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Author Pentewan railway - later use
derrickman

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Pentewan railway - later use
Posted: 01/05/2011 10:43:17
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I'm never optimistic about learning that sort of thing from locals.

I found at Combe Down that much of the local 'information' about the workings was pretty much worthless, and the survey and plan produced by the project differed considerably from local hearsay.

Partly this was because much of the information was so garbled as to be unusable; we found evidence in a number of places that some areas had been used for teenagers drinking and lighting fires, probably in the 1970s and 1980s, but the accounts of this from locals were quite unintelligible.

We found areas which were referred to as 'tramps camps' which had clearly been used as bivouacs over fairly long periods of time, quite possibly by deserters or itinerant agricultural workers or former PoWs in the immediate post-war years, but again no useful information in a fairly small community with a considerable number of long-term and multi-generation resident families.

There were several entrances filled in by local building contractors ( some of them still functioning ) in the 1960s but again, no real information.

This was pretty much my experience in Cornwall in the 1970s also, and in other places over the years.


--

He knew the magic monotony of existence between sky and water: the criticism of men, the exactions of the sea, the prosaic severity of the daily task, because there is nothing more enticing, disenchanting, and enslaving than the life at sea.
IP: 86.30.241.199
Alec

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Pentewan railway - later use
Posted: 01/05/2011 11:14:07
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My experience has been entirely different. It would be dangerous to rule out local knowledge on these grounds, and where no other sources exist, recording oral history is invaluable.

I would be loath, admittedly, to attempt to reconstruct the risky three-dimensional world of underground workings from oral recollection alone, but having said that, published or available plans aren't necessarily always completely accurate either. I was trained to triangulate my research, and that, formally or informally, is what most of us do.

There is a world of difference between 'hearsay' and the recollections of people who knew an environment at first hand, and that's why oral history recording is currently progressing the Caradon Hill Project work - before too many more of those who really did know how things were pass on.

The Caradon Hill team have already met with someone whose grandfather worked with the contractors from Hayle who built the earthworks for the Liskeard and Caradon Railway from the junction at Sharptor to the unfinished cutting at Trewint. Hearsay evidence, perhaps- but the same person has clear (and confirmable) personal memories of the Caradon line being in place when the received wisdom says it wasn't.

I for one won't be dismissing oral history - as always, first-hand experience and 'defensibility' are the keynotes.



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Alec
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Peter Burgess

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Location: Merstham. Or is it Godstone ...... ?

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Pentewan railway - later use
Posted: 01/05/2011 12:28:14
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I would side with Alec on this one. In the early 1980s I interviewed and recorded the memories of a man who used to visit his grandfather at Godstone - a hearthstone miner. We have on record his memories of visiting the mine as a boy in the 1920s. I had always assumed that I knew the workings he described, but there were always one or two discrepancies that I couldn't square. Recently a hitherto lost substantial section of hearthstone mine has been rediscovered, and some of what this man remembered now makes more sense. I am so glad we kept a transcript of the interview.

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Hé ! Ki kapcsolva le a villanyt ?
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spitfire

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Pentewan railway - later use
Posted: 01/05/2011 14:19:23
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I agree with Peter and Alec, a lot has to do with how you approach people in the first place. If you appear to be a smart Alec (no pun intended) you're not going to learn much, quite the opposite could even be led up the garden path, so to speak.

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spitfire
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derrickman

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Pentewan railway - later use
Posted: 01/05/2011 16:08:23
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It depends on the extent to which the information you gather is capable of independent verification, and the amount of information you collect, and the extent to which you verify your sources.

I use sat-nav these days, but at one time I used to ask directions of locals in my travels. One thing I did realise quite quickly is that people are very reluctant to admit that they simply don't know, and will offer their best recollection of the matter, which may be approximately right or entirely wrong, or most often sufficiently wrong in detail as to be pretty much useless.

There are also stories which achieve considerable longevity simply by virtue of being a good story. Look at the apocryphal accounts of gramophones in dug-outs, machine-gunners tapping out rhythms by omitting cartridges from the belts, and witness accounts of the burning of Atlanta, for examples of this sort of thing.


I would never say that you CAN'T learn anything from the locals, but my experience from having done more of it than most is that most of what you collect is not much use and a great deal of it must be either taken at face value, unproven and unsupported, or just discarded.

This is especially in the light of having a fair amount of experience of closing out projects and reconstructing events at a later date. Even reconstructing fairly recent events from written records made by professionals can be surprisingly ambiguous and contentious.





--

He knew the magic monotony of existence between sky and water: the criticism of men, the exactions of the sea, the prosaic severity of the daily task, because there is nothing more enticing, disenchanting, and enslaving than the life at sea.
IP: 86.30.241.199 Edited: 01/05/2011 16:11:45 by derrickman
JohnnearCfon

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Pentewan railway - later use
Posted: 01/05/2011 16:59:18
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Maybe that is where Boyd went wrong?!? Laugh IP: 92.26.176.189
Alec

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Pentewan railway - later use
Posted: 01/05/2011 17:18:20
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Derrickman has said in his first paragraph exactly what I proposed - triangulate your information. Where, however, there is no documentary evidence to do so, matters become more challenging.

As Spitfire notes, a lot depends on who you ask, and how you ask them - and why.

Alec
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derrickman

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Pentewan railway - later use
Posted: 01/05/2011 18:17:49
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I don't know that challenging is the word.

My experience in Cornwall in the 70s was that the little oral information available locally frequently didn't match sources like Dines and Ham Jenks, which is the main written body of information. It was, quite simply, incorrect and insufficient for internal verification.


Combe Down was the same. There were various accounts of being able to go in one entrance and come out another, but the fact of the matter was that you went down more-or-less any open entrance and wandered around long enough, you might come out pretty much anywhere else.

Obvious cart-gate entrances, clearly visible as infills in the stone-work of retaining walls, were entirely forgotten. At least two properties had been converted from stables within the past fifteen years or so, both with such obvious entrances adjacent, yet no knowledge of them seemed to be preserved.

There was a persistent story relating to a local pub, which had an access into the mine below the cellar, used as a private lounge for out-of-hours drinking. This was attributed in one version to a pub which is actually still open, but certainly in that case was quite untrue.

One outlying area to the South-East was rumoured to have a now-lost entrance, but we couldn't identify from the underground survey where it might have been.

Frankly, if such canards could be repeated in an area with free walk-in access within the past ten years, and occasional pillar-robbing taking place until the 1960s at least, all within an area you could walk round in less than 45 minutes, it doesn't give much confidence in the oral information available.





--

He knew the magic monotony of existence between sky and water: the criticism of men, the exactions of the sea, the prosaic severity of the daily task, because there is nothing more enticing, disenchanting, and enslaving than the life at sea.
IP: 86.30.241.199
Peter Burgess

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Location: Merstham. Or is it Godstone ...... ?

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Pentewan railway - later use
Posted: 01/05/2011 18:38:22
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I think the problem, Derrickman, is that in your many examples, you were asking them to provide specific information you wanted on the whereabaouts of old workings, whereas in the few cases I have spoken to people, I wanted them to tell me what they wanted to say, however irrelevant it might have seemed to me at the time. I ended up with a lot of family history, some social history, specific events that stuck in the mind - that sort of thing. I can say that if pressed for specifics such as where entrances were and where the galleries went, they couldn't really help too much. Such thing probably don't register at the time, so won't have been remembered, but if you press for this information, they want to help so will say anything. The clue with local information is to open the tap and let it flow, not stick a pump on them and try to force it out.

--

Hé ! Ki kapcsolva le a villanyt ?
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derrickman

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Pentewan railway - later use
Posted: 01/05/2011 19:10:32
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well, not really. There was no serious effort to 'use' local knowledge as actual data at Combe Down, but when you have up to 300 men working in a village that size for several years, you hear a lot of stuff.

The simple fact is that much of what we were told was incomplete at best and plain wrong in many cases. Basics like obvious walled-up entries were entirely forgotten. One householder assured us that a visible entry in his garden went for miles, but actually it was collapsed a few yards in.


Most of my Cornish experience was that the names of clearly visible engine houses were not known - the obvious engine house beside the Troon road opposite the then-Grenville Motors garage was a typical example. They are probably better known now because quite a few of them are labelled.


My personal feeling is that most such information is really only on a level with urban legends like the dead granny stolen from the car, but it is not spotted because there is a consensus locally as to what the story told in the pub consists of and no way of checking it.




--

He knew the magic monotony of existence between sky and water: the criticism of men, the exactions of the sea, the prosaic severity of the daily task, because there is nothing more enticing, disenchanting, and enslaving than the life at sea.
IP: 86.30.241.199 Edited: 01/05/2011 19:12:59 by derrickman
Peter Burgess

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Pentewan railway - later use
Posted: 01/05/2011 19:34:48
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Well, most if not all of your examples referred to where entrances were and how far the galleries went! Even if you were not pumping them for info, you were not deliberately engaging with them in the way I described - you had no need to, of course.
The value of memories lies not necessarily in the hard nuts and bolts of where, what and how physical stuff was, but in the personal experiences - such as the routines of everyday working life. The discussions need to be on their terms, not ours. In each of the few cases I have met people in person, or have received letters or emails, it has been because they have contacted me or my colleagues because they know we are interested, and not the other way around.
There will be little hard evidence to back up the memories that are recalled. But if you faithfully record what you are told, who it is from, when it was recorded, it will quite often shed light on things that you would never have a chance to work out on your own.
The example I referred to earlier of the hearthstone mine is a case in point. The memory was that the truck of stone was pulled out to the surface by a pony, and that the ramp out of the mine was so steep that the pony almost climbed the sleepers between the rails like a ladder. The entrance I had in mind wasn't really all that steep, but the one recently opened out in order to stabilise it was much steeper. This, coupled with the presence in the mine of a newspaper from the 1920s points to the likelihood that it was in this recently discovered workings that Arthur Jupp was working, and not the one previously thought.

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Hé ! Ki kapcsolva le a villanyt ?
IP: 92.20.57.165 Edited: 01/05/2011 19:43:51 by Peter Burgess
spitfire

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Pentewan railway - later use
Posted: 01/05/2011 20:12:42
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Derrickman, I don't know who you were asking when you was in Cornwall in the 70s but I do know there was a lot of very knowledgeable men around at that time, as a matter of fact there still is. If you rely on Dines you are very quickly to become unstuck as it is full of major errors. If you approach people with "A wise man from the east", attitude the same applies

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spitfire
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derrickman

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Pentewan railway - later use
Posted: 01/05/2011 20:57:23
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spitfire wrote:

Derrickman, I don't know who you were asking when you was in Cornwall in the 70s but I do know there was a lot of very knowledgeable men around at that time, as a matter of fact there still is. If you rely on Dines you are very quickly to become unstuck as it is full of major errors. If you approach people with "A wise man from the east", attitude the same applies


wise man from the East, ha ha. There's a blast from the past... I used to just ask Ron Hooper. Ron knew pretty much everything one way or another.


we didn't make any effort to gather local information at Combe Down, mainly because we didn't need it. But, with that many men in the area over that period of time, you hear stuff..



--

He knew the magic monotony of existence between sky and water: the criticism of men, the exactions of the sea, the prosaic severity of the daily task, because there is nothing more enticing, disenchanting, and enslaving than the life at sea.
IP: 86.30.241.199 Edited: 01/05/2011 21:01:30 by derrickman
Peter Burgess

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Pentewan railway - later use
Posted: 01/05/2011 21:07:39
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You hear stuff.....

That's a familiar scenario. General chit-chat will tell you there is a 40 acre underground lake at Merstham, that there was a network of canal tunnels from Merstham to Croydon, that you can walk underground from Godstone to Caterham - the list goes on.

When you talk to specific people about their own lives and their memories, you get a completely different story. Listening to a retold myth heard in the pub is not the same thing as asking people to draw on their own memories.

There is a huge difference between personal recollection and local myth-telling.

--

Hé ! Ki kapcsolva le a villanyt ?
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Alec

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Pentewan railway - later use
Posted: 01/05/2011 21:27:25
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Agreed completely. The BBC's WW2 memory site alone is testament to that.

This discussion reminds me forcibly of the old (and sterile) quantitative vs qualitative research/data argument that most folk have laid to rest years ago. P H G Richardson's accounts of the mines of West Devon, for example, are a skilful blend of both. We have to question (or re-interpret) many written sources today in the light, as Peter says, of first-hand experience. The latter is irreplaceable -the former re-writable. Myths are, well, myths.

Alec
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derrickman

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Posted: 01/05/2011 22:36:56
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I think it depends also on what your perception of the industry actually is.

I do find that as a general comment, the professionals on here have a somewhat different overall perception than the historians, and they have a rather different view to the cavers/explorer types.



Of course, this is true within the respective groups as well. There was a marked schism in my CSM days regarding the future, or otherwise, of the Cornish industry ( this at a time when Wheal Jane and Mount Wellington were active and Thyssens were at Geevor ).

On balance, and saving the increasingly protracted events at Crofty on which I have ceased to hold an opinion for lack of information to base it on, the sceptics have been proven right over time, but it gives me no pleasure for once to have backed the right horse, and I think most would share that view.

However I do think that South Crofty's latest incarnation is a classic example of just why it is so difficult to interpret oral history in these matters.



--

He knew the magic monotony of existence between sky and water: the criticism of men, the exactions of the sea, the prosaic severity of the daily task, because there is nothing more enticing, disenchanting, and enslaving than the life at sea.
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Peter Burgess

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Location: Merstham. Or is it Godstone ...... ?

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Pentewan railway - later use
Posted: 01/05/2011 22:58:15
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This interesting debate stems from the following post:

Alec wrote:

I wonder if the dump trucks hold the clue here, in that the gap in rail traction was indeed filled by tyred vehicles instead as you suggest. Because the period 1962-1968 is well within living memory, someone out there, possibly a Pentewan resident, or ex-resident, knows the answer.


Maybe I am being a bit thick, but how does the reliability or otherwise of oral history of South Crofty have any real relevance to whether someone in the Pentewan area can remember what means of transport was employed in the 1960s? I think I would have a fairly good memory of this had I been a resident at the time. We are not talking about the complexity of a huge mine, but a simple small operation in a small village. I would have been a schoolboy at the time, but a reasonably observant one! For example, I have a clear and reliable memory of the old fullers earth pits close to my home at that time, and the machinery they used in them.

--

Hé ! Ki kapcsolva le a villanyt ?
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derrickman

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Pentewan railway - later use
Posted: 02/05/2011 06:12:30
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surely the reliability, or otherwise, of people's memories is the central issue? One thing I do know, is that it is possible and indeed usual, to attend a CSM function, spend the evening discussing such matters with a fairly large group of informed professionals who were locally resident and in some cases directly involved, and come away with greatly varying accounts of the same things

Siborne's efforts to compile an authoritative account of the Waterloo campaign by interviewing survivors, is surely the modern avatar of such things, although Thucydides appears to have come to much the same conclusions long ago.


depends on what your perception of "the history of the mine" is

Professionals tend to see mining operations as dynamic processes carried out for specific aims. I'd suggest that even while current, it is impossible to form any coherent account of what is happening at South Crofty from oral information, and this won't change in the foreseeable future.

Wheal Concord has certainly entered this limbo, as has Pendarves.

I'd be far more interested in the development of the thinking behind Wheal Jane, by which large sums were spent in reworking a complex of old setts in the face of huge and well-known water problems and ambitious, state-of-the-art mineral processing installations and ground support programmes were tried, than in daily details of the lives of scoop-tram drivers... but I greatly doubt that I will ever see that from oral history.



--

He knew the magic monotony of existence between sky and water: the criticism of men, the exactions of the sea, the prosaic severity of the daily task, because there is nothing more enticing, disenchanting, and enslaving than the life at sea.
IP: 86.30.241.199 Edited: 02/05/2011 06:23:02 by derrickman
Peter Burgess

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Pentewan railway - later use
Posted: 02/05/2011 09:30:52
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None of which satisfactorily explains to me why you would doubt the memory of, let's say, a couple of locals at Pentewan who can remember the use of dump trucks - nothing too complicated there.

Sorry, Derrickman, but to live in the real world, whether day to day life, or stuff like the matter originally being discussed here, you have to make a sensible judgment on what to believe and what to dismiss. If you dismiss everything simply because it cannot be backed up with hard evidence, we might as well spend our time reading fiction novels. At least we know nothing there is real.

We sometimes post memories of our own past here - whether working underground, or meeting fellow members in the past. None of which is really backed up with evidence. Should we dismiss it all as confused mumblings of the deluded? If we have such a rule for the great unwashed, then we should apply the same standards to ourselves. Thumbs Up

--

Hé ! Ki kapcsolva le a villanyt ?
IP: 92.20.131.235 Edited: 02/05/2011 09:31:20 by Peter Burgess
spitfire

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Pentewan railway - later use
Posted: 02/05/2011 09:41:32
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I think this has run its course, Peter is right, it has no bearing on the original post whatsoever.

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spitfire
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