Robert Naylor.

From John O'Groats to Land's End online

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offered Wesley a vacant chair and invited him to join them, an
invitation which he accepted; but before he took a bite or a sup he rose
from his chair, and said, "Gentlemen! it is my custom to ask a blessing
on these occasions," and added, "Stand all!" The company rose, but as he
pronounced the sacred invocation the room grew dark and the ghostly
guests vanished.

We should have liked to hear what followed, but this was left to our
imagination, which became more active as the darkness of night came on.
As we walked we saw some beautiful spar stones used to repair the roads,
which would have done finely for our rockeries.

Late that night we entered Truro, destined to become years afterwards a
cathedral town.

(_Distance walked thirty-three miles_.)

_Friday, November 17th._

Truro formerly possessed a castle, but, as in the case of Liskeard, not
a vestige now remained, and even Leland, who traced the site, described
the castle as being "clene down." He also described the position of the
town itself, and wrote, "The creke of Truro afore the very towne is
divided into two parts, and eche of them has a brook cumming down and a
bridge, and this towne of Truro betwixt them both." These two brooks
were the Allen, a rivulet only, and the Kenwyn, a larger stream, while
the "creke of Truro" was a branch of the Falmouth Harbour, and quite a
fine sheet of water at high tide. Truro was one of the Stannary Towns as
a matter of course, for according to tradition it was near here that tin
was first discovered.

The discoverer of this valuable metal was said to have been St. Piran,
or St. Perran - as the Roman Catholic Church in Truro was dedicated to
St. Piran we agreed to record that as the correct name. The legend
stated that he was an Irish saint who in his own country had been able
by his prayers to sustain the Irish kings and their armies for ten days
on three cows! But in spite of his great services to his country,
because of his belief in Christ his countrymen condemned him to die, by
being thrown over a precipice into the sea, with a millstone hung about
his neck. The day appointed for his execution was very stormy, but a
great crowd of "wild Irish" assembled, and St. Piran was thrown over the
rocks. At that very moment the storm ceased and there was a great calm.
They looked over the cliffs to see what had become of him, and to their
intense astonishment saw the saint calmly sitting upon the millstone and
being carried out to sea. They watched him until he disappeared from
their sight, and all who saw this great miracle were of course
immediately converted to Christianity. St. Piran floated safely across
the sea and landed on the coast of Cornwall, not at Truro, but on a
sandy beach about ten miles away from that town, the place where he
landed being named after him at the present day. When the natives saw
him approaching their coasts, they thought he was sailing on wood, and
when they found it was stone they also were converted to Christianity.
St. Piran built an oratory and lived a lonely and godly life,
ornamenting his cell with all kinds of crystals and stones gathered from
the beach and the rocks, and adorning his altar with the choicest
flowers. On one occasion, when about to prepare a frugal meal, he
collected some stones in a circle and made a fire from some fuel close
to hand. Fanned by the wind, the heat was intensified more than usual,
with the result that he noticed a stream of beautiful white metal
flowing out of the fire. "Great was the joy of the saint when he
perceived that God in His goodness had discovered to him something that
would be useful to man." Such was the origin of tin smelting in
Cornwall. St. Piran revealed the secret to St. Chiwidden, who, being
learned in many sciences, at once recognised the value of the metal. The
news gradually spread to distant lands, and eventually reached Tyre, the
ancient city of the Phoenicians, so that their merchants came to
Cornwall to buy tin in the days of King Solomon. The Britons then,
fearing an invasion, built castles on their coast, including that on St.
Michael's Mount, while St. Piran became the most popular saint in
Cornwall and eventually the patron saint of the miners of tin. His name
was associated with many places besides the sands he landed upon,
including several villages, as well as a cross, a chapel, a bay, a well,
and a coombe. But perhaps the strangest of all was St. Piran's Round,
near Perranzabuloe Village. This, considered one of the most remarkable
earthworks in the kingdom, and of remote antiquity, was a remarkable
amphitheatre 130 feet in diameter, with traces of seven tiers of seats;
it has been used in modern times for the performance of miracle-plays.

One of the "brooks" at Truro mentioned by Leland was the River Kenwyn,
which joined the River Allen to form the Truro River; but before doing
so the Kenwyn, or some portion of its overflow, had been so diverted
that the water ran down the gutters of the principal streets. It was a
novelty to us to see the water so fresh and clean running down each side
of the street - not slowly, but as if at a gallop.

In the time of the Civil War Truro was garrisoned for the King, but in
1646, after a fierce engagement between the Royalists under Sir Ralph
Hopton and Cromwell's forces under Sir Thomas Fairfax, a treaty was
signed at Tresillian River Bridge (a pretty place which we had passed
last night, about three miles outside the town on the St. Austell road),
by which Truro was surrendered quietly to the Parliament.

The Grammar School, where many eminent men had been educated, was
founded in 1549. Among its old pupils was included Sir Humphry Davy,
born in 1778, the eminent chemist who was the first to employ the
electric current in chemical decomposition and to discover nitric oxide
or "laughing gas." He was also the inventor of the famous safety-lamp
which bears his name, and which has been the means of saving the lives
of thousands of miners.

Truro was the birthplace of several men of note: Samuel Foote, Richard
Lander, and Henry Martyn, two of them having been born in public-houses
in the town.

Samuel Foote, a famous dramatist and comedian, was born at the "Old
King's Head Inn" in 1720, and was buried in Westminster Abbey in 1777.
He was a clever actor and mimic, "and kept London in a good humour"; he
wrote the _Mayor of Garrett_ and many other comedies.

Richard Lander, born at the "Fighting Cocks Inn" in 1804, became famous
as an African explorer. He took part in the expedition to Africa which
was the first to discover and trace the Niger. He was injured by savages
and died at Fernando Po in 1834.

Henry Martyn, born in 1781, the son of a miner, was a noble and devoted
missionary. He left home when twenty-four years of age to labour amongst
the Hindus and Mahometans at Cawnpore in India, and travelled in Persia
and Armenia. He translated portions of the Bible and Prayer Book into
the Persian and Hindustani languages, and at last, weary and worn out in
his Master's service, died of fever at Tokat in 1812.


St. Mary's Church was built in 1518, and was remarkable for its two east
windows and some fine carving on the walls outside. It was surrounded by
narrow streets and ancient buildings. We had no time to explore the
interior, so contented ourselves with a visit to an old stone preserved
by the Corporation and inscribed:


We now considered that we had arrived at the beginning of the end of our
journey, and left Truro with the determination to reach Land's End on
the morrow, Saturday. We continued our walk as near the sea as the
rivers or inlets would admit, for we were anxious to see as much as
possible of the fine rock scenery of the Cornish coast. We were in the
best of health and spirits, and a thirty-mile walk seemed to have no
effect upon us whatever, beyond causing a feeling of drowsiness when
entering our hotel for the night.

We soon arrived at the quaint little village with a name, as my brother
said, almost as long as itself, Perranarworthal, connected with Falmouth
by a creek, which seemed to have made an effort to cross Cornwall from
one side to the other, or from one Channel to the other. It was at
Falmouth that on one dark stormy night some years previously the ship my
brother was travelling by called for cargo, and the shelter of the
harbour was much appreciated after passing through the stormy sea
outside. Perran in the name of the village meant the same as Piran, and
the small church there was dedicated to that saint, who deserved to be
called the St. Patrick of Cornwall, for he occupied the same position in
the popular imagination here as that saint did in Ireland. It was in
this parish that St. Piran had his Holy Well, but that had now
disappeared, for accidentally it had been drained off by mining

Gwennap was only about three miles away - formerly the centre of the
richest mining district in Cornwall, the mines there being nearly six
hundred yards deep, and the total length of the roads or workings in
them about sixty miles. No similar space in the Old World contained so
much mineral wealth, for the value of the tin mined during one century
was estimated at ten million pounds sterling. After the mines were
abandoned the neighbourhood presented a desolate and ruined appearance.

[Illustration: OLD ST. MARY'S CHURCH, TRURO. (_The Cathedral of Truro is
now built on the site where this old church formerly stood._)]

Many human remains belonging to past ages had been found buried in the
sands in this neighbourhood; but Gwennap had one glorious memory of the
departed dead, for John Wesley visited the village several times to
preach to the miners, and on one occasion (1762), on a very windy day,
when the sound of his voice was being carried away by the wind, he tried
the experiment - which proved a great success - of preaching in the bottom
of a wide dry pit, the miners standing round him on the sloping sides
and round the top. The pit was supposed to have been formed by
subsidences resulting from the mining operations below, and as he used
it on subsequent occasions when preaching to immense congregations, it
became known as "Wesley's Preaching Pit." It must have been a pathetic
sight when, in his eighty-fifth year, he preached his last sermon there.
"His open-air preaching was powerful in the extreme, his energy and
depth of purpose inspiring, and his organising ability exceptional; and
as an evangelist of the highest character, with the world as his parish,
he was the founder of the great religious communion of 'the people
called Methodists.'" It was therefore scarcely to be wondered at that
the Gwennap pit should be considered as holy ground, and that it should
become the Mecca of the Cornish Methodists and of others from all over
the world. Wesley died in 1791, and in 1803 the pit was brought to its
present condition - a circular pit formed into steps or seats rising one
above another from the bottom to the top, and used now for the great
annual gathering of the Methodists held during Whitsuntide. The idea was
probably copied from St. Piran's Round, a similar but much older
formation a few miles distant.

[Illustration: GWENNAP PIT, REDRUTH.]

Penryn was the next place we visited, and a very pretty place too! It
was situated on the slope of a picturesque hill surrounded by orchards
and gardens, and luxuriant woodlands adorned its short but beautiful
river. The sea view was of almost unequalled beauty, and included the
magnificent harbour of Falmouth, of which an old writer said that "a
hundred vessels may anchor in it, and not one see the mast of
another" - of course when ships were smaller.

The old church at Penryn was that of St. Gluvias, near which were a few
remains of Glassiney College, formerly the chief centre from which the
vernacular literature of Cornwall was issued and whence our knowledge of
the old legends and mysteries of Cornwall was derived. The town was said
to have had a court-leet about the time of the Conquest, but the borough
was first incorporated in the seventeenth century by James I. The
Corporation possessed a silver cup and cover, presented to them by the
notorious Lady Jane Killigrew, and inscribed - "To the town of Penmarin
when they received me that was in great misery. J.K. 1633." Lady Jane's
trouble arose through her ladyship and her men boarding some Dutch
vessels that lay off Falmouth, stealing their treasure, and causing the
death of some of their crews.

In the time of James I. a Spanish man-of-war came unseen through the
mist of the harbour, and despatched a well-armed crew with muffled oars
to plunder and burn the town of Penryn. They managed to land in the
darkness, and were about to begin their depredations when suddenly they
heard a great sound of drums and trumpets and the noise of many people.
This so alarmed them that they beat a rapid retreat, thinking the
militia had been called out by some spy who had known of their arrival.
But the Penryn people were in happy ignorance of their danger. It
happened that some strolling actors were performing a tragedy, and the
battle scene was just due as the Spaniards came creeping up in the
darkness; hence the noise. When the Penryn folk heard the following
morning what had happened, it was said they had to thank Shakespeare for
their lucky escape.

No one passing through the smiling and picturesque town of Penryn would
dream that that beautiful place could ever have been associated with
such a fearful and horrid event as that known to history as the "Penryn
Tragedy," which happened during the reign of James I.

At that time there lived at the Bohechland Farm in the parish of St.
Gluvias a well-to-do farmer and his wife and family. Their youngest son
was learning surgery, but, not caring for that profession, and being of
a wild and roving disposition, he ran away to sea, and eventually became
a pirate and the captain of a privateer. He was very successful in his
evil business, amassing great wealth, and he habitually carried his most
valuable jewels in a belt round his waist. At length he ventured into
the Mediterranean, and attacked a Turkish ship, but, owing to an
accident, his powder magazine exploded, and he and his men were blown
into the air, some of them being killed and others injured. The captain
escaped, however, and fell into the sea. He was an expert swimmer, and
reached the Island of Rhodes, where he had to make use of his stolen
jewels to maintain himself. He was trying to sell one of them to a Jew
when it was recognised as belonging to the Dey of Algiers. He was
arrested, and sentenced to the galleys as a pirate, but soon gained
great influence over the other galley slaves, whom he persuaded to
murder their officers and escape. The plan succeeded, and the ringleader
managed to get on a Cornish boat bound for London. Here he obtained a
position as assistant to a surgeon, who took him to the East Indies,
where his early training came in useful, and after a while the
Cornishman began to practise for himself. Fortunately for him, he was
able to cure a rajah of his disease, which restored his fortune, and he
decided to return to Cornwall. The ship was wrecked on the Cornish
coast, and again his skill in swimming saved him. He had been away for
fifteen years, and now found his sister married to a mercer in Penryn;
she, however, did not know him until he bared his arm and showed her a
mark which had been there in infancy. She was pleased to see him, and
told him that their parents had lost nearly all their money. Then he
showed her his possessions, gold and jewels, and arranged to go that
night as a stranger to his parents' home and ask for lodgings, while she
was to follow in the morning, when he would tell them who he was. When
he knocked, his father opened the door, and saw a ragged and
weather-beaten man who asked for food and an hour's shelter. Taking him
to be a sea-faring man, he willingly gave him some food, and afterwards
asked him to stay the night. After supper they sat by the fire talking
until the farmer retired to rest. Then his wife told the sailor how
unfortunate they had been and how poor they were, and that they would
soon have to be sold up and perhaps finish their life in a workhouse. He
took a piece of gold out of his belt and told her there was enough in it
to pay all their debts, and after that there would be some left for
himself. The sight of the gold and jewels excited the woman's cupidity,
and when the sailor was fast asleep she woke her husband, told him what
had happened, and suggested that they should murder the sailor and bury
his body next day in the garden. The farmer was very unwilling, but his
wife at length persuaded him to go with her. Finding the sailor still
fast asleep, they cut his throat and killed him, and covered him up with
the bedclothes till they should have an opportunity of burying him. In
the morning their daughter came and asked where the sailor was who
called on them the previous night, but they said no sailor had been
there. "But," she said, "he must be here, for he is my brother, and your
long-lost son; I saw the scar on his arm." The mother turning deadly
pale sank in a chair, while with an oath the father ran upstairs, saw
the scar, and then killed himself with the knife with which he had
killed his son. The mother followed, and, finding her husband dead,
plunged the knife in her own breast. The daughter, wondering why they
were away so long, went upstairs, and was so overcome with horror at
seeing the awful sight that she fell down on the floor in a fit from
which she never recovered!

The first difficulty we had to contend with on continuing our journey
was the inlet of the River Helford, but after a rough walk through a
rather lonely country we found a crossing-place at a place named Gweek,
at the head of the river, which we afterwards learned was the scene of
Hereward's Cornish adventures, described by Charles Kingsley in
_Hereward the last of the English_, published in 1866.

Here we again turned towards the sea, and presently arrived at Helston,
an ancient and decaying town supposed to have received its name from a
huge boulder which once formed the gate to the infernal regions, and was
dropped by Lucifer after a terrible conflict with the Archangel St.
Michael, in which the fiend was worsted by the saint. This stone was
still supposed to be seen by credulous visitors at the "Angel Inn," but
as we were not particularly interested in that angel, who, we inferred,
might have been an angel of darkness, or in a stone of such a doubtful
character, we did not go to the inn.

Helston was one of the Stannary Towns, and it was said that vessels
could at one time come quite near it. Daniel Defoe has described it as
being "large and populous, with four spacious streets, a handsome
church, and a good trade." The good trade was, however, disappearing,
owing to the discovery of tin in foreign countries, notably in the
Straits Settlements and Bolivia; the church which Defoe saw had
disappeared, having since been destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1763. We
did not go inside, but in walking through the churchyard we casually
came upon an ordinary headstone on which was an inscription to the
effect that the stone marked the resting-place of Henry Trengrouse
(1772-1854), who, being "profoundly impressed by the great loss of life
by shipwreck, had devoted the greater portion of his life and means to
the invention and design of the rocket apparatus for connecting stranded
ships to the shore, whereby many thousands of lives have been saved."

[Illustration: MONUMENT TO HENRY TRENGROUSE. (_Inventor of the rocket

We had seen many fine monuments to men who had been instrumental in
killing thousands of their fellow creatures, but here was Trengrouse who
had been the humble instrument in saving thousands of lives, and (though
a suitable monument has since been erected to his memory) only the
commonest stone as yet recorded his memory and the inestimable services
he had rendered to humanity: the only redeeming feature, perhaps, being
the very appropriate quotation on the stone:

They rest from their labours and their works do follow them.

Helston was another town where a lovely double stream of water ran down
the main street, rendering the town by its rapid and perpetual running
both musical and clean. The water probably came from the River Cober,
and afterwards found its way into the Looe Pool at the foot of the town.
This pool was the great attraction of Helston and district, as it formed
a beautiful fresh-water lake about seven miles in circumference and two
miles long, winding like a river through a forked valley, with woods
that in the springtime were filled with lovely wild flowers, reaching to
the water's edge. It must have been a paradise for one fisherman at any
rate, as he held his tenure on condition that he provided a boat and net
in case the Duke of Cornwall, its owner, should ever come to fish there;
so we concluded that if the Duke never came, the tenant would have all
the fish at his own disposal. The curious feature about the lake was
that, owing to a great bank of sand and pebbles that reached across the
mouth, it had no visible outlet where it reached the sea, the water
having to percolate as best it could through the barrier. When heavy
rain came on and the River Cober delivered a greater volume of water
than usual into the lake, the land adjoining was flooded, and it became
necessary to ask permission of the lord of the manor to cut a breach
through the pebbles in order to allow the surplus water to pass through
into the sea, which was quite near. The charge for this privilege was
one penny and one halfpenny, which had to be presented in a leather
purse; but this ancient ceremony was afterwards done away with and a
culvert constructed. On this pebble bank one of the King's frigates was
lost in 1807.

[Illustration: A STREET IN HELSTON. (_Showing the running stream of
water at the side of the street._)]

There is a passage in the book of Genesis which states that "there were
giants in the earth in those days" - a passage which we had often heard
read in the days of our youth, when we wished it had gone further and
told us something about them; but Cornwall had been a veritable land of
giants. The stories of Jack the Giant-Killer were said to have emanated
from this county, and we now heard of the Giant Tregeagle, whose spirit
appeared to pervade the whole district through which we were passing.

He was supposed to be the Giant of Dosmary Pool, on the Bodmin Downs,
which was believed at one time to be a bottomless pit. When the wind
howls there the people say it is the Giant roaring, and "to roar like
Tregeagle" was quite a common saying in those parts. "His spirit haunts
all the west of Cornwall, and he haunts equally the moor, the rocky
coasts, and the blown sandhills; from north to south, from east to west,
this doomed spirit was heard of, and to the Day of Judgment he was
doomed to wander pursued by avenging fiends. Who has not heard the
howling of Tregeagle? When the storms come with all their strength from
the Atlantic, and hurl themselves upon the rocks about the Land's End,
the howls of this spirit are louder than the roaring of the wind."

In this land of legends, therefore, it is not surprising that the
raising of that extraordinary bank which blocks the end of the River
Cober, at what should be its outlet into the sea, should be ascribed to
Tregeagle. It appeared that he was an extremely wicked steward, who by
robbery and other worse crimes became very wealthy. In the first place
he was said to have murdered his sister, and to have been so cruel to
his wife and children that one by one they perished. But at length his
end came, and as he lay on his death-bed the thoughts of the people he
had murdered, starved, and plundered, and his remorseful conscience, so
haunted him, that he sent for the monks from a neighbouring monastery
and offered them all his wealth if they would save his soul from the
fiends. They accepted his offer, and both then and after he had been
buried in St. Breock's Church they sang chants and recited prayers
perpetually over his grave, by which means they kept back the demons
from his departing soul. But a dispute arose between two wealthy
families concerning the ownership of some land near Bodmin. It appeared

Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 63 of 66)