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Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Vol. 2, by William Bottrell, [1873], at

An Overseer and a Parish Clerk of St. Just about sixty years ago.

"It was no wonder if persons coming from Penzance to Pendeen of a dark night should miss their way and think themselves piskey-led," said the tinner.

"There was neither bridge nor house in the place called New Bridge before wheel carriages were in use, and the only St. Just road from Penzance this side of Cardew Water was a mere bridle-path or rather a great number of horse tracks, often crossing each other and twisting about far and wide round rocks and intervening patches of furze, over miles of open downs and boggy. moors, with no hedges near the road to keep it within bounds. When one track was worn too deep it was never repaired, as there was plenty of room to make a new one. Bridges then were few, and for the most part made by placing flat slabs to rest on the stepping-stones in some of the deepest streams, for the convenience of foot passengers. These old foot-bridges were ugly things to cross by night and the stepping-stones were worse."

"We have all. heard about the old stepping-stones in Nancherrow Water," said the tinner, who finished the foregoing story, "how, after day-down, no one could pass over them in going to Church-town without some mishap, and no person would venture to return that way until daybreak. Shortly before the

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first bridge was built there, one of the overseers was a farmer who lived in the North of St. Just. Few persons then could either write or read, except one here and there, who passed for a great scholar if he could sign his name and read a chapter in the Psalter without much spelling. The overseer not knowing how to write or cipher, kept the accounts of his monthly disbursements on the dairy-door, in round o's for shillings and long chalks for pence. The last Saturday of each month he took the dairy-door on his back and carried it to Church-town, that the clerk might enter his accounts in the parish book.

"One Saturday, in the season when days are short and streams high, the overseer couldn't make out his accounts and reach Nancherrow Water before dark; and, in passing, with the door on his back, over the wet and slippery stones, he lost his balance, and fell into the stream. By good luck the door was under, and floated him down to a place where the water spread out shallow and there he landed, but all the accounts were washed out. ’Tis said that the overseer's mishap was the reason why the first bridge was built over Nancherrow Water."

"I can tell ’e another sad case," said the Capt. "We elderly folks have all heard of Uncle Will Ben, who was the parish clerk and the best fiddler in the parish, a little before I was born, and everybody says he was what we call a 'peathy old fellow, with plenty of gumption.'

"One Feasten Monday Uncle Will was rather late in going to Church-town with his fiddle, in a case, under his arm, to play during the night in a public house. Being Feasten Monday, like enough he had stopped to take a drop at neighbours’ houses on the road; however, in crossing Nancherrow Water, his foot slipped from the stepping-stones and his fiddle fell from under his arm into the water, floated down the stream and in under a high bank where it was caught in some brambles. A gentleman riding through the water, saw Uncle Will a little below trying to get at something with his stick, and asked what was the matter. Uncle Will told him of his mishap. 'I pity your case,' the horseman replied, and rode on.

"'I don't care a cuss for the case if I'd only got my fiddle,' replied Uncle Will.

"This gave rise to the saying which is still often heard, 'I don't care a cuss for the case, if I'd only got the fiddle,' as Uncle Will Ben said.

"This old jewel of a parish clerk and fiddler said many other things which are still remembered and used as every-day sayings.

"It was the custom then for the great farmers to invite the parson and clerk to supper on goolthise (harvest-home) day, and the sexton usually came to work and see his reverend master

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safe home. Often all three came in time to lend a hand about the corn carrying. If two farmers had their goolthise on the same day the parson and sexton favoured one and the clerk the other. It happened, one day, when Uncle Will came alone early in the morning to help, and to enjoy the feast, that the weather was very lowering, and such was the fear of rain coming before the corn was in ricks, and thatched, that the carrying was continued all day for dear life, without stopping to take any other breakfast or dinner than such snacks as the corn carriers could catch, when there were more trusses round the ricks than the builders could put away for some time. The corn was then, except on a few large farms where ox-wains were just coming into use, all carried on the horses’ backs, and the chasers, as they called the leaders who kept the trusses steady on the horses, were fond of coming in together that they might have a race back to the field, made the mowers work very irregular; it was gallop and stop half the time. That day, however, all worked with such a will that the corn was in and thatched in good time before the rain came.

"The supper being served, the clerk, in the absence of the parson, was asked to say grace. Uncle Will hesitated a moment; then, rising, he said, 'Thank God we have carried all the corn and had very fine weather; so here's grace for breakfast, dinner, and supper together.'

"Yet what is usually known as Uncle Will Ben's grace, is, 'God bless the meat and now let's eat!'

"Another saying accredited to Uncle Will—that 'Job had patience, but Job never had such a splat of black petates in his life'—is owing to An’ Mary, wife, having been a parson's daughter from upwards, and 'brought up like lad' as he was fond of saying sometimes. When Will was a young and smart militia man and An’ Mary a girl in her teens, he fell in love with her and she fell in love with him, and came with him to St. Just. In their time potatoes were just coming into use; gentlemen and some farmers planted a few in their gardens as a curious vegetable to be used on extraordinary occasions. Will Ben, not to be behind the fashion, had a small spot planted in his garden. When his potatoes were high enough for hoeing Will told his wife Mary, who kept the garden in order, to hoe the 'splat of petates,' and be sure to hoe them clean. When William came in from his work in the fields, he said, 'Well Mary, hast a hoed the petates?' 'Yes, William dear, and hoed them nice and clean; just go out and look at them whilst I take up the supper.' 'William dear' went into the garden, but he saw no potatoe-plants, for Mary had cut them all out of the ground, not knowing them from weeds. 'Dear William' came in swearing on his wife

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for hoeing up all the precious petates, telling her that it had been ten times better for him if he had wedded the sexton's dafter, as she would have made a better farmer's wife. An’ Mary (who, as I have heard say, was always a dear gentle soul) only replied, 'Sweet William, have patience and they will grow again. Remember Job, William dear, and think, cheeld vean, how he had patience.'

"'Oh! d——n Job,' replied sweet William, 'don't tell me about Job. Job never had such a splat of black petates in his life!'

"And now, my dears," said Capt. Peter, "holding up a pot of foaming ale, here's health and luck to ’e all, my hearties, and a merry Feasten-tide to 'one and all.' There's no sense in being miserable, and, for my part, old as I am, I'd go ten miles this night to dance to the music of as good a fiddler and as honest a man as Uncle Will Ben."

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