Early Memories of Devoran by James Harris

Early memories of Devoran by James Harris 

I am one of the chosen few. I entered this world at Devoran at Carnon Gate to be precise on 16th January 1931.

I was born to the marriage of Ernest John Harris and Anna Maria Harris. Father was born at Trellisick,  Feock and mother to her family at Rejerrah, Truro, Grandfather William John Harris (Cap’n Jack Harris) living at 10 Belmont Terrace, Devoran and maternal Grandfather Harry Jose, a journeyman tanner living at Rejerrah.

The family home was the third cottage on the banks of the Montic River. This river originated from the derelict tin mines at the head of the Carnon Valley. Therefore the content was very high in Arsenic and no animal life existed in or on the river with the exception of three swans. These for obvious reasons were adopted as family pets and were regularly fed. Unfortunately swans and telegraph wires are not conducive and they had to be rescued from the Turnpike road with regularity.

The A39 main road connecting Truro and Falmouth was always referred to as ‘the Turnpike’ and was a source of interest and amusement to the village folk but obviously more so to the residents at Carnon Gate. Family cats suffered an unusually high mortality rate, therefore dogs were a more popular pet simply because they could be trained.

Carnon Gate at this time was a compact community. The bridge was constructed of granite and made a comfortable seat and gathering point in which to watch traffic (a common pastime).

On the higher side of the bridge the toll house was still intact and occupied by the Eddy family. Noel Eddy the son was a contemporary of mine. The toll house has since been demolished together with Bob White’s cottage behind the ‘level crossing gate’.   The substantial house on the corner of the Turnpike and Bissoe Road, occupied by Miss Bessie Nichols and her sister has also been demolished obviously to make the new road and roundabout possible.

The cottage in which I was born (in 1931) was the third in the line of four and did not have running water or electricity. The toilet facilities did not exist so lavatories were in a line of four at the far end of the cottages with soil heaps, which was manually removed at regular intervals.

Water was fetched in buckets from ‘the chute’ daily. No water from the river was ever used for obvious reasons. Despite that danger I apparently fell into the river when I was two years of age. I will relate a more serious escapade in due course.

My earliest memories is that of being taken by my father every Sunday morning up the Carnon Valley to witness the progress in the construction of the new viaduct.

At the age of 4 years and 7 months I was duly enrolled at Devoran School the teacher being Miss Audrey Webber, also a resident of Carnon Gate. Before I relate my educational history there was a significant episode during that year.

In March 1935 Father was employed by Simmonds Hodge Transport on the Quay at the bottom of the village street in Devoran as a carpenter. Father was born in Trelissick, Feock in 1884 and having completed his apprenticeship with Nick Dunstan at Carnon Downs in 1905. He was capable of making a wheel but did not consider himself a wheelwright. However he was very accustomed to working in hardwoods (i.e. elm, ash and oak) and was a craftsman in several respects including that of freehand signwriting.

Mr Jack Hodge (son of Simmonds Hodge) had a finger in many pies – farming, King Harry Ferry and ‘who-knows what else’. As a result Mr Jack directed Father to go to Coverack to attend to a task at the Lifeboat Station. My younger brother Roger having been born mid-February (1935) and Mother with her hands full, I accompanied my father to Coverack.

Despite my young age (4 years and 2 months) I remember this incident explicitly. At the Lifeboat House the Coxswain (and it could only have been the Coxswain) said “Does the boy want a ride?” Everything agreed. I was launched with the St Keverne boat those 80 years plus ago. For many years despite my excellent memory of the event I was unaware of the reason. However with the aid of the internet I have recently discovered that the lifeboat ‘The Three Sisters’ was new on Station in 1935. This was a practice launch, maybe even the baptism.

As an aside that Lifeboat is now employed taking holiday-makers around the bay at Rhyll in North Wales. This simple incident started a lifetime interest in the RNLI. The name ‘The Three Sisters’ is in itself interesting simply that on my move to the north (in 1985) happened to be to Haworth, the home of the Bronte Sisters (three in number) whose mother Elizabeth Branwell originated from Penzance.

Earlier I mentioned the amusement of the residents at Carnon Gate in watching the Turnpike traffic. I remember witnessing the use of a Steam Foden lorry there. Heavy haulage involved the use of several Traction Engines and was always observed with interest. The transit of fairground apparatus and Circus apparatus was of particular interest. Fairgrounds did not consist simply of Merry-go-rounds and rides but of many sideshows. These consisted of many attractions with a great deal of variety from boxing booths to bearded ladies, tattooed men and the greatest rat in the world (which was in fact a coypu). An interesting point at this stage is that these displays were banned by law to protect the sensitivity of the public but more horrifying scenes are now displayed on our TV screens.

The movement of these many participants was a major logistical exercise and provided considerable interest to many. Circuses also moved sites in similar fashion. One major difference was that the elephants were walked from place to place. For some unknown or undisclosed reason elephants objected to crossing Carnon Gate bridge and had to be extensively coaxed. There was no difficulty as far as I am aware of Visick’s bridge or the bridge at The Norway (Inn). So on transit from Truro to Falmouth, this objection by the elephants provided early morning entertainment to the residents. As a child we were awoken from our beds to witness this free show which of course was enjoyed to the full by all those present. I remember well the elephants trumpeting their objections. Notice of their arrival was usually given by the movement of the mighty Traction Engines and their Trailers.

Living at Carnon Gate had many advantages, not least the freedom of a huge play area. The whole of the sands were ours to enjoy. Even as small children we were aware of the dangers of the Montic and the pond near to Visick’s bridge. Visick’s Pond beyond Tarrandean Lane contained several otters which seemingly appeared on demand. I have been told and I firmly believe it to be true that salmon was in that pond having entered via Perran Channel, the pond with its reeds being clean and unpolluted and fed by a stream running parallel to Tarrandean Lane.

My immediate neighbours in that row of four cottages were Percy Nicholls and his family in No 1., Loftus Cliff in No 2 with his two sons (Ernie and Wolfie), our Harris family in No 3 and Mr. Roland Dawson Avery in No 4.

Mr Avery had a huge influence on my life. He was an octogenarian but had the patience of Job. He was a man who had travelled widely, a man of some learning, a watchmaker which obviously provided some income and a keen philatelist. Some time in his life he had lost a leg and used a single pole crutch to get about somewhat restrictively. He had lost his son in the Great War and appeared to be devoted to my welfare. I still have a slender pocket watch which he presented to me on my fourth birthday having learned to tell the time. Perhaps my first award but one I have valued over those many years.

I was encouraged to read from a very young age and to use a dictionary. I have and still use an 1850 edition of Nuttalls dictionary which he presented me and which contains definitions which are not included in modern editions. On a lighter note he always insisted that I was smartly suited with a knotted tie. I remember that my suits were always supplied with two trousers. This simple fact has addled my mind for several years. However I will always be in debt to Roland Dawson Avery. I wish I knew more of his life. I remember two things in particular his love for Mazzawattee tea and Mulligatawny Soup, neither of which were normally included in my cuisine. He taught me world affairs and geography through his postage stamps and extended conversations. I shall never forget his patience and his friendship for which I am eternally grateful.

Devoran was not an introverted society. The majority of the residents was far travelled and experienced in matters outside that of village life. The majority of this knowledge was shared simply by conversation and comparison but most of all by mutual friendship. It was a happy existence mutually enjoyed by all. One learned early in life not to boast about what one had seen, it would be quickly ‘topped’.

Historical research is mainly based on documentary evidence but here I can thwart convention just a little by describing personalities. I will describe each as I remember them and I hope fairly these many diverse characters.

The Shops of Devoran

The shops of Devoran, of which there were six plus the cobblers.

At the top of the street in the corner shop was Mrs. Short (whose husband Captain Short took no part in the business whatsoever). Western National bus staff regularly dropped parcels into the shop for collection.

In Market Street was Miss Currow who kept a haberdashery.

Just  two doors lower was Harry Sweet running a Hardware Store whose main sale was paraffin.

In the lane leading to the Park was the home of Mrs Marshall from which she sold fresh vegetables, potatoes being sold by the gallon. For the sake of those who do not know this measure it is 10 pounds (a pint of pure water is one pound and a quarter- hence a gallon is 10 lbs) That is one that the metric measure has some difficulty in conversion.

Lower down Market Street stood Janey Dixon, a formidable character to those who dared to question her authority. However she was a very obliging person and did supply requirements after closing. Her shop was by far the most popular among the very discerning children. She used squares of wrapping paper turned into a cone filled with various sweets for ‘a ha’penny. She sold home-made ice-cream, a penny cone and twopenny wafer.

Across the street stood the bakehouse with the bakery shop. Ronny Moore was a very good baker and he with his brother Kenny (Bunkum) were popular figures in the village.

The bake house was a meeting point of all the local lads. On walking into the bakehouse one would be given a yeast bag containing lard for the tins to be greased. These were normally hot and to the unwary could be quite painful to the amusement of those present. Ron Moore’s bread and his ‘splits’ were of the highest quality and used by all in Devoran and Perranwell. Kenny delivered their wares from a two-wheeled covered push cart to the residents at Perranwell.

There was yet another,  Jimmy Skewes a cobbler who occupied the house at the bottom facing up the street. Boots were of great importance to all and Jimmy would be seen in the window at his last, soling and heeling footwear. I know nothing of his family but midway between the gate and the main Church door is the Skewes family grave stating some connection with the USA and proudly displaying the square and compasses of the Freemasons.

The shop that he occupied would be of interest – the level crossing would have been manned and I suggest that this house was occupied by that railman.

A single storey house was situated inside the level crossing gate at Carnon Gate (and occupied by Bob White) since demolished,  which would have been similarly used.

The only Public House during my lifetime is the Commercial Inn (now the Quay Inn) but Father spoke of four pubic houses in Devoran – Mrs. Short’s shop, Mr. Gillards’ house overlooking the car park of the village hall (that was the New Inn) and the fourth just a couple of doors up from Mrs. Dixon’s shop. The Commercial was run under the licence of Ramsay Strange.

The Post Office was situated at 5 St. John’s Terrace and the Post Master a Mr. Solomon. There was no Telegram Boys employed at Devoran, so Mr. Solomon would display a telegram envelope in the window should the need arise. The payment of 6p was made to the first volunteer, which was disappointing if the recipient lived at Point.

Other Traders

That completes the static businesses but of course the village was supplied by itinerant traders, all necessary in their own right.

First may I describe Butcher Will (Will Dunstan) who deployed his business from a four wheeled ‘horse-drawn’ enclosed carriage in which he stood with his butcher’s block to the front and his stock of meats behind him. Customers were served through the window of either door.   The reins were fed through the front of the vehicle giving him control of the horse. It was tempting for boys to hang on to the rear of the vehicle for a ‘free-ride’ but Butcher Will was very adept with his whip and could crack the whip through the door window aiming to catch the bare legs of the miscreants which, if completed, proved very painful indeed and I am speaking from personal experience. Butcher Will lived on the lane between the two reservoirs at Mid-Devoran. He was open for business on two days of the week in the cubicle at the far left hand corner of the Market Hall.   Harry Davey took over the meat rounds in the 50’s and set up shop at the bottom of the village at Jimmy Skewes’ Cobblers shop.

I am not sure of days in which Mr Webber (coming from Truro) supplied household items from the rear of his van but it was weekly.

Another weekly roundsman was ‘Muggy’.   I have no other details. Muggy sold fish from his pony and trap. Should he receive a complaint or comment that his fish was not fresh I remember his reply was always ‘You should have bought it last week’ End of conversation.

Milk was delivered to the door from Gerald Langdon at Mid-Devoran by Percy Williams direct from the churn into one’s milk-jug via a handled measure.

Devoran School

At the age of 4 years and 7 months I was duly enrolled at Devoran School the teacher being Miss Audrey Webber, also resident of Carnon Gate …

May I return to my entrance into Devoran School.

I was taken to school on the first day by my mother but only ever that once – children were not met at the school gate each day. They were accompanied on the first day only after that they went and returned unaccompanied.

Audrey Webber was infants’ teacher and taught children to write over several years with obvious similarity. For several years Devoran residents could be identified by their handwriting. The rest of the teaching staff was Mrs. Rowe who taught juniors, Miss Edwards who taught the next stage and Mr. Turner (Headmaster)  who taught the senior class. The four classes covered children from four to fourteen and the classes consisted of as many children that turned up. A very straightforward and uncomplicated system. However should a child pass their ‘eleven-plus’ they were then admitted to Truro School Cathedral School or Falmouth Grammar School.

I do not know the method of choice. I did not get my eleven-plus qualification but I was accepted at Truro Technical School at the age of 11. Travelling daily on the regular service buses at our own cost. I think I may have been the first to take this course of learning but was certainly followed by several. It was the comprehensive education system but I consider on a good solid foundation.

I left my education in August 1945 at the age of 14 years and seven months. I had missed a goodly portion during a bout of Rheumatic Fever which lasted some 12 months or so at the age of 13.

Having mentioned my association with Mr R D Avery and the influence that friendship made on my life there was another one and that was Mr Annear who lived with his wife in the last bungalow on Devoran Lane at the junction with the Turnpike.

In 1891 HMS Froudroyant (a 40 gun ship of the line) together with HMS Ganges, another square rigger, entered Falmouth Harbour on a recruiting drive for the Royal Navy. Mr Annear was so recruited. The Froudroyant sailed but HMS Ganges did not and moved to Mylor Pool and continued boy seaman training for some 30 years, eventually being broken up in-situ. There are gravestones in St Just-in-Roseland churchyard indicating boy seamen from HMS Ganges.

From a very early age many stories were related to me of Mr. Annear’s  adventures in the various seas of the world, not least was his involvement in the Boxer uprising in 1900 whilst serving in the China Fleet.   From that moment on my intrigue with the Orient was born. He related other stories of the South Atlantic Squadron in which he was serving at the outbreak of the Great War. He was serving on a battleship or other capital ship and was in Montevideo together with a capital ship of the German Navy. When news of the declaration of war was made known the crews apparently shook hands and sailed one to the north and one to the south. I have no way in which this story could be verified but it was told to me in sincerity and I firmly believed it then and now. It was my firm resolve to join the Royal Navy and serve in the China Fleet. However that resolve was thwarted because having joined the Royal Navy,  the HMS Amethyst incident occurred in the Yangtze River in April 1949 two weeks before I reported for duty. Mr Annear was medically discharged from the Royal Navy in 1915. At the time I knew him he was crippled and unable to walk but I spent many happy hours listening intently to his many tales.

Doctor Edwards lived at Driffold on Devoran Lane and his surgery was within his house. There was no appointment system in place so one attended the surgery and waited until called – that might be several hours after arrival. He was a mainstay of the village. He was able to pull teeth and treat a sick cow should the need arise. I have never known a time when he was not available. He was known to everyone and everyone knew him. He swore frequently. On house calls he tapped at the door and entered. I have never known him to write a prescription – upon diagnosis he would disappear behind a cabinet and mix some concoction to fit the purpose and whatever was contained in those mixtures worked. I have often wondered whether it was mind over matter – I shall never know.

In September 1937 several of us with our parents were sitting on the granite coping stones of Carnon Gate bridge watching a fairground moving site with the use of traction engines when a bus (a coach) ran out of control down the turnpike. Everyone scrambled to safety but somehow my right foot became crushed between the bridge and the bus crushing my right foot.

Father who was present grabbed me in his arms and literally ran to the Driffold where I was treated by Dr. Edwards. I spent the next 12 months with a crutch (manufactured by Father in wood) together with an adapted wheel chair (again manufactured by father). The wheelchair was constructed of wood and fixed upon a rather large set of pramwheels.

Despite the seriousness of this injury at no time did I attend the hospital. All treatment was performed by Dr Edwards who made house calls frequently with the result of no lasting disability. I have served seven years in the Royal Navy and thirty years in the Metropolitan Police without cause for concern.

Call the Midwife

Whilst on medical matters it would be remiss of me not to mention Nurse Hellings (I have only heard her name phonetically so am not sure of the spelling). As midwife she delivered a whole generation of the residents of Devoran. Nurse rode her bicycle with her Gladstone bag (containing her tools of trade) strapped firmly to the carrier to visit her patients. Again she was always on call and attended wherever and whenever. I believe at some time in the 50’s or 60’d she became motorised. Should anyone doubt my memory I lightheartedly mention that I can remember clearly Nurse Hellings smacking my backside to make me cry.

Home births were normal almost without exception and confinement was of a longer period then than present day. Nurse Hellings was a heroine to all who knew her. As I say she delivered a whole generation of Devoran folk. I just hope that I have spelled her name correctly. If I have not, she would tell me that at my birth she had doubts about my future calling.

In January 1939 my youngest Brother Bob was born and of course delivered by Nurse Hellings making our family up to three boys.

Mother was an ardent member of the Mother’s Union which was held under the auspices of the Church. The vicar at this time was the Rev. Yeo Ward,  a dumpy Dickensian character and hugely popular within the village.

So from a very early age I was involved with Devoran Church. I was enrolled into Sunday School at the Church and regularly attended. From the age of about 6 or 7 years I was admitted into the Choir which then required attendance at Matins and Evensong. I remember I was very proud of my cassock and surplice.   So it was three attendances on Sundays. This continued to the age of 11 when I took up pumping the church organ (with Mrs Short as organist). One of the striking features of this time was the fact that the village Policeman always attended the morning service at 11 o’clock in uniform. He sat in the second pew from the church door in the aisle seat. I can only presume that this was a County requirement. How times have changed.

Recently I visited the Church and entered the vestry where the pump handle is still in place and the marker with its cord still on the wall. Happy memories. I was paid 6d per week for pumping the organ (as many times as required – funerals, weddings and Sunday services). During sermons I would dare venture out of the vestry and sit on the nave step (out of sight of the congregation) and on the words ‘In the name of the Father Etc.’ I would rush back into the vestry and start pumping.

I was confirmed in Devoran Church by Dr Hunkin (Bishop of Truro) in 1947. I think Rev. Padgett was vicar at that time.   Rev Yeo Ward returned to the parish in the mid 50’s.  Rev. Rasleigh and his wife resided at Devoran House, so the annual Church Bun Fete was held in August on the lawn of Devoran House and well attended.

The other annual event was Devoran Sports Day – again a Bun Fete in the Park on Empire Day (24th of May), again very well supported.

In September 1939 war was declared and in October of that year we moved to 10 Belmont Terrace,  the home of Granny Harris (who had been widowed some 4 years) and was suffering very badly from Alzheimer’s or dementia. This was never diagnosed,  it was just ‘old age’ despite the fact that she was only in her 70’s. It was the duty of the family to provide care so Gran was moved into the sitting room and was tended carefully. She eventually died in 1942 without ever knowing that we were at war.


The Langdon family seat, Devoran War Memorial Recreation Ground (The Park) 2015

The house had running water but did not have electricity. The water was provided by Gerald Langdon of Mid-Devoran from the two Reservoirs on the turnpike.

We had radio which was powered by a rather large flat battery and an accumulator (which was charged weekly at Visicks at a cost of 6 old pence and was still my chore).

Another practice in force at this time was that womenfolk did not attend funerals, this was a male task. This fact could be verified by reading old newspaper cuttings and obituaries.

The most memorable of these years is the freedom that we enjoyed. We were running freely at Narabo, Nunsuch, the tramway,  the foreshore, the quays (all of them), Brickworks Sands, Botany Banks and over the many field footways and Church walks. Church walks were mandatorily kept accessible for the Bier to be used. The Bier was kept below the stairs at Church Hall in Lemon Street. It was regularly used at funerals

The Under Road – Greenbank Road

Let me describe the under road (now Greenbank Road). Simmonds Hodge occupied the quay (well some of it). In front of Greenbank was clear and unused to the brickworks which was a derelict building with a pond in which newts were readily available and a smoke stack on the far end in which owls nested. The she-owl was rather terrifying to the inquisitive kid.

Sluice was not then silted and was open water. Across the sluice gate onto more small derelict brick buildings on which American troops assembled small landing craft during the period prior to the Normandy Landings.

On the right hand side beyond Greenbank was an open field used by Frank Currow to graze his horse and beyond which was the dump. Two landfill sites which were used daily. Above the dump two allotments had been created and used by Tommy Sleeman where the railway line formerly was laid.

Residents spent much more time out of doors in those days and could be easily found – for instance at the bottom of the street Gran’fer Hitchens would be sitting on his windowsill (of 1 Carclew Terrace) with his son Tommy Hitchens and whoever else happened to be passing.

At the top of the street several residents would be gathered at various times of the day. The popularity of this site was the fact that there was always a lew’rd wall. Somehow there always something to chat about.

Devoran was at war together with the rest of the country. The nearest army camp was at Tregye and with their mail being delivered to Devoran, it was not unusual to see a Bren gun carrier on St. John’s Terrace collecting the bags of mail for the troops. I remember a less skilled driver demolishing the wall of the park which was very quickly replaced by a ‘working party’ from Tregye.

In December 1941 Clifford Nicholls of Carnon Gate was lost in the sinking (of HMS Repulse in the China Sea* – see below).

devoran 2013 004

Second World War names added round the back section of Devoran war memorial, above the WW2 names.

At about the same time Marion Rowe lost her husband (William Head) so was a very young war bride.

* Editor’s note: Further details of the deaths of William Head and Clifford Nicholls: https://devoranwarmemorial.wordpress.com/2013/08/06/devoran-second-world-war-casualties-a-to-r/

Maurice Deeble from Lemon Street was sunk again but again was a survivor. I do not know how many times Maurice was sunk but swam ashore each time. It was always nice to see him home again awaiting to re-kitted.

Army dispatch riders with their ‘rigid fork’ Royal Enfields were learning their craft on the Sands. Army convoys were regularly moving up or down the Turnpike. Army movements were always of interest to boys. Devoran was definitely at war.

In 1942 American Troops made their camp at Tallimar (or Tullimaar) which of course was a target for the kids of Devoran. I have spent my happy hours at Tallimar – the majority were under canvas but we roamed freely throughout even eating in their mess-hall (mess-tent). There did not appear to be the security fear of the modern day.

With the GI’s came an unwelcome realization to the people of Devoran. Shortly after their arrival a dance was arranged in the Village Hall to make them welcome but unfortunately white and black Americans were invited which resulted in fights throughout the village in which knives were used. This behaviour was completely alien to Devoran residents, however dances afterwards were segregated.

The Village Hall was in regular use and Mrs Dunn of Carnon Gate and Mrs Gerald Langdon of Mid-Devoran regularly produced very popular concerts. Acts of local talent were always in aid of a wartime charity. These were successful and very popular events with a lot of enthusiasm from the ‘full houses’. I remember at about this time I acquired a doughboy’s hat (an American sailor’s headwear) which I wore and treasured for the remainder of the war.

The Village Hall was erected following the Great War and consisted of three sections: The Village Hall,  the Reading Room and the Men’s Institute which included the snooker table. Regarding snooker,  Devoran fielded two teams Devoran A and Devoran B in the snooker league with some degree of success.


The Letcher family remembered, Devoran.

A platoon of the Home Guard was formed under the leadership of Captain Letcher, Lieutenant Tamlyn and Sergeant Hawke. A totally wrong impression can be gained by the TV programme ‘Dad’s Army’. The men who served in the Home Guard were working 48 hours a week as normal after which they gave up their valuable time and paraded for duty.  The guard duties at Sparnik tunnel were shared with other platoons. Should saboteurs have interrupted the railway traffic on that line it could have had serious consequences at Falmouth.

The Cornish Gorsedd Society encouraged research and on two separate occasions I have submitted essays – the first ‘Wrecks on the Mannacles’ and the other ‘Celtic Crosses’. I received a prize in the form of a book for each.  I do not have either to hand but I remember in one was a photograph of the ‘Smelter’, a locomotive standing beside the engine house in Devoran. The man standing on the footplate was Mr. Tregaskis of 12 Belmont Terrace. He informed me the Smelter was a reserve locomotive. He told me the names of the regular engines, one being the ‘Spitfire’ but I cannot remember the name of the other. Hugh Rowe owned a Chevrolet lorry and delivered coal in the village keeping his lorry and his supply of coal in the Engine House on Ferris’s quay.

In August 1945 at the end of WWII I took up employment at County Hall Truro with the Cornwall War Agricultural Executive Committee as junior clerk, salaried at £50 per annum.  It is worth mentioning that my ‘Workers Ticket’ which allowed a return journey each day for five days from Devoran to Truro was priced at 9d per week. The British Restaurant (Government owned) in Bridge Street would provide a three-course luncheon for 1/3d (six and a half new pence). This form of luncheon helped enormously with the rationing.

During April 1947 on return from my work I met three girls by arrangement (Rita Hall, Avril Smale and Anita Hawke). It was our intention to cross the river to the mud-hole on the banks of the Perran Channel. The tide was in so some swimming was involved. However I got into difficulties crossing the Montic channel and ‘drowned’. The girls having tried unsuccessfully to rescue me returned to the Devoran bank and raised the alarm. The men (Johnny Rowe, Kenny Carlyon and Jumbo Collis) on the alarm had pulled a boat over to the site and dragged the bottom with a four-pronged boat anchor. They found my body and pulled me into the boat and returned to the Devoran bank where they gave me artificial respiration, I was later informed, ‘for a period of 40 minutes’ before they managed to revive me. There must have been some considerable time that I was below the surface.  I was taken to hospital at Truro but not admitted. As far as I can remember I returned to my work the following morning. No-one mentioned ‘brain damage’ in those days or even ‘counselling’ and the word ‘trauma’ hadn’t been invented. On reflection I can only suggest that the water was so cold (it being April) that it had slowed my metabolism to a very low degree.  This was still prior to the NHS.

Whatever it was, I owe my long life and my gratitude to those three girls and those three fellows – all from Devoran.

I left Devoran in the company of Norman Ferris on 2nd May 1949. He had finished his apprenticeship at Visicks and was joining an ocean-going tug in Plymouth.  I was on my way to Devonport enlisting in the Royal Navy. I said my farewells to Devoran from the upper deck of the 8.05 bus to Truro

On 28th April 1951 (I remember the date precisely) whilst home on leave I met Margaret Hammett who lived with her family at 34 St. Johns Terrace. We fell in love. Margaret had suffered the blitz in London and her family had returned to Devoran at the end of the war, having been in Devoran briefly during the war years.

During my time away I wrote letters which were supplemented by telephoning the kiosk at the Post Office in the forecourt of 5 St. John Terrace at 7 pm on a Sunday evening (Perranarworthal 275) if I was in this Country. How different life is now with the social media.

Margaret took up employment running Ronnie Moore’s shop at the Bakehouse. Rationing was still in force so whenever a delivery van was seen the news would spread around the village like wildfire and folk would descend on the shop to see what was available.

One I remember at this time was Auntie Mary Carlyon from Carnon Mine. She was a delightful person and was Auntie Mary to everyone.

In 1952 Margaret was selected as Devoran Regatta Queen and carried out her various duties. In August of that year (’52) I was drafted to Hong Kong.   Margaret joined me and we were married in Hong Kong on 23rd May 1953. Our son was born on 5th December 1954 and was baptised in Devoran Church by Rev Yeo Ward on our return mid-1955.

The Regattas were one of the highlights of village life at Devoran. Point and Flushing also come readily to mind with Devoran folk cheering wildly for the Harriet, a 25 foot working boat owned by the Ferris family.

Mr. Ferris built excellent boats at Devoran and when one was ready to launch, several residents (maybe a crowd) would attend to roll the boat to the waters’ edge.   I seem to remember that the cost of building a boat was £1 per foot. I might be corrected on that point simply because it sounds so improbable.

Mother was an enthusiastic partaker in the various events and could sheaf-pitch very successfully in the Lady’s section.

Harvest time was popular at Mid-Devoran, village folk employed to stook the sheaves of corn following the reaper and binder. Father would be there with his gun simply because rabbits would run at the last cut having been moving continuously to the centre. Rabbit on the table again. After a few days (perhaps of good weather) the crop would be gathered to be threshed when the threshing machine arrived (traction engine of course and unprotected belts driving the various component). After which the grain would be stored and the straw ricked in the mowey.

The whole was a very labour intensive operation. The combine harvester altered all that. Harvest time was a time of joy and many taking part (as many as turned up).   It was necessarily scheduled to be in fine weather. This was a period when the ‘Harvest Festival’ was truly celebrated and the Church decked out with produce. On Monday when it was dismantled, everything was taken to the Hospital for patients to enjoy. Everyone in the village seemed to donate something for the Service. It was a delight to see the Church full.

I was always known as ‘boy Jim’ to the family,  Jimmy Harris to the village and James to folk at Church. Maybe three different characters – I know not.

During my lifetime there has been continuous ‘land grabbing’ within the parish. The practice has been perfectly legal but as a child I was forbidden to pick wild flowers having been told that they were there for everyone to enjoy. This has been my philosophy throughout life. The practice was and perhaps still is to fence an area and after 12 years without objection to apply for an ‘easement of possession’. I took offence in the 1960s when my children were ejected from Lower Quay by Tommy Lavin. However we were living in London at the time so we returned home hurt and disappointed. It is a disgusting practice but claims are properly legalised at the Land Registry. Although this practice is legal in every respect I do have reservations in the moral sense. I personally do not endorse any such practice. If one doubts my evidence on this matter please compare a 1928 Ordnance Survey map with the current edition. Consider how many Church Walks have gone out of use.  Perhaps this why I love the Yorkshire Moors so very much – perfect freedom to roam and enjoy the beauty of the landscape.

At Narabo Mr. Edward Watts grew fields of daffodils and dumped any unwanted bulbs over the edge of the bank. In springtime that bank was awash with colour of the daffodils and narcissus,a sight so beautiful looking beyond it down to the foreshore at Carnon Mine. This was a sight all and their relations could enjoy.


Roger Harris’ memorial seat, Devoran Quay

Roger (my brother) died in 1991 and his widow placed a seat on the quay in his memory.   My youngest brother Bob lives at Tresillian so despite losing family contact with Devoran I still have connections in the area.   I have many happy memories of my village.


The View from the Bench …

On my retirement from the Metropolitan Police in January 1986 I made my home in Yorkshire and now live in Southport, Merseyside where the climate is attractive.

I hope you have enjoyed my reflections on Devoran and should you need to clarify any statement or enlarge on any subject please no not hesitate to contact me. I still have my marbles.

During my childhood cash was far from plentiful but ‘swops’ for kids and bartering for adults were common practice. Even a pair of newts in a jar was a swop. An incendiary bomb retrieved from the Devoran River following a raid on Falmouth, a clip of live 303 bullets were common place and not worth overmuch.

The foregoing is just nostalgic ramblings and personal recollections. I have tried to be chronological but the grammar has suffered. It is true in every respect as far as I truly believe. Should any section deserve enlargement then that I am sure is possible.  There are many instances that are not included but could be recalled given a lead. I have not used any documentary evidence whatsoever. I do however tender my kindest regards to any of my contemporaries who are still in the village.

My kindest regards to all the residents of Devoran.

James Harris (2015).

Some editing / sectioning out and photos by Mark Norris for this blog. Parts of this memoir have been made available via the Devoran Village Hall Facebook page by Ann Cunningham, whom Mr. Harris contacted around the time of the Devoran Railway Centenary Festival 2015.


One thought on “Early Memories of Devoran by James Harris

  1. Patricia White

    Good morning

    My father spent his younger years in Devoran as his mother was Mabel Hitchens who died when he was young. He was mainly brought up(he and his brothers- Kenny, Peter and Billy as I knew them) by his Auntie Ivy and Uncle Tom and Grandfer Hitchens when he was alive. The father unfortunately wasn’t a very nice character . I spent many summer days in 1 Carclew Terrace when we visited on our summer holidays. Would love to hear any more tales of the Hitchens family. Not sure of any names but was there a Viola? My grandmother Mabel is buried up at the church. My fathers brothers names I’ve since found out were all different to what I knew them as. Kenny wasn’t Kenny and my dad was known as Jim but his real name was Clarence after his father. Billy was a William and he is the only one alive now.
    I do remember my dad talking about a Johnny Rowe and you have mentioned the name Rowe.

    He went to school at the top but hated it.

    So many memories. I enjoyed reading your blog. Thank you.

    My fathers surname was Loosemore. Born 3/3/1922. Not in Devoran I believe but in a British army camp in Ireland. But as I say his mothers family were the Hitchens you talked of.

    Kind regards

    Patricia White


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