Early Years (Jem)


I was born in Porthcurno, and we lived in two houses in the village before moving to Penzance when I was ten. We spent much of our time building camps and racing down the wooded valley slopes on rusty corrugated iron sheets, on tracks also made of corrugated iron – often with various of the Lidiard brothers. Somehow none of us lost any fingers.

  • Places I lived:
    • I was born in Moorlands, which was a farmhouse and guest-house on the S-bend at the top of the hill across from the Minack Theatre, the home of the Hocking family. They later added a veranda and served cream teas; after that it became the Mariners’ Cove, and looked pretty much the same. Here’s what it looks like now; I wish I could find a picture of the way it used to be. On the night I was born there was a shipwreck under the Minack – details below.
    • Soon after that we moved to London (actually Purley), but then returned to Porthcurno – probably when I was about 5.
    • My earliest memory is living in the Rectory, across the road from St. Levan Church. I remember getting a 240v shock from a broken socket, rolling down a grass bank in front of the house and into a bed of nettles, and the door of a shed (stable?) falling off its hinges and landing mostly on me. It was the fifties; all that stuff was normal then.
    • At some point we moved to 20 The Valley, across from what we called the pig-stream.  There was a walk-in shrubbery between us and the next house, and that was our camp. We stayed there until I was 10, and then moved to Penzance.
  • St. Levan School (aka Bottoms)
    • I remember my first day at Bottoms School, with Mrs. Angwin in the Infants’ class. We were writing with chalk on a small slate (it wasn’t actually slate, more like a blackboard).  Mrs. Angwin retired and was replaced by Miss Morley (who lived in Porthcurno), and when we moved to the Junior class the headmistress was Miss Franks, who later retired and was replaced by Mr. Penna. He was famous for walking to Penzance every weekend. And for playing cricket, but walking to Penzance was something special.
    • When we lived in the Rectory we used to wait at the end of the Holy Well path to be picked up by a “taxi” driven by Mr. Rawlings, who was a fisherman from Porthgwarra. The taxi was actually his private car. Now I know that Billy Rawlings helped to build the Minack Theatre I wonder if they were related. We used to catch newts and tadpoles in the Holy Well, and the tadpoles did actually turn into frogs.
    • When we lived in the Valley we walked to and from school, about three miles each way. We were supposed to stay on the road, which mostly had no pavement, but a lot of times we took a short-cut across the fields between the B3315 and School Hill. Every now and again we’d get yelled at because the stream was dangerous, but eventually we’d start doing it again.
    • This picture was sent to me by Ian Lidiard. I don’t know why I’m not in it, but two of my siblings are.
  • Cable & Wireless
    • My father worked for Cable & Wireless, which was the main focus of the valley, as the undersea cables came ashore on the beach. We had no idea what went on in The Tunnel, but it’s now a fascinating museum, and we visited it in 2004. Now I know that there’s an escape staircase from the back of the tunnel that leads up to the area where we used to play. We had no idea it was there.
  • The Minack Theatre
    • The Minack Theatre also was, and still is, a major part of Porthcurno – it’s a great place to watch a performance with the sea as the backdrop, and every evening at around 7:15 the Scillonian passes on its way to Penzance from the Isles of Scilly. There was a different play every week of the summer, and I remember  lines of traffic coming through the valley each evening.
    • We only saw two performances, and they were after we moved to Penzance: Alice in Wonderland and Toad of Toad Hall. Since then Anne & I have seen a performance of (I’m pretty sure) A Man for All Seasons – I don’t remember what year.
    • When I was nine I used to deliver Sunday newspapers to Rowena Cade, the lady who built the theatre, at Minack House. She had a lot of scary Pekinese dogs, so she agreed I could leave them at the gate, which I recall was more like a portcullis. Click here if you don’t believe me (I wrote that bit before I found the picture, and to this day I associate the Minack with a thruppeny bit). Les Sparrow ran the village Post Office and General Store and employed me to deliver the papers. The PO was just up the road from our house in the Valley, but it seems to be a house now.

David Ryder – John O’Groats to Lands End

In the summer of 1969 (my last summer living in Penzance) polio victim David Ryder walked from John O’Groats to Lands End.

I was out on my bike when I passed him walking out of Penzance, followed by his support van, and in the afternoon I biked down to Lands End with my friend Bob Dennis, arriving soon after David did. We literally crawled under the crowd to stand next to David and Elizabeth Taylor. I don’t recall seeing any TV cameras, and it now appears we didn’t make it onto the highlight reels:


  • The Vert Prarial, Porthcurno, 1956
    • This French trawler was wrecked under the cliffs by the Minack Theater, just a couple of hundred yards from where I was born the next day. Sadly, nobody knew about the wreck until it was too late, and seventeen sailors died.
    • This web page is in French, but if you right-click it your browser should have a link to translate it. Some of the comments are from the children of the lost sailors, and are very sad to read.
    • Here’s a Movietone video.
  • The Jean Gougy, Lands End, 1962
    • I remember being at school the day after this wreck – several of the other kids’ fathers were involved with the coastguard or the lifeboat stations, and were talking about what had happened.
    • My father took my brother and me to Lands End at the weekend, and we looked over the cliff at the wreck lying on its side, wedged in the rocks. I remember crowds of people walking along the cliffs that day.
    • The dramatic pictures of this wreck and the breeches-buoy rescue operation have become classics. It was featured in this series of matchbox labels (No. 45, bottom row).
  • The Torrey Canyon, Seven Stones Reef, 1967
    • We lived in Penzance at the time, and there was major activity all around the area for weeks, mostly army personnel helping with cleanup activities. I have a strong memory of the black smoke plume after the bombing runs.

Truro School

My brother Andy and I started at Truro School in 1969, when our family moved to Kenya.

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