"' After the jungle came another vegetable patch and then a large wire cage full of soft fruit bushes - gooseberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, etc. between the cage and the gardens of Chygwidden and Church Cottage was a concrete building with a corrugated iron roof and a stable door. This was known as the pig sty and I suppose this was because, at one time, pigs had been kept there. The path continued to the right of the cottagegardens through a bamboo thicket to the Church Road entrance.
Simon was the Magors' grandson and, because his mother was often abroad, he lived with his grandparents. When we were very little Simon and I shared a governess, Miss Darnell. I don't really remember her. My brother and I spent a lot of time with Simon and were fortunate enough to have the run of the garden. Between the hours of two and four pm we were not to go near the house because that was when Poppy and Ginna, Simon's grandparents, had their afternoon nap.
The long pathway was an ideal route for our land-train. This consisted of my brother's pedal car; the Brown Willy, which was a soap box on wheels; and the Black Maria, which was my doll's pram. We spent hours trundling the path and then whizzing down from the top gate to the bottom gate.
The Brown Willy used to come with us to the woods opposite Trevethoe in December time when we went on expeditions to gather holly. Somehow, and I can't think how, all three vehicles ended up at the bottom of the largest well. Probably when we had outgrown the game.
On Christmas Day my brother and I were always invited to tea at Chygwidden. This was our only official invitation of the year and there were always tinned peaches and Christmas cake. My mother was always very strict but Simon's grandparents were even stricter.
One night we decided to have a midnight feast in the pig sty. My brother and I duly turned up with various goodies surreptitiously filched from the larder and a candle and torch and had sneaked out of the house at about eleven pm. We waited for ages but no sign of Simon. Eventually we gave up, scoffed the food and went home. We later found out that Simon had been caught on his way downstairs, soundly chastised and sent back to bed.
Some time in the late 1940s or early 1950s the top part of Chygwidden was turned into two flats and the first occupant was Mrs Gill. Mrs Gill must have moved from somewhere else in the village because during the War she had been our local air raid warden. At this point in time we lived in what is now Church Cottage, then it was Chygwidden Cottage. During the War every window had to have blackouts. We had eight or nine windows and each evening the boards which formed our blackouts had to be put up and secured with catches fitted to each window. This must have been quite a time-consuming task and woe-betide anyone if there was a chink of light showing through after dark as a visit from Mrs Gill was sure to follow with a serious dressing down.
When Mrs Gill moved to Chygwidden, she was in charge of unlocking and locking the Church. She seemed to us an elderly lady and found the hill up from the farm quite a trek as she got older. By this time we lived in the present Chygwidden Cottage and my mother always had a deckchair outside the front door. Mrs Gill would often sit down for a rest on her way back to Chygwidden from the village.
Several other families moved in and out of the flats: Mrs Joy Cooper and her two children and, for a while, Mrs Penberthy and her older son, the late Vyvian Penberthy.
During the War the Magors must have had some help in the house although I remember best the various gardeners who were always very tolerant of our antics in the gardens. Jan Hurrell, Bob Curnow and Ambrose all at one time worked in the garden fulltime. It must have been quite a few acres.
Ambrose was there in the early 1950s and he was a small wiry man with his hat pulled down over his ears. he lived at Trencrom and had a large family and used to travel backwards and forwards in a trap pulled by a pretty bay pony, Topsy. Topsy was also a riding pony and as I was always horse-mad from a very early age. I quickly made friends with Ambrose and Topsy. It was not long before Ambrose brought Topsy's saddle and bridle over and I was allowed to ride her. Sometimes Ambrose would be collected at the weekend by one of his sons who had a motorbike and I had Topsy to myself for two whole days. I was in heaven as I had always longed for my own pony and I spent many happy hours in the saddle, on the beach, over the dunes - in those days horses were still allowed to cross the golf course using the present footpath. It was a very sad day when Ambrose decided to sell Topsy in order to buy something larger and stronger.
I pleaded with my family for the money - �25 - to buy the pony without any thought of the expense of keeping such an animal in food and shoes but by then my parents were divorce and money was very short so I had to say goodbye to Topsy who went to St Just. Topsy's replacement was a roan pony who, unfortunately, although well-trained for pulling a trap, was not a riding pony; and, although I rode it a few times, it always behaved like a bucking bronco and I had to admit defeat.
Sometime later two escaped ponies turned up near the Church. One of them was Topsy and I was very pleased to see her. Walter kindly put them up in one of the farm stables until the owners claimed them. This was the last time I saw Topsy.
When Chygwidden was sold to the Inch family, half of the garden was also sold and a whole era had ended. The Inch family had three sons. We privately called them Inch Major, Inch Minor, and Half an Inch.
The beach, the ferry, and Harvey's Quay
Looking across the beach and estuary now, things have hardly changed, especially on the Lelant side where the dunes, cliffs and beach are totally unspoilt. During and after the War the whole beach was crisscrossed with wooden poles to stop enemy aircraft from landing at low tide. Also there was a lot of barbed wire in places; and, although I think at one time access to the beach was blocked off just after the Ferry, I do have photographs of family beach outings near the point before the sand dunes which must have been taken during or shortly after the War.
Access to the beach was from two points. The first, under the bridge and down a steep slope (where the steps are now) and past the Ferry. The second was right across the golf course and across a rickety wooden bridge, where the concrete one is now, and so onto the beach. There were few golfers in the early days and Jenny Steer and I spent many hours galloping our imaginary horse all over the course. We had homemade whips with a knotted piece of string tied to the end of a stick. We could make loud cracking noises with these which used to infuriate Colonel Watson-Smythe as he exercised his three Pekinese dogs on the course. Mother always said that if we could keep an eye on the Church Tower we would never get lost.
The beach was very useful as a source of fuel and we spent many hours picking up driftwood to add to our wood store. Occasionally a coal boat on its way to the power station would go aground and lose some of its cargo. We would dash down with buckets, eager to pick up some free fuel.
As children, we had far more freedom than children today and from the age of seven or eight, Jenny and I were allowed to go down to the beach early in the afternoons. Our mothers, more often Jenny's mother, would bring our tea down later on. We also used to bathe in the river at low tide (unthinkable today) and spent hours under water.
Mexico beach and the Hayle side of the river have changed rather more than the Lelant side, especially since the demolition of the power station and because of the erosion that has taken place in recent years. The erosion of the dunes may well be the result of the fact that the river is no longer regularly sluiced or dredged. If the height of the river bed is raised, the incoming tide will obviously spread further over the protective beach and hit the base of the sand dunes. Several chalets have now disappeared, having slipped over the edge of the dunes.
During the 1939-1945 War Mexico beach was heavily mined to discourage enemy attack. I well remember after the War had ended sitting on a bank overlooking the river on the Lelant side watching the demolition of the mines. This was carried out by the Army using high velocity water hoses directed at the sand. Every so often there was a loud explosion; sand and smoke blew everywhere and the river developed quite large waves. One of these explosions occurred when Jack Couch, the ferryman, and Monty Rutter were in the ferry, half way across the river. The little boat rocked wildly and it must have been rather uncomfortable for the occupants!
The power station was, I suppose, a blot on the landscape with its two tall chimneys which often emitted thick black smoke. If the washing was out in Lelant and the wind was blowing from the northeast, it would be covered in black smuts necessitating rewashing. However, it employed local many people and kept the port of Hayle busy with the constant stream of boats bringing in coal.
At high tide most days either coal boats or timber boats and sometimes potato boats and even the smaller of the Esso tankers would nose their way up the river, led by the small black pilot boat which was stationed at St Ives. The boats came from Wales, Rotterdam, and Germany, among other places. I often wondered whether those that went aground, a not infrequent occurrence, were those that could not be bothered to contact the pilot and tried to come in across the treacherous bar without help.
We always knew what time it was because the power station had a hooter that sounded at ten to eight, ten to twelve, and ten to five. We also knew when it was twelve o'clock because of the blasting at Newlyn.
Where the present Ferry House is, was the rather ramshackle, maroon,wooden building where Jack Couch, the ferryman, lived. It was set into the cliff and because of the slope was built out onto wooden piles. Under the building were piles of drift wood and various assorted flotsam brought in by the tide. Before Jack Couch the ferryman was Tom Pomeroy.
Jack was quite a character - he had a shock of white hair, a moustache and always wore dungarees and wading boots. He told me that when he was eleven years old he sailed as a cabin boy on a windjammer and went round the world several times. If you were on the Hayle side of the river you had to yell across if you wanted Jack to come for you. If they were trippers and Jack did not like the look of them, he would swear and shout at them and refuse to take them across, or fetch them if they were on the Hayle side. I suppose they then had to trek back through Hayle and round the Causeway. He used to charge us sixpence (old money) each way. Jack had a lovely black dog called Skipper and when Jack died, his housekeeper, who lived on Station Hill, looked after Skipper.
Next to the Ferry was the Beach Cafe where the Evans family lived. We often stopped there on our way back from the beach for an ice cream. Sometimes, if we had visitors, we would take them down to the cafe for a cream tea.
Below the cafe was a black wooden houseboat called The Turtle. There was also a pillbox, a small shed and a little garden. The houseboat was the holiday home of the Cotes family. They were a jolly family who lived in or near Wimbledon and came down frequently. Mr Cotes and Peter, their son, came down for the fishing whilst Mrs Cotes struggled to grow flowers in the sand garden. They had two black Lincoln Zephyrs, EXP 1 and FUV (I can't remember the number of this one). Mr Cotes died in 1954, a long time before his wife and his gravestone is in the churchyard, facing the sea with the inscription "And may there be no moaning of the bar when I put out to sea."
Mrs Cotes built first the bungalow Wayside Cheer next to Walter Olds's cottage (a replica of her residence in Wimbledon) and then the Ferry House.
Between the cafe and Harvey's Quay was a small, maroon, wooden bungalow where the Rutter family lived. All that is left of this are a few foundation blocks and red and white roses growing wild amongst the brambles.
Theirs was rather a sad story. There were five children and it must have been very cramped. Monty was the second youngest and went to the village school at the same time as I did. Big brother Bert, a very handsome young man, was killed in a motorcycle accident. Sylvia came to work for my mother for a time and then joined the Forces. Eventually, the family moved to Hayle and poor Mrs Rutter threw herself off the Viaduct. The last I saw of Monty was thirty years ago - he was revving up his motorbike as I was trying to get my young son to sleep. Mother went out to 'have words' with him and he replied, "'Sorry, old dear!"'
When I was first at the village school Harvey's Quay - later known as Dynamite Quay - was disused. Pigeons roosted there. Some time after the War the Bickford-Smiths took over the Quay and it was used as a store for explosives. The lorries constantly trundled through the village carrying the wooden boxes and I suppose they went by boat to wherever they were going.
The church has always played a big part in my life. I was christened, confirmed and married there and my mother, paternal grandfather and grandmother are all buried there.
The first vicar I remember was the reverend Davies-Freme. He was Welsh and quite a fearsome character. He rode round the village in his black robes on a black bicycle. Jenny Steer and I had to go to church every Sunday morning and Sunday school in the afternoon. We sat in aunt Gertrude's pew as aunt Gertrude's failing health prevented her attending. Two Sundays in the month Mattins was held and Sung Eucharist on the other two. Sermons were full of Hell, Fire and Damnation and quite frightening. On Eucharist Sundays we would sneak out before the main sermon. If we missed church, Mr Freme would soon catch up with us and his disapproval was worse than going to church.
As children we were fascinated by tales of secret passages; one was supposed to lead from the church to the Abbey. We never found out where the entrance was. Jenny and I knew where the tower key was kept and spent hours on top of the tower - what a fantastic view. We never got caught!
I have never discovered who gets buried in which churchyard. The churchyard opposite my cottage was quite empty when I was a child. When the grass grew too long someone would come with an old-fashioned scythe and cut it down. Then the Mitchell's donkey, Polly, was installed and lived there happily for some years. The evergreen oaks which are now a significant feature were either not there or only saplings as I could see Carn Brea from my bedroom window but now I can only see Hayle.
The Green Bank
This was quite different in my childhood and there were no trees. Also it was not as smooth. Mr Eustace, the local greengrocer, kept his pony, Joey, tethered there. On each November 5 a huge bonfire was built and the whole village turned out with their fireworks for this event. I was terrified that the sparks would set the cottage alight. When the flames died down we would roast potatoes in the embers. My mother always threw a grand firework party, more for the grown-ups than the children.
In the days before the War, and I don't know when it stopped, the Lelant Fair was held here on 15 August and after that it was said to be autumn.
About thirty years ago the bank became quite overgrown with brambles and Mr Jones organised a party of scouts to clear it. Later, around 1975, a bulldozer arrived and commenced to dig up the bank. We had a meeting in the village hall and everybody was furious. The destruction was halted and the local council planted the trees and the bank took on its present aspect. I am really sorry that my mother did not live to see the seat which the Women's Institute put on the bank as it had been talked about for sometime before her death.
[Written by Rosemary Balmer of Chygwidden Cottage and Durley Dene, Lelant in 1995. She died in 2000. She is Michael Tonking's sister.]