Finn’s Fine Shoes

Just outside Penzance next to the main A30 to Land’s End sits the town’s Tesco store, a squat ugly construction with zero architectural merit that at least fifty percent of the residents of the town spend far too much time in.  The building is built on what, in fact, is a former marsh, drained as part of a scheme to improve railway access to the town, doing away with an unreliable wooden bridge that used to carry trains into Penzance station in the nineteenth century.  This site was of course, not  always a supermarket and until 1996 was the site of the notable, but equally ugly land mark, the Finn’s Shoes factory.

For many children in the area Finn’s Shoes played a part in our everyday lives providing us with school shoes that carried an “indestructible” reputation purchased in the Summer holidays in preparation for a long year of football, mud and inclement weather.  Finn Shoes were a relatively well known brand and in fact were one of the first companies to use television advertising using the the rather optimistic slogan  “Finn shoes, the fine shoes that kiddies love to wear, Finn shoes, the fine shoes that never need repair” . As a child it never occurred to me to ask why exactly Penzance had a shoe factory of this size? Why had a well known national company chosen my home town to operate out of?

Finn's staff 1986 by Phil Monckton

Finn’s staff 1986 by Phil Monckton

The story begins in the 1950’s far away in the manufacturing heartlands of  mid-lands, specifically Nuneaton.  Finn Shoes seems to have been founded in the years prior to World War II but came to the fore between 1953 and 1956. A fascinating article in the Times dated 1956 describes the invention of a shoe for children designed to remove completely the need for shoe repairs. Extra tough rubber soles were “uniquely” fused to the chromium treated leather uppers, providing a tough durable shoe.  Mr Finn added:

“The design of the soles reduces the risk of slipping on wet or shiny surfaces, and a light steel brace built into the shoe gives the necessary gentle support without damaging flexibility. We are confident that henceforth shoe-mending in terms of soling and heeling can become a thing of the past, though care will obviously be necessary to check the moment when the child is. in fact, growing out of his shoe”.

The inventor of these shoes, Mr SA Finn was said in the same article to be trialling these shoes with the help of an Orthopaedic surgeon and eighty boys from the Barnado children’s homes, who had received the footwear as part of a charitable donation.

Finn Shoes factory in Nuneaton

The former Finn Shoes factory in Nuneaton

By the 1960’s Finn Shoes were producing some 10,000 pairs of these shoes a week from it’s factory in Nuneaton. According to accounts provided by the British Board of Trade by the mid-sixties space in Nuneaton was limited and labour was hard to find, Finn’s needed to expand. Geoffrey Finn the managing director of the firm undertook what was a described as a “tour” to find a suitable place to build a new factory for the company and was met with “open arms” by the then Penzance Borough Council. Finn’s were provided a purpose built factory by the Board of Trade under the auspices of the “South West Development Area” an attempt to boost the economy of the area West of Bristol.  The factory was around 10,000 square foot in size and included a factory shop were shoes could be sold to locals.

Employment in Cornwall is never a given and very soon the factory was a attractive destination for the job seeker in the area. Coupled with a mini migration of workers from the heartland of shoe manufacture, the factory started to have a significant financial benefit to the town.

By the 1970’s the Nuneaton branch of the company was sold off to “Ward White” an expanding manufacturing and retail empire who promised to enhance and maintain the Finn’s reputation.  Ward White was partially made up of one of Finn’s Nuneaton shoe manufacturing rivals “George Ward Shoes” and at the time of the acquisition of Finn’s the combined company had over 300 people engaged in show production in Nuneaton alone.  Ward White eventually was purchased by the Boots Retail group in the later 1990’s, nothing seems to have remained of the Finn’s brand at the time of merger, the business being entirely focussed on its flagship Halford’s business.  These commercial exchanges made Penzance the sole manufacturing base for Finn Shoes proper.

Around the mid seventies the Penzance firm was churning out around 25,000 pairs of shoes a week. Meaning that around 1.3 million people a year were buying and wearing Finn’s shoes.  The market was by no means limited to the UK and in fact African, Eastern European and Scandinavian nations all provided significant markets for the company.  “Business” the magazine of the board of trade in the 1970’s reported  “Finn Shoes export shoes extensively to all the Scandinavian countries and to many of the African states”.

The workers of Finn Shoes liked to enjoy life. Photograph supplied by Trish Hughes.

The workers of Finn Shoes liked to enjoy life. Photograph supplied by Trish Hughes.

Behind the facts and figures there were of course real people who worked for the Finn Shoes, one such worker was Richard Phelan, part of the Finn’s workforce in the mid-eighties.  Richard started in the factory with the particularly mundane job of  placing little bits of masking tape onto shoe parts moving onto other roles on the production line.  “On one side a production line which did the basic putting together of the uppers and on the other side another one made of three rows that spanned round in an oval”.  “There was a smaller version of this called the ‘rink’ which is were I worked”. Richard explained just exactly he did on the rink  “I did all sorts of jobs on the rink but my primary role was tacking the insoles and supporting the skilled jobs”.  “At the time I worked there it was a pretty pleasant place as factories go” explained Richard   “pay was calculated by a combination of bonuses based on how much we produced each week and a basic wage, we always made our bonuses. It was easier to earn bonuses on the rink” he added “many of the other machines were worked particularly hard and broke down a great deal”.   I asked Richard how much he remembered of the members of the Finn family who had founded the company and led the move to the town “At the time I worked there the main manager was the excellently named Micky Finn (Michael Finn a member of the Finn family) we saw very little of the rest of the bosses”.

The footwear industry began to change in the 1980’s with the demand for sports style shoes booming, leaving the traditional school shoe increasingly an anachronism. Some of Finn’s overseas markets also began to wane Eastern European nations increasingly opening up to Western Markets including the highly desirable world of the sports shoes and the blue jeans.  During this period Finn Shoes applied for and got support to “restructure” from the Department of Trade and Industry in the late eighties a sure sign that the business was beginning to feel the financial pinch.  Of course it was at this time that the deep recession of the later eighties came into being a recession that was acutely felt in the working communities of Britain, places where Finn’ shoes were a regular bought in preference to the more middle class brands such as Clarks.

Workers from Finn Shoes enjoying a drink. Photograph supplied by Trish Hughes.

Workers from Finn Shoes enjoying a drink. Photograph supplied by Trish Hughes.

By the mid 19990’s Tesco stores, who had been in a battle with the local authority for over a decade over the location of a new store to replace it’s town centre shop, bought the Finn’s factory site and in 1996 demolished the building making way for the unimaginative eyesore that we can see today.  At the same time Finn’s made the move to a more modern facility in the nearby industrial area of Long Rock but this was to be a short lived move.

Financial pressures and changing fashions began to catch up with company and on August the 13th 1997 Lloyds Bank dealt a body blow to Finn Shoes from which it never recovered, calling in financial administrators Ernst & Young. 160 jobs were lost and Penzance was dealt a financial body blow.  The closure of the factory became a cause célèbre for politicians of all colours, being cited as an example of the failure of economic policy in the Duchy especially by Cornish Nationalists.  To the ordinary people of Penzance the closure of Finn’s became a symbol of the creeping financial malaise in area, the death of real jobs, the continued decline of opportunities to find decent employment.

I only ever owned one pair of Finn’s shoes hastily bought by my parents after my wanton destruction of my Clark’s shoes when I was about ten years old. I remember them being rather ugly and clumpy but practically Undestroyable.  Nostalgia however leaves many people with fond memories of the Finn’ product and if they were a member of the workforce the camaraderie of working in the factory and the friends they made there.

Words by Simon Reed

 

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ACTOR’S PROFILE: Steve Jacobs, Miracle Theatre

There are some faces that appear on stage that our unforgettable and Steve Jacobs, who is appearing in Miracle Theatre’s production of Waiting for Godot in August and September, has one of those faces. Rugged, handsome and aged to perfection, Steve is appearing in his seventh Miracle stage production. The list of previous Miracle Theatre productions featuring Steve is impressive: Twelfth Night, Quazimodo, The Great Silence, Romeo and Juliet, Sherlock Holmes and Tin.

steve jacobs, miracle theatre

Waiting for Godot

Steve, who has lived in Cornwall since he was in his early teens, took time out from rehearsals to speak to myCornwall editor Mark Pugh about his acting career and how he came to be a regular with one of Cornwall’s most popular theatre companies: “I was ten when I took to the stage for the first time, I lived in Tottenham at this time. But it was when I moved down to Cornwall that it really took hold. I started performing with the local youth group at the Acorn Theatre in Penzance.”

Playing Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the West Cornwall Theatre Group at the Minack Theatre was one of those early Cornwall performances. “I loved it. It was a dream to play Puck and the Minack was a wonderful venue.” Steve is retuning to the stage with Waiting for Godot: “I’m looking forward to it. It’s one of those iconic theatre spaces”.

Like many actors of Steve’s calibre television work has been a part of his portfolio of performances including parts in Doc Martin, The Bill, Wycliffe and the film of Miracle’s production Tin. With more than 35 years of professional acting experience behind him Steve was the obvious choice for the part of Estragon according to Miracle Director Bill Scott: “Steve is a wonderful actor with great instinct: he understands how to breathe life into a text, he understands how to connect with an audience and he understands how, on stage, ‘less’ is usually ‘more’.”

Steve has appeared in plays for most of Cornwall’s well known theatre companies including Kneehigh, Wildworks and Cube. He has played a variety of different parts including Sherlock Holmes in the play of the same name, Parsimonia and Obadaiah in Tin, and Malvolio in a Miracle’s production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes

A director in his own right, he directed Pinocchio for Cornwall’s Cube Theatre, Steve has nothing but praise for for Miracle director Bill Scott and all those he works with. “I’ve loved working with Bill and the rest of the Miracle cast and crew. They work hard, rehearse hard and put on memorable performances. It’s a big family and I love it and the audiences seem to like us too.”

How did the rehearsals going for Waiting for Godot? “It all went really well. Hard work as rehearsals always are. The more we got to know the play the more the relationships between the characters develop. They are touching and funny. I think the audiences will get involved with the characters and love the play as much as we do.

For more information about Miracle go to www.miracletheatre.co.uk

 

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Three of the Best Cornish Chutneys

As the winter weather hits Cornwall add a little flavour to your cheeseboard with one of these tasty Cornish chutneys!

Here are our pick of three of the best…

Crellow Chutneys

Using traditional recipes and cooking methods in a modern commercial kitchen, Crellow specialize in savoury chutney, pickle and relish with such favourites as Apple, Date and Ginger, Tom Foolery and Jewel in the Crown.

www.sisleys-crellow.co.uk

cornish chutney

Berrio Mill Chutneys

These homemade chutneys are made in small batches using locally grown ingredients and feature a range of flavours including; Proper Cornish Tomato Chutney, Farmhouse Chutney with Ginger and Beetroot Chutney.

www.berriomill.co.uk

cornish chutney

Sisley’s Cornish preserves

This family run business, founded in 2003, produces a variety of handmade chutneys using quality ingredients. Their most popular varieties include Apricot and Date, Piccalilli and Runner Bean.

www.sisleys-crellow.co.uk

cornish chutney

 

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ARTIST PROFILE: Suzie Williams

myCornwall’s Rebecca Holden went in search of Suzie Williams a Porthleven based artist with an affinity for nature and the wise old crow.

As soon as the quaint coastal town of Porthleven came in to view it was easy to see why Suzie chose this corner of Cornwall to base her studio and gallery.

Still lingering in the midsts of winter, it was a surprisingly warm day and I couldn’t help but smile at the prospect that Spring was on its way. As I unlatched the garden gate and walked through, a snug summerhouse caught my eye and I couldn’t help but notice the intriguing black crows apparently nesting in two plant pots adorning the doorway, a link to her gallery The Four Crows perhaps? It was whilst studying these that the door opened and Suzie appeared having clearly been in the throws of creating one of her paintings.

Suzie Williams

Welcoming me inside, I entered her studio and creative haven. Palette in hand, Suzie began to tell me a little about her artwork and the space in which she paints.

“When it comes to my paintings I use mixed media, so I mix acrylic and oil together on the same canvas, which I think is quite unusual in itself. I work really quickly and I like to create texture and layers, but find that I can be quite haphazard when immersed in my creative flow.”

“I tend to spend a long time working on a piece and keep going over it, so often find that I work on a few pieces at once. I re-apply paint and add layers as I go. Sometimes I can leave a piece for a few weeks and then go back to it. I tend to use acrylic mostly, but I like how the mix of acrylic and oil creates a really fantastic pattern when they fuse together. I’ve also been doing a lot of ink drawings that I can do in my gallery.”

Setting down her palette and paint brush, Suzie beckoned me towards the house and with a quick smile at her dog in the porch we were soon seated around her kitchen table, enjoying the sunshine pouring through the window.

Being an artist is clearly a defining part of Suzie’s personality, but has this always been the case?

Suzie Williams

“I’ve always been arty, I used to draw a lot in school and I’ve always done a bit of drawing and painting. Once I had my kids I started doing a few evening classes in various things, pottery, paper mache and then I started a painting class in the village for a couple of years, but strangely enough I actually trained as a hairdresser and years ago when I was about nineteen I had a small studio, which in a strange turn of events has ended up being the space for my shop and gallery, The Four Crows.”

Having completed a foundation course in art at the University College Falmouth (now Falmouth University) Suzie went on to do her BA in Fine Art at UCF.

“It took me seven years part time to complete the entire degree in Fine Art. I worked and completed the degree simultaneously, graduating in 2011.”

But when her time as a student came to an end the next step wasn’t clear.

“I thought what am I going to do now? I didn’t feel confident enough taking my work around to galleries so when I noticed the same premises that I had rented previously available to let again, I knew it was meant to be and decided to take on the space again, this time using it as a gallery and shop.”

Has Cornwall always been her home and source of inspiration?

“I was born in Surrey but my family moved to Cornwall when I was about seven years old so I grew up down here. I’ve lived in Porthleven since I was about eighteen, and find it to be a very inspiring place to live.”

Suzie Williams

I agree that it’s hard not to be inspired by Cornwall’s rugged landscapes and creative individuals and Suzie explains that both combine to impact her work.

“My work is very much organic and nature based, and I collect things when I am out walking, pick up seeds and bits of grass and all sorts of things that catch my eye. I also take lots of photographs which in turn inspire my paintings.’

“There are also lots of local artists that inspire me, I love Michael Porter and Nicola Bealing. Other outside influences come from the places I visit, I do tend to travel quite a lot so there is always something new and different to feed off creatively.”

As it turns out Suzie’s creativity runs in the family. She is one of four sisters and this was actually the inspiration for the name of her gallery, The Four Crows, with each crow referring to a sister.

“My maiden name is Crowhurst, hence the ‘crow’ reference. One of my sisters sadly passed away but my other two sisters are very creative in that the eldest does a lot of sewing and my other sister writes poetry, so we all have very different creative abilities.”

“The Four Crows, will have been open a year in April, and it was quite a scary project to start up on my own. It was a big challenge, as originally I only had my work to showcase so I had to put a lot of time in to sourcing the work of other artists. Having said that, I’ve really enjoyed it and the gallery now has a mixture, including pieces of my own artwork, and pieces by Cornish designer makers. It’s very small but I’ve managed to fit quite a lot in, turning it in to a bit of an Aladdin’s cave.”

So what’s next?

“Currently, I’m working on a commission for a couple that live in Ashton, they live over looking a lake and they wanted me to go up and get inspiration and see what I come up with.”

“I also have an exhibition planned to run over Easter from Wednesday 27th March until Saturday 27th April called Birds, Bugs and Beasts, so I’m currently trying to find some artists to take part in that. Looking to the future I am soon to be moving the gallery to a harbour front location in Porthleven and I am hoping to organise a few further exhibitions and also some solo exhibitions for local artists.”

The Four Crows Gallery run by Suzie

Suzie Williams

Four Crows Gallery, 3, Commercial Road, Harbourside, Porthleven, TR13 9JD

07545523233

www.fourcrowsgallery.co.uk

www.facebook.com/FourCrowsGallery

 

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‘ARTIST PROFILE: Suzie Williams’ is taken from our April/May 2013. Subscribe to myCornwall magazine for more stories like this one.

HOTEL REVIEW: Rose in Vale Hotel

Country House Retreat

Tucked away in the picturesque village of Mithian, is a beautiful Grade II Georgian Country House, which has been transformed in to a luxury four-star hotel with contemporary home comforts contained within its character filled walls. Current owners of Rose in Vale Hotel, James and Sarah Evans, have turned their home in to a peaceful haven for those looking to take a break free from the noise of children and local nightlife, and with the beach just a stones throw away, this country retreat offers guests the best of both worlds, with a vast stretch of luscious gardens complete with pond and local walking routes and the National Trust Chapel Porth Beach minutes from their door.

Rose in Vale Hotel exterior

As I turned on to an impressive driveway, the intricate detail of the hotels original Georgian façade presented itself before me and I was intrigued to discover what other surprises this beautiful house might have in store. I was in fact surprised to find that what at first appeared to be a relatively small establishment, had over time been extended to not only accommodate the owners but also twenty-three en-suite bedrooms complete with restaurant, lounge areas and newly renovated reception area.

The sight of a family of ducks and trail of tiny ducklings crossing the path before me seemed to encapsulate the peaceful location in which I found myself and as I entered the new reception area I was warmly greeted by James Evans, the owner, who gave me a brief tour and showed me to my room for the night.

Placing my bag on the bed I couldn’t help but smile at the beautiful furnishings adorning my room. The simple yet stylish furniture perfectly complimented the bright and airy room and the en-suite bathroom left little to be desired. After a quick cup of tea I headed down to the restaurant.

The in-house restaurant has been awarded a Rosette by the AA for the past seven consecutive years for consistently producing high quality food, and it wasn’t hard to see why.

Rose in Vale Hotel

I settled in for what promised to be a sumptuous three-course meal. First to the table was a light and flavoursome amuse bouche in the form of an asparagus and white wine soup. This eased nicely in to my starter of shallot tart tatin with rocket salad and balsamic vinegar. For the main course I opted for a fillet of pan-seared cod and handful of cockles in a creamy white wine sauce served on a crushed potato cake and with an assortment of vegetables. By the time the dessert was placed in front of me I was unsure of how I was going to find room for it. Luckily I chose to have the rich yet light dark chocolate terrine with fresh strawberries, a darkly delicious finale to an altogether outstanding meal.

Retiring to my room after my momentous meal I ran a lovely deep bubble bath and relaxed with my book as the daylight began to fade.

The following morning, after a deep and undisturbed sleep save for a few snores from the room above… I got my things together and headed down for breakfast.

Rose in Vale Hotel

One of the many luxurious rooms at this 4-star hotel

After being shown to my table, the friendly staff on hand explained the varied options available. I chose to order scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and a round of brown toast, accompanied by orange juice and freshly brewed tea, all in all this provided a relaxed yet substantial start to the day.

As my time in this exquisite country retreat came to an end, it was clear to see why this secluded haven attracts guests to its doors year after year. From the professional manner of the staff to the unfaltering attention to detail, this is one hotel that exceeded all my expectations and with the promise of future facilities to include a spa and an indoor pool, I made a promise of my own to return.

 

Rose-in-Vale Country House Hotel

Mithian, St Agnes, Cornwall, TR5 0QD
Tel: 01872 552202
reception@rose-in-vale-hotel.co.uk

www.roseinvalehotel.co.uk

 

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MEET THE CHEF: Baker Tom Hazzeldine

This month we joined baking supremo Tom Hazzeldine (Baker Tom), one of the first bakers to bring speciality bread-making back to Cornwall.  At the age of 29 he has made his name for baking fresh, breads, pastries and cakes using traditional baking methods and the finest organic and local ingredients.  He now has four bakery shops in Truro, Wadebridge, Falmouth and Pool; the latter two also have cafes.

Baker Tom Hazzeldine

So tell us, how did it all begin?

I started the business seven years ago whilst on my gap year from university and started baking bread for a local farm shop as a favour. I made four loaves and cycled them in and they sold them pretty much instantly, and then from that point they were asking me to make larger amounts each time. I then got a little unit with just one table and one oven and then it just rapidly grew from there.

Why do you think ‘Baker Tom’s has taken off in such a big way?

I think it’s because the business started at a time when there wasn’t really a big baking craze and it was hard because you had to convince people to invest in fresh bread, knowing that they get the quality but that it would only be at its best for a couple of days. But now with programmes such as The Great British Bake Off people are discovering a new love for baking and appreciate fresh loaves.

What makes a successful bakery?

We just keep it simple, we don’t mess around with ingredients, so for example with a croissant we use 100% Cornish butter and good quality flour, and this just shines through if it’s baked well. It’s trying not to cut corners and complicate ingredients, just do it properly. We don’t use any additives or preservatives in our products, it’s good wholesome ingredients and you can taste the difference. We pride ourselves in the freshness of our products too, we don’t carry anything over to the next day, anything we don’t sell goes to the homeless. It’s all about value for money and good quality products.

Baker Tom Hazzeldine

Delicious savory and sweet treats on offer at Baker Tom’s

What was your inspiration behind opening up the bakery/café?

Some people call me the accidental baker because I never intended to be a baker, it just kind of happened, from offering to make a couple of loaves for a friend to unknowingly setting up my future business.

Did you train to be a baker?

No, I’m self-taught and I’m still learning now. I read a lot of books and also learn off the five bakers we employ here. They are all highly skilled and so there is always a lot of feeding of ideas, and we learn a lot from eachother. I’m from the new school bakers as such and they are from the old school crowd so we merge the two.

How do you come up with new recipes?

The bakers have free reign on developing new recipes and I work quite heavily on the development side too. We then choose monthly specials from the recipes they come up with. Some of them are specials that we tried and tested last year that did really well so we bring them back in and others are new, so a good mixture. The problem is everyone is a creature of habit so trying to change something is quite hard, as customers come in expecting a particular product and if we don’t have it one day people can get quite upset. With our bread, we have our core range, which never changes and then we bring in new ones.

Most popular product?

The Parmesan and Red Onion is definitely one of our most popular loaves but we recently replaced the Garlic and Olive bread, with the Potato, Garlic and Rosemary. The standard white loaf is pretty much the favourite and also the Foccacia. Here in the café the meatballs are my personal favourite and also our pasties.

Who are your food heroes?

My food heroes would have to be Gary Rhodes, Rick Stein and Richard Bertinet for their innovation and love of fresh ingredients.

Earliest food memory?

When I was in school I remember one of the girls in my class was from India, and one day her mum came in and taught us how to make chapatti’s. When I went home that night my brother and me tried making them and got flour everywhere.

Baker Tom Hazzeldine

Plans for the future?

Well I’ve actually just added a fourth shop to the business; Baker Tom’s in Wadebridge is now open at 1 The Platt and will be selling artisan breads, cakes, pastries and coffees to take away. Also my Baking Courses are now well under way for the year and they are designed for those who want to try baking for the first time or who have an interest in perfecting a certain baking skill. In fact the recipe I have provided will be included in the My First Loaf course, which we still have space on, on the 14th Aug and 26th Oct.

 

Recipe

Baker Tom’s White Loaf Recipe

This is where it all started for me, the classic country white loaf.  Fresh out of the oven, the smell of your first loaf will hook you on baking forever.  From here, you can start adding olives, fruit, nuts … the limit is endless. Chocolate and banana is one of my favourites!

Baker Tom Hazzeldine

 

Ingredients

480g White flour

300g warm water

20g rye or wholemeal flour

10g fresh yeast

10g salt

10g butter or rape seed oil (optional)

Method

Weigh all your ingredients into a large mixing bowl, without letting your yeast and salt touch.

Combine the ingredients together to form your dough, once mixed tip it onto your table and knead for 10-12 minutes until the dough feels smooth and looks shiny (this can also be done in a mixer).

Place your dough back into the bowl and cover with cling film and leave for 60 minutes.

Turn your dough onto a work surface and shape into your desired shape, preheat your oven to 250°C.

Leave your dough to rest again for 50 – 60 minutes until it’s just double in size.

Slash the tops of your dough with a very sharp knife, being careful not to drag the dough or deflate  it. Place your dough into your oven for 10 minutes then turn down to 200°C for 30 minutes or until golden brown and the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.

 

Baker Tom’s Bakery

Wilson Way, Pool, TR15 3RT

Tel: 01209 218989

info@bakertom.co.uk

www.bakertom.co.uk

 

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myCornish World: Bridget Galsworthy Estavillo

The Cornish connections with Mexico are not as well documented as some other countries. With this in mind we invited Bridget Galsworthy Estavillo from Mexico City to be the latest subject of myCornish World.

Who are you?

My name is Bridget Galsworthy Estavillo. I live in a beautiful little town called Tepoztlan, some 90 kms. south of Mexico City, where I run a bookstore-cum-restaurant-cum-cultural centre.

Were you born in Cornwall?

Confession time: I was not born anywhere near Cornwall but in Athens, Greece where my father was serving in the British Embassy accompanied, obviously, by my mother who was definitely Cornish!

Can you tell readers about your home town?

Although I have lived all my life abroad, when we were children my parents always referred to Cornwall as ‘home’ and that became the one constant in our peripatetic lives. Within Cornwall three places had special and particular significance: Trewithen in Probus where my mother grew up, Cadgwith where we had a beautiful house that sadly burnt to the ground, and St Just-in-Roseland where my parents retired and where I was able to introduce my children to the wonders of Cornwall every year I returned for holidays there.

Where did you go to school?

Of the many schools I attended in different places, two bring back strong and pleasant memories: one was the village school in Grampound where, aged 7, I spent some six months while my parents were home on leave and the other was a boarding school in Oxfordshire where I spent 6 years.  Grampound School was memorable for teaching me how to cope with pounds, shillings and pence!

What’s your best Cornish memory…

…as a child? Each time we would come to Cornwall, as we crossed the Tamar Bridge my mother would begin to tell us the stories and legends of the places we would drive through on our way: of the giants, the pixies, the pirates and highwaymen that were associated with each place.  As far as I was concerned, the journey was never long enough to listen to these wonderful tales.

…as an adult? Passing on the same tales to my own children each time I would bring them to Cornwall! Also, the long, beautiful walks around Cornwall’s glorious coasts that are ‘part and parcel’ of any time spent in Cornwall.

How long has your family been in Cornwall?

I am not the family historian but I would hazard a guess for close to 300 years.

What makes you Cornish?

It is hard to define the real reasons that makes one identify oneself with a place or region, regardless of whether you were born there or not. In my opinion, it has to do with memories, with empathy, with an innate sense of belonging and of course, with the people that one has met and been inspired by and who come from that place. On that reckoning, I am as Cornish as anyone who was born within the county and proud to call myself so!

What is your favourite place to…

…Relax?  With my back against a Cornish cliff, looking out to sea.

…Have fun?  In one of the many great pubs in Cornwall.

…Take the kids? When they were younger, rock pooling in any of the coves around the Lizard was the greatest entertainment of all.

What’s your favourite Cornish food and drink?

A Cornish icecream with a milky flake on Pendower beach (or for that matter, any beach in Cornwall!).

And Scrumpy is, in my opinion, one of the great drinks of the world.

Where do you live now and what do you do?

I have lived in Mexico for close to 40 years and no doubt will continue to do so for the rest of my days!  I have a bookstore which has become an important venue for all manner of cultural activities and that keeps me extremely busy.  And I keep my hand in with the editorial/publishing world where I worked for many years.

How do you stay Cornish when out of Cornwall?

For close to 6 years I have been deeply involved in a project to restore and preserve the beautiful Cornish cemetery in Real del Monte, a small town high in the mountains north of Mexico City, where during the 19th century, miners from Cornwall arrived to work the great silver mines of the area.  The 700-odd graves, many of them with inscriptions bearing testimony to their Cornish origins, are a beautiful monument to the determination and valour of these miners, the hardships and tragedies but also the happiness and cultural evolution that marked their lives.  With generous support from the British Society in Mexico, from members of the Cornish Mexican Cultural Society in Cornwall and now from the township of Real del Monte, we have been able to restore the dignity and beauty of this special corner of Cornwall overseas.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

A special thanks to all those people in Cornwall who have so generously reached out and helped us in so many ways with the above-mentioned project and in the process, have re-enforced my pride in being able to call myself Cornish.

myCornwall magazine has subscribers in twenty seven different countries across the globe and we love to hear from our overseas readers. If you’d like to appear as the subject of the myCornish World feature, why not get in touch and email rebecca@mycornwall.tv

 

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Cornish Wrestling

Pete London enters the arena and grapples with the world of Cornish Wrestling on behalf of myCornwall

Gwary whek yu gwary tek: good play is fair play.  That’s the motto of the Cornish Wrestling Association, formed in 1923 to promote the Duchy’s traditional sport.  Today the Association’s still very much around, and ‘wrasslin’ is experiencing a powerful revival.

Cornish Wrestling

Cornish Wrestling demonstration

It’s an ancient skill.  In 1415, at the Battle of Agincourt, banners borne by Cornwall’s fighting men carried symbols showing wrestlers.  During the historic meeting of King Henry VIII with Francis I of France near Calais in 1520, events celebrating their friendship included wrestling competitions; Cornishmen roundly defeated the French champions.  The art was recorded in Richard Carew’s 1602 Survey of Cornwall, and by the 19th century great wrestling rivalry had grown with the men of Devon, who had their own style and rules.

So how does Cornish wrestling work?  The object is to throw your challenger, from a standing-up position; no grappling or holding on the ground is allowed, a measure intended to bring out skill and technique rather than relying on strength alone.  A bout begins when the competitors grasp each other’s jackets by collar, lapel or sleeves in what’s called a ‘hitch’.  To win you must score a ‘back’, throwing your opponent onto his shoulders and hips – his four ‘pins’; at least three pins must touch the ground at once.  Once a back’s scored the contest is over, but single-pin scores can accumulate toward a points win if no back is achieved.

Cornish Wrestling

An example of a belt awarded to Cornish Wrestling champions

Sound’s easy?  In fact there are many different techniques and throws you can use to defeat your challenger.  Crooks and heaves are among the most popular, crooks being variations of trip to catch your adversary unawares, while heaves are often used by heavier, more powerful wrestlers to lift the opposition up in the air and fling him down on his back.  If any part of the body except the feet touches the ground, the hitch ends and the bout must restart.  And always there’s the traditional courtesy of the handshake, before the bout, prior to each hitch, and at the end of the contest.

Cornish wrestlers go barefoot or wear socks, together with simple shorts.  Their most important piece of clothing is the canvas jacket, in past times sometimes made of sailcloth or even sacking, laced at the front and with baggy half-sleeves.  It’s an indispensable item which must also be durable; contenders are only allowed to grip each other by the jacket.  Specialist moves such as the ‘flying mare’ involve grabbing your opponent’s jacket strings, swinging him off-balance and onto the ground.

As they gain experience, Cornish wrestlers develop their own moves and counters, but some methods aren’t allowed.  Finger- or wrist-twisting is forbidden; throat-holds, using your foot above your opponent’s knee or gripping his jacket below the waist are also out, as is touching the ground with your hand or knee to avoid being flung through the air.

Cornish Wrestling

A demonstration of Cornish Wrestling

Wrestling matches take place mainly in the summer, outdoors on grass; a 6-metre radius ring is marked out, together with an outer ‘no-man’s land’ into which spectators may not enter.  Typically, for senior competitors one 10-minute round is allowed, overseen by three ‘sticklers’.  These umpires are usually ex-wrestlers themselves; they carry walking-sticks traditionally used to enforce the rules if needed.  The sticklers score the bouts, watch for illegal moves and their decisions are absolute – there’s no right of appeal for feeling hard-done-by and the wrestlers accept judgements with good grace.

Over time, Cornish rivalry with the Devonian neighbour has taken countless forms; wrestling bouts between Duchy and county were particularly bruising encounters.  The Devon men’s techniques included ‘out-play’, a form of kicking and tripping sometimes scorned by Cornishmen.  Under Devonian rules hard shoes were allowed; bouts could degenerate into shin-kicking endurance contests, eye-wateringly painful but with no finesse.  Huge crowds would watch the competitions, which were most popular during the 19th century.  The events were favoured by gentlemen gamblers and big stakes could change hands; for the winning contestants there was substantial prize-money, and sometimes handsome belts worth £50 or more.

Cornish Wrestling

The Annual Competition Cup Trophy

Wrestlers from those times are still remembered today.  Thomas Treleaven and Benjamin Samble both stood 6’ 2”, while from St Mawgan came six-footer Richard Parkyn; at 16½ stone he competed until his 50s.  Parkyn was born at Parkyn’s Shop, at the point of three parish boundaries: St Columb Major, St Columb Minor and St Mawgan.  From 1806 he enjoyed a staggering 20 years undefeated and became known as The Great Parkyn, celebrated from Saltash to St Just.

Richard Parkyn was followed by James Polkinghorne, a truly huge man.  At 5’ 11” and just under 20 stone – according to some reports he weighed 320 lb –   he was an intimidating prospect for any opposition.  He duly became Cornish champion and was also landlord of St Columb Major’s Red Lion public house, which must have been handy on Saturday nights if anyone dared become playful.

During 1826, late in the season on 23October, Morris (or Morice) Town at Devonport saw the last great wrestling battle between Cornwall and Devon.  Watched by as many as 17,000 people, the purse was a staggering £200.  For Cornwall appeared the giant 38-year old Polkinghorne, while Devon fielded their champion, Abraham Cann, at 32 a mere 5’ 8½” and weighing around 12½ stone.

Cornish Wrestling

William ‘Sykes’ Chapman and Francis Gregory in 1947 at the Annual Competition Cup

At first sight the outcome might have been felt a foregone conclusion, but the bout was fought under Devonian rules.  Polkinghorne’s upper body attacks were pitched against the kicking, with boots, of his opponent; Cann was reportedly strong in the leg, and nimble.  Today the result of the encounter isn’t clear to us, but it seems the contest was a long one and finally ended in a draw.

Nearly 20 years following their retirement from wrestling the two old adversaries worked together, acting as sticklers at the Inter-County Wrestling Championships at Camden in London.  They officiated at the clash between Thomas Gundry and Chapple of Devon, which ended in victory for Cornwall.  A sour Exeter newspaper correspondent accused Gundry of winning through bribery but when challenged by the Sithney man, his accuser melted away.

In hard times at home, as Cornish miners emigrated they took Cornish wrestling with them.  Competitions sprang up across America, Australia, and also South Africa where the renowned Sam Ham, originally from Condurrow near Camborne, became Middleweight Champion.  Finally, in 1923 the Cornish Wrestling Association was formed at Bodmin, to provide a uniform set of rules under which all could compete.  Wrestlers became registered, and an annual Cornish championship was held.

Cornish Wrestling

St Columb Centenary of Polkinghorne Match 1926

During the 1930s and ‘40s, several members of the Chapman family achieved great wrestling success; grandfathers, fathers and sons all fought. Many Cornish towns and villages held tournaments, and hundreds would turn out to watch the contests. Other well-known wrestling families were the Hawkeys and the Warnes, but the most famous competitor of his day was heavyweight champion Francis Gregory of St Wenn.

Gregory had his first match at the age of 13, and was youngest of the Cornishmen who showed their skills at London’s Palladium threatre in 1927.  Seven times from 1928 he represented Cornwall at the official Cornu-Breton Championships: seven times he won, on four occasions in Brittany.  Later he moved north, changing his sport to play rugby league for Wigan and Warrington, and was capped for England.  Taking up professional wrestling he became known as Francis St Clair Gregory, and during November 1955 appeared in the first wrestling match shown on British television.

Cornish Wrestling

Poster for a Wrestling Match in Padstow

More recently though, in the face of fierce competition and promotion of other sports, interest in Cornish wrestling waned until just a small band of stalwarts were left.  To put a stop to the decline, help raise awareness and secure funding, during 2004 the Cornish Wrestling Association became affiliated to the British Wrestling Association.  Publicity was increased, while training sessions for would-be wrestlers were established in Helston, Truro and Wadebridge.

The measures have helped ‘wrasslin’ make a strong comeback.  Based at St Columb Major, today Ashley Cawley is Cornwall’s current Heavyweight Champion; he’s also the CWA’s PR officer, while his uncle Mike Cawley is the Association’s Chairman.  Last year, Ashley’s father Gerry came out of his wrestling retirement to win two championships.

Over the summer months the CWA runs tournaments in villages and towns across the Duchy, and also features at the Royal Cornwall Show.  All ages are welcome to try the sport; categories include under-18s, under-16s, under-14s, under-12s, even under-10s.  Today too there’s a tablet on the frontage of the Red Lion, commemorating St Columb Major’s James Polkinghorne and his mighty 1826 contest against Abraham Cann.

For details of coming Cornish Wrestling events, go to http://www.cornishwrestling.co.uk/

St Columb Club:

Church Hall, St Columb Major.

Date: Friday

Time: 7pm – 8:30pm

Fee: £2 (Come and try your first 2 sessions for free!)

Contact: Mike Cawley – Tel: 01637 860601

 

Sithney (Helston) Club:

Epworth Hall, Sithney, Helston.

Date: Monday Evenings

Time: 6:30pm – 8pm

Fee: £1

Contact: Tracy Rushton – Tel: 01736 368749

 

Acknowledgement:

The writer would like to thank Gerry Cawley, Cornish Wrestling historian, and Ashley Cawley, the Cornish Wrestling Association’s Press and Website Officer, for their generous help in connection with this feature.

 

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Liskeard: An Ancient Cornish Town

This ancient Cornish town is explored by myCornwall

There is an ancient, traditional feel when you walk around Liskeard, with its historic buildings and medieval streets. If you arrive before the hustle and bustle of the day begins you could be forgiven for thinking that you have been transported back in time. Liskeard or Lyskerrys (Cornish) is one of Cornwall’s oldest towns. It is referenced in the Doomsday book in 1086 when it was little more than a small village. In the 13th century Liskeard became a town gaining the first of its eighteen charters in 1240 by Richard, Earl of Cornwall.

liskeardLiskeard has a rich and vibrant past and up until the late 17th century, the town made its political mark in Cornwall with its own parliamentary borough and two elected MP’s  representing the town in the House of Commons from 1295 – 1885.

The parliamentary borough was one of the smallest in the UK and was finally abolished by the Redistribution of Seats Act of 1885 when the borough became part of the South East division of Cornwall. It was also a stannary town, a town in which mined tin was stamped and taxed.

Situated at the head of Looe Valley, Liskeard has long been an important market centre and is one of the five original mining towns in Cornwall, the other four being Lostwithiel, Truro, Bodmin and Helston.

liskeard

Copper was discovered locally in 1836 that resulted in a growth in mining in the area and a rapid growth in the population. The Cornish mining industry played an important part in the growth of the town and this continued thanks to the use of the Liskeard and Looe Union Canal which had been opened in 1827, which enabled ore and stone to be transported down to the coast for shipping.

However, it wasn’t all plain sailing for the miners and the other towns-folk.

Back in 1842 a group of 200 miners took part in a riot outside a pub in the centre of town. All this took place because the miners were refused a drink. Following the arrest of several miners a crowd gathered at the town police station. Following a stand off the crowd attacked it and removed their comrades from the cells.

In addition to the transport links provided by the canal, the Liskeard and Looe Railway Line opened in December 1860 and this allowed cargo to be transported with ease from the nearest station to the quayside in Looe.

Visitors to the town are easy to spot, their heads tilted to take in the sights of the classic buildings and architecture that dominates the town. Few towns the size of Liskeard, with a current population of only 9,000, can boast that they have two sets of public buildings.

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The Guildhall with its clock tower was built in 1859 and replaced the former town hall. Until very recently the building was used as a Magistrate’s Court. The Public Hall, built in 1890, hosts many community activities and is the home to The Town Council offices, Foresters Hall houses and the Town Museum and Information Centre.

One must-see location to visit is Stuart House, in Barras Road.  King Charles I stayed at Stuart House during a military campaign against the parliamentarian forces in 1644. Stuart House, which was built between 1480 and 1520, now hosts a heritage centre where it stages art and heritage events. The venue also hosts regular talks on one of Liskeard’s most famous residents; Victorian, architect Henry Rice.

Another place of interest designed by Henry Rice is the Liskeard Museum in Pike Street. Rice designed this piece of architectural history, which at the time housed the East Cornwall Savings Bank and The Liskeard Literary and Scientific Institution, back in 1835 and then went on to do the redesign in 1861.

liskeard

Modern day Liskeard is the only town in Cornwall to still hold a weekly livestock market, which is held every Thursday and draws hundreds of local people to the centre of town. In addition to the weekly cattle market, the town also has an annual agricultural show, which takes place just outside the town in early July.

Castle Park and the Bull Stone

One of Liskeard’s larger features is Castle Park, which is situated to the north east of the town centre. Within the park is the town’s Bull Stone, a stone with a ring embedded on top.

The bull stone was, as the name implies, used for teathering bulls to. It was originally installed in the Parade back in 1792.

Following the bull stone falling out of use it was moved to outside the White Horse Inn. It was then moved along the street where it was used for horses.

In 1802 a rowdy crowd of locals moved the stone back to its original position in the Parade in protest at not being allowed to vote.

The Liskeard authorities removed the stone and chained it to the Market House.

When voting system was overhauled by the Reform Act of 1834 the stone was dragged around Liskeard. It was placed in its current Castle Grounds location.

From its humble beginnings in the 12th Century to the bustling and busy agricultural town it is today, Liskeard has always remained delightful and independent town. Many of its original Victorian buildings and traditional values are still in place, which makes this popular town well worth a visit and a true Cornish treasure enriched with history and heritage.

 

Henry Rice (1808 – 1876)

Henry Rice was a Victorian architect who is responsible for much of the structure of Liskeard. He was born in 1808 in Kenwyn, near Truro and was the son of a farmer. Henry Rice came to Liskeard in 1826 to work for Robert Coad, who was a distinguished land surveyor. During this time he excelled in his work and became a skilled surveyor, who also studied architecture.

In 1837 Henry Rice left Robert Coad to set up his own architect business. Through this business he was responsible for many of the buildings in Liskeard today, including; Looe Mills Toll House, the Methodist Church, Barclays Bank, the Guildhall Clock Tower, the Museum, Lloyds Bank, The old stag hotel, Rosedean surgery, No 6 West Street and the Foundation Monument. He was also the designer of three unique and distinguished terraces, Dean, Varley and Manley.

Henry Rice married in 1839 to a local farmer’s daughter, Jane Vian. They went on to have four daughters and one son also called Henry. For a brief period following his father’s semi – retirement, Henry junior carried on his father’s practice, however he was succeeded by two of Henry Rice’s former pupils firstly Richard Coad and then John Sampson.

Henry Rice died on 8th July 1876 and is buried in Lanchard cemetery, which is another building planned by him. Today you can follow the Henry Rice Trail, a guided walk around Liskeard, which gives people the opportunity to see the 100 surviving buildings that he designed during his career.

 

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‘Liskeard: An Ancient Cornish Town’ is taken from our Aug/Sept 2011 Vol 2 Issue 7. Subscribe to myCornwall magazine here for more stories like this one.

CRAFTS: Keith Johnson

myCornwall talks to ceramicist Keith Johnson at his home on the Lizard Penninsula to learn more about his unique mosaic creations.

Nestled in a peaceful setting on the Lizard Penninsula lies the beautiful stone cottage and picturesque home of mosaic artist Keith Johnson. It’s here deep in the Cornish landscape that he creates his pieces by combining vibrant tiles with other rustic materials such as driftwood and slate.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Once inside one’s eye is immediately drawn to the royal blue tiles of a lobster hanging in the hallway, one of Keith’s first creations and it is strikingly apparent that he holds a proud, personal connection with the crafts that he creates, be it a small mosaic mounted on driftwood or a large tabletop.

Keith’s early working life could not have been more different having worked in both the building and fishing industries since he left school at the age of 15, he never imagined he would one day be a ceramicist. “If you had said to me ten years ago that I would be making ceramics I would have laughed, but what I love about my work is that there are no rules, I basically started this myself, I didn’t go to art school or college etc… it’s self-taught, so there are no limits, no-one can question my technique.”

It all started when at the age of 50 Keith received some news that would see him leaving the fishing industry and send him in search of a new career. “12 years ago I was diagnosed with Lymphoma and I found myself sitting around at home with nothing to do. Having worked all my life it was a shock to not be working.” It was during an afternoon sat at home that a friend planted the idea of painting and Keith realised that he could put some of his accumulated skills to good use. “I thought what can I do, I’ve worked with copper and did quite a lot of tiling over the years but it wasn’t until during a visit to Treliske Hospital, that a very large mosaic caught my eye and really inspired me to give it a try.”

cocuh

Shrouded in greenery at the bottom of the garden is Keith’s studio, an unassuming shed coated in the dust from his angle grinder, and it was here that the very first piece was created. ‘I used a rough piece of driftwood, and cut pieces of tile with pliers and that’s really where my business began.’ explained Keith.

From that moment on Craft Ceramics has evolved from starting as a hobby to becoming a successful business with pieces on display in galleries such as The Roundhouse at Sennen and stalls at local craft fairs, including being a part of the ‘Made in Cornwall’ scheme. Keith explains that the business ‘has really gone from strength to strength. But the strangest point of it all is if I had never been diagnosed with cancer, I would never have known that I could have done something like this and unearthed such a creative talent.’

When seeking inspiration for a new piece Keith often turns to the great outdoors, ‘the landscape inspires me, some of the wildlife I see whilst walking around the Lizard Penninsula often sparks new ideas, but obviously trying to transfer that inspiration in to tiles is no easy task. I’m like an artist, an artist is always trying to paint the perfect picture. I’m trying to translate what I see in my head in to mosaic and tiles which is extremely difficult because you don’t have a brush, you can’t rub it out, once you’ve made it you’ve made it. I don’t think I ever actually achieve what I set out to do, but near enough.’

Keith Johnson

The pieces themselves range from simple designs on driftwood to pieces which are quite intricate, table tops, swimming pools and mosaics on the side of houses. Like many artists Keith is always looking for work that will challenge his creative talents. ‘I love a challenge, I love for people to say to me would you make me so and so. I tend to go for the nautical theme, but if someone comes along and says they want something a bit unusual made then that’s good, because then you’re challenging yourself and I enjoy that.’

Mosaics are traditionally made using broken tiles with straight edges but where Keith’s technique differs is that he works more with curves. ‘I like to create more movement in the picture and I love colour in my pieces too, but not everyone likes colour, and you have to go with what the fashion is in peoples houses. I have to really consider who will buy my work and strike a balance between what I like and what the people who buy my work will like.’

As the conversation shifts to talking about the future it is clear that Keith would like to see his work reach a wider audience. ‘I would love to see my designs in galleries up and down the country but in the short term I just want the business to keep progressing and I’d like to think I can do this for many years to come. Ideally I’d love to own an art gallery of my own, which may well be my next step.’

lobster

Keith’s Work is available from the following galleries:

The Seine Loft

The Cove, Coverack, Helston, Cornwall TR12 6SX

01326 280 003

 

Polpeor Cafe

The Lizard, Helston, Cornwall TR12 7NU

01326 290939

 

The Roundhouse and Capstan Gallery

Sennen Cove, Lands End, Cornwall TR19 7DF

01736 871859

 

The Customs House Gallery

Commercial Road, Porthleven, Cornwall TR13 9JD

01326 569365

 

Keith Johnson

The Orchard, Bruggan, Ruan Minor, Helston, Cornwall TR12 7LQ

01326 290707

www.craft-ceramics.co.uk

 

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