I’m Scottish through and through! Just like generations of my ancestors before me, I was born and brought up in Scotland – and I love my country. So why then do I have this strange pull to Cornwall?
It isn’t the pretty coves or picturesque harbours that attract me, nor is it the quaint pubs, or the amazing reflected light over St Ives that inspires so many artists.
I’m drawn to the bleak landscapes, ancient standing stones, and the dark, foreboding relics of long gone tin mines that scatter the Penwith moors of South West Cornwall.
I’d noticed that quite a few people we met on our many visits were Georges. Surely that couldn’t be a co-incidence? One day I checked the local telephone directory and found PAGES of my namesakes. The next day, in response to my enquiry, staff at the Tourist Information Office in Falmouth confirmed that George was indeed a Cornish name, and pointed me in the direction of Penwith. My heart was already beating faster. Somewhere back in the mists of time, could my family have come from Cornwall? Could I actually be Cornish?
As any intrepid writer would do, I headed down there. Since many of the men in my family had been iron miners down the years, the obvious starting place was the tin mines at Pendeen. I hadn’t been prepared for the tragic tale I was to discover.
The Levant Mine Tragedy
Perched on the edge of the cliffs, the Levant Mine was a rich source of tin and copper. But to reach it the miners had to work a mile and more under the crashing waves of the Atlantic.
October 29, 1919 started as a normal working day. The miners were on their way to the surface at the end of their shift when something snapped, and a living pillar of men crashed to their deaths down the shaft.
Thirty-one miners died that day. The tales of heroism that surround the rescue efforts are truly moving. Amongst the dead was miner William John George, 47, who left a widow and seven children. I don’t know if my family has any connection to William, but then I don’t know otherwise. The Levant Mine is now in the care of the National Trust.
The First and Last Inn Ghost
Later that day we stopped at the First and Last Inn, in Sennen.
That’s where I heard the story of Annie and Joseph George, (My father’s name. Another link?) who ran this very inn at around the turn of the 18th century.
Story goes that this pair, together with Joseph’s brother, George, and his wife, Sarah, were involved in smuggling, or as the Cornish described it in those days, ‘free trade’. The whole operation was overseen by the pub’s owner, William Vingoe.
One day Annie and Joseph saw their chance of occupying the inn rent free by blackmailing William. They figured that a man of such high standing in the community wouldn’t want his dabbling in the illegal trade to be known.
But William was having none of it, and gave the couple their marching orders. Seething with anger and revenge, Annie did the unforgivable – she turned King’s evidence, resulting in many local people being hanged.
Incensed by her treachery, the community turned on her, dragging her to Whitesand Beach, where they pegged her out to drown on the incoming tide.
Now what author worth her/his salt wouldn’t be inspired by this tale? It forms the basis of the plot of my novel, ‘A Cornish Revenge.’
Annie’s ghost is said to still haunt the inn.
Two very different tales involving the Georges in Cornwall.
I’ve traced my family tree back to the eighteenth century, but I’m still searching for that elusive scrap of evidence that somewhere in the dim and distant past my family has a Cornish connection.
I’ve no doubt that it will be there, somewhere – and one day, I will find it!