Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Vol. 1, by William Bottrell, , at sacred-texts.com
Chorus:—We always are free,
And for ever agree,
Supporting each other,
Brother helps brother,
No mortals on earth are so friendly as we."—
Song 46 of Masonic Songs, by Penaluna; 1824.
The meaning of the melodious name of Lamorna, in which one hears the murmur of the waves and the calling of the cleeves, has been, and is still, a puzzle to Cornish scholars. Some think that it may be composed of Lan (an enclosure or a church) and the remnant of some proper name, followed as usual by the particle an (the), or that the name might have been formed out of the words Lan-mor-nan which would signify enclosed vale by the sea. For the sake of smoothness of sound, these words would soon take the form of Lamorna. Other meanings have been suggested, which are just as probable, or improbable.
Proceeding up the vale from the supposed site of the dwelling of Chenance, and following the course of the brook, we find every rock and bank fringed with a native drapery of ever-varying beauty—ivy, honeysuckle, privet, graceful ferns and mosses, or luxurious grasses decorate every rock and secluded nook, where shaded pools mirror the exquisite beauty that is still to be found here in its untrained, natural loveliness. Here are many spots of quiet beauty in which the lover of nature would pass the day spellbound with the various attractions which charm every sense; happily, this wild, secluded glen has not yet fallen into the clutches of those who think that they can improve Nature by clearing off every native plant and by substituting some unsuitable sickly exotic; and, as yet, the simple dwellings of the vale appear as natural to the place as a bird's nest in the bush. About five minutes’ walk above the boulders of the Cove we come to the snug little nest of Nantowas. This name is probably composed of Nant (vale), and aves (outside, beyond), or it may be from Nandevas (sheep's bottom). As we never heard anything remarkable about this quiet place, we pass on to Bosava (which is within sight from Nantowas).
Few more pleasing scenes for a rural picture can be found than the bowery land, the brook, and mill of Bosava; and the high hills crowned with hoar rocks in the background form such a combination of savage and sylvan beauty as most artists delight in. How very appropriate, too, the soft-sounding old name is for such a sheltered spot. Most Cornish scholars agree that the name Bosava is composed of Bos (house), and aval (apple), with the signification of Orchard-house.
The common saying of the inhabitants of this neighbourhood that "Bosava was the first house built after the flood," implies that they regard it as the most ancient habitation of the vale.
Little more than a century ago there might be seen, just below Bosava mill, the ruins of a very old house, which must have been much larger than any other dwelling in the glen, and of superior masonry to anything seen elsewhere except in the old churches. In accordance with the usual habit of simple primitive folks to assign a supernatural agent (whether giant, saint, or demon) as the cause of every extraordinary performance, and to connect the agency with the religion or mythology of the time and place, the erection of this remarkable dwelling was ascribed to a demon-mason, who engaged to build a house of better workmanship than was ever seen in the parish before, for an old miserly cobbler named Lenine, on the usual conditions—that the employer was to depart with the demon craftsman at a stated time and serve him. They say that one of the boots which old Lenine made for the dark gentleman-mason was much larger than the other, to hide his cloven foot. No one, at first, except the old cobbler, knew whence the dark and silent workman came, nor was it known how or when he departed: yet, in an incredibly short space of time, the building was completed, all the walling done in the good old-fashioned style of rubble-work (now lost) of placing the loosing edges of the stones and the pinners all on the outside, so that the rain never penetrated the walls.
This mason, or devil, seldom used compass or square, plumb-line or level; yet his work was as true, and the walls were as even, as if he had intended to build him a tower. He made an arched door to the house, and worked many curious devices on the jambs; the mullioned windows were surrounded with frames of finely-cut ashlar work. On the large square stone that formed the top of the punion and the base of the chimney-stack, next the road, he worked, as usual, the compass-head which was a finish to the raised windcourse, of coping-stones of the gable. A few feet under this, on a boldly projecting stone, was displayed the figure of the mason's head, with long oval face, high forehead, and straight features. From among the ivy which soon overgrew the gable, this strange face, perched up on high, seemed to look down with its stones on all who passed by. The windows were all on the sunny side and end of the house; but he made the door, according to the custom, common enough in old times, on the north side; and not a bad plan either, as one may, nine rainy days out of ten, leave the door open when to the north: besides, the inside of the house is not so much exposed to the gaze of intruders when the windows open into a secluded garden on the other side. In the gable, over the arched doorway of the porch, the mason placed a fine-diamond-shaped stone, on which he cut the exact features of the grinning, griping old miser, and surrounded the grim visage with a garland, or frame, of broken oak-branches, with leaves
and acorns, all as finely cut out of the stone as if they had been carved in oak. Yet the chimney-stacks were the crowning glory of the building;—they were of ashlar work and much higher than any seen here before: about one quarter of their height from the top, they were surrounded by a bold moulding; above this, they were contracted to their summits in a beautifully curved outline.
We don't know much about the inside of Lenine's house. They say that the hall (we didn't call the best room in any such house a parlour then) served the old miser for a cobbler's shop, and as a mere lumber-room for the wreck of such fine things as belonged to his family in old times, when they had been grand folks: and the old cobbler had his full share of family pride, if but little besides. Over the great fireplace of this hall, or lumber-room, there was more stone-carving, that the old miser said was the Lenine's or Lanyon's coat-of-arms;—an old rusty sword was hung over this; on the hearth were the remains of what had once been handsomely-ornamented, brass fire-dogs or handirons. Opposite the window, on the wreck of an old carved oak buffet, were ranged many curious old flagons, glasses, and other drinking vessels: on the wall above these an oval looking-glass, in a black ebony frame, which was much broader than the glass.
A coat of mail and a buff jacket were suspended on the wall behind the door, besides the homespun garments of his dame's manufacture, and, what the old man regarded with the greatest pride, a huge pair of jack boots made of real Cordovan; these once belonged to some renowned Lanyon who lived no one knew when, nor whence he started to prove his valour in the holy wars, as soon as his lady-love had buckled on the monster spurs which were still shown on the heels of the gigantic boots. With such spurs, surely the horse the knight bestrode ought to have had ribs of steel and a skin of sheet-iron; they were just such stabbing-machines as a beggar would like to don when he is, at last, mounted on horseback to make a morning call on his highness the Prince of Darkness: for every-day experience shows the truth of the old proverb—that the newly-made are ever ready to go to any lengths, so anxious are they to get into fashionable society.
Under the armour and warlike clothing was a carved settle of the sort that one may still see now and then, made for the back (fixed on a pivot) to turn down on the arms, so as to serve as a table, if desired. In the middle of the room a large framed table, and a few chairs (too heavy for one person to move in these degenerate days), placed near the walls, completed the garniture of the strange room, which would not have looked so very mean, after all, if the old miser had not made a cobbler's bench of the long window-seat, which was covered with his lasts, awls, and other tools of the craft, hung around with patterns, scraps of leather, twine, and ends.
The strange mason from the other world had spared no pains, and took such pride in his work, that he thought nothing of trudging away down to Lamorna cliff, to pick out the stone he wanted for a particular place or piece of work, and of carrying the same (often a load enough for a horse) home on his shoulder. A rule he never wanted. He could see at a glance the stone to fit the place, and the great stones—rocks one may call them—which he hoisted with a tackle of his own invention, for the corners and window jambs, were set to a hair. Much more one might say about the fine work that the masons would be at from the first dawn of the long summer's day till dark night: ceaselessly, and in silence, he was for ever working away, whilst the old man and his boy tempered the clay or mixed the mortar, old Lenine and his son were the only persons with whom the strange craftsman deigned to converse; between the three the timbers were placed for the roof and the house thatched: then the builder departed no one knew how, nor exactly when.
Old Lenine enjoyed the house in his dismal way for many years after it had been finished, in all respects according to contract, by the honest mason-devil. The term was drawing near to a close for which it had been agreed that old Lenine was to live in his grand mansion, before he had to pay the builder; yet he didn't seem to think much about it, and hammered away at his lapstone as if he didn't care a cobbler's cuss for what was soon to come.
At last the term expired. And the cloven-footed craftsman, whose name is never mentioned, returned to claim his own—to take his ancient employer home with him. The night he arrived (late as it was when he reached Bosava) he found old Lenine mending a pair of shoes for some neighbour. The cobbler desired his visitor, who was for immediate departure, to let him finish the job and the inch of candle remaining, stuck on the edge of the window-seat (that it might not be wasted) before they started together. The good-natured simple devil consented. And then, when he turned his back a moment, and went out to see how his work stood the beating of wind and weather, that instant the old cobbler blew out the candle and placed it in the bible. The devil, as one may expect, was much enraged to find himself fooled by the old miser, and declared that from that time old Lenine should never be able to keep a whole roof on the house nor anybody else after him, so that he would find himself worse off than if he would go then, like a man to his word. The old cobbler cursed and swore, that, roof or no roof, he would remain in his house, in spite of all the black gentry in the place the dark workman carne from, as long as one stone stood on another. The crow of the cock soon after made the devil decamp, and, in taking his departure, he raised a whirlwind which blew off all the thatch from one side of the roof. The old cobbler didn't mind that, for as soon as the devil departed he cast the candle in tin that it might be safe. (When we asked the person who related the legend what was meant by "cast the candle in tin,"
she answered that she did’nt know unless it was soldered up in tin, but that was the way she always heard the story told).
Old Lenine tried every means that he, or anyone else could ever think of, to keep a sound roof over his head, but all in vain. The thatcher (old Lenine himself,—no one else would ever venture on the roof) might drive the spars in the thatch as close together as he drove the sparables in the soles of the old shoes he was for ever cobbling when not on the roof; or he might bind down the thatch to the rafters with the newest and strongest rods and ropeyarn,—it was all the same. By the time old Lenine had taken his thatching tools off the roof of his high house (where the ladder was always left), a black cloud would be heard roaring, shrieking, and moaning as the blast came up the bottom, to beat and blow around the cobbler's house until scarcely as much thatch would be left on the rafters as would make a goose nest. Yet the old miser didn't care, for in spite of wind and weather he stuck to his castle all the time he lived and as long after as the stones were left together. His death only took place many years after the building of his dwelling, and there wasn't much left of him to die, as his old carcase was gone to next to nothing. Whether he died in a natural way no one could say for certain. Those who inherited the property thought they would keep a roof on such a fine high house, that they might either live in it, or let it, but they were mistaken, because the contest between the cobbler and the devil was going on with more obstinacy than ever. Old Lenine might be heard every night making the walls resound with the noise of his hammer ringing on the lapstone: even by day he would often be heard beating his leather from all over the bottom. If stones were placed on the roof to help to secure the thatch it wasn't safe to come within a long distance of the place, as the stones would be thrown about by invisible hands, and hurled with such force from the roof to the road that many persons, in coming and going to the mill, got badly hurt; at last, when it was found that no one could live in Lenine's house, and few (on account of the strange doings in the bottom) cared to come near Bosava mill, the miller sent for Parson Corker, who was noted for having strange intercourse with the invisible world; or rather, the primitive people of the west believed him to possess the supernatural powers required to exorcise the evil one, to drive the night wanderer back into his grave, and so to bind the poor ghost that he could never get loose again, with much other work, then confined to the learned, which we now seldom hear of.
The parson was also such a noted sportsman that he was rarely seen except on horseback. He always came into church booted and spurred, to be ready for the chase as soon as he passed the churchyard gate and found his man and horse waiting for him at the cross. He so delighted in the sports of wood and field that, with the earliest dawn of the dewy morn, the hills around echoed the cry of his hounds, and rung with the blast of his bugle-horn. The reverend huntsman, ghost-layer, and devil-driver
being a bachelor, lived with his cousins, the Trezillians, in Trezidder; and that he might enjoy the more liberty with his boon companions (as some thought, or as others believed, for practising the magic arts), he had a kind of retreat, summer-house, or prospect-place called the Plaisance, built like a tower of two rooms, with fireplaces, &c., erected on the brow of the hill in Trezidder downs, where it overlooked the valley of Penberth and the highroad over Buryan hill. The parson's retreat was comfortable furnished, the upper storey as a bedroom, under the window-seats and all around the walls of both rooms were cupboards and lockers like a ship's cabin. Here he would often pass many days and nights shut up alone, or only with some one of the same eccentric tastes as himself; and here one night the miller found the parson, after a day's hunt, holding a revel-rout among his companions of the chase.
The miller begged the parson to come to Bosava without delay, and to exert his power on the devil and cobbler. He thought that if the parson could not succeed in driving them away, he might at least, as he was a justice, bind them over to keep the peace.
After the parson and his friends had well fortified themselves, as well as the miller, with plenty of strong drink (that they might be the better able to undertake the difficult work), they all started about midnight, from the parson's plaisance, for the scene of their ghostly operations, and arrived at Bosava in the small hours of the morning.
They say that when the parson, assisted by Dr. Maddern and the miller, drew the magic pentagram and sacred triangle, within which they placed themselves for safety, and commenced the other ceremonies, only known to the learned, which are required for the effectual subjugation of restless spirits, an awful gale sprung up in the cove and raged up the vale with increasing fury, until scarcely a tree was left standing in the bottom. Yet there was scarcely a breath of wind stirring in other places. As the parson continued to read, the devil swore, howled, shrieked, and roared louder than the raging storm. The parson, undaunted, read on and performed more powerful operations in the art of exorcism, till the sweat boiled from his body so that there was not a dry thread on him, and the parson was beginning to fear that he had met with more than his match, when the whole force of the storm gathered itself around the haunted house, and the tree to which the parson clung, that he might not be blown away, was rooted from the ground, and swept by the gale, parson and all, right across the water. Then the thatch, timbers, and stones were seen, by the lightning flashes, to fly all over the bottom. One of the sharp spars from the thatch stuck in the parson's side, and made a wound which pained him ever after. Yet, not to be baffled, the parson made the black spirit hear spells which were stronger still. A moment after, the devil (as if in defiance of the parson) had made a clean sweep of the roof, from amidst the wreck of the building a figure was soon to rise in the shape of
the dark master-mason, and fly away in the black thunder-cloud, with his level, square, plumb-line, compasses, and other tools around him.
After the devil had disappeared there was a lull in the tempest. The brave parson then tried his power on the cobbler, who might still be heard beating his lapstone louder than ever. The parson, after summoning old Lenine to appear, and after much trouble in chasing the obstinate spirit of the old miser from place to place, at last caught him in the pulrose under the mill-wheel. Then the ghost threw his hammer and lapstone at the parson's head; at the same time cried out, "Now, Corker, that thee art come I must be gone, but it's only for a time." Luckily the parson was too well acquainted with spiritual weapons to let ghostly tools do him any harm. The night was passed. The parson's power had compelled the demon and cobbler to depart. After making a wreck of the house between them, the parson could do no more for the miller. But a few days after it was found that the old cobbler had returned to the charge, making more noise and annoyance about the place than ever, by broad daylight even as bad as by night, and that the parson could only hunt him from spot to spot about the wreck of the haunted place, without being able to make the noises cease from amidst the ruins. It was then decided to demolish all the walls of the devil's building.
Thus the best piece of work ever seen in this part of the country was long ago destroyed, and the stones employed for building hedges and outhouses. No one cared to use them about any dwelling-house, for fear that the old miserly cobbler might claim them and again settle down to beat his lapstone beside them.
If one may judge by the many stories told in this neighbourhood, the notion of fooling the old gentleman must have been a standing joke in old times, among the good folks of Buryan. The guise-dance of Madam Lovell, in which the lady deceives the squire, her husband, and tricks the devil, turns on the same fancy.
When we took a walk to Lamorna, one afternoon during our Christmas holiday, to view the scene of the fairy revels of Chenance, we called in at Bosava mill, to enquire what was known about Lenine's house: the miller told us that he never heard much that was remarkable about Bosava except the old story that it was the first house built after the flood. He had heard of some Lenine who, in old times, lived in the bottom, spoken of as a notoriously wicked man, but more he did not know for certain. After that we entered the public-house near by, where we found pretty fair ale, but nothing to be had to eat, for love or money. Here we entered into conversation with a native, who seemed to be a foreigner in his feelings. He soon confounded us with long hard words, talking a great deal about the finite and the infinite, connecting these terms in some way with the good and bad qualities of the fair sex, some of whom had the pleasure of listening to him.
We wished to hear something more of the old legends told about Trove and other place in this romantic neighbourhood, but the only response we got from the impracticable gentleman was, that he had heard plenty of such foolish drolls from the "toteling old folks," and that most people are too enlightened now to talk of such things. "Besides," he said, "those who know the right way have more grace than to speak of such things, without fear and trembling, as were done in old times." Plain persons, of only common sense, could neither understand nor sympathise with the man,—so chokeful was he of learning, grace, and conceit, and so utterly void of a single spark of genuine Celtic feeling.
We should be glad indeed if there were more stories told about the times of old, in which one might find less infernal or supernatural agency of any kind; but we have no choice, and must take such as we find or none. Besides, as the demon of the old drolls is not so horribly and unreasonably wicked as his modern successor is made out to be, there can be no harm in taking a glance at the pictures these tales furnish us of old-world notions; and, as the old folks were not familiar with anything so superlatively atrocious as is often displayed for our contemplation, we may thence infer that they themselves were more simple and innocent than the enlightened of to-day.