St Ives and past Cornish nobility

The Duchy of Cornwall is an aggregation of estates vested in the eldest son of the sovereign or, in the absence of a son, lying dormant in the crown. Apart from the interregnum during the commonwealth after the execution of Charles I, the Duchy has existed since 1337 when it was created by Edward III for his eldest son Edward, ‘the Black Prince’. According to a translation of the Great Charter of that year, the king’s son was ‘Duke of Cornwall and heir to the Kingdom of England’.

Before this date there were Earls of Cornwall, the first being Robert of Mortain, the half-brother of William the Conqueror, and after the king, at that time the largest landowner in England. Early in the twelfth century Reginald, one of the illegitimate sons of Henry I, assumed the title of earl, but after Stephen ascended the throne in 1135 he brought an army into Cornwall and awarded the title to Count Alan of Brittany. When Henry II came to the throne in 1154 he confirmed Reginald as earl. Others who were made earl in subsequent years included Richard of Cornwall, also called King of the Romans, brother of Henry III; Henry’s son Edmund; Edward II’s notorious ‘favourite’, Piers Gaveston; and after his murder, Edward’s second son, John of Eltham. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert made two cruises around the coast of the West Country and visited Mount Edgcumbe together in the 1840s. Tremayne Quay near Helford was built for a visit by the queen, but unfortunately she did not come because it was raining.

Queen Victoria’s eldest son the Prince of Wales (and of course Duke of Cornwall), later King Edward VII, was present at the consecration ceremony for Truro Cathedral (see here) in November 1887.

According to the twelfth-century historian Geoffrey of Monmouth, writing in Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain) in about 1135–8, King Arthur, a hero of the late fifth and early sixth century, was said to have been conceived at Tintagel. Uther Pendragon, a fifth-century King of Britain, went to war against Gorlois, King of Cornwall, to capture his wife Igraine with whom he had fallen in love. Merlin the wizard changed Uther’s appearance so that he resembled Gorlois and enabled him to enter Tintagel, where he slept with Igraine – and Arthur was born as a result.

However, despite claims made elsewhere to the contrary, Monmouth does not suggest that Arthur was born in the town or had any further connection with the area. Mark of Cornwall, also early sixth century, was mentioned in Arthurian legend as the uncle of Tristan and husband of Iseult, who had an adulterous affair with Tristan. He was a contemporary of Salomon, another Cornish warrior prince. Salomon of Cornwall was a contemporary figure of whom nothing else appears to be known.

Some of these figures, who may or may not be purely legendary, were probably only rulers over very small localised areas of the county. Ricatus, who ruled in the tenth century, is one whose name is known only from inscriptions on surviving carved stone memorial crosses. Dungarth, also known variously as Donyarth, Dumnorth, Dumgarth, or Doniert, was said to have been drowned in 875 in the River Fowey, and is commemorated on an inscription on King Doniert’s Stone, a ninth-century cross shaft which stands in St Cleer parish. Cadoc, or Condor, was said by the fifteenth-century historian William of Worcester to be a survivor of the Cornish royal line and descendant of Dungarth at the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066, and appointed 1st Earl of Cornwall by William the Conqueror. In turn he was believed to have been an ancestor of Thomas Flamank, the Bodmin lawyer executed in 1497 (see here). Teudar, who may have been a contemporary of King Arthur, was a notorious heathen said to be responsible for the martyrdom of St Gwinear and possibly other Christians who were later sanctified.

Sir Piers Edgcumbe of Cotehele (1477–1539) acquired the Mount Edgcumbe estate through marriage in the early sixteenth century. One of his descendants, Richard Edgcumbe (1680–1758), Paymaster-General of Ireland and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, was created Baron Edgcumbe in 1742. On his death the title passed to his eldest son, another Richard (1716–61), Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall, and in turn to his younger brother George (1720–95), an Admiral and former Treasurer of the Household. In 1781 George was created Viscount Mount Edgcumbe and Valletort, and in 1789 1st Earl of Mount Edgcumbe. The 8th Earl, Robert Charles Edgcumbe (1939–), succeeded in 1982, and the heir apparent to the earldom uses the courtesy title of Viscount Valletort.

There have been two baronetcies created for members of the St Aubyn family. The St Aubyn Baronetcy, of Clowance, was created in 1671 for John St Aubyn (1645–87). All five baronets were named John, all became members of parliament, and the title became extinct on the death of the 5th Baronet in 1839. The St Aubyn Baronetcy, of St Michael’s Mount, was created in 1866 for Edward St Aubyn (1799–1872), the illegitimate son of Sir John St Aubyn, 5th Baronet of Clowance (1758–1839), on whose death the baronetcy of Clowance had become extinct. Sir Edward’s son John, who succeeded him on his death, was created 1st Baron St Levan in 1887. The 4th Baron, John Francis Arthur St Aubyn (1919–), succeeded in 1978.

Earl of Godolphin was a title created in 1706 for Sidney Godolphin, 1st Baron Godolphin (1645–1712), Lord High Treasurer who was also created Viscount Rialton. He had been created baron in 1684. On his death the titles passed to his only child Francis (1688–1766). Francis married Henrietta, 2nd Duchess of Marlborough, but their only son, William Godolphin, predeceased his parents and died without issue in 1731.

The 2nd Earl was created Baron Godolphin of Helston in 1735, with remainder, in default of male issue of his own, to the male issue of his deceased uncle Henry Godolphin, Dean of St Paul’s. On his death the Godolphin earldom, the Rialton viscounty, and the Godolphin barony of 1684 became extinct; but the Godolphin barony of 1735 passed to his cousin Francis (1707–85), becoming extinct on his death. There was a third creation, as Baron Godolphin, of Farnham Royal, Buckinghamshire in 1832, which became extinct in 1964. The ancestral seat of the family in Cornwall was Godolphin House, near Helston.

The days of ore

St Ives may have the most beautiful beaches in bygone days but it was hardly the coastal view that attracted visitors.

Although Cornwall is one of the most geographically isolated parts of Britain, paradoxically it appears to have enjoyed its fair share of visitors from across various parts of the ancient world. Visitors from Ancient Egypt, Phoenicia, Greece and Rome have at various times trodden Cornish soil and interacted with the natives.

Cornwall’s popularity in those far-off days was hardly attributable to its spectacular scenery, stretches of golden sands or board-rideable surfs. Cornwall had something far more precious – tin and copper (in addition to other valuable ores) found near the Earth’s surface and running through its very bedrock. Such easily mined resources were pretty scarce in other parts of Europe.

What made these metals so special? Around 5,000 years ago the Sumerians discovered that a small amount of tin ore added to molten copper produced an incredible new alloy – bronze. Bronze was harder than tin or copper but was far easier to fashion (by means of casting) into useful things like weapons, armour, agricultural implements, household objects and jewellery. So ended the Stone Age, and with the Bronze Age came a growing international interest in Cornwall. The county’s metal resources began to be exploited around 4,000 years ago with the burgeoning demands of the civilisations of the Near East and Europe. Prosperity increased and early Bronze Age settlements sprang up around the county, some of whose remains still exist in places.

Two particularly beautiful archaeological artefacts – a fine gold cup and a bronze sword hilt – illustrate the connection between ancient Mediterranean cultures and Cornwall. A sensation was caused in 1837 when archaeologists excavating Rillaton Barrow (on eastern Bodmin Moor near Liskeard) unearthed a fabulous gold cup. The ancient burial with which it is associated, along with other grave goods, indicates that the object was owned by a person of very high ranking, probably a chieftain or royal family member. Having been cleaned and restored it served for a while in the ignominious role as a holder for King George V’s collar studs; thankfully the Rillaton Gold Cup can now be seen in the British Museum. It displays remarkably adept Aegean-style metalwork and is thought to have been made around 2,300 BC. Strangely enough, a local legend claimed that a mysterious gold cup lay deep within the barrow – could this possibly have been a memory passed down through a couple of hundred local generations? Another example of an Aegean import, probably Mycenaean, is the so-called Pelynt Dagger – actually an ornate bronze sword hilt – found in 1845 in Pelynt Barrow near Looe and now on display at the Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro.

Bronze Age Cornish prosperity peaked at around 1,500 BC, followed by a social decline. The Celts had begun to populate parts of Europe and the British Isles, introducing new farming practices and communities that were more geared to martial matters. While it’s not known whether there was a violent clash of cultures between the ancient inhabitants of Cornwall and the Celts, it is certain that the seafaring Veneti, Celts of the Brittany peninsula, managed to seize control of the metal trade between Cornwall and the rest of Europe. Around 1,000 BC there was a sudden resurgence in metalcraft and more technologically sophisticated design.

But the magic and usefulness of bronze began to evaporate in the 8th century BC when the Iron Age arrived in Britain. Iron ore is smelted, cast into ingots and hammer-fashioned into implements by blacksmiths; with the addition of carbon it becomes steel, a material weighing about the same as bronze but far harder and more suited to weaponry and agriculture. With its acidic soil, Cornwall has few surviving iron implements from this era, and the patchy nature of human settlement in the county has made it difficult to identify sites linked with iron working. One of the few examples lies at Trevelgue Head Iron Age settlement on the cliffs above Newquay, where the remnants of an ancient foundry have been unearthed.

Cornwall continued to mine and export its metals, whose uses changed with technological advances, right up to modern times. With the closure of South Crofty near the village of Pool in 1998 came an end to four thousand years of Cornish metal mining – for the time being, at least, for the story of Cornwall’s metal wealth may not yet be finished.

A brief history of Cornwall

Cornwall emerges from the murk of prehistory courtesy of Classical writers such Strabo, who mentions a visit by the Roman official Publius Crassus who in the first century BC visited the Cassiterides (the Tin Isles), modern day Cornwall and Scilly, to organise tin trading with the Mediterranean. Diodorus, another such writer, thought the inhabitants of the peninsula of Belerion (Cornwall) remarkably sophisticated and civilised, the result of their extensive trading contacts with peoples from other lands.

Diodorus explained how the natives of Belerion extracted tin from the ground and then broke it up and smelted it, producing ingots which were taken to the off-shore island of Ictis. Ictis served as a trading post, the place where merchants from the Mediterranean and perhaps elsewhere would come to buy the tin they needed for their domestic markets. Many people think that Ictis is present-day St Michael’s Mount but others have suggested St George’s (or Looe) Island, further east along the south Cornish coast.

By this time Cornwall was Celtic-speaking, using a variant of a tongue which had emerged in continental Europe during the first millennium BC or thereabouts. Known to scholars as Brythonic or ‘British’, this variant was the forunner of modern Cornish as well as Welsh and Breton.

How, why and when Celtic became the language of Cornwall is a matter of some conjecture. The old idea that ancient times consisted of a series of mass invasions, with waves of newcomers arriving suddenly to expel or exterminate the existing populations is now open to doubt. Instead, historians now argue that these ‘invasions’ involved relatively few people who, because of their superior technologies or military prowess, were able to impose their ways (including language) upon the indigenous natives. The Celtic settlement of Britain as a whole is now thought to have been a long, drawn-out affair, perhaps starting early in the first millennium BC and ending with the arrival of the Belgic people not long before the coming of the Romans.

Certainly, the evidence of Iron Age Cornwall is of continuity rather than upheaval, the arrival of Celtic speech coinciding with the first use of iron for weapons and other artifacts. By the time the Romans came to Britain in AD43, the famous promontory and hill forts of Cornwall – Chun Castle, Warbstow Bury, the Rumps, the Dodman, and so on – had already existed for centuries, and some remained occupied (though not continuously) until as late as the sixth century AD. In the west of Cornwall, people were already living in so-called courtyard houses, of which several well known examples survive today. Chysauster, near Gulval, dates from the Roman era but Carn Euny (in the parish of Sancreed) is older, consisting of three interlocking courtyard houses and a remarkable underground chamber or fogou – from the Cornish-language word for ‘cave’. These fogous are now thought to have been underground storage larders, although other theories suggest they may have had religious significance or were perhaps hiding-places in case of attack.

The Romans built a fort at Isca Dumnoniorum (modern Exeter) in about AD55, and it was from there that they exercised their rule in the far west. In fact, there is very little evidence of Roman intrusion or activity in Cornwall. A small fort, probably used as a forward operating base rather than a garrison, was constructed around AD55-60 at Nanstallon, near Bodmin, and five Roman milestones have been found in different parts of Cornwall. At Carvossa, a large enclosed site near Probus, imported Roman pottery has been found, and the remains of a Romano-British villa have been uncovered at Magor, Illogan. Politically, it seems that Cornwall formed a pagus or subdivision of the Roman canton of Dumnonia (present-day Cornwall, Devon and western Somerset) but was very much left to its own devices.

When the last of the legions left Britain in about AD410, Dumnonia survived in name as a post-Roman Celtic kingdom but the reality (or so it seems) was increasing political and territorial fragmentation in the South West peninsula. Certainly, by the ninth century Anglo-Saxon sources were referring to Cornwalas or Westwalas, while texts in Latin spoke of Cornubia and Old Welsh had coined the word Cerniu – each of these referring to the kingdom of Kernow or Cornwall, the land of the ‘West Welsh’, as it had by then become.

It is no longer fashionable to describe the post-Roman era in Britain as ‘the Dark Ages’ but it is nonetheless a murky period in Cornish history. Half-legendary figures such as Cynan (or Conan) Meriadoc and King Mark appear tantalisingly from the mists, the latter entwined intimately in the tragic tale of Tristan and Iseult. Ultimately a European medieval high romance, taken to France and beyond by way of Brittany, the story of the ill-fated lovers, Tristan and Iseult, has its roots in Dark Age Cornwall.

Near Fowey stands the so-called Tristan Stone, carved with the inscription DRUSTANVS HIC IACIT/CVNOMORI FILIVS – ‘Drustanus lies here, son of Cunomorus’. Drustanus has been indentified with the legendary Tristan, and Cunomorus has been equated with the sixth-century Marcus Cunomorus (‘King Mark’) whose fortress is said to be neighbouring Castle Dore.

In the several versions of the story that have come down to us, Tristan is the nephew (not son) of King Mark and is sent to Ireland to seek the hand of Iseult, the Queen’s daughter, for Mark. The Queen accepts, and the princess and her maiden Brangwayn set out on their journey to Cornwall. The Queen has given Brangwayn a special love-potion which Iseult and Mark are to drink on their wedding night but by mistake (or design) it is Tristan who sups the magic liquid. Inevitably, Tristan and Iseult fall hopelessly in love, and in the court of King Mark resort to a variety of deceptions to be together. Eventually, Tristan leaves Cornwall to fight for King Hywel of Brittany, where he meets and marries a second Iseult (Iseult of the White Hands). However, the first Iseult begs Tristan to return, and he does so, only to be slain by the angry and jealous King Mark who has uncovered the truth of the liaison.

Mark’s son Constantine is described by Gildas about AD560 in his De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae as the ‘tyrant whelp of the filthy lioness of Dumnonia’. Even when he gives up his throne to retire to a monastery, Constantine continues his regime of corruption and murder, coldly disposing of rivals and opponents. Several generations later we find Geraint, altogether a more sympathetic figure, referred to in AD705 by Adhelm, the first West Saxon bishop of Sherborne, as ‘Geruntius, King of Dumnonia’. In fact, Geraint died heroically trying to protect his territory from the encroaching English kingdom of Wessex, struck down at the battle of Llongborth (perhaps present-day Langport in Somerset). Later, in the Annales Cambriae (Welsh Annals) for the year AD875, we learn of the death by drowning of ‘Dumnarth rex Cerniu’ (Dumgarth, king of Cornwall), thought to be the ninth-century Doniert whose memorial stone can to this day be found near St Cleer. Its Latin inscription reads DONIERT ROG-AVIT PRO ANIMA – ‘Doniert has asked [prayers?] for [his] soul.’

The last king of Cornwall, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, was ‘Huwal [Hywel], king of the West Welsh’ who was persuaded to recognise the overlordship of Athelstan, the ruthless and ambitious king of Wessex. Athelstan suceeded in welding the several Anglo-Saxon kingdoms together (to form the England we recognise today) as well as becoming the overlord of his Celtic neighbours. It was Athelstan who in AD936 fixed the River Tamar as the border between Cornwall and England, evicting the remaining Cornish from Exeter (and perhaps the rest of Devon) in an act in which, according to the later writer William of Malmesbury, that city was ‘cleansed of its defilement by wiping out that filthy race’.

Any progress with the Edward Hain?

Will there be any breakthrough in the standoff over the Edward Hain Community Hospital? The one-ward hospital has been closed for nearly a year over fire safety concerns – the government and NHS were not convinced that in the event of a fire, the twelve inpatients would not be able to be evacuated. Hence the inpatient unit remains closed, and those requiring such services have to go further afield, out of our town for treatment. The outpatient unit, however, remains open to existing residents.

Residents held a protest over the closure of the hospital in October. The common feeling among residents is because that because St Ives is far out to the west, and run by Labour council, the conservatives will not give it the resources in order to modernise. It is almost as if the Conservatives are trying to turn local feeling against Labour by using health as a means of creating dissension. It is no good for the people caught in between. The current building is an old Victorian building and getting inpatients down the stairs could be problematic. The Friends of Edward Hain recently raised £600,000 towards the hospital, but the money remains largely unspent because of the threat that it may be wasted. If improvements are made to the hospital but it still remains closed, the money would have been spent for nothing.

Part of the problem lies not just with underfunding alone. Some believe it lies with a lack of foresight by the local NHS, who failed to cater for post-hospital care services in the area. As a result, there is a lot of bed squatting and those in post-operative care are taking up the spaces on the ward.

The answer could be in building a new community hospital. This consideration has been touted before, and some believe that the creation of a new hospital would alleviate the pressure of the already taxed services in the area. If the problem lies with the existing building and there could still be a protracted political battle over it, then starting completely from scratch to develop a modern building that meets fire regulations, and one that is large enough to provide services for the region, could be the long term meaningful solution.

Rock-pooling and swimming in the St Ives beaches

A strandline is the visual mark of the highest point reached by the tide on a beach and consists of sediments, such as seaweed and other organic matter, driftwood, and general detritus including litter. Due to variations in the height of the tides there can be several strandlines on a single beach and they can be home to a wide variety of life, including sandhoppers, beetles and small crabs, which in turn provide food for birds such as oystercatchers, turnstones, dunlins and sanderlings. With each high tide, new life and materials are deposited, helping to sustain these unique habitats.  

Beaches are increasingly under threat from pollution and most of it washes up in the strandline. Many local communities and organisations now arrange regular beach cleaning days, while many of the more responsible visitors and beachcombers, who search the strandline for interesting or unusual items, such as driftwood, shells, bones, sea glass and weirdly-shaped egg cases, also help by removing any rubbish they come across.

While there is easy access to most of the beaches around Cornwall, in particular St Ives, there are a number of coves in which the access route is less obvious and these often require care and attention if planning to visit them. All beaches and the whole of the coastline are subject to change due to the effects of the tides and adverse weather conditions, and coastal erosion can sometimes result in a beach that was relatively easy to access becoming less easy to reach, or even inaccessible. Therefore it’s important to plan a safe route down to the beach, not forgetting to ensure that there is an equally safe and easily negotiable way back up the cliff.

One of the results of the action of the tides are the delightful rock pools that appear on rocky beaches when the water recedes. Like a window into an underwater world, they can provide hours of fun for people of all ages, from children to adults. Here are some basic tips to help to get the most out of your rock pool rambles:

1. Check the tide times; the lower the tide, the more pools there will be.
2. Start with the pools closest to the sea and work your way back up the shore.
3. Keep an eye on the tide and ensure you have an easy return route up the beach.
4. Be aware that wet rocks and seaweed can be slippery.
5. Wear stout footwear.
6. Take a bucket or plastic container.
7. Nets are commonly used but not advisable as they can cause damage to small creatures; instead, use your bucket or container as a ‘scoop’.
8. Don’t wade into the pool as this can cause damage – it’s better to stand or kneel on the edge.
9. Carefully replace rocks or stones after looking under them.
10. Always gently return sea creatures to where you found them, ensuring they are the right way up.

Jellyfish can be washed up on beaches, especially around the strandline, or encountered in the sea and in rock pools. They are simple creatures consisting of 90% water and have no brains, bones or blood but some of them can be quite beautiful to look at. However, some jellyfish found in UK waters can sting, even when dead or stranded on a beach, so they should never be handled and avoid any contact with their tentacles. Fortunately, most stings are merely unpleasant, similar to a nettle sting, but if you are stung, inform any lifeguard present and seek medical attention if the pain is severe – applying an ice pack or taking ibuprofen and paracetamol can ease the pain and swelling.

Over 200 people die every year around the coastline of Britain and Ireland, and thousands more find themselves in difficulty and have to be rescued. The safest beaches on which to swim are those patrolled by RNLI Lifeguards, provided you follow their advice.

If on a beach where there are no lifeguards and you decide that the conditions are nevertheless suitable for entering the water, please be aware of the following advice:

1. You are responsible for your own safety and that of any dependants.
2. NEVER swim alone.
3. Do not allow children to enter the sea alone.
4. Check where any safety equipment is situated. Sennen Cove
5. Wear a wetsuit if intending to be in the water for more than 15 minutes.
6. In high swell avoid deeply shelved beaches and don’t swim near rocks or into caves.
7. Swim only within sheltered coves or bays unless you understand the tidal streams that can be found near headlands and in the open sea – that takes local knowledge and experience.
8. Never jump or dive into water unless you have checked it for depth and obstructions such as rocks.
9. Never use inflatables – they can drift on the current or in the wind.
10. Avoid areas where rip currents commonly form, such as river mouths or estuaries, piers or the edges of coves, but also be aware that they can be found anywhere off the beach so learn to spot their characteristics, such as a break in the pattern of the waves, excessive foam, or debris being dragged in the opposite direction.
11. If caught in a rip current do not attempt to swim against it but instead swim to the side, parallel to the shore, until free of the current, then swim to the shore.
12. Never approach seals or their pups.

Strange sightings in St Ives

Cornwall is richly steeped in folklore and many interesting stories have come from the St Ives district. One of the most character-istic is that of ‘The Lady with the Lantern’. This tells how, one evening around dusk, during a year notorious for storms and wrecks, a large ship was driven on a sunken rock at the back of the Island. Many of those on board perished at once, and as each successive wave urged the wreck onward, yet more of the crew were swept into the angry sea.

Despite the terrible conditions, a boat was manned by some St Ives fishermen and rowed towards the ship. Approaching as near as they dared, they managed to rescue two or three sailors by means of ropes. Then a group appeared on deck supporting a lady who held a child in her arms. The lady, despite entreaties, refused to give her child to the care of a sailor while they endea-voured to pass her across to the boat. So, with the ship fast breaking up, she was lowered into the sea, and the fishermen drew her through the waves.

In her passage, the lady fainted and was taken into the boat without the infant. The child had fallen from her arms, and was lost in the boiling waters. She later regained consciousness; but finding her child was gone, she lost hope and died. They buried her in the churchyard, but shortly after a lady was seen to pass over the churchyard wall on to the beach and walk towards the Island. There she spent hours amid the rocks, looking for her child, before returning to her grave. When the nights were stormy or very dark, she carried a lantern, but on fine nights she made her sad search without a light. The Lady and the Lantern have ever since been regarded as predictors of disaster on this shore.

Less well known than this story is the legend of the White Horse of Porthgwidden. In the early part of the nineteenth century a gentleman called Birch owned a magnificent white horse with a flowing mane and a flying tail. The animal was beautifully groomed and the delight of his master. Every evening at dusk Birch would ride on his horse to Porthgwidden for a bathe. He was a powerful swimmer, but one stormy evening the wind and waves proved too much for him, and he was swept away and drowned. Some time later the fishermen noticed the horse patiently waiting on the beach, far beyond the usual time for its master’s return, and so came to learn of the tragedy which had occurred. Some time after this, people living in the vicinity vowed that after dusk the ghost of Mr Birch was seen riding his lovely horse through Island Road, down to Porthgwidden Beach and out to sea. The spectre is said to have been seen as late as the 1890s.

The pilots of St Ives had a superstition regarding ‘Jack Harry’s Lights’; these phantoms were named after the man who was first deceived by them. They were generally observed before a gale, and the ship seen with them resembled the one which later was sure to be wrecked. Scores of pilots had seen and been led a fine chase after them. One old pilot told of how they put off in their big boat, the Ark, when a large vessel was reported in the offing. The vessel stood off the head, the wind blowing WNW. They went off four or five miles and thought they were alongside, when the ship slipped to windward a league or more. Again the Ark went in pursuit and once more closed in on the stranger, but away she flew to Godrevy over the course they had just sailed; so the pilots gave it up for ‘Jack Harry’s Light’ and with disappointed hopes bore up for the harbour. These manifestations may be likened to those of the Flying Dutchman, seen off the Cape of Good Hope.

The harbour of St Ives

Life at St Ives has traditionally revolved around its harbour. Here, up to about the time of the First World War, were to be seen the town’s large fleets of mackerel and pilchard luggers, coasting vessels loading or discharging cargoes, seine boats arriving from Porthminster deeply laden with silvery fish; and all the bustle and activity associated with a prosperous seaport and fishing town.

Today, the scene has vastly changed, yet the harbour remains the focal point of St Ives. Nearly all the fishing boats have gone, their places taken by gaily painted pleasure craft, whilst the sand, once grimy with coal, is now a clean golden bathing beach. Many regret the change, but it was inevitable with the decline in the fishing industry; and St Ives is at least fortunate in having a type of harbour that has adapted so well to meet new circumstances.

As early as the sixteenth century St Ives was the chief port of departure in the west for passage to Ireland, and there are several entries in the old Borough Accounts relating to this traffic. Thus in 1592: ‘paide William Ots to pay for 2 passengers bounde to Irelande whiche weare hosted at water treweks 3s.4d.’ ‘Paide to a man of Irelande that had his barke stollen by pirats 1s.’ 1604: ‘paide to a poore souldier that came from Irelande 3d.’ The importance of this sea-link with Ireland is shown also in a by-law passed in 1619, which decreed that ‘All yrishmen landing hencforth ther loades or Burden of tymber [are to pay] ijs.ijd. & ballaste of Sand to be taken at this charge if they liste to take it.’

No contemporary description of the harbour has survived, but it is known that prior to 1766 the pier ran out from Carn Glaze (the site of the present Fishermen’s Co-operative Stores). It appears to have been of simple construction, probably consisting of timber piles driven in the sand, with a rubble filling. The maintenance of this pier and the clearance of sand from the harbour imposed at times a severe strain on the very limited borough finances.

The harbour began to take on something of its present appearance in 1770, when a new pier was constructed to the design of John Smeaton, the great civil engineer. This was built out from the Castle Rocks, the old pier being at the same time demolished and the Wharf constructed. Though only about half its present length, Smeaton’s Pier sheltered a much greater extent of water than its predecessor did, and so accommodated the growing trade and fishing industry of the town. This growth in the years following the building of the pier is best illustrated by the annual amounts of harbour dues collected by the Trustees, which rose from £593 in 1770 to £1280 in 1814 and to £1824 by 1836.

In 1837 St Ives, very unwisely, was declared a free port, and dues ceased to be collected – a measure that resulted in unavoidable delay in carrying out further improvements.

In 1844, 165 coasting merchant vessels having a gross tonnage of 9723 arrived in the port of St Ives. By comparison, during the same year, 856 vessels arrived at Hayle, these having a tonnage of 65,979. But what was more important at St Ives was the fishing industry; in 1847 the capital invested in the pilchard fisheries was in excess of £150,000, with 400 boats and 735 men employed, whilst a further 100 men were engaged in other types of fishing.

Imports from within Britain were coal, iron and general merchandise and from abroad timber; exports within Britain were fish and copper ore, and abroad, fish and tin. Sailing vessels belonging to the port totalled 8994 tons, with a few steamers totalling 498 tons.

In 1864 work was begun on an outer harbour by erecting the New or Wood Pier at the seaward side of Smeaton’s structure, and running roughly at right angles to it. Its timber frame failed to stand up to the buffeting of the Atlantic rollers, however, and in less than twenty years it had become an almost complete wreck. Today little more than its short masonry stump remains. The failure of this project brought on an acute crisis, the harbour being desperately overcrowded with the ever-increasing fleet of fishing vessels. This situation reached its climax in 1886, with the so-called Tresidder’s riot among the fishermen.

Eventually, in 1888-90 the position was relieved by adding a lengthy extension to Smeaton’s Pier. The shorter West Pier was built in 1894 as a loading jetty for roadstone from the Carthew and Orange Lane quarries. Finally, around 1922 the Wharf Road was constructed from the lifeboat house to Chy-an-Chy, affording much needed relief to Fore Street, which previously had to carry all the traffic.

Since then, St Ives has ceased to be a seaport, whilst its fishing fleet has dwindled to extinction. These events have brought about great changes in the town itself. The smoke houses for curing, the great pilchard cellars, the barking houses for tanning nets, and the net factory have all gone, either swept away to make room for modern developments, or converted to new uses. The last St Ives pilchard cellar, in Norway Lane, was cleared out in 1968-69, much of its equipment being transferred to the St Ives Museum at Wheal Dream. Yet with all these changes, ‘Downlong’, the old fishing quarter, still retains a great deal of its atmosphere, the narrow alleyways and picturesque cottages proving a never-failing delight to artists, photographers and holiday-makers.

Barbara Hepworth and St Ives

St Ives has always proven to be an inspirational seaside town, a font for creativity and artistry. The beautiful landscapes are among the many sources of inspiration and the opportunities to work alongside creative individuals continues to inspire the development of beautiful art.

Various well-known artists, past and present, have passed through St Ives and continue to its vibrant art community.

If you link the word “St Ives” along with “sculpture” it would be inconceivable to imagine that you would not at some point arrive at the name Barbara Hepworth. Such was her influence on the town, that you will see many of her sculptures displayed at various locations around it. There is also a museum, the Barbara Hepworth museum, that continues to inspire modern artists.

Born in Yorkshire in 1903 to Herbert and Gertrude, Barbara frequently accompanied her dad in car rides over the West Riding for his work as a civil engineer. She received a music scholarship during her time at Wakefield Girls School, and the summer holidays were spent at idyllic St Robin’s Bay in Whitby.

Hepworth studiesd sculpture at the Royal College of Art, London and her early twenties were interspersed with trips and stays in Paris and Rome. Her life up to her mid thirties revolved around travel, working with and learning from other artists.

She arrived in Cornwall with her second husband and triplets in August 1939, before the outbreak of war. With little time to work, and living in cramped conditions, Hepworth had no major output until the end of the war, but it was after that when her work flourished and the outpouring of major creative works began.

If you ever visit St Ives, the Barbara Hepworth museum is definitely an attraction not to miss out on. But if you live in St Ives, and are venturing afield, perhaps at some point you might like to visit the Hepworth Wakefield museum in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, where more of the sculptor’s works are exhibited alongside artists who have a link with the region.