On the wall

IT IS ODD how seeing a mundane object can stimulate less than mundane thoughts. Embedded into a wall in Salcombe (Devon), I saw an official post box for depositing mail. At first, I took little notice of it. Then, when I saw it a second time, I noticed that its red-painted front bears the letters “GR”. This refers to a King George. Because the first letter boxes were installed in the reign of Queen Victoria, the GR on the letter box in Salcombe must refer either to George V (reigned 1910-1936) or George VI (reigned 1936-1952) because the other King Georges all preceded Victoria.

Possibly the GR on the box in Salcombe refers to George V because he was the first George to follow Victoria, in whose reign the boxes bore the letters “VR” (Victoria Regina). Even though Edward VII was the first monarch to follow Victoria, boxes installed in his reign include the Roman numeral VII. Likewise, in the case of other monarchs who followed Victoria, their initials on post boxes include numerals identifying which king or queen they denoted (i.e., E VII R, G VI R and E II R). Not having ever looked out for it before, I am not sure whether any post boxes installed during the reign of George V bear the logo G V R or, as I saw in Salcombe, simply GR. A rapid search of the Internet revealed that most George V post boxes illustrated on websites dealing with post boxes bear the letters GR, as was the case with the example I noticed in Salcombe.

I suppose that when Charles or his son William come to the throne, letter boxes, if they still exist in the age of electronic mail, will bear the logos “C III R” and “W V R” respectively, rather than “CR” and “WR”. Why the V (meaning ‘5’) was not included on the post boxes issued during the reign of George V but the VII (meaning ‘7’) appears on those installed during his predecessor’s reign is not clear to me.

Going up in smoke

CORNWALL’S COAST WITH its numerous, sometimes almost inaccessible, coves is perfect for smuggling. It is not by chance that Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera is named “The Pirates of Penzance”, rather than, say, “The Pirates of Suffolk”.  When we visited Falmouth, a Cornish seaport, in May 2022, I noticed a souvenir of an era of smuggling, now long past.

Next to the old customs house (now a pub) on the Town Quay, the old harbour of Falmouth, there is a tall brick structure. On a square base, it is built in four sections, each one slenderer than the one beneath it. The tall object bears a plaque inscribed with an anchor framed by a shield and above it a double-headed eagle. Below these symbols are the words:

“King’s Pipe. Formerly used for the destruction of contraband tobacco.”

According to the website historicengland.org.uk, the King’s Pipe was likely to have been constructed in about 1814, when the customs house was built. The tall chimney stands on a base that contained a furnace that was accessible from the courtyard of the customs house. Overshadowing the town and its harbour, I imagine that many of the townsfolk were far from happy when they saw and smelled the tobacco smoke, which they would have enjoyed creating in their pipes, being emitted from the King’s Pipe.

The double-headed eagle on the plaque affixed to the former chimney interested me. Two major families in Cornwall use this mythical creature in their heraldry: the Godolphins and the Killigrews. It is most likely the latter to which the creature on the plaque refers because in the early 17th century (1613), Sir John Killigrew (1583-1633), helped create the port of Falmouth.

Although we had spent several pleasant days in Falmouth a few years ago, we did not spot the King’s Pipe on that visit. It only goes to show that revisiting places can enhance one’s enjoyment of, and interest in, them.

Remembered in a Cornish car park

THE FORD CONSUL was made in the UK between 1951 and 1962, when I was 10 years old. As a young child, I used to be extremely impressed by this vehicle and was happy when I was occasionally driven in one. Recently, I was in a car park near the Art Deco swimming pool by the sea in Penzance (Cornwall) when I spotted a well preserved example of a Consul, which was still in use. Seeing it, brought back memories of many years ago.

No longer in use

THE CORNISH COUNTRYSIDE often seems wild and almost at the end of the earth. It is richly dotted with reminders of its industrial past, much of which was concerned with mining minerals, notably tin bearing ores. The tiny hamlet of Cripplesease lies on a road that links St Ives with Penzance (the B3311). On a hill north of the place and high above it stands a ruined tower (with arched windows and large doorways) built with granite blocks. Standing on a square plot, this edifice has a gently tapering conical chimney attached to its southeast corner.

This tower is almost all that remains to be seen of the Giew Mine, first worked in the 18th century. It was one of many sites where tin was extracted from the depths of the earth. The tower was used from between when it was built in 1874 and when the mine was closed in 1922. The tower housed a pump engine and the winding gear for Frank’s Shaft, which was sunk to a depth of 1302 feet. Initially steam powered (hence the chimney), an electrically operated system was later installed close to the tower. The electricity for this was provided by a generator also located near the tower.

Ore that was brought to the surface was taken from the tower and moved to an ore crushing facility across the B3311. It was transported across the road by an overhead tramway, which has long since been removed. The tower, whose arches reminded me of Romanesque buildings can be entered. When I visited it, there was a spooky sound echoing within it. Looking upwards towards the open sky that can be seen because the tower has lost its roof I saw that it was being created by a solitary crow perched high up on one of the walls.

The old engine house is easily accessed by a gravel track that leads off the B3311. The unmarked track leads to a small car park, and the remains of the tower are a few feet away.

A chiming pub in Cornwall

EGLOSHAYLE IS ACROSS the Camel river, facing the Cornish town of Wadebridge. The Earl of St Vincent pub is hidden away up a hill behind Egloshayle’s St Petroc church. It is housed in a building built in the 17th century as a boarding house for masons. Later, it became a pub. One of its many guests was Admiral Sir John Jervis (1735-1823).

The interior of the pub has timber roof beams and a delightful feeling of times long gone by. It is a great example of many people’s idealised vision of a typical ‘olde worlde English’ country pub. Soon after entering the dimly lit establishment, and your eyes adjust to the low light levels, it becomes evident that the pub is full of clocks, mostly differing in design. Most of them appear to be in working order, but not many of them show the same time. A great number of the clocks chime at least once an hour, but not all at the same time. This being the case, there is usually at least one clock chiming at any given moment. This produces a lovely background symphony of chimes.

I asked one of the pub’s staff why there were so many clocks in the pub. She replied:

“Some people like children. We like clocks”

Later, I asked the landlady about the clocks. She told me that when they took over the pub some years ago, there was no clock in it. She and her husband bought one clock for the pub, and this became the start of their collection. They could not stop buying timepieces. She told me that there are over 200 clocks in the pub and winding them up every day is quite a huge task.

Apart from the fascinating clocks, the pub can be recommended for the delicious, excellently prepared, unpretentious food that can be eaten there.

A ladder by the sea

GENESIS CHAPTER 28 describes a dream experienced by the biblical Jacob. In it, he dreamt that there was a ladder set on the earth that reached up to heaven. In his dream, he watched angels of God ascending and descending what is now called ‘Jacob’s Ladder’.

The small town of Sidmouth on the coast of Devon has its own Jacob’s Ladder. Unlike the one seen in the dream, it neither reaches heaven nor is it being used by angels. Often rebuilt, Sidmouth’s Jacob’s Ladder is made of wood and consists of three flights of stairs which connect Connaught Gardens with the magnificent stretch of sandy beach (at the western end of Sidmouth). This lovely, gently curving strand, known as Jacob’s Ladder Beach, is flanked by red stone cliffs and is about a mile in length. The views from the top of the Ladder and the café in the Connaught Gardens are spectacularly beautiful.

The Ladder was first constructed in 1853 on the instruction of Mr Lousada of nearby Peak House. It was rebuilt in the late 19th century, and then again following WW2. The Connaught Gardens on the clifftop overlooking the beach were first laid out in 1934 by the Gardens Department of Dartington Hall Ltd.

It is unusual features such as Sidmouth’s Jacob Ladder that give many British seaside towns great character and individuality, and makes them fun to visit.

Let there be light

KENSINGTON COURT IS between the Whole Foods department store and Curry’s electrical store, both on High Street Kensington. The doorway to a brick building with white stone masonry trimmings is beneath a carved stone notice that reads “Electric Lighting Station”.

This was an outhouse converted in 1888 to an electricity generating station by a local resident, an electrical engineer Rookes Evelyn Bell Crompton (1845-1940). According to the RBKC website (rbkc.gov.uk):

A dynamo transmitted direct current on bare copper mains through subways to the houses to charge batteries or accumulators. This quickly expanded to become the Kensington and Knightsbridge Lighting Company, housed in a basement below street level and continuing as a substation until 1985. It has since been converted into private premises and the exterior restored. This quickly expanded to become the Kensington and Knightsbridge Lighting Company, housed in a basement below street level and continuing as a substation until 1985. It has since been converted into private premises and the exterior restored.

The original generating equipment was designed and installed by Crompton. Now no longer in use to produce electricity, it is an example of one of the earliest surviving generating stations in the UK.

A pair of post boxes

WHILE WALKING IN CAMBRIDGE, I spotted a pair of pillar boxes. At first sight they looked identical but soon I realised that they were not. One had a wider orifice for inserting letters than the other. The wider one bears the ‘logo’ of Queen Elizabeth II and its neighbour with the narrower slit bears the logo of the Queen’s father, King George VI. Apart from these differences, there were much the same.

The two pillar boxes I saw in Cambridge are not particularly old. The first post box on the British mainland was placed in Carlisle in 1853. The idea of using such receptacles for collecting mail is connected with the author Anthony Trollope (1815-1882). An informative website (https://www.postalmuseum.org/collections/highlights/letter-boxes/#) related:

“Anthony Trollope, now more famed as a novelist, was, in the 1850s working as a Surveyor’s Clerk for the Post Office. Part of his duties involved him travelling to Europe where it is probable that he saw road-side letter boxes in use in France and Belgium.He proposed the introduction of such boxes to Britain and a trial on the Channel Islands was approved. Four cast-iron pillar boxes were installed on the island of Jersey and came into use on 23 November 1852. In 1853 the trial was extended to neighbouring Guernsey. None of the first boxes used on Jersey survive. It is possible that one still in use on Guernsey together with another in our collection, originally sited in Guernsey, date from the 1853 extension to the trial.”

Before the introduction of pillar boxes:

“… there was [sic] principally two ways of posting a letter. Senders would either have to take the letter in person to a Receiving House (effectively an early Post Office) or would have to await the Bellman. The Bellman wore a uniform and walked the streets collecting letters from the public, ringing a bell to attract attention.”

Well, all that history is news to me and I might not have bothered to find out about it had I not seen the father and daughter pillar boxes standing side=by-side in Cambridge’s Market Square.