13 February 2017

Cornwall: Miscellaneous memorabilia

Mevagissey mermaid
Hanging on a wall in Mevagissey, above the most fascinating shop I saw in Cornwall, was this beautiful creature. I assume she’s a mermaid and, from the rear attachments, she would appear to have been a ship’s figurehead. Such figureheads adorned the prows of most ships from the 1500s right through to the mid 1800s and, though initially carved in wood, they were later made in lighter materials to reduce their weight, which could have a negative impact on how well a ship sailed.

Mermaids, of course, go back much earlier than the 1500s. In Ancient Greek mythology they were the sirens who seduced sailors, luring them to a watery grave, though there is a parallel alternative myth, reported by Pliny the Elder, that nude or semi-nude women could calm stormy seas. This more positive belief seems eventually to have prevailed as the mid nineteenth century saw bare-breasted mermaids appear once more as ships’ figureheads, and I assume that may well be when this Mevagissey mermaid dates from.

Mevagissey: male figurehead
Mevagissey was also home to another figurehead, firmly fixed to the first storey of an old building overlooking the harbour from Middle Wharf. This figurehead looks to be carved from wood and is male, from his more formal attire, perhaps a ship’s captain.

There is a small maritime museum in Mevagissey though, unfortunately, it was closed the day of our visit. I tried emailing their curator to ask for information on both these figureheads but got no response so, unless a chance reader can provide more information, the history of this chap must remain a mystery until I next visit Mevagissey.

Police station lamp in St Ives
And now for something completely different, as the various types of lights, lamps and lanterns that can be seen in streets, hanging off buildings, highlighting the entrances to public houses are other features that often capture my attention.

I noticed this old lamp hanging out the front of the Police Station in downtown St Ives. It shows the coat of arms of the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary, who are responsible for policing in the southern English counties of Cornwall and Devon. Though I haven’t been able to determine how old the lamp is, I can tell you that the motto on the coat of arms is In Auxilium Omnium, which translates as ‘To the assistance of everybody’. Rather surprisingly, each district police force in Britain seems to have its own local motto – I’d have thought there’d be one for the whole nation.

Light in Tintagel
And my final piece of fascinating-to-me-but-probably-weird-to-most-people group of miscellaneous memorabilia from my Christmas holiday in Cornwall is this object discovered in Tintagel, the town forever associated in most people’s minds with the legendary King Arthur.

As we all know, Arthur had a band of knights who were his right-hand men in all kinds of tricky situations so I assume the maker of this light stand had in mind the knights in armour during the design process – I think he might have confused his time periods though, as I’m not sure Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table would have worn this type of armour. Still, it’s a fun piece and it certainly brings a whole new meaning to the term ‘night light’!

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