Sunday 7 April 2019


If you follow this link, you will find an account of my involvement with the Alice in Wonderland celebrations to celebrate the anniversary of this novel's publication. 

The piece makes no mention of what happened at the end of term, after we'd put on a play of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in Christ Church Meadow in the summer of 1965. The whole company went to Cornwall and put it on in the beautiful Minack Theatre. It rained a lot. I sat on rocks looking out to sea to sing the songs that I'd previously sung hidden up a tree. I have very happy memories of a beautiful place, but a very rainy one.

Then in the winter of 2013, I spent a couple of days in a cottage in Mousehole. We visited the Eden Project and Land's End. And as we left, a huge storm raged over the county, causing damaging and scary floods.

So imagine my surprise when the two days of summer, real summer, which hit us in February, were the exact days that Jill Paton Walsh and I were in  St. Ives. She has written most movingly about this place, in Goldengrove and The Serpentine Cave.  She spent much of her childhood here, with her grandparents. She and  John Rowe Townsend had a flat here for 17 years. When she suggested a visit, I was delighted to agree with her plan. 

This (above) was the view from my hotel bedroom.  Our aim was to see as much as possible in a very short time and the main thing on our agenda was ART.  St. Ives has drawn artists to it for many decades and it's the quality of the light that does it. Hard to describe but very clear to see once you're there. The Godrevy lighthouse was exactly opposite this window and that is Virginia Woolf's lighthouse, so I was eager to see it. Every morning it was wreathed in mist, but it emerged after a few hours, white and beautiful.

Above is a photo of the garden at Barbara Hepworth's studio. It was  thrilling to walk around the garden, stand in the place where she worked and above all, to listen to stories about the artist and her history.  Jill  knows so much  about the town and its artists that I felt privileged to be going round it with her. 

Here is a Hepworth sculpture that I admired particularly, for its colour as much as its shape.

One of the great things about St Ives is the fact that you can walk everywhere. We strolled down the hill towards the Tate from the Hepworth studio and passed the house where Alfred Wallis lived. I took a photo of his plaque because I love his work and know it from the wonderful collection of his paintings in Kettle'sYard in Cambridge. 

The shop window below has nothing to do with Art or History. It shows, on the top shelf, a heap of raspberry meringues. Just saying the words to myself as I type them makes my mouth water. I didn't buy one but am now regretting it!

On our second day, we visited the Bernard Leach pottery. It's on a main road above the town and most beautifully arranged for visitors. You can walk through the working part of the studio and see the kilns, and watch a video of Leach himself, talking about his work.  Pottery is still made here and sent all over the world. I bought a small celadon bowl by Joanna Wason. 

After leaving the Bernard Leach Pottery, we drove to Zennor. In the church there, I looked up and saw this model ship. Jill explained that replicas of ships were made and hung up in the hope and belief that God would then protect the real vessel, out on the dangerous, rock-studded seas. 

But the real attraction of the church in Zennor is the mermaid, carved on the side of a bench. She is most beautiful and stories behind the carving abound. From the artist who carved this in Zennor to Hans Andersen; from Carol Shields to  Imogen Hermes Gowar and her recent novel The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, we are entranced and fascinated by these creatures. This mermaid is haunting, in its beauty and simplicity.

I'm very conscious that this is more a Geography Girls post than a History Girls one and I will try and return to more historical matters next month. I felt I wanted to write about this beautiful Cornish town, whose history was all around us as we strolled through its street, and whose phantoms walked beside us in the bright sunlight. For Jill, these spirits were the  personal and beloved  ghosts of her late husband and her grandmother. For me, it was the artists, the fishermen, the lifeboat crews and the townspeople.  And always,  out there at Godrevy, the lighthouse.  That Lighthouse. 

(detail from a birthday card sent to me by my friend Lynne Hatwell. The painting  of Godrevy lighthouse is by Diana Leadbetter.)


Sally Prue said...

That's The Lighthouse? I had no idea, though it's a book I have read in extreme fatigue several times. Never got the vision, sadly...

Linda Newbery said...

Reminds me of three books I love: ZENNOR IN DARKNESS by Helen Dunmore, and GOLDENGROVE and UNLEAVING by Jill Paton Walsh herself! Her writing in those novels reminds me of Virginia Woolf.