“Bronte Territories” by Melissa Hardie – an Appreciation

In 2019, the Hypatia Trust’s Melissa Hardie launched her book – Bronte Territories: Cornwall and the Unexplored Maternal Legacy, 1760-1870. Melissa’s research reveals the often overlooked but important influence of the maternal family background on the Bronte sisters. The book delves deeply into the Cornish context and cultural understanding in which Maria (Carne) Bronte, her sister Elizabeth (Carne) Branwell and their family lived.
 
Morrab Library member and Trustee George Care has written a review of Melissa’s book, and it follows below. You will find copies of the volume to borrow or read here in the library.
 

Wandering down Chapel Street in Penzance, you cannot fail to recognise that you have entered that part of town where history feels close-by. The sea in the distance, the church and the chapel architecture is impressive, the Turk’s Head Tavern and the baroque wonder of the Egyptian House, the Portuguese consulate and almost opposite the house where George Eliot stayed waiting for calm weather for her voyage to the Scillies. Reading Melissa’s book is like taking a similar peregrination through lost corridors of time to recover a sense of the rich liveliness of Penwith’s past. Welcome to the psychogeography of Bronte’s Territories.

The Brontes are still much in the news. The Irish Times, just two weeks ago, were reporting on the O.U.P. computer analysis of Wuthering Heights apparently confirming it to be the work of Emily and not, as had been suggested, that of her brother Branwell. Iconoclasm may be in vogue. However, a square in Brussels – the city where two of the Bronte sisters studied French – is to be named in honour of the literary siblings. Other authors make claim to curious events in Shropshire in the early years of the 19th century drew the parents of genius together. It is to the intellectual and feminine furore of Penzance and its inspiring hinterland that Hardie’s work appropriately returns us.

In a key chapter on the literature and legend of Cornwall from 1760 much mention is made of the intriguing and taciturn figure of Joseph Carne, a geologist of great renown and an energetic banker. His personality was such that he combined a skill with numbers with a strong Methodist belief and mixed in a variety of literary circles. Nearby Falmouth was a key port for the Packet boats recorded in the poetry and memoirs of Byron and Southey. It too was the home of the Quaker family of Foxes who founded the Cornwall Polytechnic Society in 1832. Carne was a friend and shared their Non-Conformist beliefs. Hardie shows how Carne encouraged his daughter in her geological studies and mentions the doctors, engineers, vicars and scientists whose cultural sources were enriched by contacts which included Bretons, Huguenots, Hessians as well as a significant Jewish community. She reminds us that in reading Davy, for example, we encounter not just a socially beneficent scientist, a traveller and a poet. This is the endowment the Branwell sisters took to Haworth.

It is interesting to consider that within this Cornish background at this period there were a number of competing beliefs and attitudes. There were the mythical beliefs fostered from folklore- piskies and stories in the expiring Cornish language. There was the old religion of Rome not far beneath the surface. Yet there were also new discoveries especially in medicine and geology that fostered a scientific empiricism. This can be seen in figures such as Davies Gilbert to whom this book gives due prominence- a polymath, mathematician, engineer and President of the Royal Society and a wonderful diarist to boot. William Temple much later stated, “The Church exists primarily for the sake of those who are still outside it. It is a mistake to suppose that God is only, or even chiefly, concerned with religion.” It was the evangelical zeal of the Wesley brothers and their belief in education, temperance combined with stunningly beautiful hymns. It was also a challenge to superstition. It is often said it averted revolution which France and later Peterloo portended.

Melissa Hardie shows us the other supportive factors that came into this heady mixture and sustained the Branwells and flowered in the Bronte’s work. These are twofold; the societies and the family or kinship links. The Penzance Ladies Reading group who carefully studied together a stunning variety of literature from the classics of the Ancients to the contemporary travel writings. Not forgetting the subversive eloquence of Lord Byron, a gentleman with Cornish links through the Trevanions. The founding of libraries and collection of artefacts had practical even economic benefits. The Royal Cornwall Geological Society studies into metallic intrusions assisted the efficiency of mining. Local banks provided the capital for further developments in the industry as well as the magnificent Wesleyan Chapels that the Carnes, Branwells and Battens founded and fostered.

The author has researched both land and legacy extensively. Her approach is frequently imaginative and sometimes speculative. This is a strength because she is also at pains to inform the reader of the limitations of the evidence. Footnotes and suggested reading in themselves are useful but the illustrations are worthy of pondering- several works of art in themselves. They add significant detail. This patient work by Melissa supported by other members of the resplendent Hypatia Trust must be counted as filling a deep fissure, or as we might say in Cornwall, a zawn in Bronte Studies.

August 5, 2020.

Find more of George’s reviews at his website: https://penwithlit.com/ 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Elizabeth Treffry Collection on Women in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly – a permanent gift to Morrab Library from Melissa Hardie and the Hypatia Trust.

LIBRARY CLOSED – TUESDAY 26th NOVEMBER

We’re sorry to say that due to the high winds, the Council has closed Morrab Gardens for the day, and therefore the library will need to close as well. We will be closed for all of today, Tuesday 26th November.

The forecast for tomorrow isn’t ideal either, but we will let you know as soon as we are able if we will re-open tomorrow morning.

We are very sorry for the inconvenience this causes you.

Best wishes,
The Library Team

Christmas Craft Fair – this Saturday 16th November

Don’t forget our Christmas Craft Fair will be held this Saturday from 10.30 am to 2.00 pm. We will be jam-packed with stalls showcasing a variety of beautiful crafts including ceramics, knits, cards, art, woodwork, books and more. Images from our Photo Archives will also be on sale. First prize in our raffle is a wonderful Christmas cake and we’ll have a Tombola too. And of course, our delicious refreshments will be available to enjoy. We really hope to see you there.

Growing Up in West Cornwall – the latest volume from the Penwith Local History Group

A new book from the Penwith Local History Group

The Penwith Local History Group (PLHG) has enjoyed a strong relationship with Morrab Library for many years. The group undertake important and fascinating research into West Cornwall and are based here at the library, meeting regularly and making us of our collections.

Their latest book, Growing up in West Cornwall, follows a long line of important and valuable works by the PLHG. This is their 11th title, the first being published in 1990. Previous volumes have covered topics as diverse as farming, Cornish women, and the Naploeonic era, as well as highlighting the treasures of Morrab Library’s collections.  A full list can be found on their website: http://www.penwithlocalhistorygroup.co.uk/publications/

All of the publications provide a detailed insight into their subject with evidence of extensive research, yet written in a thoroughly engaging style, making them accessible to a wide range of readers be it for academic use or just personal interest. 

Growing Up in West Cornwall is no exception. As it says on the tin, it brings to life the experience of childhood in West Cornwall, from as far back as the seventeenth century, taking us up to the 1960’s. There are numerous fascinating illustrations and photographs throughout, which are invaluable in helping to tell the variety of stories that emerge from the pages. It combines the use of archival records such as school logs and parish records, alongside personal recollections from the contributors and people they have interviewed. There are also very extensive subject, school and surname indexes at the end, a useful bibliography, and excellent footnotes and references throughout – essential for researchers.

Growing up in West Cornwall talks of all aspects of childhood, including of course schooldays and playtime, but also work, when many children were expected to take up labour at such young ages, working with the fisherman, in the fields and even with the undertakers!

All sorts of fascinating stories have emerged – we learn that in 1600, boys from the age of 7 had to practise their archery in the Zennor churchyard, and that all young men from the age of 16 were obliged to bear arms. We are told of library books needing to be burnt after an outbreak of deadly measles in St Erth in 1917. And the stories about the bad behaviour of the boys at the Recreation Ground after it opened in 1893 prove that some things never seem to change!

For Morrab Library, the group’s ability and avidity in using the library’s collections of books, archives, newspapers and photographs to bring the stories of the events and people of West Cornwall to life is so important to us. The PLHG contributors’ hard work and research skills ensure that our collections remain relevant and interesting to not only our members, but the wider community, creating an awareness of them and encouraging others to make use of them. The Library looks forward to continuing its work with the PLHG in the future. 

You can borrow a copy of Growing up in West Cornwall or purchase your own from the library’s front desk, at a cost of £10.

Lisa Di Tommaso, Librarian

 

New to the library – Familiar faces of St Ives, by Hyman Segal

The library has recently received a charming donation. Titled Familiar Faces of St Ives, this uniquely illustrated pamphlet of around 20 pages offers a brilliant summary of life in St Ives just after the War – the town’s ‘Silver Age’ it might be termed. This fascinating time period is manifest in the vivid sketches by the well-known St Ives artist, Hyman Segal. https://cornwallartists.org/cornwall-artists/hyman-segal   

Segal is probably best remembered for his African paintings as well as for his skill in portraying cats with sweeping economical lines. A Daily Mirror photographic  frontispiece shows him, an Art Therapist at West Cornwall Hospital, helping the recovery of a young lad at Tehidy Sanatorium in Camborne. This classic photograph by Bela Zola indicates the pride in the newly created NHS (Zola was a leading photographer who recorded later the Aberfan Disaster and the Profumo Affair among other renowned assignments.) https://www.worldpressphoto.org/collection/photo/1956/28663/1/1956-Bela-Zola-GN1-(1)

The first sketch in the pamphlet is of our celebrated Town Crier, Abraham Curnow – here just 54 years old. This is accompanied by a sketch of his Father-in-Law, Ernest James Stevens, popularly known as “Jimmy Limpets”. This drawing with others by Segal now hangs in the Sloop Inn.

On the following page is an image of Thomas Tonkin Prynne who had been the manager of Lanham’s picture framing business which in previous years  supplied the Royal Academy and other galleries with canvases by inter alia , Julius Olsen, Louis Grier and Moffat Linder. In addition to running an efficient business, he worked for 16 years as a member of the volunteer fire brigade, had a blue Persian cat and loved fishing.

There is also a magnificent sketch of Alistair St Clair Harrison, like Churchill, an old Harovian who had been a fighter pilot during the Second World War. It was Harrison who broadcast for the BBC about the rescue of HMS Wave in September 1952 and also about his interest in Antarctic whaling. It was with his Norwegian wife that he established “The Gay Viking”; almost as famous for its colourful clientele as its innovative continental cuisine. (Gay Viking was incidentally one of eight vessels that were ordered by the Turkish Navy, but were requisitioned by the Royal Navy to serve with Coastal Forces during the Second World War).

Frank Edward Endell Mitchell, appropriately portrayed with bow-tie, fashionable in the 1950’s, was known as “Micheal” and was the tenant of the Castle Inn. His friendship with Dylan Thomas must have been firmly established in the bohemian atmosphere of the bar there, then opposite Lanham’s and the Scala Cinema (presently Boots). Mitchell, who was the brother I believe, of the eminent sculptor, Denis Mitchell, offered the Castle lounge for the display of art works and in his spare time, he himself did pastels and was occupied in breeding Boxer dogs.

The donation of this little pamphlet to the Morrab Archive offers members the opportunity to recreate for themselves the ambience of the Fifties through “The Familiar Faces of  St Ives”.

George Care, Library Member and Trustee