This pair of watercolours by Sidney James Beer, depicting views around Falmouth in Cornwall, have been familiar to me all my life: firstly hanging on the walls at Derwen, later in my parents’ living room, and now on my own bedroom walls. They belonged to Auntie, and I now know how she came to own them. I have just finished transcribing the journal of her trip to Cornwall in 1934, when she and her friend Kitty Fry (sister of Elsie, with whom Auntie later lived for many years) spent a fortnight driving around the area in their Lanchester car, Ladybird:
The journal is illustrated with photographs taken by Kitty, who seems to have been a keen and skilled photographer; beautifully composed, with skilful use of light, these snaps have a quality that has withstood the test of time – so I am including some of them here. The two ladies are evidently quite fond of their vehicle, despite some problems just as they are setting off from home on May 23rd:
“We finally got away about 10.45 but from the first it was obvious that Ladybird was not feeling fit for the long run, so we went round by Wrecclesham: she perked up, & did her best, but on the Crondall Hill we decided it was necessary to turn back & have her attended to at Abbott’s. She was obliged to have 2 or 3 minor operations, after which she was sent away temporarily from the nursing home, but on each occasion had to be returned & finally a major operation was decided upon (i.e.: new distributor cap) by which time it was 1.15, so we went a very short distance before stopping for a hasty lunch, then proceeded, taking the Salisbury road when nearly in Basingstoke, & went merrily on our way.”
The 2 ladies arrive safely in Haytor later that day, where they lodge at the Moorland Hotel. Auntie’s knowledge and love of nature is evident as she notes the wildflowers they pass en route: “the bluebells & pink campions & wild parsley were growing in masses in the hedges, & we had our tea just outside a beautiful beech wood with masses of bluebells.” The following day they visit friends and relatives (including an “Aunt Gertie”) in Dawlish and Newton Abbot; the next, they travel on to stay at the grand Gwendra Hotel in Falmouth:
Kitty and Mabel (Auntie) go for many long walks and drives to view the attractions of the area, although they dislike crowds of tourists. In Swanpool they are warned not to drive “on account of firing”, as the military are conducting target practice there. They visit Land’s End but “didn’t like it much, with its car park & large hotel”, although they do enjoy the Logan Stone: “It was lovely, all amongst the enormous rocks, & we raved over the view into the little cove beyond, with its very white sands. Right up, nestling amongst the rocks were the bluest of bluebells”. They go on to have quite an adventure:
“Next we reached Mousehole & were greeted by an old salt, who asked us if we wanted to see the Smugglers Cave. Not knowing what we were letting ourselves in for, we said “yes”, so he piloted us through the narrow streets to a parking place by the Harbour, then took us along to the point & we began to climb down – several times he lifted us, & at last arrived at the sea level, & the cave: the roof was covered with liverwort, & he threw stones up to show us special ferns, & gave us a dissertation on Dame Laura Knight, & other people – she lives there. And just before we descended to the narrow streets of Mousehole, we had passed Stanhope Forbes’ house at Paul – a better situation, I expect. He took us back nearly to the car, & then Kitty took a photo or two of the harbour, & we rashly tried to find our way out of the rambling little place, by following directions, but had to [go] back twice.
Then through “smelly”!, they say, Newlyn, back along the seafront at Penzance & Mazarion. (Kitty took a photo of the Mount in the morning). We deposited Ladybird in a park by the sea, & then sat on the beach to have our tea, where it was very lovely. At about 5.45 we started in a motor boat – had to step on a small packing case to avoid wetting our feet – for the trip round St Michaels Mount, & on the way back, picked up passengers from the dear little harbour. The place belongs to Lord St Levan, who is 75.”
The following day they “went into town, with the idea of crossing to Flushing, but spent such a long time in Mr Beer’s studio, that we had to give up the idea“. This was the moment I discovered the provenance of my 2 paintings: although the signature looked like Beer, I wasn’t sure of it until I read the name in Auntie’s Cornwall journal. She must have bought these paintings on that day. (Beer was a well known watercolour artist at that time, and you can find examples of his work for sale now and again on the Internet – like this one). The ladies also get to the Lizard that day, but are unimpressed by the town, “which we thought rather hideous – just a mass – or rather, a cluster – of ugly houses with no vegetation, & men trying to shoo me in to their special car park”.
In 1934, of course, a car park would be a rare thing, so the next day on their trip to Polperro, Auntie remarks upon them: “each place seemed to be labelled Car Park, & to imply that we could go no further along the narrow streets; at last we reached a garage beyond which they said we could not go, so we walked on, & had our lunch on the rocks in the harbour. If we said the place was spoilt by the noise, people would probably be surprised, but the noise from the gulls, which seem to do much scavenging, as we saw 2 or 3 women bring out buckets & empty them into the harbour – was tremendous”. They take a day trip out to the island of St Mawes, where they enjoy St Just Church: “I felt very pleased that we had come to see such a sweet spot, with its palms, bamboos, eucalyptus & tree fern etc, to say nothing of beautiful beeches & other trees.”
After a Sunday spent attending church and watching a procession and the town’s silver bands in the Gyllyngdune Gardens, the two ladies drive on to Tintagel on the Monday, to stay at King Arthur’s Hotel. More seagulls are encountered en route, but this time they are friendly:
“Drove straight up to the headland by the Atlantic Hotel in Newquay, & after walking about there, & admiring the glorious blue & green of the water, went back into the town & then out to Picture Point, where we had lunch on the side of the hill, sheltered mostly from the high wind & fed seagulls, which were extraordinarily tame; one took a biscuit out of Kitty’s hand”.
From Tintagel they explore the surrounding area, including Boscastle: “The hill seemed very precipitous out of the village, but Ladybird took it very well, as always. We left her at the side of the road whilst we walked to the edge of Bossiney Cove, but didn’t attempt to go down, as we were fairly tired.
After dinner, we walked up to the village again, & had thoughts of visiting the Castle, but the path down was so steep, that we thought better of it, & explored a little in the other direction.
Any amount of thrift growing almost to the water’s edge but we seemed to have got away from the beautiful bluebells. We found a dear little rose bush, like a Scotch briar, right in amongst the gorse.”
The last day of their holiday is rather eventful, starting with a visit to the headquarters of the Fellowship of the Round Table:
“We would have liked to go round by ourselves, but a girl took us, & was quite ready to show us things, & point out beauties. The 2 halls, with all the lovely glass & pictures, etc etc, all appear to have been given by the founder, Mr Glossop, or some such name.” (In fact it was Glasscock).
“Then we went to the Castle, first to the Keep, & after to the Castle itself. First obtaining a key from the old Custodian, a funny old creature, in weird clothes, who sat at the base of the steep path up to the gateway. Kitty said it reminded her of “Seven Keys to Baldpate”, as having been told to lock ourselves in, we found various other parties of people who had done the same.
The ruins of the Castle are very interesting, but we were too much impressed with the view to pay a great deal of attention to them. We wished we had our lunch with us, but had to go in and get it in the dining room. It was a gorgeous day, though a bit windy, had been chilly early: we sat in the grounds until teatime, & then walked along the fascinating cliff path as far as the top of Bossiney Cove, & had to tear ourselves away for dinner at 7.30.
We were just going upstairs to put on our coats for a stroll at 9 o’clock, when the gong sounded & we wondered what it could be for; the manager – I think – told us it was because a man in armour was to sound the last post on the battlements of the Castle (hotel), the flag to be lowered, & a nosegay dropped by the knight for a lady to pick up, so we ran out, with about a dozen others, to watch the ceremony: we found it quite chilly, but quite worth seeing.”
The morning of their departure on June 6th is a wet one, “for which we were thankful, for 2 reasons: 1st, in the hope that the rest of the country was getting some of this sorely-needed rain, & 2nd, because we should have so hated coming to the end of our time in the delectable Duchy on a brilliant day.”
It is delectable indeed, almost 80 years later, to read of the travels of these two adventurous ladies and their Ladybird.