I came across Henry Scott Tuke’s painting The Message early in my research on the Cornish wives ‘left behind’, and I always thought that the scene of a mother with young children seeming to pause in her daily activities to sit and read a letter that had just arrived must have been a familiar occurrence in the homes of the women I was interested in. The mother’s enigmatic expression gives little clue as to what the letter says - is it good news, or bad? What are the implications for her and her children? For me, this comes across even more in the preparatory study that Tuke produced, which captures his model for the mother with untidy hair and a duller complexion. It was this image that I chose for the cover of The Married Widows of Cornwall.
Tuke’s model in this case was his housekeeper, Mrs Elizabeth Fouracre. Throughout my book I was determined to put women’s stories centre stage, so it didn’t feel right that the identifiable woman on the cover should remain defined simply as Mr Four...
HMS Vanguard – The name stirred a memory. I’d stumbled on a Facebook group (HMS Vanguard 9th July 1917 Lost Crew) that is attempting to find photos and information on all of the 843 men who were lost when the First World War battleship went down in Scapa Flow on the night of 9 July 1917, sunk by an explosion in one of her magazines. I had a feeling there was a family connection.
Many years ago after my husband’s grandmother died I remember him bringing home two large framed photographs of a First World War battleship. The images were faded having been hanging on his grandmother’s wall for decades… along with a large photo of her brother who had been lost on that terrible night. Somehow I’d never got around to doing much research on that branch of the family and the photos had been safely stored away for when I could investigate further. Now was the time!
A dusty trip into the attic retrieved the carefully wrapped photos of the ship – yes, I was right, it was HMS Vanguard. One shows the s...
This graceful marble figure of a young woman was discovered lying face down in the rubble when the interior of the ruined Old Church in St Day, Cornwall was cleared out in 2000. Affectionately nicknamed ‘Gladys’, the statue clearly belonged to a memorial in the church, but whose? The statue’s plinth was found elsewhere in the church and once reunited they were found to form a monument to Mary Michell, who died in 1861 aged just 18. Not only did Mary die so young, the inscription on the plinth hints at a yet more poignant tragedy – Mary was already married when she died. What happened to this young bride? Did she die in childbirth, as did so many Victorian wives? And how did she come to have such a fine and expensive monument? I couldn’t resist the challenge to research Mary’s story and find out.
The last question was the easiest to answer. As the inscription records, Mary was the daughter of T.J. Tresidder Corfield of St Day. Her father, Thomas John Tresidder Corfield, was a chemist and...
My research into the lives of all the men commemorated on the war memorial in the Cornish community of St Day has been published in a new booklet. Beyond the Names tells the touching, and sometimes surprising, stories of the men with a St Day connection who died in the two World Wars.
The research reveals a fascinating variety of experiences. There are miner pals who joined up together in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry and then went on to serve in the important 251st Tunnelling Company of the Royal Engineers, emigrants from local families who enlisted in South Africa, Canada and New Zealand, and a talented amateur artist who went down with his ship during the Battle of Jutland.
The booklet also tells the stories of the local men lost in the Second World War, including a POW shot trying to escape and an airline pilot killed whilst ferrying aircrew to Canada.
Beyond the Names is available priced £1.50 (+p&p).
How is history communicated? I have been thinking about this a lot recently. Partly as a result of being asked to give a lecture to public history students, but also working alongside artists on a series of community heritage projects has made me appreciate how images can convey historical facts.
Now artists frequently use history, and increasingly archives, as a source of inspiration, but how often do historians turn to art as a chosen means of communication? Are we missing a trick?
As historians we tend to be fixated on words – papers, books, lectures are the currency we deal in. But what about images? We use them as sources, to illustrate a single point or enliven our text, but rarely as the primary way of sharing our research.
Fragments of local history, or more often local myths, frequently feature in festivals and community arts events. It is more unusual for such projects to use historical research as a starting point. But this is what happened with the Clock Tower project in St Da...
Revealing the story of these intriguing women has only been possible thanks to the resources produced for family history research. The time has come for this social historian to return the favour by sharing my research data on the individual women themselves.
The scale of emigration from Cornwall in the 19th century has become more widely appreciated in recent years, not least because of the award of World Heritage Site status to its tin and copper mining areas. Less well known is that amongst the migrant miners were large numbers of married men whose wives remained in Cornwall while they worked abroad. A newspaper report of the time calls them ‘married widows’ – a hint that society didn’t quite know what to make of them. At the same time in other places in Europe, such as Portugal and Sicily, wives who had not travelled abroad with their husbands were known as ‘widows of the living’ or ‘white widows’ suggesting a similar ambivalent status.
Although much has been written about the people...