Reminiscences of Lelant by Sam Richards
© Sam Richards 2004
I was born in 1932 and when I was six we moved from St Ives to Lelant. My father was a farm labourer and my mother (who was somewhat more refined!) came from a family of Royal Navy seamen and fishermen. Later my father took employment at Primrose Dairy (later St Ivel until its recent closure) near St Erth Station. We lived a number 10 Tyringham Row [10 Tyringham Place now] and were always impoverished but much loved and well cared for.
Laurie Lee wrote that growing up in the Slad Valley in the 1920s and 30s was in many ways little removed from life in medieval Britain and this was equally true of Lelant. There were two very distinct social strata in the village - those who lived in the 'big houses' such as Ar Lyn, Bickington House, Hindon Hall, and the rest of us, the labouring working class. Later this social structure was diluted by the gradual influx of the minor professional classes - local government clerks, shop managers, teachers, and the like.
The majority of the children attended the village school - now a private house in Church Road - but a few of "the others" went to private schools -some even boarded! There was little social interchange between "us" and "them."
Our cottage had four rooms - initially there was no electricity and for many years there was no running water in the house, only a cold water tap outside the back door in the cobbled yard. Lighting was provided by an oil lamp in the living room and candles in holders to light the way to bed (I still have my childhood candle holder in bright red enamel, useful in power cuts!). The toilet was a galvanised iron bucket under a wooden seat with a hole in it which was situated some forty yards from the house in a shed at the bottom of the garden. In the winter dark the journey was a feat of near polar exploration and china chamber pots were often used indoors and emptied on to the garden the next morning. I can still clearly recall the pungent early morning smell of stale urine before they were emptied.
There was a Cornish range (a fire with an oven at the side) in the only living room and mother cooked superb quality pasties, stews, roasts, "fry ups" and fruit pies with this simple device. Her iron was a "box and heater" which was a hollow cast iron case shaped like a modern iron into which was inserted a solid lump of iron of the same shape which had been preheated in the fire - while one was in use another would be preheating in the fire.
There was a large garden and in true medieval manner, my father kept us largely self-sufficient in vegetables - he also fattened pigs, rabbits and chickens for meat and eggs. I remember him working fourteen or fifteen hour-long days as when he had finished at the dairy he very often worked in the garden until dark. The pigs were slaughtered at Redruth by the famous pork pie manufacturers Harris of Calne and my mother was obliged to help shepherd them up the long garden for transport, not a task at which she was particularly able! Father killed the rabbits and chickens himself and mother was always upset at this as she regarded them more as pets than as a source of food.
He also grew flowers in sufficient quantity to send them for sale to Covent Garden and Spitalfields (Birmingham) markets. I hated helping to pick and bunch these, particularly the violets which were small and fiddly, and in winter our hands were wet and frozen. However, apart from this chore and school, which was not onerous, our time was largely our own. The only other duties were church on Sundays and each Saturday we walked to St Ives for mother to carry out her weekly shop at the Co-op and visit her own mother and father (when he was home from the sea). Milk was delivered to the door by an old man. It was transported in a churn (straight from the cow) on a trolley and measured with a half pint metal jug. There was a butcher's, two general stores and Mrs Evans's sweet shop amongst others.
Christmas was largely home-made except for the exciting arrival of parcels from relatives in "England." We made our own paper chains and father cut the tree from a hedge in Lelant Downs. This was not a conifer but a holly bush which he had earmarked in September and he was most disgruntled if someone had beaten him to it and cut it before he ventured forth!
Our playground was the beach, the Mackerel Boats (the patch of sand by the station where the St Ives fishing luggers were beached for the winter) and the Muds, now grandiosely called the Saltings. There seemed little real education but I could read from the age of four and this must have played a part in my passing the grammar school scholarship at age eleven. At this point the bliss of my childhood ended as I was ostracised by my former friends and their families - not, I came to realise, from malice but from a lack of understanding of the unknown. No one had passed during the previous fifteen years!
[William Samuel Richards born 2 October 1932, died 9 August 2005]