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.