Penzance, the most western market town in Cornwall, is of comparatively modern growth. Formerly it was but a fishing village, occupying a promontory now distinguished as the quay, where stood a chapel dedicated to S. Anthony. The name signifies the Holy Head, or Headland, and there was probably a chapel on the projecting finger of land long before the time of S. Anthony of Padua (1231), whose cult was fostered by the Franciscan Order. It is not improbable that on this headland there may have been a camp, in which case the dedication is merely a misconception of An-Dinas. The town arms are S. John the Baptist's head on a charger, also through misconception, the Holy Head being supposed to be his.
On the east side of the town near the shore was Lis-Cadock, or the Court of Cadock. At one time the entrenchments were very distinct, but they have now disappeared. This Cadock is probably Cado, Duke of Cornwall, cousin of King Arthur, and famous as a warrior in Geoffrey of Monmouth's lying history. The termination oc is a diminutive.
Penzance is in the parish of Madron, the founder of which, S. Maternus, as he is called in Latin, is the Irish Medrhan, a disciple of S. Kieran, or Piran. His brother Odran was closely attached to S. Senan. Madron and Odran were but lads of from ten to fourteen when they first visited S. Piran to ask his advice about going a pilgrimage. He very sensibly recommended them to go to school first, and he retained them with himself, instructing them in letters. The Irish have no tradition that he was buried in the Emerald Isle, so that in all probability he laid his bones in Cornwall.
There was a famous well at Madron, but it has lost its repute of late years, and has fallen into ruin.
Children were formerly taken to the well on the first three Sunday mornings in May to be dipped in the water, that they might be cured of the rickets, or any other disorder with which they were troubled. They were plunged thrice into the water by the parent or nurse, who stood facing the east, and then they were clothed and laid on S. Madron's bed; should they go to sleep after the immersion, or should the water in the well bubble, it was considered a good omen. Strict silence was observed during the performance. At the present time the people go in crowds to the well on the first Sunday in May, when the Wesleyans hold a service there and a sermon is preached; after which the people throw two pins or pebbles in, or lay small crosses made of pieces of rush-pith united by a pin in the middle, in the water and draw auguries therefrom.
Miss Couch in her book on the Cornish holy wells says:--
"About thirty years ago I visited it, and it was then in a ruined state. There was nothing of the shapely and sculptured form of many of our eastern wells about it. It was merely an oblong space enclosed by rough old walling, in which were, in the south-west corner, a dilapidated well, with an inlet and outlet for water, a raised row of stones in front of this, and the remains of stone benches."
A plan exists drawn by Mr. Blight before the well was as ruined as at present. It is a crying scandal that it should be allowed to remain unrestored. The altar-stone remains with a square depression in the middle to receive the portable altar placed there on such occasions as the chapel was used for mass.
Penzance, on the glorious Mount's Bay, enjoys a warm and balmy climate, and scarlet geraniums scramble up the house-fronts, camellias bloom in the open air, and greenhouse rhododendrons flourish unprotected from frosts that never fall.
It is a relaxing place, and the visitor, till he is acclimatised, feels limp and lifeless. For this reason many now resort to St. Ives, on the north coast, which is open to the Atlantic breezes straight from Labrador, and Penzance is declining in favour.
But it is a pleasant, it is a most pleasant town, well furnished with all that can make a winter sojourn delightful; it has in addition to libraries and concert-halls and clubs, that may be found in any seaside place, an unrivalled neighbourhood, and with the warm climate it enjoys a winter may be spent delightfully in making excursions to the many surrounding objects of interest.
As already intimated, the whole of this part of Cornwall was occupied at the end of the fifth and the first years of the sixth century by the Irish from the south, mainly from Ossory. An invasion from Munster into that kingdom had led to the cutting of the throats of most of the royal family and its subjugation under the invaders, who maintained their sovereignty there from 470, when the invasion took place, to the death of Scanlan, the descendant of the invader, in 642. It was probably in consequence of this invasion that a large number of Ossorians crossed over to Cornwall and established themselves in Penwith--the Welsh spell it Pengwaeth, the bloody headland; the name tells a story of resistance and butchery. Unhappily we have the most scanty references to this occupation; records we have none.
But a single legend remains that treats of it at some length; and with regard to the legends of the other settlers we have the meagre extracts made by Leland, the antiquary of Henry VIII., whose heart, so it is said, broke at the dispersion of the monastic libraries, and the destruction of historical records of supreme value. As far as we know, the great body of settlers all landed at Hayle. One large contingent, with S. Breaca at its head, made at the outstart a rush for Tregonning Hill, and established itself in the strong stone fort of Pencaer, or Caer Conan, on the summit.
Tregonning Hill is not very high, it rises not six hundred feet above the sea; but from the sea and from the country round it looks bold and lofty, because standing alone, or almost so, having but the inferior Godolphin Hill near it.
The fortress consists of at least two concentric rings of stone and earth. The interior has been disturbed by miners searching for tin, and the wall has also been ruined by them, but especially by roadmakers, who have quite recently destroyed nearly all one side.
Here the Irish remained till they were able to move further. S. Breaca went on to Talmeneth (the end of the mountain), where she established herself and erected a chapel.
Another of her chapels was further down the hill at Chynoweth, and a tradition of its existence remains there. Finally she went to Penbro. The church was, however, at a later period moved from that place to where it now stands. The local legend is that she saw the good people building this church, and she promised to throw all her bracelets and rings into the bell-metal if they would call it after her name.
She was a favourite disciple of S. Bridget, and this latter saint commissioned her to visit the great institution of the White House, near S. David's Head in Wales--to obtain thence rules by which her community might be directed. She was, it appears, the sister of S. Brendan the navigator, and it was in his sister's arms that the saint died. Brendan was a disciple of S. Erc, or Erth, on the Hayle river, and as Erc was one of the party, it is probable that Brendan made one as well.
Erc had been much trusted by S. Patrick, who appointed him as judge in all cases brought to him for decision, regarding him as a man of inviolable integrity and great calmness of judgment.
The church of Breage is large and fine. In the churchyard is an early cross of reddish conglomerate. The local story goes that there was a great fight, between Godolphin Hill and Tregonning Hill, fought by the natives with the Danes, and so much blood was shed that it compacted the granitic sand there into hard rock, and out of this rock Breaca's cross was cut. The fight was, of course, not with Danes, but was between the Cornish and the Irish. The cross is rude, with the Celtic interlaced work on it. The pedestal was also thus ornamented, but this is so worn that it can only be distinguished in certain lights.
In the church have been discovered several frescoes--S. Christopher, gigantic, of course; an equally gigantic figure of Christ covered with bleeding wounds; full-length representations of SS. Samson, Germoe, Giles, Corentine, etc. The church has been much decorated rather than restored. The modern woodwork screen and bench-ends are indifferent in design and mechanical in execution. Some Belgian carved work of the Adoration of the Magi blocks the east window, which was filled with peculiarly vulgar glass, and this is a possible excuse for completely obscuring it.
The sacred tribe under S. Breaca must have occupied a very extensive tract, for four parish churches are affiliated to it--S. Germoe, Godolphin, Cury, and Gunwalloe. This leads one to suspect that her territory stretched originally along the coast a good way past Loe Pool. She had as neighbours S. Crewena, another Irishwoman, and Sithney, or Setna, a disciple and companion of S. Senan, of Land's End. His mother was an aunt of S. David.
Sithney was asked:--
Tidings of the World's end.
How will the folk fare
That follow not the Truth?"
He answered in a poem that has been preserved. Prophecy is a dangerous game to play at, even for a saint, and Sithney made a very bad shot. He foretold that the Saxons would hold dominion in Ireland till 1350, after which the Irish natives would expel them.
Sithney almost certainly accompanied Kieran or Piran, and he succeeded him as abbot in his great monastery at Saighir.
The little church of Germoe is curious. It has a very early font, and a later Norman font lying broken outside the church. There is a curious structure, called Germoe's Chair, in the churchyard, that looks much like a summer-house manufactured out of old pillars turned upside-down. But it was in existence in the time of Henry VIII., for Leland mentions it. A new east window, quite out of character with the church, has been inserted, but the modern glass is good. A bust of S. Germoe is over the porch. He is represented as crowned, as he is supposed to have been an Irish king.
This is not quite correct. He was a bard, and perhaps of royal race, but we do not know his pedigree. He was a disciple of S. Kieran, and was the father of the first writer of the lives of the saints in Ireland. He composed a poem in honour of S. Finnan of Moville, and he had the honour of having under him, for a short while, the great Columba of Iona. He had several brothers, who passed into France, and are mentioned by Flodoard, the historian of the Franks. The date of his death was about 530. I have elsewhere told a story about him tubbing with S. Kieran, and catching a fish in the tub.
Near Germoe, but nearer the sea, is the very fine remnant of a castle, Pengersick. It was erected in the reign of Henry VIII. by a certain man of the name of Millaton, probably of Millaton in Bridestowe, Devon. He had committed a murder, and to escape justice he fled his native county and concealed himself in the dip of the land facing the sea at Pengersick, where he constructed a tower amply provided with means of defence. The basement is furnished with loopholes for firing upon anyone approaching, and above the door is a shoot for melted lead. The whole building is beautifully constructed.
Here Millaton remained in concealment till he died, never leaving his tower for more than a brief stroll. The land had not been purchased in his own name, but in that of his son Job, who, after his death, was made Governor of S. Michael's Mount. Job had a son, William, who was made Sheriff of Cornwall in 1565, and he married Honor, daughter of Sir William Godolphin of Godolphin.
According to a local legend, William Millaton and his wife Honor lived a cat-and-dog life. They hated each other with a deadly hate, and at length each severally resolved that this incompatible union must come to an end.
William Millaton said to his wife, "Honor, we have lived in wretchedness too long. Let us resolve on a reconciliation, forget the past, and begin a new life."
"Most certainly do I agree thereto," said she.
"And," continued William, "as a pledge of our reunion, let us have a feast together to-night"
So a banquet was spread in Pengersick Castle for them twain and none others.
And when they had well eaten, then William Millaton said, "Let us drink to our reunion."
"I will drink if you will drink," said she.
Then he drained his glass, and after that, she drained hers.
With a bitter laugh she said, "William, you have but three minutes to live. Your cup was poisoned."
"And you," retorted he, "have but five, for yours is poisoned."
"It is well," said Honor; "I am content. I shall have two minutes in which to triumph over your dead carcass, and to spurn it with my foot."
On the death of this William, the estate passed to his six sisters, who married into the families of Erisy, Lanyon, Trefusis, Arundell, Bonython, and Abbot of Hartland
On the road from Breage, before the turn to Pengersick is reached, a stone lies by the roadside. It is one of those cast by the Giant of Godolphin Hill after his wife, of whom he was jealous, and who was wont to visit the Giant of Pengersick. The stone has often been removed, but such disaster has ensued to the man who has removed it, that it has always been brought back again. Godolphin Hill has been esteemed since the days of Elizabeth as one of the richest of ore deposits, and it was due to the urgency of Sir Francis Godolphin that miners were induced to come to Cornwall from the Erz Gebirge, in Saxony, to introduce new methods and machinery in the tin mines.
Godolphin Hall is an interesting old mansion, partly dating from the time of Henry VII. and partly belonging to the period of the Restoration. Some remains from a ruined church or chapel have been worked into one of the gateways. The old house has its stewponds and a few fine trees about it.
On the Marazion road, west of Millpool, in the hedge, are the impress of the devil's knees. One day, feeling the discomfort and forlornness of his position, his majesty resolved on praying to have it changed; so he knelt on a slab of granite, but his knees burned their way into the stone. Then he jumped up, saying that praying superinduced rheumatics, and he would have no more of it. The holes are not tin-moulds, for the latter are angular and oblong, but are very similar to the cup-markings found in many places in connection with prehistoric monuments. Some precisely similar are at Dumnakilty in Fermanagh.
A strange circumstance occurred in 1734 at Skewis, close to the line
from Gwinear Road Station to Helston.
The elder Rogers died, and bequeathed the house of Skewis and the farm and everything thereon to his wife Anne. Henry was indignant. He believed in the inalienability of "heir land." He was suspicious that Anne Rogers would make over Skewis to her own relatives, of the name of Millett. Henry waited his opportunity, when his sister-in-law was out of the house, to enter it and bring in his wife and children and servants. He turned out the domestics of Anne, and occupied the whole house.
The widow appealed to law, but the voice of the whole county was against her, and the general opinion was that the will had been extorted from her husband. Even Sir John S. Aubyn, living at Clowance, hard by, favoured him, and had Henry Rogers acted in a reasonable manner would have backed him up. But Rogers took the law into his own hands, and when a judgment was given against him, he still refused to surrender.
The Sheriff of Cornwall accordingly was directed to eject him by force. Rogers, however, barricaded the house, and prepared to defend it. He supplied himself with gunpowder and slugs, and cut loopholes in his doors and shutters from which to fire at the assailants.
On June 18th, 1734, the Under-Sheriff and a posse went to Skewis and demanded the surrender of the house. From two to three hundred people attended, for the most part sympathisers with Rogers, but not willing to render him effectual assistance.
As the Under-Sheriff, Stephen Tillie, persisted in his demands, and threatened to break into the house, Rogers fired. The bullet passed through Tillie's wig, singed it, and greatly frightened him, especially as with the next discharge one of his officers fell at his side, shot through the head.
Several guns were fired, and then the Under-Sheriff deemed it advisable to withdraw and send for soldiers.
On the arrival of a captain with some regulars, Tillie again approached, when Rogers continued firing, and killed a bailiff and shot a soldier in the groin. Two more men were wounded, and then the military fired at the windows, but did no harm. Mrs. Rogers stood by her husband, loading and handing him his gun.
The whole attacking party now considering that discretion constituted the best part of valour, withdrew, and Rogers was allowed to remain in possession till March in the following year, that is to say, for nine months. Then he was again blockaded by soldiers, and the siege continued for several days, with the loss of two more men, when at last cannon were brought from Pendennis Castle.
Many years after, one of Rogers' sons gave the following account of his reminiscences of the siege:--"He recollected that his father was fired at, and had a snuff-box and powder-horn broken in his pocket by a ball. He recollected that whilst he himself (then a child) was in the bed several balls came in through the window of the room, and after striking against the wall rolled about on the floor. One brother and sister who were in the house went out to inquire what was wanted of their father, and they were not permitted to return. On the last night no one remained in the house but his father, himself, and the servant-maid. In the middle of the night they all went out, and got some distance from the house. In crossing a field, however, they were met by two soldiers, who asked them their business. The maid answered that they were looking for a cow, when they were permitted to proceed. The soldiers had their arms, and his father had his gun. The maid and himself were left at a farmhouse in the neighbourhood."
Henry Rogers, whom the soldiers had not recognised in the darkness, managed to escape, and pushed on in the direction of London, resolving to lay his grievances before the king. He was dressed in a whitish fustian frock, with imitation pearl buttons, and a blue riding-coat over it.
As soon as it was discovered that he had decamped, a reward of £350 was offered for his apprehension. He had already shot and killed five men, and had wounded seven. He was not, however, taken till he reached Salisbury Plain, where he hailed a postboy, who was returning with an empty chaise, and asked for a lift. He was still carrying his gun. The boy drove him to the inn, where he procured a bed; but the circumstances, and the description, had excited suspicion; he was secured in his sleep, and was removed to Cornwall, to be tried for murder at Launceston along with his serving-man, John Street.
His trial took place on August 1st, 1735, before Lord Chief Justice Hardwicke. Rogers was arraigned upon five indictments, and Street upon two. Both received sentence of death, and were executed on August 6th.
The house at Skewis has been recently in part rebuilt, when a bag of the slugs used by poor Rogers was found.
It is in Crowan parish.
The church of S. Crewenna stands on a hill, and has a good tower. It contains numerous monuments of the S. Aubyn family, and some brasses only recently restored to the church, after having lain for many years lost or forgotten in a cupboard at Clowance.
It is hard to say whether the fulsome memorial of Sir John S. Aubyn, who died in 1839, is more painful or amusing reading to such as know his story.
The church has been "restored" in a cold and unsympathetic fashion.
Clowance, the seat of the Molesworth S. Aubyn family, has noble trees, and is an oasis in the midst of the refuse-heaps of mines. There are some early crosses in the grounds.
But to return to the Irish invasion.
A second party of the colonists was under Fingar or Gwinear, son of Olilt, or Ailill, probably one of the Hy Bairrche family, which was expelled their country about 480. He brought over with him his sister Kiara, whose name has become Piala or Phillack in Cornish, according to a phonetic and constant rule. According to the legend he had over seven hundred emigrants with him. He and his party made their way from Hayle to Connerton, where they spent the night, and then pushed south to where now stands Gwinear. Here Fingar left his party to go ahead and explore. He reached Tregotha, where is a fine spring of water, and there paused to refresh himself, when, hearing cries from behind, he hurried back, and found that Tewdrig, the Cornish king or prince, who lived at Riviere, on a creek of the Hayle river, had hastened after the party of colonists, and had fallen on them and massacred them. When Fingar came up Tewdrig killed him also. Piala, the sister, does not seem to have been harmed; and as in the long-run the Irish succeeded in establishing themselves firmly in the district, she settled near Riviere and founded the church of Phillack.
Ludgvan has a fine tower and some old crosses, the font also is early, of polyphant stone; but the church has been badly churchwardenised and meanly restored. It was founded by Lithgean, or Lidgean, an Irish saint, son of Bronfinn or Gwendron. There is a representation of the mother in the rectory garden wall, where she is figured holding what is apparently a tree in one hand and in the other a fleur-de-lis.
Hereabouts the whole country is devoted to early potatoes and spring flowers. In March the fields are white with narcissus or golden with daffodil, or rich brown with the Harbinger wallflower. It is a curious fact that yellow wallflowers meet with no sale; consequently one kind only, and that dark, is grown.
The kinds of narcissus mostly grown are the Scilly White; of daffodils the Soleil d'Or, Grand Monarch, Emperor and Empress, Sir Watkin, and Princeps. These flowers are packed in baskets or boxes in bunches, a dozen blossoms in each bunch, and four dozen bunches in each basket. Women are employed to pick in the morning and to tie in bunches in the afternoon.
A special train takes up the flowers daily to London. The rate charged is £4 10s. per ton, but for fish £2 10s., as they take less room. The flower harvest lasts from February to June, and is followed by one of tomatoes.
Between Ludgvan and Perran-uthnoe intervenes the parish of S. Hilary. The church is devoid of interest, but there are inscribed stones in the churchyard. On the village inn may be read the invitation:--
The answer, of course, is one man, one woman, and a single child.
S. Michael's Mount is a grand upshoot of granite from the sea. As a rock it is far finer than its corelative in Brittany, but the buildings crowning the Cornish mount are vastly inferior to the magnificent pile on Mont Saint Michel. Nevertheless, those that now form the residence of Lord S. Levan are by no means insignificant or unworthy of their position. The masses of granite crag, especially to the west, are singularly bold, and if some of the modern work be poor in design, it might have been much worse.
Within there is not much to be seen--a chapel of no great interest, and a dining-hall with good plaster-work representation of a hare hunt running round it. The drawing-room is new and spacious, and contains some really noble portraits.
At the foot of the rock is a draw-well, and a little way up is a tank called the Giant's Well. S. Michael's Mount was the habitation of the famous giant with whom Tom Thumb tried conclusions.
In or about 710, according to William of Worcester, an apparition of S. Michael the archangel was seen on the Tumba in Cornwall. This Tumba was also called Hore-rock in the Wood, "and there was formerly grove and field and tilled land between the Mount and the Scilly Isles, and there were a hundred and forty churches of parishes between the said Mount and Scilly that were submerged.... The district was enclosed by a most vast forest stretching for six miles in from the sea, affording a most suitable refuge for wild beasts, and in this were formerly found monks serving the Lord."
It is quite true that there is a submerged forest in Mount's Bay, and that the marshy snipe-ground near Marazion Road Station covers large timber, a portion of this great forest, but the submergence cannot have taken place in historic times. That there was, however, an encroachment of the sea in the middle of the sixth century, we learn from the Life of S. Paul, Bishop of Leon. He came to the bay to visit his sister, Wulvella, of Gulval, when she complained to him that she was losing much of her best land by the advance of the sea; and he, who had been brought up in the Wentloog levels, and taught by his master, S. Iltyd, how to keep up the dykes against the tides in the Severn, banked out the sea for her.
This was precisely the time when the district of Gwaelod was submerged in the Bay of Cardigan. The king of the district was Gwyddno Longshanks. It was the duty of the warden of the dykes to ride along the embankments, that had probably been thrown up by the Roman legionaries, and see that they were in order. Seithenyn was the Dyke-grave at the time.
One night Gwyddno and his court were keeping high revel, and the dyke-master was very drunk. There was a concurrence of a spring-tide and a strong westerly wind, and the waves overwhelmed the banks. The king escaped with difficulty before the inrolling stormy sea. A poem by the king, who thus lost his kingdom, has been preserved.
In Brittany about the same time there was a similar catastrophe.
In Mount's Bay, however, an extraordinary tide may have done damage, but certainly did not cause such a submergence as was supposed by William of Worcester.
It has been supposed that the Mount is the Ictis of the ancients, which was the site of the great mart for tin, but this is more than unlikely. What would have been the advantage of making a market on this conical rock? It is much more likely that the great tin mart was in one of the low-lying islands of Kent.
Castel-an-Dinas commands an extensive view; it stands 763 feet above the sea, and is within sight and signalling distance of the two other similar castles on Trencrom and Tregonning. It is more perfect than either, and is very interesting, as it has got its wall with the face showing through the greater portion of the circuit. There were at least two concentric rings of fortifications and numerous hut circles within the area, but these have been much pulled about when an absurd imitation ruinous tower was erected on the summit. Within the camp is a well, and outside it on the west side is one cut in the rock, to which a descent is made by about twenty steps.
On the side of the hill is the very interesting and indeed wonderful group of clustered huts called Chysauster. Of these there remain four distinct groups, two of which have been dug out. They consist of an open space in the midst, with numerous beehive huts and galleries running out of it.
The period to which they pertain is very uncertain. They ought to be investigated by such as are experienced and trained in excavation of such objects, and not be meddled with by amateurs. The tenant has begun (1899) to destroy one of the groups. In the centre of one of the huts may be seen neatly cut the socket-hole of the pole which sustained the roof, and in another the lower stone of the quern in which grain was pounded. There are other collections of a similar character, but none so perfect.
In the neighbourhood of Penzance are some of the "Rounds," formerly employed for the representation of sacred dramas. They are, in fact, open-air amphitheatres. The well-known Gwennap Pit, in which John Wesley preached, has been mistaken for one of these, but was actually a disused mine-hole.
In these pits the miracle-plays in the old Cornish tongue were performed. Of these plays we have a few preserved, that have been printed by Professor Whitley Stokes. But the Cornish language ceased to be spoken, and after the Reformation religious plays ceased to be required. The people were learning the art of reading, and the press gave them the Bible, then these miracle-plays were replaced by low comedies, often very coarse in their humour, and spiced with many local allusions and personal jokes. This continued till Wesleyanism denounced stage-plays, and then these pits were devoted to revival-meetings and displays of hysterical religion. There were two Rounds near Penzance, Tolcarre, and one at Castle Horneck.
Adjoining Penzance to the south is Newlyn, a fishing village formerly, now both a fishing village and a settlement of artists; for the advantage of the latter a good place of exhibition for their pictures has been provided by that generous-hearted son of Cornwall, who has done so much for his native county, Mr. Passmore Edwards.
Newlyn takes its name probably from S. Newlyna, whose church, founded on her own land, is near Crantock and Newquay. The name means the White Cloud. She migrated to Brittany, embarking, it may be supposed, at this port in Guavas Bay. She is a Breton replica of S. Winefred, for she had her head cut off by an admiring chieftain, whose affection was changed into anger at her resistance. In Brittany she has a fine church at Pontivy Noyala.
A cantique is sung there by the children, the first verse of which runs thus:--
Buhé caër Santes Noaluen,
Ha disguet guet-he miret
Hag hou fé hag non lézen,"
which means, "Come, ye Christians, hearken all, and hear the tale of S. Noewlyn. From her example learn to keep your faith and your innocence."