Creative Writing Interpretation of a High Street Sound Walk in Redruth

Street of Voices / Stret an Levow

[Anna]

Welcome to Stret an Levow, Street of Voices. Everything you are about to hear has been inspired by stories we’ve been told, lived experience and fragments of history. Our first story is set in the West End Departmental Stores, formerly the Redruth Drapery. Admire the beautiful, curved windows across the street and the splendid atrium where you are standing.


Palace of Dreams

(00:26)

A door opens and a shop bell jangles.

[Shazz]

(Cornish accent) West End Departmental Stores. (Voices hum in the background) A palace of glamour and dreams, all sweeping staircases and glimmering mirrors. The flounce and frou-frou of the hat department. Fascinators, fedoras, kettle-brims, berets and tams. Threads of every colour in haberdashery, sharps, bodkins, crewel, beading, felting, quilting and darning needles, tassels, fringes and ric-rac braid.

A toy stream train hoots.

Trains and bears and building blocks in the toy department. (Shoppers chat and laugh, closer now) ‘Take a ride on the Mobo Bronco Galloping Horse!’ Purveyors of exotic confectionery in its top-floor cafeteria. Oh, the sweet luxury of a Kunzle cake and a knickerbocker glory! And weekly fashion parades, decking the shop staff out in fashion finery. The New Look had to have its first Cornish swish and rustle here. (Drawers open and close, keys jangle and items tap as if on a desk) Mr S, in his glass-fronted office, saw it all, kept it in order.

Bells jingle faintly.

The highpoint of the year was the Christmas Grotto, a place of pilgrimage from the whole of Cornwall – animated voices chat in the background – an experience so enthralling that some folk now recall being transported through it on an actual magic carpet. Ushered through by green-and-red-clad pixies – a music box plays a tinkly ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ – we gazed at windows bedecked with sparkling foil and fairy lights into other worlds, tinsel-spangled penguins floating on glittering ice floes, their beaks clacking ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ – clickety-clack! – Rudolph flying through a starry sky – tiny rollers whirr on wires – his nose flashing with a spinning red light like a Christmassy member of the emergency services, a UV-lit image of Christmas on Mars, with little green aliens tucking into plum pudding.

The music box carries on playing.

And then the encounter with Father Christmas, at once thrilling and terrifying – an enormous whiskery man with the power to give you your heart’s desire. (The music box stops) Or not.

Voices chat in the background.

Jackie and her friend Barbara became Saturday girls. They wanted to have the chance to be pixies, to wear those red tights and green tunics, to sing the carols and hand out the tiny toys to wide-eyed children, to perform, to be part of this magical dream. The long hours on corsetry, haberdashery or men’s accessories would be worth it.

The hubbub of voices continues.

Jackie was clever and creative. She had a sensational jumper that she had knitted. It had brightly coloured flowers all over it and a spectacular fringe. (A child laughs and chatters in the background) It was her best outfit. So modern. She wore it with pride on several Saturdays, delighting the eyes of customers and beautifying every counter she served at.

But then came the sharp rap on the glass from Mr S – glass knocks – and a beckoning finger.

[Man] Would you mind not wearing that again? It doesn’t fit the store.

[Shazz]

Humiliation, embarrassment, defeat. Jackie was never selected to be a pixie, although Barbara was. Every year. To this day, she believes her jumper to be the cause of her disappointment. She confesses that she became a little sulky in the weeks after the reprimand, which might have made her less appealing as a pixie.

But Jackie’s talents didn’t go to waste. She danced and sang in dozens of shows, playing a singing nun, a Babe in the Woods and the Slave of the Ring, who appeared in the dazzling blaze of a magnesium flare at the Regal ‘cross the road, another palace of dreams.

[Live recording]

[Jackie] After that, I became a bit of a rebel in there, I'm afraid. (Vehicles pass) But I was never picked. That's probably what it was. Never picked for the Father Christmas grotto.

An organ plays.


Prodigal Son

(05:00)

[Jack]

The great stores in Redruth – West End, Cockings, John Knights - were all owned by members of a faith brotherhood. The Christian Brethren worshipped together but traded in competition with each other. Good men, they ran tight ships and believed that humanity could be improved with the values of Family, Work, Clean Living and Great Shopping.

Imagine a boy, child of the Brethren, growing up in the 60s and 70s. No discos and drink for him. No dancing, no rock, no flirting, no sly cigarettes with the shop girls on the roof terrace of the store. No…

 Two smart woody knocks.

 ..it’s the Meeting House for prayer three times on Sundays, and every day for four days over Easter – footsteps shuffle past – when the other lads from school would be out on the randan, enjoying the first warmth of spring. No girlfriends for him. Some of the Brethren have arranged marriages.

And when he’s not in school or prayer, he’s in the shop, learning the family trade.

Voices chat in the background.

He blushes easily, this boy. Mrs T, farmer’s wife, coming down the sweeping store staircase towards him – light shoes tap – raises her skirt to her chin…

[Mrs T] ‘Ere, Mr Knight, got any like these, ‘ave ‘ee?’

Women titter in the background.

And at the sight of what he calls her ‘harvest festivals – you know, all safely gathered in,’ he blushes furiously.

His future path seems set. But then something breaks in him. There is a storm…

Thunder reverberates around the town.

 ..a biblical flood that sweeps through the centre of Redruth, wrecking and contaminating everything in its path. The store and its stock are ruined. He cannot face the endless task of repairing and repainting, and somehow, aged 17, manages to get sent to London for ‘training’.

Voices buzz in the background.

[Male voice in automated announcement] Mind the gap, please.

He is away for three years. ‘It’s another life,’ he says. (Announcement repeats) When he returns, he sets up one of the first boutiques in Cornwall, on the top floor of the store, painted vibrant orange and purple, swagged with thick nautical rope, stocked with the most ravishing clothes. (Hangers click as clothes are browsed on racks) They make women feel and look glorious – the shop floor creaks - splendid, beautiful, sexy…modern. It’s a kind of rebellion.

The clicking and creaking continue.

Ever the innovator, in a land used to tucking sheets and blankets in tightly, like swaddling, he introduces ‘the duvet’. (Bedding flaps like a sail as it’s shaken out) He has to demonstrate their use to the Townswomen’s Guild – women chat and laugh in the background – changing the duvet cover, fluffing and plumping. Even after his experiences in the city, this is an encounter fraught with embarrassment. The mature ladies of the town relish his discomfort, teasing and giggling with merciless double entendres.

Women continue to chat.

He still blushes at the memory. You can take the boy out of the Brethren…but maybe you can’t take the Brethren out of the boy.

[Live recording]

[Robin] No, no, no. They were having a whale of a time, actually, because I was so embarrassed of...

[Anna] (Laughs) That sounds so brilliant!

(Laughter)

[Sue] Embarrassed young man.

Yes. Very, very embarrassed.

Did you have to demonstrate putting on the…?

Yes. All the…

Oh, man!

You know, putting the covers on and everything. (Crockery rattles) And the duvets at the time were called Puffin duvets. (A pedestrian crossing alarm bleeps) They came from… Fin-… Norway somewhere. And they were pure down.

Down, yeah.

That sort of thing.

Did they buy them?

Oh, they started to.

Yeah.

But they probably went… Afterwards, they waited a while to see if they'd catch on.

A sea of voices fades.


Dancing Around Redruth

(08:54)

[Anna] This story is inspired by two women, Beverly and Melissa, mother and daughter, who have taught three generations of girls and boys to dance.

A pair of feet tap, first on one side,

then the other, with flurries of rapid light tapping

interspersed by more pronounced taps.

[Sue]

They say their tribe have been dancing around Redruth for over 50 years. Tabbs Arcade, the old Drill Hall… And the Regal, of course. (The tapping fades and a vehicle passes) Magnificent in its clean art deco lines, calm amongst the copper cupolas, oriel windows, porticos and arches of Fore Street. (Her voice echoes) But inside, it was a warren of corridors and twisting staircases. A bizarre and magical place for a child, a world within the world, where you may meet a rat face to face on the stair – relaxed voices converse in the background – but might also be invited to the after-show party in the bar high up in the gods at the back of the auditorium, knee-high amongst the grown-ups. (Her voice loses the echo) A place of glamour, magic and fairy dust, but where you had to take an umbrella on the stairs because of the condensation dripping from the ceiling. (Drops plip) Brilliant lights, velvet, sequins and satin – wood creaks – where sometimes you had to make your entrance tiptoeing across pallets because the undercroft had flooded. (More creaks)

The thrill and the fear side by side… Beverly says the stage manager was so frightening that, playing a monkey in Sinbad, she hid from him under the Grand Vizier’s cloak. But still she kept dancing. (Swift feet tap lightly) She gained a place at dance college but her family couldn’t afford to send her. So, she learnt to dance courtesy of Miss McGowan in Penzance. (Swift feet tap again) She would always dance. She tap-danced the night before each of her babies were born. Her husband would bring the babies down to the dance school to be breastfed. Miss McGowan said, ‘Look at those feet. This one’s going to be a dancer.’

Her daughter makes her first appearance here, aged three, in The Wizard of Oz, teetering on a plank over the 20-foot drop into the orchestra pit below. Miss McGowan was right, this one is special. (A piano plays the Swan's Theme, ‘Song of the Swans’, from Swan Lake, and ballet shoes pitter-patter) She flies. Ballet school at 12, examinations, competitions, where her pumps are shredded by 32 pirouettes en pointe. She is awarded the Royal Academy Solo Seal, aged 17, one of only five dancers in the world to receive it that year. Her future lies at her satin-clad feet.

The piano continues to play.

She is auditioning at Pineapple Studios, London, with 800 other dancers. She makes it to the last 10. A session of high kicks and then, suddenly – the piano stops – unaccountably, she is lying on the floor with her leg twisted at an impossible angle behind her. The Harley Street consultant says, ‘You’ll be lucky to walk again, let alone dance.’ There is a hole the size of a 10-pence piece in her cartilage. It is agony – bone on bone. Catastrophe, despair. There is no back-up plan. Dance was everything.

A gruelling two years of recuperation follow. And then a Cornish surgeon offers her hope. He has heard of a new procedure. So far, it’s only been used on racehorses.

But it works. She dances. She works alongside her mum at the school and gets to play every splendid leading role in the repertoire.

An audience applauds.

She is cast as Sally in Me and My Girl. They have a problem trying to find anyone without a Cornish accent to play the cockney Bill Snibson. Richard is from Hounslow. ‘He’ll do,’ she says. They have their first kiss below the stage here at the Regal and are married the following year. When they are cast as Eliza Doolittle and Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady, she wears the green velvet cloak she wore on her wedding day and the glorious green hat that the mother-of-the-bride wore.

She says, philosophically, ‘Life works its way to where you’re meant to be.’

[Live recording]

[Melissa] Well, you're definitely on the third generation, aren't you?

(A heavy vehicle labours and something taps in the background)

[Beverly] Yeah, yeah. I always… I used to say to Melissa, ‘Show them what little Cornish girls can do,’ because people think, 'Cornwall?!' You know. And now I say to Ben, ‘Show them what little Cornish boys can do.’ And now I say to them, before an exam… And they all go, ‘Show them what little Cornish boys can do!'

(Laughter)

(Children chatter in the background)

[Anna] The children rename the town…

[Child] Welly Dog Square

Rough Park

Meet by the Miner?

We even name the trees.

David, Phil and Sally.

[Sue] But they cut down Phil. The children gave his twig a funeral ceremony in the brewery leats.

The children chatter and laugh.


The Grow Box

(14:20)

[Anna] This is the story of a local hero, young man, student nurse, who came to the rescue of a vital shop in Redruth’s hour of need.

A fridge hums and rattles.

[Jane] What've you done to it, Mary?

[Mary] Sorry?

What've you done to it?

I didn’t, I just picked it up…

Oh, good.

OK, I am now…from four o'clock this afternoon, retired.

Honestly?

Yep.

Ah.

Finally packed it in.

7.25, please, Mary.

Thank you.

[Lee] Last year, we came to find out that...that the greengrocer's was going to close. So it was a case of, really, well, we can't let that happen. It would have been terrible, really. With everything else going on with the pandemic, to lose quite a…you know, a core, small independent business in the town, I think, would have been…wouldn't have been good at all.

The fridge hums.

[Man] You can't get any better in life… Sorry.

(Woman laughs)

We're just chatting.

[Woman] I thought you were queueing.

No, we’re chatting. We're not allowed to queue.

Well, one has to have a chat.

[Other woman] Yeah. (Laughs)

Paper rustles.

[Lee] So we... So we negotiated with the previous owners, who, like I said, were going to close it, and came to an arrangement then basically and we took it on. And that was from the 1st of August last year, so we’re all about 12 months, already, into the journey of where we're at with this now. So, yeah, and it's all come on in leaps and bounds, really. We added a delivery service onto the business, which was extremely busy through the pandemic.

A cash register bleeps and paper rustles and tears.

[Woman] Down Tesco’s on Wednesday, there was hardly anything on the shelves.

[Jane] Wasn’t there? And a lot of people bulk buy, you know. Buy too much.

That’s right. They panic buy, though, don't they?

Yeah, that’s it.

Greedy, really, innit?

Yeah, it is.

All right, so take care.

Yeah. Thank you. Bye.

[Man] Hello…

[Lee] You know, it's been a greengrocer’s here for…or a fruit market I think I've seen it referred to on a map…for over 100 years. So there's a lot of history behind the shop here, really. Unfortunately, business change…you know, businesses change, people change. There's a lot of out-of-town shopping centres and things and people don't shop in the town centre like they used to. It's all about convenience and price and things for a lot of people because they're busy and they're trying to stretch their money as far as they can. So it is difficult for businesses like us to continue to thrive in the environment and in the market now.

The till shuts and the fridge goes on humming.

[Man] I’m not here because… I’ve just had the Covid jab.

[Sue] I just want to ask you if you’ve got some…

[Jane] Hello, all right?

After the big time spent with it, it’s just an excuse to get on my bike and come and see you, y’know?

Oh, thank you. You’ve made my day.

[Second man] Cos I’m that type of… Madness.

57 pence, please.

My wife thinks I talk a load of rubbish but you know differently, don’t you?

I know different, yes.

That’s why you’ve been sent out!

(Coins jingle)

(Laughs) How much do you want?

57 pence, please.

[Lee] I was actually out on placement when, when I phoned the… I was in my lunch break. I phoned the…the previous owner. So I was out on placement with the community district nurses up in Camborne. And I said to my wife earlier in the morning, earlier in the day, or the day before that, I've got to have a phone call, you know, a phone conversation with the chap just to see what's going on. So, anyway, I phoned him, had a chat with him, and then phoned my wife later on to say that, ‘Oh, yeah, by the way, we now own a fruit and veg shop.’ So…yeah, she was slightly taken aback but then I think she's used to it with me now, I think. (Laughs)

Redruth’s clocktower bells chime.


Love in Pueblo Mágico

(18:09)

[Anna] This is a contemporary love story collected from two people who have made their home here.

[Jack]

How do love stories start? This one bloomed over the airwaves. (Voices crackle in the background) They were drawn into a video game by a colleague and a daughter, watchers at first, then players.

A computer keyboard clacks.

America to here. Here to America. (Keys continue to clack, on one side, then the other) Travelling by radio waves, across the time spans, across the borders. Until the colleague and the daughter made them an avatar each. Maybe it was the avatars who fell in love first…

A dial-up modem trills…connecting.

Then they saw each other over a webcam. (The modem beeps and bongs) Then they met. She flew over to meet him. He picked her up at the airport. (A bird chirps) Then they fell in love again. She didn’t know about his languages, his many tongues, some of them lost. Spanish, American, Apache, Mayan, to name a few. Languages he was banned from speaking, languages of the ancestors, words that spoke of wilder things than school desks and cities.

Vehicles pass in the near distance.

And now he is here, in her place, Redruth, land of the Red River, that also lost its language, town of faith and fire, boom and bust and boom.

Voices chat in the background.

Their love grew over their mutual passion for Fiesta Paste, the Pasty Festival, Real Del Monte, Mexico.

Mariachi music plays and a crowd chats and claps.

Real Del Monte, host of the world’s only pasty museum. The ghosts of the Cornish miners who made their two-year trek to Real Del Monte rise from their Mexican resting places to watch as 60 pasty makers bake.

Voices converse in Spanish.

These ghosts listen to the mariachi bands serenade the longest pasty on earth. (Mariachi music plays) They mingle among the crowds, who love this fiesta above all others. They dream of home and long for the next one – the crowd cheers – the town full of aromas they can no longer smell but only remember. Real Del Monte, or Pueblo Mágico…Magic Town as it is known.

Mariachi music plays, closer now.

And when the Pueblo Mágico delegation comes here to this town, they bring their embroidery, their tequila, their mariachi. They sample the fine crimp of Denzil Trevethick’s traditional steak, savour the shortness of Berrymans pastry, the seasoning of a Bray’s & K’s spiced with chilli for the occasion. They breathe in the granite air. (The music continues) They hear the sound of the town band and the deep tones of the choirs. They do not complain of the mizzle and dampness but inhale the history. And leave replete.

When he, a man from elsewhere, walks Fore Street, he greets the many friends he has made in this town, but is sometimes asked, what is he doing here? And why doesn’t he go home?

‘Home? This is my home. This particular place. This Pueblo Mágico. This Phoenix rising.’

A heartbeat syncs with the tap-tap-tap of a miner’s pick.

[Anna] Coffee instead of beer and bad gin.

The pick goes on tapping.

The ways of abstinence as a gateway to heaven.

Granite cracks.

Preaching and Alleluias. Tea-treat songs and banners.

[Child] Saffron buns as big as your face.

And sweet clidgy from the fair.


The Club of the Left Behind

(22:23)

[Sue]

Between Tabb’s Hotel and Redruth Railway station from the mid- to late 1800s, there was a corridor of women.

Some had rouged their cheeks and lips, all waiting for the midday train from London, for these trains were full of traders, coming to the Mining Exchange, the only place in Britain where stocks and shares of metal mining could be bid, traded, dealt.

Women chat in the background.

[Mercy] Looking nice and pink, Lily.

[Lily] Used a bit of beet on the cheeks. Some on me lips too. You’re smelling lovely, Mercy.

[Mercy] Rubbed a bit of lavender on me neck. (Gulls cry in the distance) Some growin’ up Fairfield. Train on time?

[Lily] Haven’t heard no different. ‘Eard from him, then?

[Mercy] No. Nothin’. Dunno if ‘ee’s met his Maker or post is delayed. You?

[Lily] I heard he had the coughin’ disease. But I don’t know no more than that. He could have married again for all I know. How’s the cheelds? (A gull cries)

[Mercy] Left ‘em at Mrs Bowden’s down Back Lane. (Sighs) Don’t like to but I got no choice.

[Lily] I know. Some young ‘uns here today. In’t that Mrs Harvey?

[Mercy] Sad, really. Newly wed and she’s out here on the corridor. We dun’t need the competition, though, do us?

[Lily] No, us don’t. ‘Ere, my little ‘uns saw Mr Hicks’ stall down Fore Street last week. He had Tom trots, nicies, clidgy. I had to tell them they all tasted like cabbage, poor souls. Couldn’t even get them a rotten apple from Gribble’s. (A steam train’s whistle shrills in the distance) I shouldn’t be wishin’ you good luck, Mercy, as I need the trade as much as you.

A steam train approaches.

[Mercy] Oh, good luck to you too, Lily. I hope you get a gentleman and not too rough and pays you upfront, as some of them dudn’t. Maybe if there’s enough to go round, we can buy some of Hicks’ clidgy, eh?

[Lily] Let’s hope so, Mercy. (The train’s whistle hoots) ‘Ere, train’s comin’.

The other women continue to chat.

[Sue] The women put on a smile and dusty themselves down one more time.

The steam train fades.


The Photograph

(24:32)

A door clunks shut

[Robin]

There is a photograph up in the Redruth Railway station waiting room.

An accordion plays and men sing in the background.

If you stood near it, you may imagine that you can hear singing, for it was the tradition of the men leaving to sing, usually in harmony. They are carrying suitcases or canvas kitbags, and they are ‘churched up’ as if going to a Sunday service. They are headed to South Africa, for the mines, a place unimaginable for them.

The men sing their farewell song.

[Shazz]

You may also hear weeping, mostly quiet. For it is the women left behind who must wait, and news does not travel fast as it does now, and this much they all know from those gone before. These are the growing club of ‘The Left Behind Women’. Not an official club but a club all the same, who may meet on doorsteps, or in the field, or at the market.

The women are also ‘churched up’. But if you look closely, you will see that most women are behind the station barrier, and that only the women with feathers and lace on their bonnets stand on the platform for the final wave. For it is only they that can afford the penny that you must pay for the platform ticket. And those women are in a slightly different club. (Steam hisses) For the time being, anyway. (The station master’s whistle blows) For all the women must wait. But for this moment, as well as the sorrow of parting – the train’s whistle toots – there is a bubbling of excitement, and hope.

The steam train pulls out of the station, slowly at first

and then with grunts of effort that come quicker and quicker,

carrying it off into the distance.


The Ballad of Gracie Briney

(26:50)

[Claire]                         (Sings) Some say she was mad

To dress like she did.

They said that of Gracie Briney.

She dressed half as a man

And half as a maid.

With stove hat and britches,

There was no charade.

They said that of Gracie Briney.

She smoked a good pipe,

Wore a whip round her neck

And challenged the miners most able.

She smoked a good pipe,

Wore a whip round her neck

And drank most of them

Under the table.

And drank most of them

Under the table.

 

When she was a maid,

She bore a new babe

And the father she never did tell.

For she never was wed

When he took her to bed.

Abandoned and scarred,

She screamed so hard.

They said that of Gracie Briney.

 

She smoked a good pipe,

Wore a whip round her neck

And challenged the miners most able.

She smoked a good pipe,

Wore a whip round her neck

And drank most of them

Under the table.

And drank most of them

Under the table.

 

Oh, when I was old,

It was cherries I sold.

I took ‘em to sell at ‘Druth Market

And I’ve been my own woman

And walked my own road.

With horses and wagon,

Portreath I have drove.

They said that of me, Gracie Briney.

 

I smoked a good pipe,

Wore a whip round my neck

And challenged the miners most able.

I smoked a good pipe,

Wore a whip round my neck

And drank all of them

Under the table.

And drank all of them

Under the table.

[Sue]

Gracie Briney was born in 1773 in Redruth. She became apprenticed driving a horse and cart, transporting tin and copper. We think she dressed partly as a man to protect herself from the advances of men, having been raped as a very young girl. Later in life, she travelled to East Cornwall for the Mazzard, or cherry season, to bring the fruit to the town's market. She died at the age of 91, after delivering cherries to Redruth from some 50 miles away.

An auctioneer speaks very quickly, announcing bids received

and inviting higher bids, voice rising and falling as if in song.

He draws breath to ask, ‘Anybody else wants to bid?’

before launching into another round of bids

as two buyers compete with each other

and people chat and cattle low in the background.

 

He announces the final, successful, bid.

 

His hammer bangs.


 

Emily Knuckey and the Carpet

(30:12)

A crowd shouts and jeers.

[Jack]

Back Lane West. Imagine the aromas. Contraband alcohol. Mahogany, a drink of gin and black treacle. Kiddlywink broth, a whole onion stewed with a bit of bacon and kidney. Eggy-hot, a delicious concoction of an egg in warm beer.

Glasses clink. A carriage rattles past and, tack chinking, a horse snorts.

Kiddlywinks, illegal drinking dens, sweat, smoke and gutters, chamber pots and ale. Illegal lace, tea and silk purchased in Back Lane West.

Glass smashes.

Customers from Mrs Rodda’s brothel, herself a ‘left behind woman’. A heady mix.

The crowd continues to shout and jeer.

And sounds! Emily Knuckey, famous for her foul language and disorderly behaviour. She spoke the language of the street, sang sonnets of poverty, argued in arias of swearing.

Emily Knuckey… (A police whistle blows) By the time she was 21, she had been arrested 23 times. So violent when roused that policemen bore the scratches of her anger on their faces and the bruises of her rage on their shins.

The shouting doesn’t let up.

On one occasion, her fury was so hot, she could not be taken.

Blows land and men groan and grunt.

Her arms flailed like a tree in a storm, her legs kicked like a bitten donkey. The arresting officers could not still her. So they wrapped her in a carpet and fastened it with several belts. She was then taken, kicking and screaming, to the station at Redruth, loaded onto the train and delivered to the Court in Bodmin still in her carpet straitjacket.

A steam train huffs out of the station.

We don’t know the judgement, but to Emily, this may have been the only time she’d come near to a carpet.

The train puffs into the distance.

Maybe, once she was in her cell, she laid the carpet out and walked upon it. I hope so.

A cell door clangs shut.

A violin plays Boccherini’s ‘Minuet’.


The Violinist

(32:29)

[Shazz]

 Roy Gill’s grandfather was a miner. Like many, he went to America and left his granny a widow, one of the ‘left behind women’. His granny’s cousin also was left a widow. Or so she thought. The cousin had in fact read the wedding notice of her own husband in The West Briton. If she’d been drinking tea, she would have scalded her lap with it. If she’d been shopping down Fore Street, she would have dropped her basket with the shock of it. Her husband was a bigamist.

If the cousin had been wearing black, we might imagine she went home and took her widow’s weeds and wedding ring straight off. 

Roy’s granny and his granny’s betrayed cousin moved in together, for two purses are better than one and a dish of tea shared is better than one drunk alone. Roy’s granny took in washing. She also served at bridge parties for the ‘posh’ of West Trewirgie. Invisible perhaps, except that her daughter – a haunting violin plays – Roy’s mother, played the violin, and her sweet notes entertained the West Trewirgie bridge-playing gentry.

Maybe these tunes helped soothe the broken heart of Roy’s grandmother. Maybe it made her heart swell with pride, as perhaps the daughters of those she served could not play the violin as sweetly as her own daughter. And maybe she may have smiled as the bridge ladies nodded with approval.

Who wouldn’t be proud of such a daughter that could play the violin so?

The violin fades.

A fire crackles.

[Anna] Redruth, famous for epic fires, many mysterious, some not so much. One, so fierce that it melted the wax mannequins on the other side of the street!

[Neil] (Cornish accent) I was just saying about all the major fires in Redruth over the years. I mean, look at Doughty’s, West End, St Rumons, which was an ex-bingo hall and cinema. (Other voices chat in the background) During the summer season, Carn Brea and Carn Marth and all the gorse. And another one was the coffee tavern when I was a very, very young child. I can remember that. I can remember, before I joined the brigade, Flowerpot Chapel.

The crackling fire fades.

Water purls.


Finale – Layers of History

(35:28)

Water continues to flow.

[Sue]

All time is present at all times. You just have to know where to look. Travel back 6,000 years, there was no town here, just a muddy ford. But on the hill above this stream was one of the first fortified settlements in Britain, surrounded by dense forest. The trees are now long gone, to mines and fires and ships. But the stones and ditches are still there.

3,000 years ago – a hard surface is struck repeatedly – the people here scraped tin and copper from the ground and traded it to the Levant. From time to time, their ancient workings still surprise us, collapsing and dragging walls, Tarmac, the occasional conservatory, into the earth.

A mass of earth rumbles in upon itself

and settles.

Redruth, literally, ‘the ford red’, was named for the red ochre staining the river, disturbed by these miners.

(Voice echoes) On this very place was once a chapel, a place for pilgrims to rest and recuperate, monastic and contemplative, attended by a priest, whose task was to help them cross the ford on their way to St Michael’s Mount. The chapel dedicated to St Rumon, a man so preachy and prayerful that his wife ascribed his absences to him being a werewolf.

(Her voice loses the echo) The chapel fell, its stones incorporated into other walls, perhaps in Murdoch’s house here. And in the space it left, Murdoch made his revolutionary experiments, extracting gas from coal and lighting his house with it.

A hiss of gas whoomphs as it ignites.

He’d learnt by watching Scottish women setting fire to the gas seeping from coal to make more light.

Then comes the grand Druid’s Hall, a palace of civic pride, three storeys high, assembly rooms, a library and a theatre, built by the Redruth Literary and Scientific Society. The odd, the mavericks, the free traders, the showmen and women, the scientists, the engineers, the artists, the thinkers, the drinkers, all gathered here.

And such wonders…

A woman sings light opera.

The Cornish Nightingale sang, Fanny Moody, whose father was a Romany, rumoured to be able to pick up any instrument and play it.  Music ran in the family blood.

A demonstration of a phonograph happened here in 1889.  Imagine…an act of magic to see someone speak into a trumpet and hear their voice repeated moments later.

..hear their voice repeated moments later.

A panorama is cranked.

Panoramas toured here, huge painted rolling scenes surrounding the audience, with a spoken or musical accompaniment. You could see London, voyage down the Rhine, cross America on the New York to San Francisco railway, visit New Zealand or witness the Spanish Armada!

The cranking stops.

And many exotic visitors… (A fairground organ plays) Tiny people, General Tom Thumb and his wife and two daughters. Miss Christine Millie and Miss Millie Christine, trilingual conjoined twins, accompanied by Commodore Nutt, another very small person. A Baron and a Count, 35 inches tall, who acted, danced and fenced. Braun’s Beauties, beautiful large ladies. Not sure if they were remarkable for tallness or wideness. An Australian Skeleton Girl. Waxworks, menageries, magic lantern shows, demonstrations of galvanism.

In 1910, it became a 20th-century wonder, Redruth’s first cinema, the Gem.

A film projector whirrs.

Moving pictures, foreign lands, adventures, romances. And, very cannily, before the main film, clips of local men and women leaving work at the end of their shift or in the market on Wednesday. Why wouldn’t you pay tuppence to see yourself or your daddy captured and flickering on the screen?

The projector stops.

Later, there is a bingo hall and then, in true Redruth tradition, a merciful fire.

Flames roar.

The fire fades.

Children play.

Now the children play here, choirs sing and, for the Pasty Festival, Snail Racing Championships are held, a product of the curious and resourceful creativity of the kids.

[Child] You’d think it would be dull…

They say.

But it’s so exciting! We had to disqualify two

last time. They were trying to kill each other!

In this Pueblo Mágico, this Magic Town, there is strangeness, curiosity and beauty around every corner.

[Anna] Thank you for joining us on this walk. We hope you have enjoyed it as much as we’ve enjoyed making it.

Somewhere, a heartbeat syncs with the tap-tap-tap of a miner’s pick.



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