September Meeting

As the previous president, Ken Terry, and his wife Sue had moved to Yorkshire over the summer, acting president Peter King welcomed everyone to the start of the new season. He explained that he and John Little would share the president’s role until a new president could be elected. Sadly, Roger and Viv Bennett would also be moving away. Roger explained the reason for their decision and promised to return for the Christmas party.

Over the summer there had been a very enjoyable range of outings (see photos below), and the annual ceremony of Crying the Neck would be held the following week to celebrate the end of harvest. The next social event would be the fish and chip supper on Friday 19th November at Kelly’s. The society would be represented at the Civic Service at St Martin’s church next month, and would present a wreath on Remembrance Sunday on 11th November.

This month’s speaker was Gareth Parry of the Museum of Telegraphy in Porthcurno, who spoke about the development of global communications in Cornwall.

Overland telegraphy had been established in 1837, by 1850 2200 miles of telegraph wires ran alongside railway lines throughout Britain, and by 1857 the telegraph had reached Falmouth. As well as conveying messages, the telegraph was vital for establishing standardised time throughout the country.

Vital business interests needed swift communication across the Atlantic and throughout the British Empire. Before telegraph, messages were taking 6 or 8 weeks to reach India, but with telegraph it could be done in 9 minutes. A businessman, John Pender, had a vision of a global network. Together with a professor of physics, William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin), they formulated a plan to lay cables across the ocean floor. Nothing like it had ever been attempted before, but in the can-do climate of the time they were able to finance the project. In 1870 cables were brought by ship to Porthcurno and floated on empty barrels, then hauled up the beach by hand.

By 1872 the telegraph station had been established as a home for engineers as well as a workplace. . To lay cable under the sea, they needed to take into account the need for insulation, distances, and the topography of the ocean floor with its mountain ranges and deep troughs. Five attempts were made to cross the Atlantic, in 1857 and 1858, and in 1865 and 1866. The cables were very heavy and the only ship capable of carrying a transatlantic cable was Brunel’s Great Eastern. In 1866 they lost the cable part way across. Later that year, after searching in sweeps to and fro across the ocean floor they found the lost cable two miles deep and used both.

The Eastern Telegraph Company was formed, and laid cable via Portugal, Gibraltar, Malta and through the Red Sea, reaching Bombay in 1872, and eventually on to Australia and New Zealand by 1876. The company later became Cable and Wireless.

Success was not always total. In 1869 a Mr Rowlands undertook to lay a cable to the Scilly Islands. It was a great occasion for the islanders, and they and host of dignitaries all assembled on the shore to await the arrival of the cable. Mr Rowlands discovered that his estimate for the length of cable required was 5 miles short, so he cut the cable, took the end ashore and duly installed it with great ceremony, only to have to repeat the installation later with an entire cable..

By 1906 a cable had been laid to the Azores, and by 1920 Eastern Telegraph went all round Africa and South America, all coming from Porthcurno. By the 1930s there were 14 cables in all, and 70% of all signals coming into the UK came through Porthcurno. They were transmitted further up-country to be decoded.

During World War One, five German cables were cut, so at the start of World War Two British authorities were determined to protect Porthcurno from enemy attack. In the cliff face behind Porthcurno two secret tunnels were dug. They had their own air supply, living quarters, electricity and escape route, so that their work could carry on even after invasion. The tunnels can still be seen by visitors to the Museum.

Porthcurno was also involved in the development of wireless, but a rivalry developed between Eastern Telegraph and Marconi. Marconi came to this country in the 1890s, wanting to get a signal across the Atlantic. In 1901 he claimed to have received the Morse signal “SSS”. At the time there was no way of recording the signal, so no way of verifying the claim. In February 1902 he used a Morse inker to record a signal from 1551 miles away, and by 1923 he demonstrated sending a signal from Poldhu to Cape Verde on a wavelength of 97m. This was followed in 1924 by a transmission from Poldhu to Beirut with a wavelength of 132m. The transfer from long wave to short ensured success.

Cable and Wireless was formed in 1934 and dominated global communications for many years. They were instrumental in setting up the Museum of Telegraphy at Porthcurno, which is still supported by Vodaphone, who took over Cable and Wireless’s business.

The telegraph at Porthcurno closed in 1970. From 1988 fibre optic cables were laid, which carry light signals, and are much faster and clearer than the old cables. Mr Parry showed a picture of three glass fibres against the eye of a needle. Most internet signals go via cables, and take 60 millisecs to cross the Atlantic. A cable now goes to Japan, Korea and China and another goes across the Atlantic. The old cables are gradually being lifted and recycled. The new cables are still laid by specialist ships, in much the same way it was originally done, and will remain in use for around 25 years, but demand for data transfer is increasing rapidly, and firms such as Google and Microsoft are now laying their own cables.

Peter King thanked Mr Parry for a very interesting and well-illustrated talk. Mr Parry answered questions from the floor, demonstrating his depth of knowledge of his subject.

The meeting closed with the raffle, tea and cakes.


Summer Outings

We had a packed programme of summer activities this year, starting as usual with a delicious cream tea at Carole Vivian’s home. A grey day, before the hot spell started, but a delightful guided tour of her garden. We went to Davidstow Air Museum’s Cornwall at War exhibition early in July, which was so interesting that no-one remembered to take any photos. This was followed by a magnificent sunset at Callington Old Cornwall Society’s Midsummer Bonfire on Kit Hill

Lighter Kitt Hill

Merv Davey with pipes at Callington’s Midsummer Bonfire


Another wonderful evening was the annual Kingfisher Trip up the West Looe River, the woodlands at Trenant bathed in golden light. No kingfishers this year, but plenty of egrets and herons. A glass of wine and Marilyn’s home made quiches completed a very enjoyable event.

Kingfisher 2018

Refreshments on the river


A new venture this year was a guided walk by Liskeard Old Cornwall Society’s president, Brian Oldham, who took us to the Hurlers, where he explained the latest thinking about the ancient stones. We passed the long ruts just north of the car park, left by the American Military during the Second World War. Then passing the well known Back Lode Pits we were introduced to the findings at the cyst on Rillaton Barrow.  This was followed by the Horse Whim, just east of the Cheesewring quarry, where water and ore were lifted to the surface from a nearby mine.

Hurlers guided walk July 2018

Brian points out the features of the Cheesewring Quarry

At the Cheesewring Quarry, Brian painted a picture of toil and slog as hundreds of stone masons and helpers sweated hard to produce dressed stone for clients around the world. Then on to the Phoenix United mine, via the Captains House to see a mine that failed noticeably and yet is the best preserved in the area.

The group adjourned to the Cheesewring Inn for lunch after a thought-provoking visit to an area we thought we knew.


Boat trips are always popular, and one of the highlights of the summer was a trip on John Barker’s “Beefr” up the Fowey River to Lostwithiel, with on board commentary ably provided by Lyn Gould. Through the busy port, to the broad reaches of the estuary with its cormorants and herons, past the pills, formerly the haunt of pirates, and the picturesque church of St Wyllow, woodlands with swallows swooping low over the water and soaring over the trees, to the twisting channel through the reedbeds and surprisingly sudden arrival in Lostwithiel. At the quayside we were met by Mary Jones, who gave us a guided tour of the town, the medieval chief port and capital of Cornwall, also explaining its role in the Civil War. All to soon we had to hurry back to the boat for a sunlit journey back to Fowey.


Leaving Fowey


The last of the summer outings was a visit to the Camel Valley vineyard, where an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide explained the history of the vineyard, its development over the years and the investment the owners have made in modern equipment to create prize-winning wines while keeping the workforce to a size where they retain a family atmosphere. We ended the tour with an opportunity to sample the wine while sitting on the terrace admiring the view over the vineyard and surrounding countryside.

Camel Valley 2018

On the terrace at Camel Valley Vineyard


Summer ends with harvest, and we held our traditional Crying the Neck on 10th September. Sadly we say have to say goodbye to Roger and Viv, who have provided music for the occasion for many years past, and our especial thanks go to Roger who has so ably come to terms with Cornish pronunciation to perform the ceremony in Cornish and English. We wish them well in their new home. Thanks go to Ian Ede, who provided the cornfield and the scythe, and to Andrew Chudleigh for cutting the corn, and for bringing along our Past President John Enever. It was lovely to see him again. As usual, the evening ended with cider and saffron cake to celebrate the end of harvest.

Crying the Neck 2018

Roger preparing to start Crying the Neck


May Meeting

Roger Bennett, the deputy president, welcomed everyone to the meeting in the absence of the president, Ken Terry.  The minutes of the previous two meetings were available for reading, but he explained that our usual feature of the minutes of fifty years ago was not available, as no May meeting was held back then.

The secretary gave details of the summer outings which were still available, and would send out information in the summer newsletter to members who were not present at the meeting.  The boat trips were as popular as ever, and were fully booked by the end of the meeting, but more places could be made available on the visit to the “Cornwall at War” museum at Davidstow, the guided walk around the Hurlers and the visit to Camel Valley Vineyard.

Similarly, she would contact everyone about the new data protection legislation which comes into effect on 25th May.

Roger had wanted for some time to introduce a “Through the Keyhole” event, where the public gets a chance of a look at aspects of public buildings which are normally concealed from view.  The committee hoped to link such an event with National Heritage weekend on 14th-16th September, and to focus on St Nicholas’s church and the Jolly Sailor in West Looe.

Further information would be put on the Society’s website as plans evolve.

Norma read out a report from Ken Terry on the previous weekend’s West Looe May Fayre, where the glorious sunshine had tempted out a lot of visitors and locals.  Our stall attracted a great deal of interest, and we sold several books, brooches and earrings, as well as giving out lots of flyers.  Our newly-purchased pop-up gazebo had its first outing, and proved much easier to erect than the previous one.

This month’s cake-makers and tea-makers were thanked for the delicious spread available at the end of the meeting.

Roger introduced the speaker, Chris Knight from St Austell Brewery, on “Hester Parnall – Dragon Lady?”.  In a thoroughly researched and well-illustrated talk, Chris told the story of Hester Parnall (1868-1939), daughter of Walter Hicks who founded St Austell Brewery, who took over the running of the brewery on the death of her brother in a motor bike accident in 1911.

Hester and her sisters were brought up as Victorian ladies, expected to stay at home with their mother until marriage.  The whole family took part in the social activities of the town, and Hester enjoyed amateur dramatics, as well as riding a motor bike and driving a car.  She married Tom Parnall, several years her senior and already retired, who seems to have provided much moral support until his death in 1915.

In the 19th and early 20th century, brewing was regarded very much as man’s work, and Hester needed to make her presence felt.  One of her long-standing employees described her as “a proper dragon”, and added that when her chauffeur-driven Daimler appeared in the yard the first man to spot her would tap as message on the water pipes to warn the others.  Nothing escaped her eagle eye.

An astute business woman, she formed partnerships with other breweries, notably taking over Huxtables ginger beer, which saved the company in WW1 when sales of alcohol were limited.  She also took over a run-down pub, the Yacht, in Penzance, and rebuilt it as the elegant art deco building behind the lido which can be seen today.

She acted as the family matriarch, keeping a close eye on her brother’s daughters in London, as well as her several unmarried sisters, but even when staying in London she kept in close touch with the business, sending telegrams to buy a certain type of hop, or to give money to a local hospital fund.  She even sorted out a dispute between tenants of some tied cottages by post.

Always interested in the welfare of her workers, she introduced an annual pension, free life assurance and a disablement benefit.  Although the workforce complained at the deductions from their wages, in many ways she was far in advance of her time.

Chris added that the brewery has expanded greatly over the past 100 years.  It now employs women in many senior roles, including the UK’s first grandma beer sommelier.  Hicks Wines (now St Austell Wines) remains the largest wine merchant in Cornwall.

The traditional beer, HSD (Hicks Special Draught) is still produced, although the draught version is now weaker than the original in-keeping with modern tastes.  However, the best selling beer is Tribute, first brewed for the solar eclipse in 1999 under the name of Daylight Robbery.  It was so popular that it was renamed, and is now sold in bottled form in supermarkets throughout the country, as well as on draught locally.

Chris ended his engrossing talk with a short quiz, asking members to identify several items of brewing equipment.  He gave out samples which were very welcome on a hot day.

The meeting ended with the raffle and tea and cakes.  The next meeting after the summer break will be on 8th September, when Gareth Parry of the Telegraph Museum in Porthcurno will give a talk entitled “The Victorian Internet – the Development of Telegraphy in Cornwall”, showing how communications around the British Empire relied on this remote cove.

April Meeting


A wide variety of summer outings was on offer to Looe Old Cornwall Society and the boat trips on the West Looe and Fowey rivers proved particularly popular.  There was also widespread demand for the visit to the “Cornwall at War” Museum at Davidstow and the Camel Valley vineyard tour, as well as regular features such as the cream tea and the Federation of Old Cornwall Societies’ Summer Festival.

Members were also looking forward to their spring lunch at the Copley Arms at Hessenford on Friday 27th April.

The President reported that he had recently visited Looe Primary Academy to present our cheque towards the cost of Cornish books for their library.  The visit had been very successful.  The children enjoyed Sue Terry’s playing of the Flora Dance, and the headmistress had expressed an interest in setting up a “Young Old Cornwall Society” to help the children learn more about Cornish heritage.

The Society’s Recorder had photographed the recent archaeological dig at Hendersick, where a Bronze Age cremation urn had been found.  He explained that his role included photographing events around Looe, whether a local festival or the change in use of a building.  He also recorded memories of older inhabitants, and appealed for members to train to help with this task.

In a regular feature, Ken Terry gave an extract from the minutes of 50 years ago, when the speaker had talked about pilchard fishing in Looe, and how important it had been for the economy. Pilchards came to the coast of Devon and Cornwall in huge quantities for a short period each year, so the catch had to be preserved.  This was done first by drying, which was wasteful, so the industry turned to bulk pressing, layering fish with rock salt.  “Palaces” were built such as the old Albatross on the site of the Lifeboat Station, so that the fish could be cured in quantities.  Italy was the main market, but this diminished in time as the Italians grew more prosperous, and as the introduction of canning meant that cheaper South African pilchards could be imported.  By 1968 fish numbers had also diminished, and few were caught.

He introduced this month’s speaker Karin Masson, who spoke about plants that do well in the varied habitats around Looe.  She explained the geological background of the various soil types:  Meadfoot mudstone in the valleys provides a rather acid soil, and glacial meltwater from several ice ages has formed the deep drowned valleys we see today.  On the uplands, both the Wooldown and West Looe Downs were used for centuries as common land to graze cattle, whose manure has fertilised the land and allowed grasses and wild flowers to grow.  St Martin’s and the Barbican have a sequence of sandstone and volcanic material from the extinct volcano at Bin Down, which forms productive agricultural land.

On the coast, plants such as thrift (sea pink), valerian and sea beet cling on wherever their roots can penetrate, often in the mortar of old walls.  Kilminorth Woods are about 1600 years old, and have trees such as sessile oak, formerly coppiced for fuel, and also used to produce charcoal for metal smelting.  Sweet chestnut was introduced by the Romans, who mixed the roasted nuts with milk to make polenta.  Sycamore, also introduced from more southerly climes, seeds itself and is used for furniture and handles on garden tools.  Trenant shows what would grow on river banks without man’s interference:  blackthorn, gorse and hazel flourish above a carpet of primroses.

Karin finished her talk by offering a taste of her savoury soup made from freshly-gathered wild herbs, including nettles, tricorn leek and wild garlic, typical of the herbs which would have augmented the diet of poorer people at this time of year, particularly when the fishing was unsuccessful.

The meeting ended with a raffle, and tea and saffron cake were served.

March Meeting and 90th AGM

 Opening the meeting the President explained that the St Piran’s Day procession planned for Monday 5th March had been cancelled because the community was grieving the death of little Maisie Duncan, killed when a car skidded in icy conditions in Bodrigan Road.  Roger Bennett, who had organised the procession, said that he was sorry it could not go ahead, and that plans were already in hand for next year’s St Piran’s Day.  There would be a chance to celebrate St Piran this year at a joint St Patrick’s/St Piran’s concert organised by Liskeard and Looe Lions at Tencreek Holiday Park on St Patrick’s Day, 17 March.

Continuing with the ordinary business of the meeting, the Secretary reminded members that tickets for the Spring Lunch at the Copley Arms were available.  A range of summer activities have been planned, and full details would be available at the next meeting.  We are also planning to have a stall at West Looe May Fayre again this year.

A picture had appeared on Facebook of graffiti on our plaque on the well beside the Old Hall bookshop in Shutta Road, but the plaque had now been cleaned with a spray borrowed from the Town Council.

Turning to correspondence, details were now available of the Federation of Old Cornwall Societies’ Summer Festival to be held at Callington on 30th June.  An invitation had also been received to an Industrial Heritage Conference at Wheal Martyn.

She also reminded members that now that the weather is improving it is time to undertake the repainting of the Heritage Trail signs.  Some have been repainted recently and only require cleaning, others need considerably more work.

The Annual General Meeting was held at this point.  The President mentioned highlights of the past year:  the 90th Anniversary celebrations, some excellent speakers, summer outings to Carnglaze Caverns and the medieval village site at Mawgan Porth, and a Kingfisher Trip where we had actually seen a kingfisher.  He thanked all the committee for their contributions.

In the absence of the Treasurer, the Auditor gave the financial report, explaining that membership had risen steadily and while fundraising had not been as successful as last year because of bad weather during the music festival, the Society’s finances were sound, and we had been able to invest in a replacement laptop and archive boxes and files.

The Secretary thanked all those whose contribution to the day to day running of the Society makes it such a success.

The present committee were all prepared to stand again, and were re-elected en bloc.  The Society was pleased to welcome a new committee member, Val Olver.

The meeting continued with a light-hearted talk from Duncan Matthews entitled “Mermaids”.

He retold the legend of the mermaid of Zennor who had become entranced by the singing of Matthew Trewhela, and of the mermaid of the Lizard, who gave Lutey a golden comb which he used to cure evil charms.  He continued with the story of the mermaid who married the keeper of the Eddystone lighthouse, and the sad fate of her children.

He compared Cornish legends about mermaids, or Merrymaids, with their continental equivalents.  Both the Lorelei and the Danish Little Mermaid have legs, but this may be because they have been out of the water so long their tails have dried up and become legs.

Mermaids are often associated with sin, and medieval bishop’s chairs often had a mermaid with two tails carved on the base, as a reminder of the need to overcome earthly temptations.

Duncan finished with several poems, including one by Rev Hawker.

After the raffle, members enjoyed as sumptuous afternoon tea, with discussion groups providing a chance to raise ideas for the future.  This produced several interesting ideas for future trips out, and for an in depth exploration of Looe.

February meeting

Report of meeting held on Saturday 10 February 2018


President Ken Terry welcomed 45 members and 5 guests to the meeting.  Forthcoming events included the Spring Lunch, to be held at the Copley Arms, Hessenford, on Friday 27th April.  The menu would be put on the website so members could choose what they would like.

Deputy President, Roger Bennett, announced the arrangements for St Piran’s Day on Monday 5th March.  Children from Looe, Pelynt and Trenode schools, plus Sheila’s School of Dance, would meet at West Looe Quay Centre at 10.15 a.m., where Andy Kelly and Viv Bennett would provide musical accompaniment and lead the procession across the Bridge to the Guildhall, where Roger would act as master of ceremonies and invite the children to perform the pieces they had prepared.  Spectators were welcome, and Ken, Sue and Norma would distribute saffron cake.

Ken explained that he had been invited by Liskeard and Looe Round Table to join with them in a St Patrick’s/St Piran’s Day concert to be held at Tencreek Holiday Camp on March 17th, St Patrick’s Day.  The venue would be open to the public from 12 noon for those wanting to watch the 6 nations rugby match on large screen.  Food would be available.  The concert, entitled Guinness and Gin, would begin at 6.30 pm, with two Irish bands and a Cornish one.  Sue would have a stall to sell goods, and Ken had negotiated a price for members of £10.

The next meeting on Saturday 10th March would be the AGM, when all the committee would stand for re-election.  The committee would welcome new members, and Secretary Norma Dobinson invited nominations from anyone who wished to stand.  In particular, the Society still needed an archivist.

Following the success of last year’s 90th anniversary celebrations the committee had decided to serve afternoon tea after the AGM and a short talk by Duncan Matthews on ”Mermaids”.  There would be some points for discussion over tea, and he would ask each table to appoint a leader to report back.  The programme of outings for the summer had been arranged, and information would be available at the AGM.

The President went on to read the minutes of 50 years ago, when there had been 67 members present and the talk had been on rivers of east Cornwall.  The speaker had included the Lynher, Fowey and de Lank Rivers, but not the Tamar because it was partly in Devon.

He went on to introduce the speaker, Carole Vivian, on Living with Poverty and the way in which the authorities dealt with poverty in East and West Looe and Polperro.

She explained that each parish was responsible for providing relief to its own poor, so punishments were harsh for those who strayed outside their own parish and required relief.  Vagrants who refused work could be branded, and might become slaves.  However, those who were genuinely travelling through a parish to return home could be provided with relief.  These might be soldiers returning from war, or sailors who had been shipwrecked.

Poverty might arise because people were incapable of work through illness or disability, or because people were lazy.  Those that have should help those that have not, on the understanding that those that have not should be deserving.  Vagrants refusing to work could be imprisoned, have an ear cut off, or even be hanged.  Those incapable of work should register as beggars with the parish authorities.  It usually fell to the lot of the church wardens to administer poor relief.

In 1597 parishes were instructed to levy a poor rate, and in 1653 it was decreed that each parish should appoint two persons to collect alms, to compel and encourage generosity.  The two were elected annually by the parish vestry.  They might arrange apprenticeships for orphans and poor children, usually from the age of 8, but sometimes younger. They sometimes provided food or clothing for those in need, and in 1761 Mary Skinnard was paid to attend for three weeks to some children who had smallpox.  In 1656 alms were provided for the families of the 80 Looe men captured by Barbary pirates.

In the late 16th Century the overseers were instructed to find work for those who were capable of it.  By the Poor Law Act of 1601 the poor were divided into the able-bodied; the impotent poor and the unwilling poor.  The able-bodied were given tools or materials for work.

A Law of Settlement was enacted in 1662.  Newcomers to the parish must either obtain employment to enable them to be self-supporting or be capable of renting a property worth £10 per year for 40 days.  After 40 days they could claim poor relief in the new parish.

In 1697 paupers were expected to wear a letter “P” on their clothing, with something to say where they were from.

In 1702 there is a record of someone who had been provided with 51 weeks’ relief, and had leather britches, shoes and shirts provided for him.  In 1743 there is a record of a pauper burial at Talland of someone who had 47 weeks’ parish relief, including payment of rent.  Her possessions included two shifts, a blanket, an apron and a pair of stockings.  The parish would have claimed all her goods to mitigate the cost of the funeral, which included 9/6 for a coffin and 6/2 for wool to wrap her body, in accordance with the law of the time, enacted to help the wool trade.  In contrast, in 1721 Bishop Trelawny’s family paid a fine rather than have him buried in wool.

Another task of the overseers was to find the fathers of base children.  East Looe has detailed records, written on scraps of paper, which give sometimes cryptic allusions to the supposed parentage of the child.

Poor houses were established in each parish.  In Pelynt the poor house was attached to the churchyard, and may formerly have been the Church House where ale was brewed for festivals.  The recently restored Guildhouse in Poundstock had bedsits for 7 families downstairs, with a schoolroom upstairs.

Later these were replaced by workhouses, designed to receive those unable to work, to provide a “haven of last resort”.  They were not intended to be too comfortable, so families were split up, men and women having separate quarters and children housed apart from parents.  Work was provided for those capable of it, and medical care for those who were not.  Often those who lived outside the workhouse were not much better off than those inside it, but relatives and neighbours helped each other as much as they could.  Storms at sea, crop failure, the death or injury of a wage earner could all mean destitution, and those without family support such as miners working away from their homes were particularly vulnerable.

Carole was thanked for her fascinating talk, as usual packed with illuminating detail.  The meeting ended with the raffle, tea and cakes.

January Meeting

There was a large turn-out for the January meeting, including two new members and six guests, despite, or because of, the wet weather.  Ken Terry welcomed everyone to the meeting and thanked all those who had helped to make the Christmas party a success.  He explained that there would be a raffle of the wine box left over from the party.

Before Christmas the secretary had mentioned a talk by Dr John Tyler to be held in the Library to promote his book of prints of old Looe.  A copy had been purchased for the archives, and was on display, together with some prints of the Old Bridge already in the archives.

One of the Society’s members was also as member of Looe Rifle and Pistol Club, and he sold copies of a Cornish quiz to raise money to rebuild their clubhouse, which had been destroyed by arson.  He managed to raise £50, thanks to a substantial donation from another member.

The president explained that this year’s fundraising had been very successful, so much so that the Society had agreed to make donations to some local good causes.  The committee had decided to donate £100 to Looe Primary School for the school library. The school intended to spend the money on some books telling the same story in both Cornish and English.

The second award was to the fund to create a memorial to the men of Pelynt Auxiliary Unit – better known as the Secret Army – who would have formed a local branch of the Resistance if Britain had been invaded in World War Two.  A cheque for £100 was presented to John Jolliff who had researched the topic and given talks and written a booklet on the subject.  He explained that an engraved stone memorial to the men was planned for a public space outside Pelynt Village Hall.

Turning to the correspondence, the secretary said that programmes had been received from Saltash, Callington and Torpoint OCSs, and a newsletter received from the Cornwall Archaeological Society, who hold public lectures in Liskeard during the winter.  The documents were displayed.

This was followed by an extract from the minutes of fifty years ago, read by the president, at which a letter was read out from Mr G F Roose, who was intending to write a book on the Looe and Liskeard canal and railway.  Members confirmed that the book is currently available.

The speaker 50 years ago had been Mr J R Gogan of Grampound, who had spoken about the tanneries which used to exist in every small town at the turn of the 19th/20th century, and the exceptional quality of the leather produced at Grampound, where the hides were soaked for several months to make the leather very supple, and it was used for high quality shoes and medical equipment.

The president then introduced today’s  ever popular speaker, Simon Dell, who spoke about Conscientious Objectors at Dartmoor prison.  They were known as “Conchies”, a derogatory term, but a convenient abbreviation.  The subject was close to the speaker’s heart.  His grandfather, born in 1898, had joined up at the start of World War One after lying about his age.  He served all through the war, writing home enthusiastically about his experiences, if only in order to get the letter past the censors.  He survived until 1957, when he succumbed to the effects of being gassed during the war.

His younger brother, born in 1906, was too young for WW1 and became a conscientious objector in WW2.  He was a member of the Salvation Army and objected to war on religious grounds, but he joined the Medical Corps, who gained more VC’s than any other unit.  He served in Africa and Burma and saw imprisonment in Changi, and treated prisoners who worked on the Death Railway.  During his service he carried a New Testament with a white feather as a bookmark.  He returned home in 1947 with the last of the survivors.  The brothers always respected each other, despite their different views on war.

The Conscientious Objectors came to Dartmoor Prison after conscription was introduced in 1917.  After the Battle of the Somme and Passchendaele, which was described as a living hell, men started to decline to join the army, despite Kitchener’s poster and a poster showing Nurse Edith Cavell, who was shot by the Germans.  The Compulsory Service Act was introduced in 1916.  Men could get military exemption if they applied before April 1917, but they could only apply for exemption if they enlisted.  Single and married men were urged to enlist, with the false assurance that married men would not be called on to serve.  When the tribunals for exemption were held, 300 were granted out of a total of 16,000.  The members of the tribunals were mostly military men or their widows, and those who were granted exemption were exempt from combatant service only.  Even those medically unfit were declared fit for war.

Conscientious objectors were divided into Alternativists, mostly objectors on religious grounds, who would do other duties, and Absolutists who refused to take any part in the war.  Quakers set up the “Friends’ Ambulance Unit”, but became Absolutists when ordered to join the Army Medical Corps.

Non-combatants dug trenches, and built bridges as well as becoming stretcher bearers.  Any man over 18 was in the army, so those who would not go to war were imprisoned in Richmond Castle, Yorkshire.  It was decided to send 16 of them to war, despite government criticism of the plan.  If they refused to pick up a weapon they were punished by being tied to a crucifix with barbed wire for two hours.  They were then threatened with a firing squad and put through a mock execution, but none of them broke.  Eventually Brace work units were set up for the Absolutists at Wakefield, Warwick, Dyce (Aberdeenshire).  Conditions were severe, and many died of pneumonia.

Dartmoor Prison had been emptied so as to be used by German prisoners of war, but none turned up, so the Conchies were sent to Dartmoor to work for the Duchy of Cornwall, some breaking stones, working in dairies or laundries;  others went on to the moors to dig ditches, build walls and plough fields – all to no purpose.  Some built the infamous “road to nowhere” which can still be seen on the Moors.  They were paid for their work, and it is said that their rations were better than the army’s, but most were educated men who could have been more usefully employed, and many died after being sent out to work while unwell.  They were not released until 1919, so that the men returning from war had the pick of the employment on offer.

After questions, the speaker sold several signed copies of his book on the subject, and the meeting closed with the two raffles and tea and cakes.