Helston Folk Museum
May’s meeting of the History Group was a visit to the Helston Folk Museum. Tracey Clowes, a stalwart member of the Group, is the assistant curator at the Museum and gave the Group a warm welcome. The visit started with a demonstration of the Flora Day Clock which, built in the 1930s, had recently been restored to health just in time for this year’s Flora Day.
The Museum is deceptively large and stands on the original meat market and butter market in the Market House. Over the years the museum has been extended into what was the Drill Hall. Outside, a canon from HMS Anson stands guard. The Mu- seum offers an insight into the History of Helston and the Lizard Peninsular and has an extensive collection of mainly Victorian memorabilia.
Tracey was joined by a group of helpers, all part of the force of 50 volunteers who help to run the spotlessly clean and imaginatively-displayed collection of artefacts. The first to take us back to the 1800s was Constance Treloar, behind the counter of her corner Victorian shop, surrounded by cleaning materials, food, starch and other essentials of her time. She bemoaned the fact that there was talk of closure of the railway line, that people had started to use the newcomer shops taking her trade and generally appeared not to welcome “modern-day living”!
Following that, we were invited, as students, to the schoolhouse where we were berated for being late (!) by Charles Alexander Johns, Second Master at Helston Grammar School in 1831. He explained that although as well as being an educator he had become a priest and in 1847 became Headmaster at Helston. His priestly duties tended to play a more minor part of his life than that of botanist or “botaniser” as he preferred. He had written a number of books on botany and he read an excit- ing passage from one in which he nearly fell over a cliff on the Lizard whilst collect- ing plants. Next, we were entertained by one of the bicycle “scorchers”, who ex- plained how he and a friend would get into trouble with the local constable because of the speed they would ride their bicycles down the main road. He really could not see that they were more likely to cause an accident than the horse and carts which filled the streets, or even the motor car, one of which had recently been seen in Cornwall, but the magistrate had not been impressed and fined the two scorchers a hefty amount of money.
We then watched a video clip telling the story of Granny Boswell. Anne Boswell was born in Ireland and later married her second husband Ephraim Boswell, known as the King of the Gypsies. From the 1860s onwards she lived in west Cornwall, mostly on the Lizard, and ended her days a pauper at the Helston workhouse. She was feared by some but was given the name the “wise one” and people would consult her on various matters. She would carry bags of spiders to give to the sick and was said to cure ringworm in cattle. One tale involved Granny Boswell becoming very drunk in Helston Inn and, outside, seeing her very first motor car. The driver got an- gry at her behaviour and told her to leave. Granny Boswell told him the car would never reach the end of the street. It is said the car broke down a few yards along the road and had to be towed away by horse and cart! Granny Boswell died at age 96.
Our hosts then gave an insight into the many shipwrecks off the Lizard peninsular, sang songs and told the tale of several of the more famous incidents including the death of Lord Bellhaven on the Royal Anne. He was the new Governor of Barbados but died when his ship went to the bottom off Stagg Rocks. They told of Henry Trengrouse, born in Helston in 1772, who, having seen so many lives lost to shipwrecks, worked long and hard and finally invented the rocket line lifesaving equipment, an early type of Breeches Buoy which was to save thousands of lives. Initially ignored by the British Government, they eventually ordered twenty of Trengrouse’s rescue systems and, having examined the equipment, decided to manufacture it for them- selves, giving Trengrouse a mere £50 in compensation. The Czar of Russia, howev- er, gave Trengrouse a diamond ring in recognition of lives saved in the Baltic using his invention.
After refreshments, members of the Group spent a most enjoyable and informative time looking at the various exhibits, which were displayed according to subject. Geoff Roberts thanked Tracey Clowes and her team of volunteers for providing such a splendid entertainment and showing off their fine museum.