Charnwood Grove organised and ran a number of creative writing sessions via zoom during the Covid lockdown period, each session chose a specific subject and using some key inspirational words, the participants crafted these magnificent creations.
Session 8- Memories
And Did Those Feet
There was something about Launde Abbey that struck a chord with me the very first time I saw it, sitting in its quiet, secluded valley. The other day I realised what it was: Launde reminds me of the very first place I ever went on a proper holiday.
I was 3 years old when my parents discovered ‘Place Manor’, a Tudor manor house tucked away on the secluded Roseland Peninsula, in Cornwall. Imagine Launde with its lawns running down to its own private harbour and you have it. To this day it cannot be reached by public transport and, back in the 1950s, the only access was by private conveyance or the twice-daily, seasonal, ferry, owned and run by the suitably piratical, Peter – ‘The Viking’, which stopped briefly at the Manor’s slip-way en-route from Falmouth to St Mawes and back.
In 1956, the Manor was still recovering from having been requisitioned by the Navy, during the War. The lawn was home to two rows of Nissen huts that had once housed American troops, training for the D-Day landings, together with a repair station for their amphibious landing-craft. The house, itself, provided mess facilities, accommodation for British naval officers and, so it was said, a base for agricultural planning. However, there is evidence to suggest that the latter was a cover for something much more interesting, connected with the British Resistance.
When the Manor was eventually returned to the family that had owned it since Tudor times, they couldn’t afford the much needed renovation work, and hit upon the idea of turning the Nissen huts into Butlin’s-style holiday accommodation, with a twist. There were to be no red-coats nor any of the holiday razzmatazz, just bargain-basement accommodation for working families who wanted to enjoy a peaceful holiday in a serene setting, within walking distance of unspoiled beaches, far from the madding crowds – just what my parents were looking for, and probably why we continued to holiday there for the next 18 years.
The eventual aim, which they achieved over the years, was to return the Manor to its former glory, get rid of the huts, and offer hotel-standard accommodation in the house.
Like Launde, the Manor had once been a monastery, as well as a Bishop’s palace, hence its name, ‘Place’, and, like Launde, the monastery had eventually been dissolved. However, its church was to receive rather different treatment from Henry VIII.
When, almost as soon as he had married Anne Boleyn, Henry’s fleet appeared in the bay, the monks feared the worst, but they were to be surprised. Henry had brought his new bride to show her the monastery and to stay overnight as part of their honeymoon. What’s more, seeing the state of the church, Henry paid for a new roof for it; a special commission in the shape of an upturned boat. In addition, now that there was no longer a Catholic Bishop, even more surprisingly, Henry appointed himself to be its bishop, a royal peculiar.
Now Henry wasn’t the first King to have taken an interest in this little church, on its isolated headland. In Saxon times, King Aethelstan, having finally defeated the Cornish Celts, made
his way to this lonely spot where he found a Celtic monastery, founded some 500 years earlier by King Geraint of Dumnonia, a real person, reputed in legend to be the cousin of King Arthur. Banishing the Celtic monks, Aethelstan replaced them with monks of the Roman Catholic Church, to which the previously heathen Saxons had been converted by St Augustine, about 200 years previously. He then commissioned a new, stone doorway to be carved, incorporating the story of the church’s foundation:
Early in the Bronze Age, the Phoenicians, with their metal-working allies, the Keltoi, discovered that the British Isles were rich in both copper and tin, the two metals required to produce bronze. Whilst there were many possible sources for copper, tin was a good deal rarer and Cornwall had it in abundance.
In those days, St Michael’s Mount had yet to become an island but another island, which became known as ‘Ictis’, existed at the confluence of several rivers, with the River Fal and the Atlantic Ocean. These multiple currents eroded a passage through the Roseland Peninsula, separating it from its headland. You cannot see it today because the same currents, that later created St Michael’s Mount, brought sand in, from the ocean, and silt down, from the rivers, and created a new bridge at Froe Creek. But, back then, it was an island and it had a natural cove, on the river side, that was said to be the safest harbour in Cornwall. To the Phoenicians this seemed the ideal spot to build a depot, to service the exporting of tin, and that is what they did. They completed it with a temple complex, around a sacred spring, and hung a wrought bronze, trumpet shaped bell there. It was probably dedicated to their god, Ba’al, and goddess, Astarte. Even in the C19th the women who washed and sorted the tin ore were known as Bal maidens and, some say that the great river Fal may also have been named for Ba’al.
Now the Phoenicians kept the secret of this location for over a thousand years, until one clever Roman admiral succeeded in following a Phoenician ship, despite its complex, zigzag course, and discovered where they were sailing to. Unable to muscle in at that time, the Romans decided to cut out the middle-men and trade directly with the Phoenicians. This is where our story truly begins:
The Romans appointed a Decurian, a Jew of aristocratic family, with Celtic connections, to act on their behalf. His name was Joseph and he travelled widely in pursuit of this business. His brother, Jacob, was married to a Breton woman and had settled in Europe, but their daughter lived in Judea, where she had married and had a family.
When he heard that his eldest grandson had reached the age for his Bar mitzvah, denoting the passage to manhood, Jacob asked his brother if he could persuade the family to let the young man accompany him on a visit to his grandparents when next the tin trading took him that way. Joseph was successful. His great-nephew was eager to travel and see the world, and his parents gave their blessing to the proposal, so all was arranged.
The plan was to travel to Cornwall and, once trading was complete, to cross to Brittany, but things did not go to plan. As they turned towards the Cornish coast a great storm blew up and drove the ship onto the rocks of Zone Point, where it was seriously damaged. Somehow the ship’s captain managed to limp the ship around to the safe harbour, where ‘Place’ now
stands, and his battered passengers were discharged to the relative safety of the trading post.
Joseph and his great-nephew stayed a while, to recuperate, and in the hope of finding another ship to take them on their onward journey. No ship could be found, perhaps the season of storms had closed in, and finally they decided to follow a different trade route, overland to the south coast, where a boat might be had across to France.
Their journey took them through Somerset and they took the opportunity to visit the great Druid centre of learning, at Glastonbury. The young man was fascinated, for he loved to learn, and they lingered there for a while. It was said, later, that his Grandfather encouraged him to return there, to continue his studies, and that this is where he spent the missing years in his better known story. The young man was called Jesus and the man who brought him there was Joseph of Arimathea.
Years later, after the crucifixion, someone carved the story of this visit, in pictograms, upon the door pillar of the old Phoenician temple on the Island of Ictis. A church was raised, incorporating the temple doorway and its carved story. The wrought bronze bell was hung in its tower to call the faithful to prayer, and in time a monastery grew up around it.
When Aethelstan arrived, he had the story carved into the stonework of a new entrance and the old, temple doorway was turned into a window and glazed to protect the precious pictograms.
The story passed into local legend until the poet, William Blake, heard it and was inspired to write a hymn in celebration. Today that hymn is the well-known anthem, adopted by the Women’s Institute – ‘Jerusalem’.
Sometimes my Grandma went ‘phut phut phut phut’ as she made her determined, if unsteady way. She made little farts, as old ladies do. I recently noticed that I do it too!
I am getting like her now. I recently saw her nose on my face, long and bulbous at the end. And that chin! Coming up stealthily, almost meeting my nose. I’ve always known I had her complexion, her blue eyes and wild hair, which she wore in a bun. She made a great thing of brushing and plaiting it, had a crystal glass ‘hair-tidy,’ and talked of girls combing glossy locks, which flowed to their knees. With her hair, hats, and hat pins she could remember Edward ascending the throne.
I slept on a camp bed in her room when I stayed. She would often snore, and inside her nightie, undressing at night, you heard her corset rattle. I loved these sounds. She probably wore it over a vest, but I never knew. Its solid, pink satin brocaded expanse finished well below bosom height. It held up her clattering metal suspenders, their pink rubber buttons grasped seamed nylon stockings encasing her thin, birdlike legs. They often peeped out below her ‘breeches’ which were voluminous and gathered elastic around her knees.
(Sometimes, when she sat in her chair, you glimpsed a quick flash of pink rayon.)
When she went out, always behatted, with well-polished, narrow-shod feet, a clean hankie, silk scarf and gloves, a good brooch and handbag and bright, anxious eyes, she went down the road to wait for the bus.
At home she drank dandelion coffee, made scones, and sat in the kitchen. I can see her there in her Windsor chair. Or getting the dinner on, wrapped in a pinny, cooking stew or a roast, a crumble and custard, or fruit pie and cheese. Whenever she ate, she went ‘peck peck peck peck’ -tiny and birdlike, as if she would break. As if the food was too much for her, watching her family eat.
And what about me? And my children too? will we be fragile and birdlike as well? Will I be silent, look up from my book or round the room with my anxious blue eyes? And my head full of stories of good brown bread and rosemary shampoo?
Did she look like her ancestors and do I too? Back, back in time- were there sometimes pink cheeks and wild fair hair? Did they have crazy thoughts like hers, hatched in silent watchfulness. Wayward, she left home in 1912. She never went back, never told of those unspoken times.
Many thanks go to the membership of Charnwood Grove for allowing this content to be published.
All work remains the property of the original author. Charnwood Grove claims no rights.