Sacred Texts  Legends and Sagas  Celtic  Index  Previous  Next 

Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Vol. 1, by William Bottrell, [1870], at

The Self-Taught Architect of the Land's-End

The only structure we have in the town that is anything like an example of this ornate style, is the front of the "Star" hotel. This pleasing facade is some compensation for the loss of the old balcony, consecrated by its associations with Sit Humphry Davy's boyish days. As pretty fair examples of the adaptability of the Old English to all the exigencies of modern comforts and refinements, and to prove that one may do whatever one likes with this pliable style, we have the Abbey, the Marine Retreat, some small cottages in the Back-lane, also two or three pairs of semidetached cottages near the Catholic Church. There are also some caricatures and abominable shams about, which throw discredit on the style. As interesting-looking, therefore pleasing, villa residences, we have Pendrea and Trewidden. Farther afield, there is an excellent example of picturesque simplicity and variety in the parsonage-house near Halsetown, the residence of the Rev. W. J. Drake. This house is well worth the study of builders for its convenient arrangement on a square plan,—for the variety of pleasing forms in the doorways, windows, and well-proportioned chimney-stacks and gables, as well as the ornamental slate-work with which some of the gables are dressed, as being more durable than the ordinary barge-boards, which soon decay, whereas the slate is everlasting. Nothing can form more picturesque groupings than this parsonage, and its church of corresponding style. As another example, to show how our Old English seems at home and at its ease everywhere, observe how well the addition made to the "First and Last" becomes its site. This portion of the ancient inn, at Sennen, and the cottages in the Back-lane, Penzance, were designed by a self-taught architect, born and bred in Sennen, Mr. Charles Hutchens, who resided many years at Torpoint, constructed a great number of buildings in Devonport, in the three towns generally, and in other parts of the county, of which any architect might be proud. The nephew of this gentleman, Mr. Thomas Hutchens, of Sennen, is now Mr. Gilbert Scott's right-hand man; and, like his master, his whole heart and soul is devoted to Gothic architecture.

In the opinion of many persons of taste the quaint old market house, low, irregular, and devoid of all pretensions to ornament—when surrounded by the houses of as simple a mode, was a more pleasing object than the

p. 153

present insipid, silly-looking structure, which, when first seen from Marketjew-street, looks like a heavy wall to support a portico and dome to which there is no body of building,—a grand entrance, to which one cannot see the means of access, and which apparently leads to nothing. This end is the most faulty, because the most pretentious.

The old French chateau style, with its steep-pitched roofs, turrets, galleries, balconies, &c. (of which we have a fair example in the Queen's Hotel), is far better adapted for a private residence in our wet and windy climate that the naked, cold-looking Italian, with its flat, low-pitched roof, ashamed to be seen, and such other appurtenances as are only suitable for a grand temple, or other large public building, in a sunny climate.

The Bustle of a Market-Day

We cannot think of the old market-house without remembering the animated scene around it of a market-day. On the higher side, at the corn-market steps, opposite the "Golden Lion," the jolly farmers and their buxom wives would be seen arriving, seated each on two or more sacks of grain, with a basket of butter and eggs on the arm of the dame, and probably a basket of poultry on that of her lord. The crowing, squalling, laughing, and scolding showed a sound heart and lungs, and that the old folks were neither ashamed nor afraid to be seen to do their own work; and the appetizing steam which ascended through the open kitchen window of the cozy hostel, at the foot of the stairs, told them, as well as the screeching, lard-labouring roasting-jack, as plainly as jack could speak, that plenty of good substantial fare would soon be ready for their equally substantial appetites. There is no mistake about it,—there was less nonsense about the people then than now. At that time the ladies of the squires, merchants, and farmers, did their own marketing,—aye, and often such dames as Mesdames Noye, Trezillian, Ustick, and Fender, in the west country, and others of equal rank in town, would ride to the mill on the sacks of corn and bolt the meal themselves. The sturdy butchers—to be seen in the meat-market then—were mostly occupiers of the land near the town, and often cultivated many of the farms of Madron. The crooks with which the transverse bars (between the stalls and overhead in all parts of the house) were armed, sometimes caught in the ladies’ towering head-dresses.

Madam Trezillian's Head-Dress

There is a story told of a gay Madam Trezillian, of Raftra, who outdid all the ladies in the west country in the breadth of her hoops and the height of her tete (as the tower of cushions, ribbons, lace, and hair was called with which the heads of the dames were surmounted). Against one St. Levan feast a barber was had out from Penzance to dress the lady's head-piece in the most approved mode of the town. It must

p. 154

be understood that when the heads of these ancient belles were put en grande toilette they were not taken down at night often for weeks together. That these monstrous headpieces might not be deranged, the bedsteads were made a foot or two longer than the ordinary affair of the present day. During the feasten week, having company to entertain all the time, madam's tete of course was not disturbed, nor for a week or two after, when she was engaged in visiting, until she felt such a headache that she was obliged to send for Dr. Maddron, from St. Just, that he might see what ailed her noddle. Still the precious mass of wool, pomatum, &c., remained undisturbed on the outside, when the doctor arrived, and insisted on having it taken down and opened. Then, they say, he found a nest of mice had been littered in the greasy pads which raised the lady's hair, besides any quantity of fly-blows in different stages of growth. No doubt, the old mother mouse came every night to nurse her interesting tender brood of young ones. Madam's head was in such a state that she was obliged to have it shaved. The hair was carefully saved and made up into a false head-dress (one could hardly call it a wig) against Madron-tide, when she came to pass the feast with Squire Daniel at Alverton. The feasten eve, in walking through the market-house with Madam Daniel, the bows of her towering tete caught on the crooks. Still, on she walked the whole length of the market before she discovered her loss by the uproar of laughter with which the lady's bald pate and her suspended head-dress were greeted by the butchers and their boys, and by their wives as well we guess.

The Ancient Fish-Women of Penzance

One can't take leave of the old market without some notice of the handsome fisherwomen, in their picturesque old costume of short scarlet cloaks and broad felt hats, which well became their coal-black eyes and hair, and heightened the oriental cast of some of their Spanish-looking countenances. Then their tongues, loud and musical, hailing every one who passed the street:—"Wount ’e buy some nice fresh fish to-day, my dear?" "Cheeld vean; why you shall have en for nothing: do come here?" As well as their chaffing and slack jaw, at each other and all the world besides. Above all, the shoemakers, who kept their stalls near by, came in for a good share of their gibes. People had a heart to laugh then, and were all the better friends even for a little rough talk, before so much organized hypocrisy, whining cant, and morbid feeling, became the fashion, which seems, if possible, to be increasing in intensity and stupidity in Penzance.

The buildings surrounding the Market-place, Green Market, and many other parts of the town, were mongrelized about the time of the erection of the new structure by taking the mullions out of the windows of many of the old houses, lowering the pitch of the roofs, erecting useless

p. 155

unmeaning parapets, covering walls of dressed granite and ornamental slate-work with other shams, until the surrounding buildings are changed into worse-looking objects if possible than the centre-piece. A specimen of the true appreciation of just proportion which seems to have been intuitive with the old masons may yet be seen in the dressed chimney-stacks with embattled mouldings, belonging to the old house (said to have been as country seat at one time) now occupied by Mr. Field, and at the north-east corner of the market-place. In the rear of the premises, more examples of the old style will be found.

After the destruction of Old English houses, it is gratifying to find that a gentleman has erected a palatial residence at the west-end of the town in which much of the beauty of the ancient domestic architecture is shown. Yet a building so extensive seems to require something to relieve the general flatness of the sky-line and the sameness of the numerous chimney-stacks—a boldly projecting battlemented tower to serve as a porch to the main entrance (in place of the insignificant-looking low porch now placed there) would give an air of dignity to the mansion. The south front is too narrow for good proportion; and a proper tower-like porch would given an additional breadth of twelve feet at least. Good taste and architectural precedent admit of the entrance-porch being battlemented when the other portions of the building are plain, as we may see in many good examples of public and domestic buildings. Take Buryan, and some other churches, as examples of the former; the mansion-house at Trelawney for the latter. A bell-turret of an octagonal shape, a few feet higher than the ridge of the roof, should spring from the junction of tower and house at the right-hand or northern angle, so that the turret-bell would be rung by a rope at the right-hand side of the door—inside the porch. The octagonal summit might be roofed flat, or be surmounted by a bell-shaped cupola, which would group well with the chimney-stacks. The bold square front of the summit of the tower would relieve the sameness of the gables, and change the somewhat almshouse-looking air of the entrance-front into something more becoming a baronial hall.

We hope that when the mansion is finished an appropriate old Cornish name * will be given to the place. As Caernoweth (the New Castle) is

p. 156

the most striking object in the landscape, seen from the Western Esplanade, and most of the other favourite walks at the west end of the town, it is much to be desired that the owners would add some prominent feature to vary the sky-line and give a more picturesque and noble appearance to what may in time come to be regarded as a venerable monumental structure. The chimney-stacks might have been made to form most ornamental, as well as varied, groupings of pleasing forms, but they seem to be cast all in the same mould. Why not have taken a hint from such genuine specimens of good designs as the chimneys of Pendeen, and other old mansions of the west?


155:* It is much to be desired that the old Cornish names of the fields, which have been, and are being, built on, should be preserved, as has been done in Morrab-place, Tredinnick, and some few other places. Trewartha-terrace is also happily named, as Trewartha means higher town. Vounder-noweth would have been quite as pleasing a name to Cornish ears, and more distinguishing, than Alexandra-road for the new lane.

For the clearer understanding of Celtic names, we may observe that in the old Cornish language the adjective usually follows the substantive, the definite article (an, the) between the two, as in Park-an-venton, where the order in which the words stand is field-the-spring. Sometimes an (the Cornish article) serves as an individualizing particle to denote the singular, in such words as have no variation for number. The plural, in all the Celtic dialects, is very irregularly formed, but never terminates in the letter s, often in ow. p. 156

In many names the component words must be inverted to find their proper place in English. Take Nancothan for example, which reads thus:—Nan, valley; Coth, old; An, the. The name would convey the idea that this place was the part of the bottom first cleared and settled. Or Taldaves, in which Tal is hill, Daves, sheep. Tremethack: Tre, town; Methack, doctor.

Many appropriate names for detached residences might be formed by prefixing to the name of the field on which the residence is erected, such of the following words as might be the most suitable:—Bo, or Bos, dwelling; Chy, house; Tre homestead; Lan, an enclosure; Caer, town, or castle; with many other words: or by adding such adjectives as are descriptive of the locality, &c. Take, for example, the very common name for a field of weeth, which has just the same general meaning as the borrowed word park, or the ancient signification of lan. The name is mostly applied to meadow land. This happens to be the name of the fields on which Mr. Bolitho's house is built, and the name for the "higher field" would be Weeth-an-Wartha** or Trenweth, the place in the field; Bosweethan, the field-house.

Botrea is also a suitable name for a family mansion, as it means the home-house, or ancestral place. There are hundreds of names with a pleasing sound, always descriptive of the locality, as Penrose, head of the vale; Chynance, house in the vale; Bar-an-huel, the high cliff, or hill; Boskenna, house on the ridge. Or take the many sweet-sounding names formed from vellan, as Trevellan, milltown, Vellanoweth, new mill; Vellandreath, mill on the sand; &c. Or Chelew, sheltered house; Chengwens, the windy house, &c. We have abundance of suitable names for places near the water, as Chy-an-dower, house by the water; Pendower, head of the water: &c.

155:** p. 156 Since the above appeared in the Cornish Telegraph, Mr. Bolitho has adopted the name of Polwithan.

Next: The School-Days and Home of Pellew