Sennen World War 1
Article contributed by Polly Attwood
Sennen Cove was the site of the British end of the Transatlantic cable
operated by Western Union, the cables running off the Lifeboat Bay and
disappearing under the sea. They were regarded as a vital link between
the U.S.A. and Britain and, as such, the powers that be decided that they
needed to be guarded against possible attempts at sabotage. A regiment
of Scots Guards was sent to protect them, and that¹s when the trouble
For the Covers, these soldiers, with their accents and strange clothing,
were almost unintelligible and extremely foreign and, perhaps, not the
most tactful of occupiers. They took over the Cove, and forbade use of
the Lifeboat Bay, except under strict supervision. Needless to say, this
didn¹t sit well with local fishermen, whose livelihood centred around
this particular patch of Britain.
One night, the guard on duty heard footsteps crunching across the shingle
on the beach, and called out "Halt! Who goes there?"
No answer, and the steps continued.
The Guard called out his warning again, but still the footsteps approached.
Now seriously alarmed, the guard shouted "Halt! Or I fire!"
As the footsteps continued, the guard fired in their direction, and killed
a fisherman¹s donkey.
The fury of the locals was apparently unprecedented. Not only were the
alien Scots interfering with the fishing, now they had killed the means
of getting the catch to the market.
Hostility rose to such a point that the Scots Regiment was redeployed,
and a company of Royal Devons took their place. Although they were still
soldiers, they were at least from the neighbouring county and, as such,
were more acceptable to the Covers. My grandfather, Basil Bond, was the
captain of the new occupiers, and apparently was able to soothe all the
ruffled feathers, and bring peace to the area.
One day, a young lady, Barbara Halford Thompson, visiting friends in Sennen,
as she did often, tried to walk her dog on the sands of Whitesands Bay,
and was told politely that she couldn¹t do that without special permission.
She demanded to speak to the senior officer, and was taken to him without
delay. He gave her permission. She eventually (after several walks on
the beach) married him.
Basil, after a varied career, including working for a Salvage Company
in Newlyn, then owning and operating a Flower Farm, again in Newlyn, became
ordained as a minister in the Church of England. His final parish was
in Sennen, where he died in 1961.
Sennen Cove - Early 20th Century
Excerpt from the book "England's Riviera" 1912
RIGHT away at the end of England ; the first village and
the last rolled into one, and Land's End only a mile distant; a spot richer
in antiquarian remains and Celtic curiosities than any in this ancient
England of ours. In fact, so thick are they that the archseological Jack
Horner can never fail in pulling out an antiquarian plum each time he
puts in his exploring thumb. A piece of coast-line beautiful in the colouring
of sea and rocks, and delicately delightful in the swiftly changing lights
and shades which emotionally affect the aspect of land and ocean. Almost
indescribable in the opalescent brilliancy of the sunshine, contrasted
at times with the greyness of enveloping mists and sombre landscape.
Such is Sennen Cove, a spot easily reached by the smooth-running, luxuriantly
equipped " Cornish Riviera Express," which leaves Paddington
each week-day at 10.30 a.m., and arrives at Penzance at 5.0 p.m. Here
a G.W.R. motor 'bus carries the traveller swiftly to Sennen Churchtown,
whence a short walk over the fields brings him to the Cove. Viewed from
the cliff above, far away to the right stretches Whitesand Bay gleaming
with bright white sand, and bounded at the northern extremity by Cape
Cornwall (the only point called a " Cape" in England), with
those dangerous rocks, " the Brisons," keeping watch and ward
over that entrance. To the left lies little oddly shaped, artistic Sennen
Cove, and beyond that again is seen the Longships Lighthouse, warning
vessels off the perilously rocky, and awfully precipitous, Land's End.
The distance is just about one mile by road from Sennen to Land's End,
as I have said, but a footpath cutting across the right angle made by
the road can be traversed, materially shortening the journey, or the pedestrian
can go via Sennen Cove, and see an immense variety of strange-looking
rocks and wild coast scenery.
A footpath starts over a stone stile, nearly opposite the little Sennen
post office (where the G.W.R. motor will put you down), and leads to the
brow of the hill below where lie, on the right, Whitesand Bay, on the
left, the little attenuated clump of cottages making up Sennen Cove.
If the horizon be clear, away to the south-west can be seen the Scilly
Isles, faintly represented as irregular, low-lying darker masses against
the sky-line. A place to rest in on a hot afternoon and let our imagination
have full play and at night to gaze seaward,
"To where the dreaming Scillies sleep in moon-enchanted air."1
The scene immediately below is unquestionably beautiful, and here let
me at once say that the charm of this part of England does not consist
in awful precipices, in savage grandeur, in depressing loneliness, or
in Sahara-like barrenness. All of these extreme scenic features are better
witnessed at other places, and those writers who launch out into superlatives
in any of these directions have, I expect, not travelled far from home.
No, to me the delights of this small bit of coast-line lie chiefly in
the instability of the colouring of sky, sea, and rocks, in the swiftly
changing lights and shades which kaleidoscopically never present the same
picture twice of land and ocean ; in the keen artistic potency of the
sunshine, which at times gives place to a very non-actinic pall of sobriety
and pensive thoughtfulness.
A nearer acquaintance with the coves and little coast villages of this
part of Cornwall heightens the charm, for they and their inhabitants are
in keeping with the scene. Quaint, old-time, odd, sometimes humorous,
always interesting. And then, to crown all other attraction, are the Land's
End sunsets. These are only to be seen, not described. They are the distraction
Far away to the right, as I have said, stretches Whitesand Bay gleaming
with bright white sand.
A CHILD IN WEST PENWITH
Article from "The Cornish Review" Autumn 1966
TO THIS DAY, when I smell a newly blown-out candle, slightly acrid yet
not unpleasing, I am immediately reminded of the tiny bedroom in the fisherman's
cottage at Sennen Cove, where I was first taken for a holiday at the age
of six. The cottage, solidly built by the fisherman's own hands, stood
squarely facing the sea, its wall " pebble-dashed " with real
beach pebbles, to keep out the weather. The front door had a central panel
of rather garish coloured glass that appealed to me as a child, and I
used to like to watch the sea through each gawdy colour in turn. I remember
the sudden stillness as that door was closed to shut out the unceasing
roar of the sea and wind, and the endearing cosiness of the very homely
cottage with its horsehair sofa and china dogs andbest of allits
enticing little bay window with seats. I used to sit in this bay window
whenever I could, watching the passers-by in those days these were
mainly fishermen, in blue jerseys and sea-boots, and one or two of them
used to wave to me as they passed. Beyond, just the other side of the
road, was the sea, in perpetual restless motion, and round to the right
the magnificent sweeping curve of Whitesand Bay, bounded by Cape Cornwall
and the Brison Rocks. How I loved that view, and with what ecstatic joy
I would lie in my little bed at night, till the monotonous surge of the
waves pounding against the rocks finally lulled me to sleep. That incessant
thunder was music in my ears, and somehow gave me a sense of security,
though of course those huge Atlantic breakers were in fact driven by a
demcniac, almost sinister power, and were regarded with awe by the native
population whose lives were one long battle with sea and storm.
I adored not only the cottage but also our landlady, a friendly soul with
a squat, plump figure, very wrinkled brown skin and small dark eyes that
lit up when she talked. She was a typical Cornishwoman, and had lived
in Sennen all her life. Penzance was foreign soil to her, and when she
went there she was always glad to get back to the familiar ground of Sennen.
As a girl she had been very poor, and very hardworking. She told us how
she used to walk barefooted along the cliffs to St. Just, with a basket
of fresh-caught fish that she hoped to sell there. Those hard days were
over, but she still worked like a slave cooking and washing for all her
visitors, in a hot, overcrowded kitchen with not even a sink. I can still
picture her shining range with its huge black kettles and pots, her table
cluttered up with innumerable things, and her gleaming row of china jugs
for hot water, up on a shelf. Every night, when I was sent to bed, I had
to tap at her kitchen door and ask for hot water to wash with, and she
would take down one of the jugs and fill it for me, then talk and talk,
her good-natured old face wreathed in smiles as she related anecdotes
from her past.
I fell in love with every nook and cranny of Sennen Cove. That first holiday
was one of many that we spent there, mostly at Easter time, but occasionally
at Christmas. I was brought up to be a sturdy walker, and with my parents
I explored all the enchanting cliff paths, and learned the way down to
all the coves. It was hard to pick out a favourite, but I was especially
fond of rugged Nanjizal, the first cove after Land's End; Nanjizal was
utterly wild, with no habitation other than one house that was empty except
for the summer of each year. The beach, when I first knew it, was of very
white but coarse sand composed of broken-up sea-shells. I used to find
cowries there. Later, after gales from a certain quarter, Nanjizal was
bereft of sand, and was a formidable mass of rocksa disappointment
to a child.
Porthgwarra, the next cove, was most charming, with its granite cottages
nestling against the cliff-side and its little pebbly beach and slipway
and natural arch. I used to love to see the boats drawn up and the ancient
windlass. On a sunny day, Porthgwarra was a delightfully warm spot, sheltered
by the cliffs from the ever-blowing winds. At the back of the cove, behind
some houses and gardens, a footpath wound up and along another stretch
of cliff to St. Leven and the long, narrow valley leading past the holy
well and over a wooden plank bridge to Porthchapel. The steep descent
was not easy for my little legs, but it was well worth while, for this
particular cove gave me a quite unusual ecstasy. The waves always seemed
more powerful there than on any of the other beaches, and I used to get
an almost voluptuous thrill out of standing where the swiftly receding
water dragged the sand violently from under my feet. Down there, on the
level, with the fierce, crashing breakers throwing up dazzling clouds
of white spray that quickly drenched my face and made it tingle with brine,
I somehow felt weak and insignificant compared with the force of the elements.
The sound of the sea was deafening, and to hear myself speak at high tide
it was necessary to retreat into one of the caves under the cliffs, from
which refuge I could survey the splendid seascape at a safe distance.
Porthchapel was lovely, yet terrifying, and after a while it was a relief
to retrace my steps up the valley past the gentle little stream.
Porthcurno, though a beautiful wide beach, always seemed a little formal
compared with the smaller coves, and the houses of the Cable Station gave
it a semi-Victorian look. They did not fit the landscape like the granite
cottages of Porthgwarra. But further on lay the grand, rugged outline
of Treryn Castle. I once hunted for the logan stone on this, but failed
to find it. It was a glorious pile of rock, though, and I liked it for
itself quite as much as for the elusive logan stone. The next cove, Penberth,
was another paradise, as was the lush valley that led to it from inland,
when we approached it from Sennen Churchtown. The tiny brook with its
bed of golden sand, fascinated me as it trickled its way through fields
and woods, till it broadened out to a fair-sized stream, and the path
led out to the lane that descended to the cove, past dream-houses with
cool, well-watered gardens.
Sometimes we would get as far as Lamorna, or the elusive St. Loy, buried
in woods, like a place on another planet. St. Loy was a kind of lost Lyonesse
of the mainland, so utterly remote did it seem. The aspect made it a place
of almost tropical warmth, and I have basked there in December in more
comfort than some places would afford in June. Lamorna needs no description:
it is so many people's paradise. In the days that I write about, it was
comparatively quiet and had few cars and no " amenities ". The
mile-long walk down the valley with the fine old trees and plashing stream,
and the sudden, breath-taking vista of the tiny cove with its jetty and
its handful of cottagesthese live long in the memory, just as the
footpath to Mousehole, leading off steeply past the grey screes of the
disused stone quarries, through snake-infested glades and areas of natural
marsh teeming with all kinds of bird-life, remains forever a vivid mental
image of pure loveliness.
Going eastwards from Sennen, coves were fewer, and the cliff paths more
narrow and precipitous. But they were very grand, and I delighted to cross
the sand and marram-grass at Vellandreath, and then clamber on till I
came to the broad, smiling inlet of Nanquidno. The stream here typical
of so many streams in the West Penwith valleys, rushed with careless impetuousness
to fling itself into the sea. Although few of these streams had bridges
or even good stepping-stones, and I dreaded falling into the water in
my clumsy attempts to cross them, I had a great liking for them, and felt
them to be very much a feature of the district. Indeed I loved the wide
Nanquidno valley, with its masses of gorse and blackthorn and rough-growing
" bents "; it seemed a vast no-mans-land, inhabited only by
the cows which occasionally came to a bad end in the swamp and left their
bones to rot as evidence of their misfortune. I remember taking home a
whole cow-skull that, with grisly childish joy, I had picked up in Nanquidno
Cape Cornwall, that symmetrical pyramid with the tall mine-shaft on top,
was a place very dear to me. I loved climbing up to the coastguard lookout,
or crossing the " saddle " at the back, to get a view of the
further coastline towards Pendeen. The sea was always dashing against
those jagged, black rocks, the gulls were always screaming, the cliffs
were always gay with thrift and mesembryanthemum . . .
So, at a tender but impressionable age, my great love for West Penwith
was born. Once born, it grew with each successive visit to Sennen, and
in time I came to know the cliff paths so well that I could find my own
way anywhereI even knew the lie of the rocky outcrops, that made
so many of these paths potentially dangerous, just as I knew all the rather
cumbersome Cornish stiles and the half-hidden short cuts through farms.
The little peninsula, landmarked by the tall towers of Sennen and St.
Buryan churches, drew me irresistibly, as though it were some ancient
home of my spirit. I loved the wildness of it all, the untamed and untameable
winds and waves and rocks. All these things gave me, in childhood, a strange
blend of exhilaration and quiet contentment. My world became temporarily
narrowed down to the little world of West Penwith. It was always a jolt
to leave that world for the other, everyday world of home.
An excerpt from the book "The Illustrated Past:
Sennen holds Cornwall's indeed, England's
most famous topographical feature, the widely celebrated Land's End, and
thousands of holidaymakers annually flock to this spot, attracted by the
magic of its name. Yet just to the south lies a range of granite cliffs
far exceeding in magnificence those at Land's End: Pordennack, Cairn Vean,
Cairn Sperm, Cairn Evall, Cairn lesBoel, Cairn Cravah and others, leading
to Mill Bay or Nanjizel Cove, where the little stream divides this parish
from St Levan.
The hamlet of Mayon takes its name from Table-Men, meaning Rock Table,
a large flat stone at which seven Saxon kings are said to have dined together.
Hals names them as Ethelbert, fifth king of Kent, Cissa, second king of
the South Saxons, Kingills, sixth king of the West Saxons, Sebert, third
king of the East Saxons, Ethelfred, seventh king of the Northumbers, Penda,
ninth king of the Mercians, and Sigebert, fifth king of the East Angles,
who all flourished about the year 600. Merlin, the wizard, added a rider
to this unlikely tale with his prophecy that an even larger number of
kings will assemble around Table-Men before some great event, or the destruction
of the world itself.
St Senan, born near Kilrush in Ireland, reputedly founded a church on
the present site in AD 520, afterwards sailing to Brittany to establish
another. The 7ft high churchyard cross may have been used by him as a
Preaching Cross before his church was completed. A small 13th century
cruciform church eventually replaced the original structure and was enlarged
in 1430, when the south transept was removed and the pillars and south
On 21 February 1430, Pope Martin V issued a Bull to the Archbishop of
Canterbury in response to a petition from the inhabitants of Sennen. 'They
state that they have got Tower and Bells, and in the Church a Font. They
begged the Pope to give them a licence to make a Cemetery around the Church.
They said they could not accompany their dead to St Buryan lest their
houses should be raided by pirates during their absence.' Sennen was included
in the Royal Peculiar Deanery of St Buryan and remained a chapelry to
Buryan until the last century.
The new section of the church was dedicated by Bishop Lacey of Exeter
on 29 August 1441, the feast of the beheading of St John the Baptist.
An inscription on the foot of the font stone commemorates the event: 'Haec
Ecclesia in decollatione Sancti Johannis Baptistae dedicata fuit Anno
Domini Millesimo CCCCXLI'. Part of a mediaeval wall painting survives
at the east end of the south aisle, depicting the New Jerusalem with a
bridge going from earth to Heaven. In 1700 the sexton showed the historian
Hals some headless figures recently found in the walls of the church,
all curiously wrought and painted with gold, vermilion and blue bice on
parts of their garments. Only one remains the Virgin Mary
and new heads of the Mother and Child have been modelled by Mrs Sheila
Hicks of Tregiffian.
Until the Reformation, a chapel known as Chapel Idne was the first building
on the right on the steep hill down to Sennen Cove, and there appears
to have been another ancient chapel at Penrose.
The manor of Hornwell, or Castle Hornwell, was chiefly located in Sennen.
It seems, says Henderson, to have been given probably by Duke Ordgar
or King Ethelred to the latter's foundation of Wherwell Abbey in
Hampshire, from which its name derives, and to be identical with the Exeter
Domesday manor of Witestan (Whitesand). The seigniorial rights attached
to Hornwell manor extended over most of the coastlands between Land's
End and St Ives.
It was from Whitesand Bay that Athelstan set out to subdue the Scilly
Islands after his great victory at Boleigh. King Stephen landed here on
his first arrival in England, as did the unsuccessful pretender Perkin
Warbeck in 1497, although another account has it that he came ashore at
St Ives. King John also landed at Sennen when returning from Ireland.
Dr Robert Hunt records a curious tradition concerning the 'Hooper' or
'Hooter' of Sennen Cove. This spirit took the form of a band of misty
vapour stretching across the bay, so opaque that nothing could be seen
through it. The Hooper's appearance was invariably, and often suddenly,
followed by a severe storm, and it was regarded as a kindly warning to
fishermen. However, one old fisherman refused to heed it. The weather
on shore was fine, 'and the aged sinner, declaring he would not be made
a fool of, persuaded some young men to join him. They manned a boat, and
the aged leader, having with him a threshing-flail, blasphemously declared
that he would drive the spirit away; and he vigorously beat the fog with
the "threshel" so the flail is called. The boat passed
through the fog and went to sea. A severe storm came on. No one ever saw
the men or boat again; and since that time the Hooper has been rarely
The little harbour at Sennen Cove affords the only possible shelter on
a long and terrible stretch of coastline, and a lifeboat has been maintained
here since 1853. Some gallant rescues have been performed by these boats.
The breakwater at Sennen was erected in 1908, mainly through the exertions
of Col. H. W. Williams of St Ives, to provide some shelter for the launching
place. During the wreck of the ship Khyber at Porthloe Cove in February
1905, the lifeboat could not be launched because the seas were head on
to the slip; as a result, 23 of the 26 people on board lost their lives.
The Susan Ashley (1948-72) was launched on service 87 times, saving 64
lives and helping to save five others, as well as towing eight boats to
safety. Her successor, the Diana White, which arrived in 1973, is a 37
ft Oakley self-righting vessel admirably suited to the difficult conditions