History of St Keverne Parish Council
Extracts from St Keverne Parish Council 1894 to 1994
a booklet compiled by Michael Wearne (then Chairman)
Year by year the major concern of the Council was the maintenance of the footpaths. Most people rarely went outside the local area and within it they moved around on foot, few being able to afford a horse and even fewer that expensive novelty, the car. So the footpaths were important for people's livelihood and family communication, not predominantly for recreation as they are today.
The result was that something like half the Council's time was devoted to the paths. There were two aspects. The first, as today, was trimming. The second was repair of the stiles, handrails, bridges and surface - above all the surface which claimed more of the councilors' attention then than now, when the most used paths have been asphalted and other agencies have taken on responsibility for major renovation.
The material then used for repair was almost invariably rab, a mixture of quartz gravel and clay which is found only between the Beacon and Zoar Garage. The best-known and largest pit was on the site which is called Dollies today (sometimes then called the Beacon).
To a present-day Parish Councillor there is a sense of companionship across the years, a shared frustration at how long it sometimes takes work to be completed.
Let a routine example suffice. In July 1914 Cllr. Tripp reported that the path and stile at Fiery Mountain were in a poor state, particularly because of the "deferred remedy" (a euphemism for doing nothing?) of the previous autumn. It badly needed repair and the addition of a handrail. The Council agreed that the work should be done immediately. At the next meeting in October Cllr. Tripp reported that nothing had been done; in November that the path had been repaired but no trimming had been done and it was only in December, six months after the original diagnosis, that the work was reported as satisfactorily completed. It is incidentally interesting that nowhere is there a word about the fact that the First World War had broken out at the beginning of August.
Porthkerris to Porthallow
The following example is not routine, but it illustrates how protracted delay could be (and still can be). In March 1925 it was resolved to make a "nice" footpath from the New Buildings at Porthkerris (which had been built c. 1910 for quarry workers) to Porthallow. In April it was decided that the whole Council should meet at the site of the path inviting Sir Courtenay Vyvyan, the owner to join them. When they met with Sir Courtenay's representative, Col. Edyvean, they agreed unanimously to lay a path.
In August it was reported that various tenants wanted to keep to the present cliff-path. The Council, however, resolved to write to a Mr. Sobey to purchase some land needed to complete the Porthallow end. The matter was referred to again, inconclusively, in October; in November the Council resolved to accept Sir Courtenay's offer of the land.
In December the offer was confirmed by solicitors and the guarantee was made that the land would not be interfered with if it was sold. Cllr. Ivey then proposed and the Council resolved that they proceed with the path to the extent of £10.94
In January 1926 kissing gates were proposed and a Mr. Smitheram offered a tender for the work on the path at 5/- per day or a contract for the whole job of £5. Two councillors were appointed to overlook the work. A snag was reported in that there had been no reply from Mr. Sobey, part of whose garden was necessary for the path's completion. In February the Pathway Committee inspected the work so far completed and professed themselves satisfied. In March Mr. Sobey finally replied offering the garden path for £1 per annum. The Council, no doubt aghast at such an exhorbitant demand, resolved to let the matter stand over till the next meeting. They then claimed the path as a right of way since it had been used for over 14 years.
At the end of March (they held three meetings that month) the council was informed that the work was practically complete.
In May Mr. Sobey replied to their letter and asked to meet a sub-commitee with a view to negotiating; the Council decided that the Chairman with two other councillors should visit the Great Office (the Trelowarren Estate Office in Helston) to find out what the position really was. In October there was a complaint throwing in doubt the completeness of the work and in November three Councillors visited the site. They later reported that the work was making satisfactory progress, but in February 1928 it seems that Mr. Peters (a further contractor) was indisposed and the work was not complete. By March (three years after the first initiative) a kissing gate had been erected, but children had torn down the turves by which it was framed and it was resolved to replace with stone.
Thereafter the path takes its place on the list for routine maintenance and we can assume that its birth pangs were over. It is a little frustrating, however, not to be told that the work was complete and what arrangement was finally reached with Mr. Sobey.
The Famous Case of the Penhallick-Ponsongath Path
The most famous footpath event during these years was undoubtedly the Penhallick-Ponsongath saga; it overlapped in time the events at Porthkerris recounted above but ran even longer.
It started in December 1924 with a report of the Pathway Committee on their visit the week before. We do not know what motivated the visit, but they resolved to go there again the next day to see what arrangements could be made with Mr. Rickard, the owner.
In February there was a long discussion but it was felt that it was a private dispute and there was no occasion for the Council to intervene.
Nothing more is heard until June 1925 when a letter was read out complaining of the state of the path. There was again much discussion and they decided to write a letter to Mr. Rickard - the mysterious problem finally appears - asking him to replace the steps he had taken away.
The Council offered to provide a couple of stiles at suitable places to avoid the difficulty of gates being left open. Councillor Mitchell felt that Mr. Rickard should be notified that unless he replaced the steps promptly, the Council would do so, charging the cost to him; also that they should advise him that he would be held responsible for any accidents that their removal caused. In July the Council, becoming cautious, decided to check with the District Council that they had the power to replace the steps and charge Mr. Rickard. In August the Chairman reported that the DC had said they would support the PC; another councillor reported that another District Councillor had told him the exact opposite. The PC nevertheless resolved to give Mr. Rickard five days in which to replace the steps after which they would send a man to do the job. Four councillors would visit a week later to see if the work had been done. At the next meeting Councillor James proposed that the DC be asked to take up the matter of the path in support of the PC. Cllr Ivey proposed that Mr. Rickard be required at once to remove the Notice Board saying that the path was to be closed and to obliterate the word "Private" from the gate.
The next meeting in October became so heated - according to the Clerk it became "quite out of hand" -. that the Chairman was compelled to declare it closed. Cllr James moved that some-one with the police should remove the obstructions Mr. Rickard had put there. They decided to write to Mr. Rickard giving him two days warning of the action. In November (we can only assume that none of the foregoing actually happened) the PC decided to hold a public meeting a fortnight later. The parishioners decided then to maintain the right of way through Mr. Rickard's field and yard and the PC resolved to support that view.
1926 started with another letter to Mr. Rickard calling on him to remove the obstruction on the path. In February after a section of the Parish Council Act was read to the meeting, they resolved to write again to the District Council quoting the Act; following another complaint from a member of the public yet another letter was sent to the District Council in March. In May the reply was discussed. Though we do not know what it said, we can assume that it was in the best traditions of the Civil Service and said very little, so the PC now decided to write to the County Council. In July they were writing again to the DC. In August matters once more became heated as the DC appears to have passed a resolution referring to Cotterill's path, which the PC had not mentioned. They expected the DC to take immediate action or the PC would resume full responsibility and remove the obstructions themselves. They also resolved to send a deputation to the DC. In October the following resolution was sent to the DC: -
"We the St. Keverne Parish
Council again call your attention to the Pathway at
through Mr. Jabey's Rickard's field and yard".
"This is the only pathway recognised by the above and we object to your efforts to divert the same pathway. Unless you are prepared to assist us to open the same through Mr. Rickards, we must ask you to desist from further action".
In June 1927 the minutes record that there was a subpoena from the County Court in Helston requiring the Parish Council map to be produced. Coulter, Hancock and Thrall, solicitors, would pay the expenses of the Clerk who had to accompany the map. Evidently counsel had advised litigation. In October it was reported that the footpath was flooded and it was resolved that as many as possible of the PC should meet Mr. Rickard on the spot. A letter was also sent asking Mr. Rickard to clear the culverts and to make the stile safe or the PC would put a man to work on the roadway. In November the Clerk reported that Mr. Rickard had ignored the PC's letter and it was resolved to write again giving him seven days notice of the PC's intention to take the matter in their own hands.
Between November 1927 and July 1929 the path is mentioned occasionally as being muddy, but the only hint of the momentous happenings in the outside world is in June 1928 when a request is received for the transfer of the Parish Map to London as evidence in the Penhallick dispute. It was resolved that the Map could oniy go out of the Parish in charge of the Clerk, whose expenses would have to paid by those who required it.
Thereafter the minutes are silent until July 1929, when, on a request being made that the path be repaired, it emerged casually that the High Court had decided that it was a right of way.
This summary omits a number of meetings where there was further occasionally lengthy, discusson and where it was resolved to "leave the matter in abeyance" or "on the table". But, infuriatingly, nowhere in the minutes does the final outcome appear; out of kindness I provide it from other sources.
Somewhere between June 1928 and July 1929 the Clerk, Mr. Lewis Morrish, spent a week in London, expenses paid, as the Parish Map had then to be produced in the High Court. The case was famous throughout not only the District but the whole County and it is astonishing that so little appears in the minutes. It is to be supposed that Mr. Morrish ruled out mention on grounds of relevance and modesty - his sense of both was acute.
A rather sour footnote appears in the minutes of the Annual meeting in March 1928 when a Mr. Harvey (a member of the public) commented that the DC had decided to spend approximately £1,000 to injure a brother ratepayer with no benefit to the Parish. "He referred to the Penhallick Pathway dispute", adds the minute. It is not clear if the case had been decided at this point.
There were, of course, other disputes and it would be impossible as well as tedious to attempt to describe them all. The path around the Coverack Headland Hotel (as it was until recently) holds the durability record. It was first mentioned in October 1948 and reappeared in the minutes on average two or three times a year until finally being laid to rest by an agreement with the new owners, Pilkingtons, in 1989 -just over forty years later. Let the re-routed path serve as a memorial to many hours of public and council outrage.
With the exception of greater mechanisation, the routine of path trimming has changed little over the years. However, the maintenance of the surface of the paths is now a different propostion. The most frequented paths are surfaced with tarmac and the infrequent repairs needed are carried out by the County. Until quite recently this was not the case and through the early years of the 20th century the normal procedure was to break up rab (quartz and clay) and use it to bind the surface together. It was a continuation of the process which had been used on the highways, when stone was laid and rab scattered on top. A steamroller compressed the mixture to form a reasonably firm and smooth surface.
By 1920 rab was valued at between 1/- and 2/6d a load. If we take a load as being between half a ton and a ton (and it is not easy to get agreement between various authorities), the price range would be from 1/- to 5/- per ton which shows the effect of inflation since 1795 when it was 2 1/2d to 5d. It is not clear why the price should vary, but charges to the District Council tended to be higher than those to private customers.
Rab was also a fruitful source of disagreement between the PC and the County Council. In June 1920 it was reported that a considerable amount of rab had been taken from the Beacon pit by the County Surveyor for binding the new road out of the Parish. The Clerk was directed to write to the County Surveyor asking him by what authority he was taking rab from the PC's property. In October the Clerk told the PC that he had received £9-12-6d for 77 loads of rab at 2/6d per load, which was thought satisfactory. In December it was stated that the pits were the property of the Poor of the Parish and that they should accordingly receive the proceeds. A distribution list was drawn up and the distributors named. In December 1922 the County Surveyor wrote to the PC about an unspecified quantity of rab taken for the Gweek Drive; the PC felt they should adhere to the price of 2/6d. They directed the Clerk to send a strong letter to the Surveyor to the effect that they should in future be informed beforehand if rab was to be taken away and urging immediate payment so that the distribution could be made as soon as possible to the poor.
The County Council had paid before the next meeting in January, a promptness not always obseved then or since.
In November 1925 a Mr. Thomas of Trewmce, Manaccan, was reported to have taken a certain amount of rab and it was resolved to find out from him how much he had taken and to charge him 1/- per load. In May 1926 it was reported that rab was being stolen and the Constable was asked to keep a lookout. It was also moved that a notice be posted advising people dwelling outside the Parish that they should apply to the PC before taking any rab - by implication it was free to parishioners.
When we consider how remote some of the sites are, we can reasonably question the effectiveness of such a notice. Might not the poor of the Parish have ceased to be poor if all the money due had been collected?
Through the 30's there were fewer and fewer references to the rab pits. In December 1938 the clerk reported that he was unable to get rab for a path and a councillor offered to try to obtain a lorry load of stone at a cost of 10/- from the West of England Quarry. Income continued to decline throughout the decade.
The subsequent history of Dollies pit is, until very recently, a sad one. In February 1944 the District Council asked for formal permission to dump rubbish there, something they appear to have already been doing without permission to the extent of causing a nuisance. By September agreement had been reached, and the DC was charged £3 per annum; they were required to fence the half of the pit they were allowed to use for dumping and to keep it tidy.
By October 1947 the rubbish is described as an eyesore with some of the contents coming from beyond the Parish boundary. In 1948 the District Council is described as burning rubbish there seven nights a week. At one point the DC even cast doubts on the ownership of the tip, though they withdrew that claim fairly quickly. There was considerable friction until May 1955 the Parish Council discovered that the Air Ministry had levelled the tip and most of the rab extraction area by bulldozer and in January 1956 the DC announced that the tip was closed, paying £10 to the Parish Council in compensation for lack of notice.
In December 1971 it is recorded that members of the public were dumping old cookers and parts of bicycles and cars on the site.
In January 1983 the then Chairman together with Cllrs. A.R. Peters and J. Richards attended a Commons Commission Hearing on the Council's behalf to determine ownership of the land and on the evidence given by Cur. James Richards the Commissioner directed the Cornwall County Council to register the Council as the owners of the land.
The first clear statement of intent to make a picnic area by the side of the Rab Pit was made by the Chairman (Cllr D. Brion) in May 1983. Kerrier District Council were to be asked if there was any possibility of a Land Reclamation Grant or help via the Manpower Services Agency (Community Services).
In July a site meeting was held there and Mr. Bradley from the Nature Conservancy Council was asked to outline his plans. He was concerned to keep vehicles off the land and supported the idea of a picnic area; he would write to the Council with his ideas in detail. M.S.C. could help with the clearance of the rubbish. In fact it seems that no help was forthcoming and later that year there was a programme of controlled burning.
Since then there has been a steady improvement in the area, with picnic tables and large boulders effectively marking a space for car parking. Hundreds of trees have been planted, but this is only the start - growing trees on an upland part of the Lizard Peninsula is a slow and chancy process. Use is steadily increasing.
Walking through the picnic area brings you to the rab pit; it has recently been designated an approved Regionally Important Geological Site, being the only site with public access to an exposure of Crousa Gravels.
Perhaps the ghost of humble Dollies Pit is a little happier at its elevation to scientific eminence and at its surroundings than it must have been during the depressing middle years.
The site was entered in the Village Ventures Competition in 1985 and following the judging was awarded a Certificate and £25.