Where does history start? by Henry Symons

Bronze Age man is credited with the start of farming, and that evidence of his work is found on the slopes of Roughtor and Brown Willy on Bodmin Moor, along with “ridgeways” throughout Cornwall. One such ridgeway is the road from Delabole through St. Endellion and on through “Plain Street” (the stretch of road west of St. Endellion) and on to Rock. The word “Street”, to me, does suggest a connection with the Roman occupation of Britain.

The countryside before the Bronze Age would have been heavily wooded except for the high ground and windswept coastal headlands. One can imagine that any clearing of the woodland would take place on the warm south-facing slopes sheltered from the winds blowing in from the North coast of Cornwall.

A necessary requirement for any settlement was the availability of water both for humans and their animals. Trevathan farmstead itself is situated where water springs out of the ground for several months of the year and where one does not have to dig a very deep pit to form a well. I know of two wells.

I believe the road from Port Quin and Port Isaac through St. Endellion and on down through the farm and on to Bodmin and then on to Lostwithiel was one of the “cross country” routes used by traders and religious missionary “saints” who travelled to Ireland from France via Cornwall and Wales and visa versa. These people would cross Cornwall rather than risk the dangerous sea journey around Lands End. A similar route is from Padstow to Lostwithiel.

A “working platform” or campsite where early man fashioned his flint tools is situated near the road, in our field at the lower end of the farm. A number of flints and flakes have been found there. In 1980 I was ploughing in a field just west of the farm buildings when the plough hit a stone about two feet by eighteen inches (600mm by 450mm) and about four inches (100mm) thick. This was a granite stone. (The nearest naturally occurring granite is at least five miles away.) It was very smooth and saucer shaped on one side. I immediately recognized it as a “saddle quern” for grinding wheat or similar grains. This type of quern ceased to be used at the end of the Bronze Age. The rotary quern came into use with the introduction of iron.

Any name with the prefix “Tre” is of Celtic origin and translates as “homestead of” or “farm of” and was followed by the name of the occupier or situation. Later the occupiers took the combined word as their surname. In a document dated 1346 Trevathan was spelt Trevarthian. “Arthian” in the Celtic language was “bear-born” which possibly referred to someone who was heavily built. The Trevarthian surname died out in the 17th century. The spelling of the farm has varied over the years, it being Trevarthen in 1650 then Trevathen and finally Trevathan since the early 1800s. Trevathan as we know it today consisted of two farms up to about 1840. “Inner Trevathan” and “Trevathan”.

The area of the two farms was originally 250 acres but another 35 acres were acquired in 1995. Some 20 acres are woodland and scrub with another 35 acres at present in a “Habitat Scheme” to encourage the wildlife and flora. The remainder is used for growing cereals and grass except for 15acres which is devoted to the self-pick strawberry, other fruit and vegetable business we started in 1990. This enterprise is situated at the top of the farm at St. Endellion. In 1991 we built a tearoom and farm shop there. We also have four large polytunnels (120 feet by 24 feet in which we grow various crops to sell in the farm shop. The strawberries start in late May and continue until the end of September or early October if the weather is favourable. We have a long season for the strawberries in order to cater for the visitors as well as the local population.

“Inner Trevathan” farmhouse originally was an L-shaped house, now “Pear Tree” and “Fuchsia”, the “Rose” part was added in about 1735 along with the front of “Pear Tree” which replaced the gable end of the old building. These additions were built by the “Gray” family and in “Rose” there is a plaster motif on the ceiling of the staircase which depicts the face of a cherub flanked by two wings. This is similar to engravings on tombstones belonging to the “Gray” family in St. Endellion church. This heraldic emblem belonged to a family named “Porter” from Plymouth and St Mabyn. No doubt a “Gray” had married an heiress of the “Porter” family.

When renovating the “Fuchsia” part we found a fire hearth under the slate slabs in the centre of the room. The old timbers in the roof were dated about 1500. These evidently were not there when the central hearth was in use because there was no sign of soot or anything on them. There is also evidence of “post holes” in the rock under the stone gable wall on the eastern side of “Fuchsia” so we must presume a timber building existed here before a stone one was built.

Trevathan farmhouse is similar to Inner Trevathan in as much that it has an older part at the back with the front part being built around 1800. On the 1839 Tithe map of the St. Endellion parish, it shows that there was a room or rooms where the present two-storey block is as you enter our back door. This block was built by great-grandfather Henry after the old part was demolished. This consisted of a dairy on the ground floor and a room upstairs for mangling and ironing the clothes. My grandfather William built a wash-house on to the end of this part which I demolished then rebuilt much larger. The large open fireplace in the kitchen originally faced the opposite way to serve the old part of the house and the old granite lintel can be seen in what is now the back kitchen. The granite kerb of the old fireplace was removed and put in front of the present fireplace.

The cellars under the front part of the house, being cut out of the rock and therefore quite cool, were originally used as a dairy. There are also two granite “keeves” (troughs) which were used for salting or pickling pork and beef. One of them we used every year when we slaughtered our own pig. These keeves would have been placed there before the rest of the front part of the house was erected. Trevathan was described as once being a village. No doubt the peasants who worked on the farms would have lived in cottages made of cob (a mixture of clay and straw) and having thatched roofs. Evidence of these would have disappeared a long time ago. About 1840 the present farmhouse became the principal house and Inner Trevathan farmhouse was made into two cottages. Rose was one. Pear Tree and Fuchsia the other.

The Trevathans were owned independently by various landlords until 1840 and usually let to tenants. In 1857 Samuel Symons (a cousin of my great-grandfather Henry) came to Trevathan. He was followed by Great-grandfather Henry in 1859, then by grandfather William in 1890. He bought the farm from Viscount Clifden, whose estate was at Lanhydrock near Bodmin, when my father Charles started in 1924. My father retired in 1968 when Shirley and I were married. Both farms naturally had their own set of buildings comprising of a stable, barn, pigs house, waggon house, cattle houses and calves house. Each farm also had a mowhay, this was an enclosed area where “ricks” (stacks) of corn (wheat, barley and oats) and hay were kept.
The barn for Inner Trevathan, now Cherry and Lilac, was on the first floor and housed the barn thresher and grinding machinery. This machinery was driven from the Roundhouse. (This was at the back of Cherry where Fuchsia garden now is.) In this house was a large wooden wheel construction which was pulled round and round by a horse. This wheel had cogs made of pear wood and this connected with another cogwheel into the barn and thence to overhead shafts with large pulley wheels which carried the belts to drive the barn machinery. My grandfather one-day was walking around driving the horse and apparently he was resting his hand on the large cogwheel and forgot to take his hand off before the two cogwheels met. He lost the first two fingers of his hand. The excuse given was that he was thinking what to preach about on the following Sunday!! Underneath the barn was the cows’ house where the cows were milked twice a day and where they would live during the winter. When we bought our first combine harvester in the mid 60s we gutted the roundhouse in order to install a corn dryer and after a couple of years we gutted the barn and erected four 50 ton corn bins.

Damson was converted from the stable in 1984. The beginning of our holiday business! The games room was a waggon house which was open fronted on the road side, with the roof being held up by three granite posts. These can still be seen. The building in front of Lilac was originally a Pigs house that we converted to a fitness room but it is now converted as a dwelling. The buildings and yards below Damson were used to house cattle during the winter. The lower range was demolished and the bungalow built in 1996.

The barn for Trevathan, now Clover, had a large water wheel to drive the barn machinery. The water to drive this wheel initially came from a spring on the other side of the valley at Myrtle Grove. It was piped up towards Myrtle Grove and then flowed in a leat on this side of the valley at the bottom of Myrtle Grove garden, then along the side of the road, then under the road, along the other side of the road and around the corner into the farm. The water then flowed under the lane and hedge into a ditch along the top of the field (in front of Bramble cottage) then again under the hedge and roadway into the mill-pool. Quite a feat of engineering!

This pool had an island in the middle that is still there. I spent many hours on the pool in a flat-bottomed boat when I was a boy. When the water was required to drive the water wheel a plug was removed from the wooden duct at the bottom of the pool. The water was then piped along the bank opposite the barn and then carried across the road in a wooden chute to the top of the water wheel.

The barn machinery was again naturally driven by belts from various shafts and pulleys. Attached to the lower side of the barn was a small building that housed a chaff-cutter. This machine cut the threshed straw into short pieces about an inch long that fell down into a room below. This was mixed with crushed oats and barley and fed to the cattle. Where there was water in close proximity, rats were a real problem. I remember my father prepared a trap for them by putting a plank of wood up to the top of a large galvanised barrel that he had filled with crushed barley. He then placed a sack over the top end of the plank and down on to the barley. The rats were allowed to travel up the plank and on to the barley for a couple of nights. Father then removed the sack and most of the barley. The rats of course ran up the plank as usual, jumped down on to the remaining barley but found they could no longer jump out! The following day he had to pour some water into the barrel in order to drown the rats. There were over one hundred rats caught that night! Below the chaff-house and the water wheel house was a long building that housed large cattle, individually, to fatten during the winter. These cattle were allowed out twice a day, into the yard below, to have a drink. Below this yard was another open-fronted cattle shed and yard. Between this yard and what is now the tennis court was a calves house.

The stable for Trevathan is the two-storeyed building between Clover and the farmhouse. The upper storey was called the “Tallet”. The hay and corn for the horses was stored there and dropped down in front of them into racks and mangers. Many years ago before it was possible to buy ropes, men travelled from farm to farm making ropes from straw and reeds. The Tallet was where they worked. Opposite the stable was the pigs house. It is interesting to have a look at the lower end of the building where you will see a very old stone window. This window is of Catacleuse stone which was quarried from near Padstow. It would have originally had three “lights” but one side has been broken off. This window probably came from the old part of the farmhouse that was demolished, or from Myrtle Grove.

“Bramble” was a wagon house and where the “Gingle or Trap” (this was a two-wheeled horse-drawn vehicle used for travelling by the family) was kept and carts and other horse-drawn implements. Later on part of it became a garage.
The upper storey of the small building at the back of the farmhouse was built and used as a wool store but then converted to an “apple chamber” where I remember being able to go and find lovely apples to eat up to the end of May. Either side of this building there used to be houses for calves and for storing potatoes etc. The house near the farm entrance had a large opening at the end so that the “car” could be put inside. The “car” was the large four-wheeled horse-drawn carriage. (The predecessor of the “motor car”.) My father told me that back in the 1920s he kept the wool for two years and received one farthing (one quarter of a penny, pre-decimal coinage!) a pound (2.2 pounds to a kilo) more than he was offered originally. The wool weighed less too!

The labour force up to the 1940s were four men living on the farm as well as various casual men from nearby. Like other industries modern machinery and methods have slashed the workforce. Two teams of three horses along with two yard horses did all the work until we bought our first tractor in 1941, a second-hand Standard Fordson which had iron wheels! Soon after we had the tractor, my grandfather who had retired to Wadebridge in 1924 and was visiting us, saw the tractor pulling a waggon loaded with sheaves of corn. He exclaimed “I never thought I would see four wheels pulling a waggon on Trevathan”.

There would have been several young horses and foals. The last horse went in 1950. Oxen were used until the early 1800s. Their shoes, known as Q’s are still found in the clay when ploughing the fields. Apples were grown for sale as well as for home consumption. My father remembered, as a young lad, taking cart loads of apples to sell at Delabole. There were three orchards on the farm as well as “Crab-apple” trees in the hedges. These crab apples were used for making cider. The granite cider mill and press are still in front of the farmhouse. Cider was the normal drink for those working in the fields at harvest time.
The stone and slate farm buildings were no longer suitable for modern farming, hence our decision to convert some of them to cottages. The modern barn was erected in 1988 with the section at the back in 1995.

The stone for the buildings and hedges was quarried on the farm. There is a small quarry by the side of the road on the way to Myrtle Grove. A much larger quarry exists at the top of the hill behind the farmhouse. This quarry was also used to provide stone for the local roads. The large stones were taken by sledge down to Myrtle Grove and then taken to “Stone-heap” lay-bys on the roads where they were broken up to the required size by a man with a very small hammer with a long whippy handle of hazel wood. This long handle would take all the shock of the hammer blow as well as creating a very fast blow by the hammer head to break up the stone. I still have such a hammer head.

Before harvesting machines were developed the wheat, oats and barley were cut with a scythe. This was usually done by a gang of men who would start the harvesting early in the summer in the Polzeath area and work eastwards towards Camelford where the cereals ripened later in the autumn. The “sheaves” of corn would be bound with a “beam” (about 12 stalks of the straw twisted like a rope). This would be done by both the men and women on the farm.

These sheaves would then be “shocked” (“stooked” in some parts of the country) and left in the field to ripen and dry before being brought into the mowhays and put into ricks. During the winter the sheaves would be brought into the barn and threshed with hand flails. Then in the early 1800s barn threshing machines were developed to be driven by water-wheels or by a horse and a round-wheel as I have earlier described, followed by mobile threshing machines drawn and driven by steam traction engines. After scythes came the horse drawn mower and then the horse-drawn binder which cut the corn and bound the sheaves in one operation. By the early 1940s the tractor took over from the steam engine. The next development was for a tractor to pull the combined-harvester (a machine which cut and threshed the corn in one operation). It had a separate engine to drive it. The self-propelled combine-harvester which is used today is continually being improved.

When I was a boy there was a field “team” of three horses and a horse for the yard work in both of the stables. Each stable was looked after by separate “horsemen”. The yard horses were often used by the cowman when the main teams were working in the fields. The horsemen would go into the stables soon after six o’clock in the morning to feed the horses. They would also spend an hour or two each evening grooming the horses, cleaning the harness and their boots and leggings if there was time! The two men I remember were brothers, Jack and Tom Kent. Jack lived at Myrtle Grove and Tom in what is known as Rose Cottage. Both men competed at “ploughing matches” through Cornwall and Devon and were “champions” in their classes of ploughing. These men were really dedicated to their work and proud of their horses. Each autumn a groom would bring a stallion to the farm to “cover” the mares. These stallions were magnificent animals. One I remember was a grey Percheron from whom we had two wonderful colts. They were named Lion and Tiger and were admired by neighbouring farmers.
There was usually some work for the horses to do all the year round even if it was raining! The men would wear hob-nailed boots, leather leggings and in order to keep as dry as possible they would tie a thick hessian sack over their shoulders and another one around their waist. These sacks would absorb a tremendous amount of water and become very heavy. The men would change the sacks when they came in for their mid-day meal.

All the fields have names which have remained very much the same since 1840 when the “Tithe Apportionment Act” came into force. This was a “rent” which had to be paid to the church instead of “one tenth of your produce”. One interesting change of name is “Marsh Park” which certainly is not wet or marshy! The 1840 name is given as “March Park”. It is the warmest field on the farm and there is usually enough grass in March for the sheep and lambs to start eating. A slightly different pronunciation has made a considerable difference in its meaning! The field now has its correct title!