We really enjoy chatting with you when you return your recently read books to the library and wanted to share some of your recommendations with fellow members. We will be sharing your reading suggestions at the end of the each Fortnightly Links email and adding them to this rolling blog.

Your reading tastes are wonderfully eclectic and inspiring so this section will be a chance to tell your fellow members about books you have borrowed (and enjoyed!) from the Morrab Library.

If you’d like join in, please send us a few sentences (up to 100 words) on a recent book you’ve enjoyed to enquiries@morrablibrary.org.uk and we’ll share your tips.


South from Granada by Gerald Brenan – recommended by Harry Carson

“Perhaps the so-called Great War, or its effects, continued far beyond 1918. For those young men not slaughtered, disabled or disfigured and with a yearning need to make sense of the world, travel offered a chance to breath air. The destruction, chlorine and trenches were exchanged, for those with income, for mountains, sunshine and a chance to live in an almost pre-industrial world. 

Gerald Brennan did this and left for us a compassionate record of Spanish villages unspoiled by rapid progress; villages peopled by young lovers, old widows, suspect officials and a realisation that nature, even in hot and hostile places can and does provide if we are willing to be patient. 

His experiences with and without the villagers showed him not only how a poor arid village in the 30s lived but also, to an extent, how England once, before, shortly before, had also enjoyed , if not Jerusalem, certainly a peaceful and pleasant land. 

A wonderful read. Even better the second time.”

This Changes Everything – Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein – recommended by John Trigg 

“An in depth exploration of the climate / environment from a left wing viewpoint. Exposes the un-caring world of business and trade, how the earth becomes just a resource to be exploited. Forever dominated. And governments need to be much more involved in controlling this.”

Kingdoms of Elfin by Sylvia Townsend Warner – recommended by George Care

“Sylvia Townsend Warner’s reputation has reemerged recently and this book illustrates one aspect of her imaginative powers. Her novel “Lolly Willowes” has recently been turned into a magical radio play on Radio4. The unconventional daughter of a Harrow schoolmaster, she became  the subject of an acclaimed biography which appeared last year. Anyone interested in fairytale and romantic myth should thoroughly enjoy this volume and may turn also to her fabulous poetry.”

Cornish Wrecking 1700-1860: Reality and Popular Myth by Cathryn Pearce – Recommended by Ruth Towse

I found this splendid book lurking in the Cornish collection. Published in 2010, it shows little evidence of having been taken out of the library. It deserves a much wider readership, and my guess is that it will soon get it. There is likely to be a surge of interest in the topic as Ethel Smyth’s opera The Wreckers is to be performed as part of Glyndebourne Opera’s summer season and at the Proms, no doubt awakening interest in the more lurid view of wrecking, which Smyth, along with many others, adopted.[i]

Pearce’s book is extremely well researched and is engagingly written. It seeks to disprove the trope of wrecking as the murderous luring of boats to doom by misleading use of lights, pointing out that on the one hand, so-called wrecking consisted of several acts – harvesting (beachcombing), plunder, collection of flotsam, jetsam and lagan (items cast off to save the ship) – most of which were legal over the period she covers, and on the other hand, that the portrayal of evil wreckers was part of fears in the period about the potential ‘wrecking’ of society by the lower classes. In fact, wrecking was not confined to Cornwall and most cases took place elsewhere, notably along the counties of the South coast. She identifies the changes in attitude to these different acts by society and the state (Methodism, the Customs and Excise Office) and traces the history of the laws and practices relating to them.  

Retrieval of goods from wrecks formed part of manorial rights and in Cornwall ‘royalties’ from them were due to the lords of the manor – the Arundels, Bassetts, Godolphins, St Aubyns, Duchy of Cornwall – and sometimes to the Church. Wreck agents were appointed by them to deal with the collection and sale of the goods from wrecks and the reward of the ‘country folk’ and tinners who gathered them, as well as the disposal of the bodies of those who had drowned. This system continued for centuries, only involving the state in the form of Customs officers when wines, tobacco and tea etc. were involved. When lands were sold, the rights to the royalties from wrecks on them were not part of the deal, leading to considerable complexity about their ownership and disputes that were sometimes settled in courts. The story of how the system evolved over the years is fascinating and Pearce tells it clearly, rigorously citing sources from lawsuits to newspaper reports. Over time, though, these rights came to be challenged by the state; laws and social attitudes changed and, moreover, there were fewer wrecks as ships were better built and navigation devices (such as light houses) improved.

Overall, the book offers insight into both Cornish customs and history, revealing how misunderstanding of wrecking and the vilification of the rural poor came to dominate the topic. It is as much a social history as well as one of maritime law, the subject in which Cathryn Pearce is specialised. Mainly, though, it is a jolly good yarn about aspects of life in Cornwall that many of us know little of.

Ruth Towse


[i] The synopsis may be viewed on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wreckers_(opera)#Synopsis for Smyth’s biography see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethel_Smyth