Book Excerpts & Memories

Sennen World War 1
Article contributed by Polly Attwood

Sennen Cove was the site of the British end of the Transatlantic cable operated by Western Union, the cables running off the Lifeboat Bay and disappearing under the sea. They were regarded as a vital link between the U.S.A. and Britain and, as such, the powers that be decided that they needed to be guarded against possible attempts at sabotage. A regiment of Scots Guards was sent to protect them, and that¹s when the trouble started.
For the Covers, these soldiers, with their accents and strange clothing, were almost unintelligible and extremely foreign and, perhaps, not the most tactful of occupiers. They took over the Cove, and forbade use of the Lifeboat Bay, except under strict supervision. Needless to say, this didn¹t sit well with local fishermen, whose livelihood centred around this particular patch of Britain.

One night, the guard on duty heard footsteps crunching across the shingle on the beach, and called out "Halt! Who goes there?"
No answer, and the steps continued.
The Guard called out his warning again, but still the footsteps approached.
Now seriously alarmed, the guard shouted "Halt! Or I fire!"
As the footsteps continued, the guard fired in their direction, and killed ­ a fisherman¹s donkey.
The fury of the locals was apparently unprecedented. Not only were the alien Scots interfering with the fishing, now they had killed the means of getting the catch to the market.
Hostility rose to such a point that the Scots Regiment was redeployed, and a company of Royal Devons took their place. Although they were still soldiers, they were at least from the neighbouring county and, as such, were more acceptable to the Covers. My grandfather, Basil Bond, was the captain of the new occupiers, and apparently was able to soothe all the ruffled feathers, and bring peace to the area.
One day, a young lady, Barbara Halford Thompson, visiting friends in Sennen, as she did often, tried to walk her dog on the sands of Whitesands Bay, and was told politely that she couldn¹t do that without special permission. She demanded to speak to the senior officer, and was taken to him without delay. He gave her permission. She eventually (after several walks on the beach) married him.

Basil, after a varied career, including working for a Salvage Company in Newlyn, then owning and operating a Flower Farm, again in Newlyn, became ordained as a minister in the Church of England. His final parish was in Sennen, where he died in 1961.

Evacuees in 1940
Article contributed by Pat & Grace Ryan

Sennen Cove, a place I have loved since I was evacuated there 1940 to 1942. The postcard showing the shop brought back memories. I knew it as Trewins (not sure of the spelling) Mrs T was running the shop, she had a son Maurice and a small daughter Molly. The catch of pilchards also reminded me that there was an enormous catch I believe it was 1941 when the nets broke and the whole village was out collecting fish in the shallow water, we we hauled over the coals so to speak for getting soaking wet that day.

The Pilchard Tanks
Article contributed by Graham Shephard

I know where the pilchard tanks are/were if that would help. Behind the old Boathouse stores in the Harbour Mews new development. Still there but covered over when the old corrugated iron garages were demolished. I am not sure if there was any interest in the event and if any future access as a historical site was envisaged.

Have you ever come across any shots of it taken in the war with the beach defences as even the 70.s you had to watch where you walked, barbed wire and scaffold tubes all over the place.

Sennen Cove - Early 20th Century
Excerpt from the book "England's Riviera" 1912

RIGHT away at the end of England ; the first village and the last rolled into one, and Land's End only a mile distant; a spot richer in antiquarian remains and Celtic curiosities than any in this ancient England of ours. In fact, so thick are they that the archseological Jack Horner can never fail in pulling out an antiquarian plum each time he puts in his exploring thumb. A piece of coast-line beautiful in the colouring of sea and rocks, and delicately delightful in the swiftly changing lights and shades which emotionally affect the aspect of land and ocean. Almost indescribable in the opalescent brilliancy of the sunshine, contrasted at times with the greyness of enveloping mists and sombre landscape.
Such is Sennen Cove, a spot easily reached by the smooth-running, luxuriantly equipped " Cornish Riviera Express," which leaves Paddington each week-day at 10.30 a.m., and arrives at Penzance at 5.0 p.m. Here a G.W.R. motor 'bus carries the traveller swiftly to Sennen Churchtown, whence a short walk over the fields brings him to the Cove. Viewed from the cliff above, far away to the right stretches Whitesand Bay gleaming with bright white sand, and bounded at the northern extremity by Cape Cornwall (the only point called a " Cape" in England), with those dangerous rocks, " the Brisons," keeping watch and ward over that entrance. To the left lies little oddly shaped, artistic Sennen Cove, and beyond that again is seen the Longships Lighthouse, warning vessels off the perilously rocky, and awfully precipitous, Land's End.
The distance is just about one mile by road from Sennen to Land's End, as I have said, but a footpath cutting across the right angle made by the road can be traversed, materially shortening the journey, or the pedestrian can go via Sennen Cove, and see an immense variety of strange-looking rocks and wild coast scenery.
A footpath starts over a stone stile, nearly opposite the little Sennen post office (where the G.W.R. motor will put you down), and leads to the brow of the hill below where lie, on the right, Whitesand Bay, on the left, the little attenuated clump of cottages making up Sennen Cove.
If the horizon be clear, away to the south-west can be seen the Scilly Isles, faintly represented as irregular, low-lying darker masses against the sky-line. A place to rest in on a hot afternoon and let our imagination have full play and at night to gaze seaward,
"To where the dreaming Scillies sleep in moon-enchanted air."1 The scene immediately below is unquestionably beautiful, and here let me at once say that the charm of this part of England does not consist in awful precipices, in savage grandeur, in depressing loneliness, or in Sahara-like barrenness. All of these extreme scenic features are better witnessed at other places, and those writers who launch out into superlatives in any of these directions have, I expect, not travelled far from home. No, to me the delights of this small bit of coast-line lie chiefly in the instability of the colouring of sky, sea, and rocks, in the swiftly changing lights and shades which kaleidoscopically never present the same picture twice of land and ocean ; in the keen artistic potency of the sunshine, which at times gives place to a very non-actinic pall of sobriety and pensive thoughtfulness.
A nearer acquaintance with the coves and little coast villages of this part of Cornwall heightens the charm, for they and their inhabitants are in keeping with the scene. Quaint, old-time, odd, sometimes humorous, always interesting. And then, to crown all other attraction, are the Land's End sunsets. These are only to be seen, not described. They are the distraction of artists:—
Far away to the right, as I have said, stretches Whitesand Bay gleaming with bright white sand.

A CHILD IN WEST PENWITH
Article from "The Cornish Review" Autumn 1966

TO THIS DAY, when I smell a newly blown-out candle, slightly acrid yet not unpleasing, I am immediately reminded of the tiny bedroom in the fisherman's cottage at Sennen Cove, where I was first taken for a holiday at the age of six. The cottage, solidly built by the fisherman's own hands, stood squarely facing the sea, its wall " pebble-dashed " with real beach pebbles, to keep out the weather. The front door had a central panel of rather garish coloured glass that appealed to me as a child, and I used to like to watch the sea through each gawdy colour in turn. I remember the sudden stillness as that door was closed to shut out the unceasing roar of the sea and wind, and the endearing cosiness of the very homely cottage with its horsehair sofa and china dogs and—best of all—its enticing little bay window with seats. I used to sit in this bay window whenever I could, watching the passers-by— in those days these were mainly fishermen, in blue jerseys and sea-boots, and one or two of them used to wave to me as they passed. Beyond, just the other side of the road, was the sea, in perpetual restless motion, and round to the right the magnificent sweeping curve of Whitesand Bay, bounded by Cape Cornwall and the Brison Rocks. How I loved that view, and with what ecstatic joy I would lie in my little bed at night, till the monotonous surge of the waves pounding against the rocks finally lulled me to sleep. That incessant thunder was music in my ears, and somehow gave me a sense of security, though of course those huge Atlantic breakers were in fact driven by a demcniac, almost sinister power, and were regarded with awe by the native population whose lives were one long battle with sea and storm.
I adored not only the cottage but also our landlady, a friendly soul with a squat, plump figure, very wrinkled brown skin and small dark eyes that lit up when she talked. She was a typical Cornishwoman, and had lived in Sennen all her life. Penzance was foreign soil to her, and when she went there she was always glad to get back to the familiar ground of Sennen. As a girl she had been very poor, and very hardworking. She told us how she used to walk barefooted along the cliffs to St. Just, with a basket of fresh-caught fish that she hoped to sell there. Those hard days were over, but she still worked like a slave cooking and washing for all her visitors, in a hot, overcrowded kitchen with not even a sink. I can still picture her shining range with its huge black kettles and pots, her table cluttered up with innumerable things, and her gleaming row of china jugs for hot water, up on a shelf. Every night, when I was sent to bed, I had to tap at her kitchen door and ask for hot water to wash with, and she would take down one of the jugs and fill it for me, then talk and talk, her good-natured old face wreathed in smiles as she related anecdotes from her past.
I fell in love with every nook and cranny of Sennen Cove. That first holiday was one of many that we spent there, mostly at Easter time, but occasionally at Christmas. I was brought up to be a sturdy walker, and with my parents I explored all the enchanting cliff paths, and learned the way down to all the coves. It was hard to pick out a favourite, but I was especially fond of rugged Nanjizal, the first cove after Land's End; Nanjizal was utterly wild, with no habitation other than one house that was empty except for the summer of each year. The beach, when I first knew it, was of very white but coarse sand composed of broken-up sea-shells. I used to find cowries there. Later, after gales from a certain quarter, Nanjizal was bereft of sand, and was a formidable mass of rocks—a disappointment to a child.
Porthgwarra, the next cove, was most charming, with its granite cottages nestling against the cliff-side and its little pebbly beach and slipway and natural arch. I used to love to see the boats drawn up and the ancient windlass. On a sunny day, Porthgwarra was a delightfully warm spot, sheltered by the cliffs from the ever-blowing winds. At the back of the cove, behind some houses and gardens, a footpath wound up and along another stretch of cliff to St. Leven and the long, narrow valley leading past the holy well and over a wooden plank bridge to Porthchapel. The steep descent was not easy for my little legs, but it was well worth while, for this particular cove gave me a quite unusual ecstasy. The waves always seemed more powerful there than on any of the other beaches, and I used to get an almost voluptuous thrill out of standing where the swiftly receding water dragged the sand violently from under my feet. Down there, on the level, with the fierce, crashing breakers throwing up dazzling clouds of white spray that quickly drenched my face and made it tingle with brine, I somehow felt weak and insignificant compared with the force of the elements. The sound of the sea was deafening, and to hear myself speak at high tide it was necessary to retreat into one of the caves under the cliffs, from which refuge I could survey the splendid seascape at a safe distance. Porthchapel was lovely, yet terrifying, and after a while it was a relief to retrace my steps up the valley past the gentle little stream.
Porthcurno, though a beautiful wide beach, always seemed a little formal compared with the smaller coves, and the houses of the Cable Station gave it a semi-Victorian look. They did not fit the landscape like the granite cottages of Porthgwarra. But further on lay the grand, rugged outline of Treryn Castle. I once hunted for the logan stone on this, but failed to find it. It was a glorious pile of rock, though, and I liked it for itself quite as much as for the elusive logan stone. The next cove, Penberth, was another paradise, as was the lush valley that led to it from inland, when we approached it from Sennen Churchtown. The tiny brook with its bed of golden sand, fascinated me as it trickled its way through fields and woods, till it broadened out to a fair-sized stream, and the path led out to the lane that descended to the cove, past dream-houses with cool, well-watered gardens.
Sometimes we would get as far as Lamorna, or the elusive St. Loy, buried in woods, like a place on another planet. St. Loy was a kind of lost Lyonesse of the mainland, so utterly remote did it seem. The aspect made it a place of almost tropical warmth, and I have basked there in December in more comfort than some places would afford in June. Lamorna needs no description: it is so many people's paradise. In the days that I write about, it was comparatively quiet and had few cars and no " amenities ". The mile-long walk down the valley with the fine old trees and plashing stream, and the sudden, breath-taking vista of the tiny cove with its jetty and its handful of cottages—these live long in the memory, just as the footpath to Mousehole, leading off steeply past the grey screes of the disused stone quarries, through snake-infested glades and areas of natural marsh teeming with all kinds of bird-life, remains forever a vivid mental image of pure loveliness.
Going eastwards from Sennen, coves were fewer, and the cliff paths more narrow and precipitous. But they were very grand, and I delighted to cross the sand and marram-grass at Vellandreath, and then clamber on till I came to the broad, smiling inlet of Nanquidno. The stream here typical of so many streams in the West Penwith valleys, rushed with careless impetuousness to fling itself into the sea. Although few of these streams had bridges or even good stepping-stones, and I dreaded falling into the water in my clumsy attempts to cross them, I had a great liking for them, and felt them to be very much a feature of the district. Indeed I loved the wide Nanquidno valley, with its masses of gorse and blackthorn and rough-growing " bents "; it seemed a vast no-mans-land, inhabited only by the cows which occasionally came to a bad end in the swamp and left their bones to rot as evidence of their misfortune. I remember taking home a whole cow-skull that, with grisly childish joy, I had picked up in Nanquidno one day.
Cape Cornwall, that symmetrical pyramid with the tall mine-shaft on top, was a place very dear to me. I loved climbing up to the coastguard lookout, or crossing the " saddle " at the back, to get a view of the further coastline towards Pendeen. The sea was always dashing against those jagged, black rocks, the gulls were always screaming, the cliffs were always gay with thrift and mesembryanthemum . . .
So, at a tender but impressionable age, my great love for West Penwith was born. Once born, it grew with each successive visit to Sennen, and in time I came to know the cliff paths so well that I could find my own way anywhere—I even knew the lie of the rocky outcrops, that made so many of these paths potentially dangerous, just as I knew all the rather cumbersome Cornish stiles and the half-hidden short cuts through farms. The little peninsula, landmarked by the tall towers of Sennen and St. Buryan churches, drew me irresistibly, as though it were some ancient home of my spirit. I loved the wildness of it all, the untamed and untameable winds and waves and rocks. All these things gave me, in childhood, a strange blend of exhilaration and quiet contentment. My world became temporarily narrowed down to the little world of West Penwith. It was always a jolt to leave that world for the other, everyday world of home.

An excerpt from the book "The Illustrated Past: Penwith"

Sennen holds Cornwall's — indeed, England's — most famous topographical feature, the widely celebrated Land's End, and thousands of holidaymakers annually flock to this spot, attracted by the magic of its name. Yet just to the south lies a range of granite cliffs far exceeding in magnificence those at Land's End: Pordennack, Cairn Vean, Cairn Sperm, Cairn Evall, Cairn lesBoel, Cairn Cravah and others, leading to Mill Bay or Nanjizel Cove, where the little stream divides this parish from St Levan.
The hamlet of Mayon takes its name from Table-Men, meaning Rock Table, a large flat stone at which seven Saxon kings are said to have dined together. Hals names them as Ethelbert, fifth king of Kent, Cissa, second king of the South Saxons, Kingills, sixth king of the West Saxons, Sebert, third king of the East Saxons, Ethelfred, seventh king of the Northumbers, Penda, ninth king of the Mercians, and Sigebert, fifth king of the East Angles, who all flourished about the year 600. Merlin, the wizard, added a rider to this unlikely tale with his prophecy that an even larger number of kings will assemble around Table-Men before some great event, or the destruction of the world itself.
St Senan, born near Kilrush in Ireland, reputedly founded a church on the present site in AD 520, afterwards sailing to Brittany to establish another. The 7ft high churchyard cross may have been used by him as a Preaching Cross before his church was completed. A small 13th century cruciform church eventually replaced the original structure and was enlarged in 1430, when the south transept was removed and the pillars and south aisle added.
On 21 February 1430, Pope Martin V issued a Bull to the Archbishop of Canterbury in response to a petition from the inhabitants of Sennen. 'They state that they have got Tower and Bells, and in the Church a Font. They begged the Pope to give them a licence to make a Cemetery around the Church. They said they could not accompany their dead to St Buryan lest their houses should be raided by pirates during their absence.' Sennen was included in the Royal Peculiar Deanery of St Buryan and remained a chapelry to Buryan until the last century.
The new section of the church was dedicated by Bishop Lacey of Exeter on 29 August 1441, the feast of the beheading of St John the Baptist. An inscription on the foot of the font stone commemorates the event: 'Haec Ecclesia in decollatione Sancti Johannis Baptistae dedicata fuit Anno Domini Millesimo CCCCXLI'. Part of a mediaeval wall painting survives at the east end of the south aisle, depicting the New Jerusalem with a bridge going from earth to Heaven. In 1700 the sexton showed the historian Hals some headless figures recently found in the walls of the church, all curiously wrought and painted with gold, vermilion and blue bice on parts of their garments. Only one remains — the Virgin Mary — and new heads of the Mother and Child have been modelled by Mrs Sheila Hicks of Tregiffian.
Until the Reformation, a chapel known as Chapel Idne was the first building on the right on the steep hill down to Sennen Cove, and there appears to have been another ancient chapel at Penrose.
The manor of Hornwell, or Castle Hornwell, was chiefly located in Sennen. It seems, says Henderson, to have been given — probably by Duke Ordgar or King Ethelred — to the latter's foundation of Wherwell Abbey in Hampshire, from which its name derives, and to be identical with the Exeter Domesday manor of Witestan (Whitesand). The seigniorial rights attached to Hornwell manor extended over most of the coastlands between Land's End and St Ives.
It was from Whitesand Bay that Athelstan set out to subdue the Scilly Islands after his great victory at Boleigh. King Stephen landed here on his first arrival in England, as did the unsuccessful pretender Perkin Warbeck in 1497, although another account has it that he came ashore at St Ives. King John also landed at Sennen when returning from Ireland. Dr Robert Hunt records a curious tradition concerning the 'Hooper' or 'Hooter' of Sennen Cove. This spirit took the form of a band of misty vapour stretching across the bay, so opaque that nothing could be seen through it. The Hooper's appearance was invariably, and often suddenly, followed by a severe storm, and it was regarded as a kindly warning to fishermen. However, one old fisherman refused to heed it. The weather on shore was fine, 'and the aged sinner, declaring he would not be made a fool of, persuaded some young men to join him. They manned a boat, and the aged leader, having with him a threshing-flail, blasphemously declared that he would drive the spirit away; and he vigorously beat the fog with the "threshel" — so the flail is called. The boat passed through the fog and went to sea. A severe storm came on. No one ever saw the men or boat again; and since that time the Hooper has been rarely seen'.
The little harbour at Sennen Cove affords the only possible shelter on a long and terrible stretch of coastline, and a lifeboat has been maintained here since 1853. Some gallant rescues have been performed by these boats. The breakwater at Sennen was erected in 1908, mainly through the exertions of Col. H. W. Williams of St Ives, to provide some shelter for the launching place. During the wreck of the ship Khyber at Porthloe Cove in February 1905, the lifeboat could not be launched because the seas were head on to the slip; as a result, 23 of the 26 people on board lost their lives. The Susan Ashley (1948-72) was launched on service 87 times, saving 64 lives and helping to save five others, as well as towing eight boats to safety. Her successor, the Diana White, which arrived in 1973, is a 37 ft Oakley self-righting vessel admirably suited to the difficult conditions at Sennen.