George Henry Guy: Part 6

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The Looking for George Henry Guy series is back! This month sees a continuation of ancestor research following the story of Lesley Carter and her journey to uncover more information about her great grandfather.

You can find part 5 here.

The next day, I reflect on what we’ve learned:

1.  He was educated at the National School Pendeen under the Reverend Robert Aitken (who is he?).

2.  He was a student at Ranmoor College (what and where is that?)

3.  He was Master of Cardinham Board School (where is Cardinham?)

4.  He is related to Thomas Guy founder of Guy’s Hospital. His great grandfather bought an estate at Sancreed.

I really can’t believe number 4. A wealthy, property-owning family who end up as mine workers? Did George Henry make it up for the writer of the entry? Was he grandiose, having delusions of importance? Is this why he got himself an education because he believed he came from better stock than being a miner would indicate? Questions, more questions. A thick fog has descended on Pendeen.

But the following morning is glorious and we decide to go for a walk. We follow the road to Botallack, have lunch in the Queen’s Arms and then go back along the cliff path, which takes us through the Botallack mine, last worked in 1914. The Count House (the folk club of my youth) is still there. Then on through the Levant mine where, in 1919, 31 men lost their lives, past Geevor, finally closed in 1986 and then home.

I’ve been trying to get through to Alan, the vicar of St John’s. I’m not sure precisely what I want him for, but the owner of the house we are staying in suggested that looking through the ‘parish records’ might be helpful in my researches of the Guy family. She gave me his name and number. Alan is clearly a very busy man because his number is constantly engaged.

When I finally get to speak to him, he tells me he has burial records going back to 1850. Pendeen, which used to be part of St Just Parish has now joined with Morvah. The Reverend Aitkin was the first vicar of Pendeen – he built the church and the school which is not on its current site but where the church/village hall is. Ah, Robert Aitkin! That’s one mystery solved.

He starts to tell me about the school which was taken over by the state in 1909. His doorbell rings. It’s his next appointment. Someone doing research on the Rev Aitkin wants to talk to him. He takes my number and says he’ll call me back.

Later that afternoon we go to St Just to look around the graveyard there. My mobile rings. It is Alan. ‘If you’d like to call in now…’

We drive up the leafy drive to the big, square, grey, Victorian vicarage and ring the bell. Alan opens the door, offers us tea and shows into a large room which has a map of the UK covering the whole of one wall. He then presents us with several ancient volumes – Parish burials registers dating from 1854 – and leaves us to get on with it.

I make a list of 29 Guys buried between 1854 and 1936, some of whom I recognise and some I don’t. But what actually interests me more are the ‘industrial accidents’ or deaths by misadventure recorded. Mining accidents are common (not big disasters, but individuals who fall foul of machinery or rock falls), and the occasional soul washed up on shore after a boat goes down.

I think it has been useful, looking through these parish registers, but I’m not really sure. Sometimes when you’re engaged on this sort of research, you don’t know at the time – you only find out later.

But whatever the tangible outcome, there was something special about the feel of those old parish registers, the look of them, the sense of handling something that had been written 150 years ago, with all its quirkiness of expression, hand-writing and spelling. You discover the unexpected, the things you are not looking for – drowned fishermen, accidents you hope could never happen now because of improved health and safety standards and greater respect for human life. You stumble upon little pieces of history and stories of unknown lives, imagining the scenes, touching in some way the human tragedies that have long been forgotten. Reading in a parish register, the bold, simple statement of fact of a young man’s death somehow, for a second or two, brings him back to life.

And I felt privileged to be allowed into Alan’s home and trusted to handle the old documents of which he was custodian; later I discovered a few facts about Alan himself.

He is a widower, has a son and a daughter and some grandchildren. He has lots of friends and a ‘faithful walking-stick’ called Pogo with whom he likes to go on walking holidays, staying in youth hostels and b&bs – in West Cornwall. One Sunday in May 2008, after taking the church service and a lunch of ‘…stew, all the vegetables I had left in the house along with a chopped up faggot I got at the Farmers’ Market yesterday’, he sets off on his holiday with Pogo and a rucksack weighing 14lbs. ‘Though my family think I’m odd, I do honestly think the best place in the world to have a holiday is right round here…’

Alan’s story was written up in another very informative pamphlet I found in St John’s church called ‘Alan Steps Out (and snoozes)’. Taking a holiday in your own locality wouldn’t be everyone’s idea of fun, but if you know West Cornwall, it’s not that difficult to understand Alan’s view. And maybe there is something of the de Maistre about him.

Xavier de Maistre was an 18th century French philosopher who thought that it didn’t matter where we travel to, the point was to travel with the right mindset, with ‘receptivity’. The places we think of as the most familiar and therefore the most dull can become exciting and novel if we look carefully, with attention to detail, fresh eyes and an open mind. He wrote a travel book called ‘Journey round my bedroom’. I once tried taking a leaf out of de Maistre’s book (metaphorically speaking) and tried to look at my own bedroom afresh. The woodchip wallpaper did indeed have a lot to offer when I stared hard at it. I could see mountain scenery as viewed from a satellite, pebble-dash walls, concrete blocks, pock-marked skin. And I could imagine the sweating, swearing efforts of the (possibly reluctant) DIY person who put it up to hide the cracks and plaster hillocks and hollows. Yes, I’m sure Alan must have found a whole world in the people and footpaths of the West Cornish coast. If you go about your daily life with this mindset, you will find the most interesting things in the most seemingly dull. And you need spend very little money in the process.

Alan had mentioned the Rev. Robert Aitken, the first vicar of Pendeen. By all accounts Aitken was evangelical, energetic, dedicated and charismatic. In 1849 he swooped into the village, told some local men to pick up their picks and shovels, and within three weeks a temporary wooden church was built, opening for business on 24 June 1849. Its permanent successor, the church of St John the Baptist, also designed and built by Aitken, opened in 1852. Shortly afterwards, he channelled his energies into education and built two church schools in Pendeen – one for boys and one for girls.

According to Thomas Shaw (‘A History of Cornish Methodism’, 1967),

‘Aitken was a Methodist in the widest sense of the term…He had been in turn a Presbyterian, an evangelical Anglican, an independent Methodist and was now a Tractarian-Methodist Anglican. At Pendeen he developed his ministry on confessedly Methodist-Catholic lines…At the vicarage devotional books were read aloud while the housework was being done…he conducted daily service in the church, and moved around in cassock and skull-cap, but he was equally at home in scenes of revivalism.’

(I wonder what a Tractarian-Methodist Anglican is.) Apparently one old Methodist who had heard about Aitken and wanted to go and see the man for himself, was warned that Mr Aitken preached in a surplice. He is reputed to have replied, ‘I don’t care…if he preaches in a sack…souls are being saved, that’s clear.’

If George Henry was attending school, age 5 in 1851, then his first experience of school would not have been in Aitken’s. His first year or two’s education perhaps was at a local dame school. However, it is perfectly possible that he would have fallen under the great Reverend’s educational jurisdiction only a couple of years later, when the church school opened, so Collectanea could well be right. He may in any event, along with his family, have listened to the great man preach. The Reverend’s fiery personality and religious erudition may well have made a significant impression on a young mind. This is speculation but quite possible, given the part that Methodism and education were to play in the adult George Henry’s life.

I am sitting here, perched on a rock on Cape Cornwall, like an oversized seagull, staring at the Atlantic Ocean. I am transfixed by its beauty and breadth. Today it is calm, flat as a gently rumpled sheet, and except for a patch of sparkling white sunlight in the middle distance, steely grey.

I bite into my almost-cold pasty. ‘Not bad for shop-bought.’ I can hear the sneer of my mother’s voice as I say it, see the disdain in the curl of her lip and wonder if I’m getting like her.

‘Yes, they are good.’

We fall into silence while we eat. But I can’t help noticing a few crumbs of pastry lodged in his beard. They remind me of tiny parachutists caught in the trees.

‘Shall we go and see the installation?’

By this time the pastry parachutists have slipped down through the forest of the beard and disappeared via the folds in his coat into the cracks of the granite.


The so-called ‘installation’ is, we have been told, a school-children’s project.

There are scores of balloons, cheap, multi-coloured party balloons, dotted about, singly or bunched in groups and tied by string to rocks or boats or pieces of driftwood. Each has a luggage label tied to it carrying a message, hand-written in pen. They bob about and twitch looking pathetically vulnerable in the context of all this granite and ocean and sky. They also look messy and litter-like which irritates me because they are spoiling my view and tainting my idyll with tat. But at the same time I can’t help admiring the teacher or whoever it was who inspired the project and got the children down here interacting with their environment.

‘I love the sea’, D is reading from one of the labels. ‘Here’s another one ‘I hate school, especially history.’

‘What about this one then,’ my turn to prove I can read. ‘The air is stuffed with memories.’

I like that. This child has summed it up for me. I only ever have to take one breath in this place and I am inundated with memories and nostalgia for my long-lost childhood by the sea. Will the current generation of children feel the same? Will they keep coming back, like me, to get their regular fix of the place, dragging their friends and families behind them, force-feeding them with pasties and making them sit on bum-numbing rocks in the wind to study the view?

‘I think I may be pregnant’, says D.

‘What? How on earth did you manage that?’

‘No, look. This one. It says ‘I think I may be pregnant.’’

Some young girl thinks she’s pregnant and, too terrified to tell any person, tells it to the wind instead. If she has a baby, she won’t be one of the ones who keeps coming back. Because she won’t ever have got away

At the Fountain Inn in Newbridge I had discovered the existence of Peter Soulsby and his book about Sancreed. At the Cornish Studies Library in Redruth I had discovered the existence of one Peter Waverley, an individual with a personal and research interest in the Penzance Mining and Science School. I am now trying to make contact with both of them.

The mobile signal at the cottage is not good. I have to walk around to pick it up and conversations are consequently staccato. Half-hanging out the bathroom window, I finally get through to Peter Waverley but he can’t tell me much about the Mining and Science School other than that it was a voluntary affair, set up by Mr A K Barnett, a local enthusiast and philanthropist. He suggests I pay a visit to the Courtney Library in Truro.

Peter Soulsby, who I connect with at the clothes-line, says he knows no more than what is in the book. But when pressed he is able to tell me that the Master of Newbridge School would not have lived at the school. His house was ‘up the road’ from the pub and was called Rose Cottage.

Next time we pass we stop to have a look. There is indeed a house ‘up the road from the pub’ but it’s called ‘Rosemary House’, not ‘Rose Cottage’. Could that be it? Could the name have been changed slightly? Without a good deal more research which may produce nothing, I doubt if I will get to a point of certainty. So I decide to believe that George Henry lived in Nerwbridge and not Portheras Cross or Bojewyan when he died. ‘The quiet village’ referred to in ‘The Cornishman report’.

‘The mournful cortege left the deceased’s residence in the quiet village at half-past four, and slowly wended its way up the hill and along the north road to Pendeen churchyard, where the interment at the north end of the cemetery took place.’

It must have been Newbridge, a distance of some two miles from Pendeen. And reading the report again it occurs to me that the road from Newbridge to Pendeen, is indeed called North Road. Why didn’t I make that connection before? What a lot of time and speculation it would have saved!

The Courtney Library, a private library owned and maintained by the Royal Institution of Cornwall is housed in the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro.

In the nineteenth century there appears to have been a significant development in scientific and technological education, sparked by the Great Exhibition, held at the Crystal Palace in 1851. This extravaganza was created to promote Great Britain as a world leader in modern industrial technology and design and a number of educational developments resulted.

The Science and Art Department of the Board of Trade established an Education Department. The Royal College of Science and the Royal School of Mines were established in South Kensington. The Science and Art Department gave grants to school managers, teachers and students, and these were known as the ‘South Kensington grants.’ Later in 1907, The Royal College of Science, The Royal School of Mines and something called the Central Technical College were merged to form Imperial College, also situated in South Kensington.

Meanwhile down in Cornwall, the Miners’ Association (of Cornwall and Devon) was established in 1858; this became known as the Mining Institute in 1887. The Miners’ Association/Institute of Cornwall was key in education provision in the area and we learn that George Henry was a successful student of it – in Inorganic Chemistry (elementary), and Geology (elementary), between 1890 and 1892.

The Camborne School of Mines was established in 1888, and the Penzance Mining and Science School, where, according to Kelly’s Directory, George Henry was a master, opened in 1889/90:

‘Richard Pearce Couch, hon.sec; Harry Cavendish A.R.S.M.Lond, principal; Philip Corin .M.I.M.E. George F.Gasson, William H. Barrett, George H. Guy & Henry Williams (medallist), masters’.

This was one of three such schools, the other two being in Redruth and Camborne and established by Andrew Ketcham Barnett, the person who Peter Waverley had told me about. A branch of the Penzance School was set up in the ‘Account House’ at Botallack (later to become the Count House Folk Club then the Pipers’ Club).

The Penzance Mining and Science School was on the site of the Penzance School of Art (established in 1852) in Morrab Road. Three years later, the Free Library (or public library as it was in my childhood and still continues to be) was established in part of the building. Kelly’s Directory describes the arrival of the Mining and Science School in Morrab Road:

‘A further addition to the main building is occupied by the Mining & Science Schools opened 7 Oct 1890 at a cost for building and fittings of nearly £1,900. On the ground floor are the technical instruction hall and lecture theatre, used at present as a school of cookery: upstairs are chemical lecture rooms, class rooms and a laboratory filled with working benches etc for 24 students, furnace room for metallurgical work, balance room etc. Mr Harry Cavendish, associate of the Royal School of Mines, principal’.

I am not sure if George Henry taught at the Penzance site or the Botallack site, but he was clearly in amongst some big developments in mining, science and technology education. We’ve found some evidence of his educational qualifications (inorganic chemistry and geology from the Miners’ Association), but no evidence as such of South Kensington Certificates or City & Guilds. Given what we do know about educational development at that time, it is quite feasible that he did get these certificates though we may never get to the specifics. Was it through South Kensington and/or City & Guilds that his mathematical ability was developed?

I am also wondering about George Henry’s teacher education. According to Lawrence Piper (‘Development of Technical Education in Cornwall from the early 19th century until 1902’), The Penzance Mining and Science School had impressive facilities but not much else was taught there other than mining subjects, although there were some classes for teachers held at the School, which George Henry could have gone to. These were under the auspices of the Technical Instruction Committee who encouraged teachers to attend but attendance was not compulsory. Neither did Cornwall use the University Extension movement to provide training for teachers. In fact, it appears that University Extension (Oxford or otherwise), did very little in Cornwall.

So far anyway, I seem to be finding very little, if anything, that supports the case that ‘he went to Oxford you know.’

End of part six.

The memoir on George Henry Guy will continue in next month’s issue. You can view the first article in Looking for George Henry Guy here.

Lesley grew up in Penzance but now lives in Bath. A lover of literature, she enjoys stories on landscape or place and is thinking about writing some of her own stories or memoirs on this theme.