Redruth Old Cornwall Society Museum
- Founded 1922 -

Registered charity no.: 1079433




The Early Years – by the late Joan Petre-Butte

Redruth, 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 and neglect.

      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 generations.

      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;

     F.Bice Michell, B.Sc. – early mines, folklore and legends;

     F.G. Stephens, F.R.G.S. – early mines;

     Rev. Gilbert H. Doble – Cornish and Breton saints;

     E.H. Davison, B.Sc, F.C.S., - geology of Redruth district;

    A.K. Hamilton Jenkin – miners, social history of mining communities;

    Dr. J. Hambly Rowe – parish registers, family history;

    Stanley Opie – folk;lore, customs, legends etc.;

    Ashley Rowe – writer of West Briton’s ‘Cornish Men and Matters’;

    A.L. Mata – heraldry, music;

    Trefry Hoblyn – early documents, parish records, heraldry etc.;

    Dr. F.L. Harris, O.B.E., M.A. – education, law and order etc.;

    F. Micell – ecclesiology.


Prominent and active members of the Society in the first 25 years.


Arthur Pearse Jenkin, President;                  A.K. Hamilton Jenkin, Vice President;

W.T. Martin, Secretary;                              W.K. Wilton, Treasurer;

Miss f. Coxford, Recorder;             Miss M. Smith, Recorder;

Miss l. Blamey, Asst. Secretary;                  W.D. Watson, Recorder;

F.F. Beringer, Treasurer;                            Mrs. A.M. Arthur, Secretary;

S.A. Opie, Recorder;                                 Treffry Hobyn, Recorder;

Henry Richards, Recorder;             F.G. Barnett, Recorder;

Mrs. T. Wickett, Asst. Secretary;               H. Mundy, Secretary;

F.J.B. MacDowell, Recorder;                     Ashley Rowe, Recorder;

Miss Enid Vincent, Recorder;                     Mrs C.T. Bath, Recorder;

L.J. Bowles, Recorder;                               Mr. S. Oates, Treasurer;

Dr. F.L. Harris, President;                          F. Michell, President.


It 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.

Today 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.

                                                                                                      JOAN PETRE-BUTT


The 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.


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Revised: June 23, 2007 .

Registered charity no.: 1079433

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