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Poddington-on-Slossip: Theme

A Guided Tour of Poddington

From the diaries of James Polkington, later published as
Highways and Byways of Cornwall (Flederdam Press, 1911)

June 18, 1909

It was good to alight from the train at the town of Tewiff-by-Sea. I had shared my compartment with a sullen schoolboy and a nun, neither of whom proved good conversationalists. To see the sea again so soon after the sublime and rustic sights of Tintagel was a pleasure.

Curiously, the train station sits at a good distance above the town. The houses of Tewiff perch uncertainly along its semicircular bay, and look very much like a series of white doves ready to take flight at the slightest sound. The view from the bluff, however, proved spectacular, and I made my way down the winding road, avoiding the carts laboriously making their way to the station with freight.

Am staying at the Golden Arms in Tewiff this night. The room has not been freshly aired. It smells of damp. Turbot and famed mussels for my dinner. It did not agree with me.

June 19, 1909

Walking tour. After a breakfast of kippers and mash, I made my way up the bluff once more, and admired the view of Tewiff once again. Would do well for watercolours.

The road from the station winds down to the east, eventually reaching a broad plateau where lie several granges. One of them, gaily decorated with a sign proclaiming 'Jolly', sat near a fork in the road. It was the quintessential Cornish country farm. After consulting my map, I ascertained that the northernmost of the roads would lead me in time through the forests to Magnusson College, while the southern fork would take me across the moors to the hamlet of Poddington. As my destination lay in Poddington, and I had an appointment to visit my old chum Wasters at the college on the morrow, I ventured southwards

Is anything more English than a Cornish moor? Though rocky and sometimes fiercely brutal to the eye, there is a softness to it amongst the crags and the outlandish outcroppings of stone.To the north, the ancient forests loomed in the distance, over hedgerows and stony farmlands. And the skies, in clear weather--what blue! Much as I love my homelands of Surry, were I to take up a cot and settle down with a wife, it would be in these wilds of Cornwall.

The road was not much populated, even by day. My assumption was that there is not much trade between Tewiff and the tiny Poddington. What industry must have been in this tiny village vanished years ago, judging from the abandoned state of the tin mine not one mile from the outskirts of the tiny village. As the morning was fine and the sun not yet at the peak of its journey across the daytime sky, I made my way south from the trade road and looked at the abandoned building. Sad, how so many men of the Cornish soil lost their livelihoods when the tin trade vanished, a century ago. This grimy abandoned building stood as a grave marker for them, its white limestone facade mournful and lonely.

To the south of the mine a Tor caught my eye--Religan Tor, the natives later told me it was called. I climbed the pile of flat granite rocks to its top, where I ate the buns thoughtfully provided me by the landlady of the Golden Arms. I cannot speak enough of the Cornish moors. From this small height I could see the patterns of the winds as they swept across the grasses, and it seemed to me like an ballet, though the dancers were invisible to me.

After finishing my satisfying but small repast, I climbed down once more and sought to photograph the Tor with my Brownie. Several good shots, I do believe, particularly one from an angle that, to my fanciful eye, made the Tor seem very like a human skull. Must find a darkroom in the village, if there is such a thing.

I fancied myself much refreshed by the wind and the sun and the very good buns and gained the road once more, passing by several farms and a fine set of orchards before I reached the hamlet of Poddington-on-Slossip. The Slossip, they tell me, is the river bordering the eastern edge of the town. I have not yet seen it, though I have heard the bells from boats thereupon.

My first impression of the town was of quaint country charm. The trade road soon turned into the town's Market Street. It was not a cosmopolitan high street by any means, but the quaint erections along the sides of the street housed a bakery, a greengrocer's and a stationers', as well as other like establishments. I adjusted my pocket watch by a clock displayed in one of the windows, and found it to be half past two.

A local man, red of nose and cheery of disposition, informed me that the local public house did indeed have rooms for the night, so I followed his directions and took the southeasterly lane--Acorn Lane, they call it. Were it not for the ruins of a long-erased manufactory and surrounding houses, overgrown and desolate, it would be much like any other lane in a country town. Only three buildings remained, all close to the mouth of the lane; I am told they are a tea house, a tiny lending library, and a private residence that accepts boarders. I was not tempted to inquire about a room, to be certain. The shadows cast by the trees (and later, as I found out, the church tower) made the walk melancholy.

Acorn Lane opened out upon a spacious and picturesque green, bordered to the west by the church yard, and by banks of trees in the other directions. A ducking pond sits at the southernmost edge of the green, and a number of ancient stocks to the north. Near the stocks was my goal, the village public house. Known as the Languishing Apple to the locals, its comfort made itself evident the moment I walked into its cheerful interior. They have given me a room that overlooks the green, and it is from here that I make my entry, while resting before tea.


Mysterious cries in the night have kept me awake for an hour or more . . . it is past one by the clock. I ventured belowstairs in order to ascertain what animals might be part of the local landscape, for their cries are weird and wild. They are quiet enough that I cannot hear them when I listen for them, now. And yet, when I try to close my eyes to sleep, their insistence keeps me awake. Sometimes it resembles child-like laughter, while other times the hissing of multiple snakes. I ventured downstairs so that I might look outside and to my surprise I found the door to the public house locked and bolted. Was it to keep me in, or to keep the animals out? I joked to myself. So I write.

The natives here are friendly and yet wary of outsiders. When I asked of local customs, they told me of a ritual that takes place every April. Should I not have been delayed in Algiers this spring and my walking tour had started when I planned, I should not have missed it. The widows of the village construct the effigy of a man of reeds from the river, bedeck him in clothing, sew a crude face to him, and leave him on display on the green for a fortnight. This effigy is called the 'Anymouse' or the 'Annymus'. Come the first of May, the town gathers on the green, and the widows place stones in in the mouth of the Anymouse, one of every unwed maiden in the village. The stones are all black, save one, which is pure white. The maids each draw one stone from the mouth of the Anymouse, and the girl who draws the white stone is declared his bride.

The bride immediately pulls the cart containing the Anymouse to the river, where she pushes the Anymouse over the edge of the footbridge and into the water. What a manner in which to treat a husband!

The church bell tower strikes two. The noises subside. I go to bed.

June 20, 1909

My landlord was taciturn when I made jest of the animal noises at night, and warned me not to venture out past midnight, when decent folk were in their beds. He suggested I take my breakfast at the tea house I had noticed the day before. I left the Apple and noticed an abundance of toadstools growing on the green that had not been there the day before. Fairy rings, my mother used to call them, for they grow in circles. Already they are dying in the sun, their dark heads turning foul and rotten.

The proprietress of the tea house is a flirtatious widow who tells me of her enthusiasms for Theosophy. At her recommendation, after hastily thanking her for her excellent fare, I cross the street and enter the church yard of the Church of St. Athenasius. It was indeed as peaceful and picturesque as she told me, though the wall of brick and iron finial that surrounds it on all sides is harsh to the eye. The church itself is a Norman erection, ancient of years, named for one of those many Cornish saints whose sad lot it was to be worshipped by their countryman and then forgotten and despised by their church. Beautiful it is, too, for those with an eye for the sublime. The stained glass window is certainly an addition of the last two centuries, as is the mechanism that rings the bells of its high tower every fifteen minutes. There are some vulgar murals here, painted by some lewd Pre-Raphaelite, but I did not view them. I did not care to see sensuality in such an austere place. The heart of the church itself is surpassingly old. There are too few churches left like this, with their complex accoutrements of rood screens, hand-pumped organs, and ancient stone floors.

The tower itself contained a hole in its floor. I followed a ladder down into the reliquarium of the Saint. Had I been a child of ten, I should have been scared senseless by the gloom therein, for the room was naught but a flickering mass of shadows, dimly lit by a lantern. The proprietress of the tea house had told me to look for  yet another ancient lair beneath the reliquary. I found the spot--thankfully surrounded by a rail of iron, to keep visitors from falling in, and took another ladder down deep into the earth.

Even as a gentleman of forty-five I gasped at what I found at the nadir--ancient crypts dating back to days forgotten by civilised man, where the dead had been stacked, very like so much tinder, so that from floor to ceiling were biers of skeletons and skulls, interlocked and frozen by centuries. The air, though cold, was dry, and served to preserve these grotesquities somewhat, so that everywhere I turned some foul detailed impressed itself upon my mind--a scrap of flesh here, a grinning death's mask there, a mouldering burial shroud, the tiny form of a centuries-lost child.

I felt I must escape this horrifying sight. I left the church and made my way to Magnusson College.

My walk was of an hour's duration, and I passed through three miles of moor and then deep forest before gaining the college. How Alexander must have felt when leaving the deserts and gaining Cairo I now know, for compared to the rustic tranquility of the village, the college itself was an oasis of civilisation. How I smiled to hear the boys speaking to each other in Latin and of algebra and of Freud. My bosom friend Wasters and I shared a whiskey and soda in Burleigh Hall, the residence of the men of the college. The scouts were quick and efficient as they brought us our luncheon. Briefly I was shown the college library, and the classroom building, Magnusson Memorial Hall, built in the gothic revival style. He further amused me with stories of the service tunnels that run underground beneath the buildings, and how the students use them after dark for their pranks. Ah, youth! It is fleeting but fragrant, like a lily that dies while its blooms is still wanted.

Wasters knew of a darkroom in the Hall that he let me use to develop my pictures of the day previous. However, I fear that it is not light-proof, though while within I checked carefully for leaks that could ruin the negatives. As I drew the prints from the chemicals, it was plain to see that none of my photographs of the Tor came clean. They are all ruined.

An excellent dinner at the Apple, followed by a chat with the locals. They tell me that there is quite an impressive estate just north of the green that I must investigate on the morrow.

I listen again for the animals, but the night is quiet. I blot the page, and turn out the light. Adieu, my diary.

June 21, 1909

An apple, and a pear, for breakfast. I cannot again face the proprietress of the tea house and her talk of table rappings and reincarnation.

As I eat I walk north to the estate of the DeWinter family. In former days it was called Barleymeade, they tell me. But the natives tell me the family had a curse laid upon it some centuries ago by a black sheep of the family, as curses most always are. I have written it down in my note book: "Nae good shall come to the Lord of Barleymede, nor his first-born sons. Aye, yet a pox upon the First, and a Blessing on the last, for the Last shall rise up and save the land from the Hunter of the Mede." In order to escape the curse, so goes the story, the last master of the house forbade the servants and the family ever to call the house by its name again, hoping that as the name was forgotten, the curse would fade. Such superstitions are the lifeblood of a village. Barleymeade (I whispered the name in its presence, so that the house might not forget--a fancy of mine, whimsical, I admit) was gated and barred from me, but I could tell that it was large and extravagant, and very old.

From the green I took the eastern road to a quarry. Deserted, I am sad to say. Granite is sadly out of fashion--even with the curious pink streaks produced by the local rock--that I fear the industry here will never recover. It is just as well. Prosperity brings with it change, and there is too much change already in this new century of ours.

I had for the rest of the day a glorious wander through the wilds of Cornwall. There is more moor to the north of the quarry, as well as evidence of the ancient Britons who populated the isle. A stone well of some antiquity lies near the quarry itself, within a glade of rocks arranged in a circle. It is by no means as impressive as the Stonehenge of Bath, but the effect is quite similar. For some reason I am reminded of the dark, rotting flesh of the toadstools, yesterday morn.

Any number of burial mounds stretch to the north along the moors. In times past our ancestors, barely evolved from using tools of flint and and stone, made these ceremonial mounds to hold the dead. To think of such a thing while viewing these green and pleasant moors is to see the skull beneath the skin; I turn my minds from such thoughts.

When I returned to the first of these mounds, named Mouse Lane Hill (for I had no desire to follow the others a mile or two to the sea, for Wasters tells me there is a glorious stretch of cove near the college much used by the students, that I may visit upon the morrow), I thought I heard a voice calling my name. I turned with a smile upon my face, curious to see who might I have encountered in that desolate place, but there was no one.

I rest in my room at the Apple now, after an excellent dinner of sausages. I think I shall visit the Slossip at sunset. Wasters informs me there is an interesting archaeological excavation there, of Iron Age dwellings. But I have written for too long! My very pen mocks me. As I look out the window, I see that sunset is past and darkness has fallen, and the excavations are some walk away to the southeast. I had best take a lantern and depart and return, else (I mockingly jest) my landlord will lock me out for the night.


What I have seen no man should ever bear witness. May God protect this village. I leave at the first sign of light.


(Vance Briceland)