Redruth Old Cornwall Society Museum
The Early Years – by the late Joan Petre-Butte
one – time capital of the largest and richest mining area in Cornwall, has
captured the interest of historians for centuries. The great hills of Carn Brea
and Carn Marth have given archaeologists, geologists and folklorists boundless
material for the pen. The valleys and streams below engaged countless men, women
and children in the search for tin.
The advent of the Industrial Revolution in the later 17th
Century provided a stimulus to investors and improvers which continued
throughout the 18th Century. Backed by ‘adventurers’ and
investors they formed a wide range of new skills. Entry into previously
inaccessible marketsand the near exhaustion of the Anglesey copper deposits at
the end of the 18th Century brought Cornwall into world dominance in
the production of copper, albeit for a brief period.
The 19th Century witnessed many fluctuations of price in the
metal market, due in part to the discovery and exploitation of large deposits
overseas. This greatly affected Cornwall’s production and brought about the
general decline of its mining industry. The exodus of large numbers to these
newly found mineral zones left Cornwall desolate, showing obvious signs of decay
A gradual in flux of people from beyond the Tamar, increased by the
extension of the railways into the far west, introduced a variety of cultures
which were having considerable influence on the local inhabitants. It was
imperative that steps be taken to preserve Cornwall’s unique culture and
heritage and to record Redruth’s illustrious past for the benefit of future
An outstanding figure at this time was Thurstan Collin Peter, a lawyer
born at Redruth in 1854. He was an accomplished general antiquary, elected a
Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in London in 1914. Thurstan Peter may
justly be described as a founder of that movement which later took the form of
the Old Cornwall Societies. Lecturing to the most learned bodies in Cornwall, he
yet found time to visit schools, delighting the children with local history and
folklore, illustrated with the aid of a magic lantern!
In 1922, inspired by the lead Thurstan Peter had given, the Redruth Old
Cornwall Society was formed. Sir Henry Jenner, M.A., F.S.A., renowned Cornish
Scholar, who had prompted Robert Morton Nance to found the first Old Cornwall
Society at St. Ives in 1920, was present with him at the first meeting and
honoured the new Redruth Society by being its first President.
The succeeding President was Arthur Pearse Jenkin of Trewirgie, land
agent and surveyor. The Secretary was William Thomas Martin, a local builder and
a keen student of archaeology. They headed a group of dedicated field workers
who, with maps, pencils, paper and cameras, toured the countryside to record
every item of interest within their vista. Nothing escaped the watchful eye;
stone crosses serving as gateposts; long stones with curious indentations; stone
circles of seven maidens where there should have been nine; mysterious
underground passages. Mine relics were carefully studied and mapped by A.K.
Hamilton Jenkin; innumerable conversations with miners, farmers, fishermen and
villagers to capture the dialect, customs and folklore were recoded. Others
would peruse old documents, musty files and newspapers for information.
‘Notes on the History of Redruth’ published in 1946 and enlarged
under the title ‘Annals of an Ancient Cornish Town’ in 1978 is a detailed
chronology revealing the fruits of this work, a marathon task of compilation
undertaken by Mr. Frank Michell. Begun when he was Secretary, it includes many
of his own findings. In the early years almost all members took an active part
in the work of the Society and undoubtedly took much pleasure and satisfaction
from their efforts.
The following examples illustrate the range of their interests: -
Arthur Pearse Jenkin – land tenure;
William Thomas Martin – architecture, ecclesiology, archaeology;
W.D. Watson and F.J. MacDowell – place names, Cornish language;
A. Jory – mining;
Michell, B.Sc. – early mines, folklore and legends;
Stephens, F.R.G.S. – early mines;
Gilbert H. Doble – Cornish and Breton saints;
Davison, B.Sc, F.C.S., - geology of Redruth district;
Hamilton Jenkin – miners, social history of mining communities;
J. Hambly Rowe – parish registers, family history;
Opie – folk;lore, customs, legends etc.;
Rowe – writer of West Briton’s ‘Cornish Men and Matters’;
Mata – heraldry, music;
Hoblyn – early documents, parish records, heraldry etc.;
Dr. F.L. Harris, O.B.E., M.A. – education, law and order etc.;
Micell – ecclesiology.
and active members of the Society in the first 25 years.
Pearse Jenkin, President;
A.K. Hamilton Jenkin, Vice President;
W.K. Wilton, Treasurer;
f. Coxford, Recorder; Miss
M. Smith, Recorder;
l. Blamey, Asst. Secretary;
W.D. Watson, Recorder;
Mrs. A.M. Arthur, Secretary;
Treffry Hobyn, Recorder;
Richards, Recorder; F.G.
T. Wickett, Asst. Secretary;
H. Mundy, Secretary;
Ashley Rowe, Recorder;
Enid Vincent, Recorder;
Mrs C.T. Bath, Recorder;
Mr. S. Oates, Treasurer;
F.L. Harris, President;
F. Michell, President.
is impossible in a few short paragraphs to say how much is owed to the early
preservationists. Each and every one performed a unique service from which
future generations will draw enormous benefits.
in our large Society there are fewer active recorders, but a small group headed
by Mr. Michael Tangye, the official Recorder who is unsurpassed in this field
and who has amassed an immense record of notes, drawings and photographs
himself, is adding to the Society’s collection year by year.
late Joan Petre-Butt herself was actively involved in the collection of
information and was an authority on everything Cornish. She was also Secretary
of the Society for over twenty five years coming out of that office in 1995.
Registered charity no.: 1079433