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Tolvan

Tregonning Hill, by Daphne McClure

Tregonning Hill is no lofty pile. Certainly no terror mountain, like K2, towering over a groaning, endless Himalayan glacier, patiently waiting to kill its next victim. Not even a Great Gable, crouched above its peaceful valley, a place of poets, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelly and Keats.

For sure, our hill was once bigger, but no volcano. Made when molten rock squeezed out of the earth’s crust 250 million years ago, then ground down bit by bit until only a stump of old rock was all that was left. Sitting back, a gentle mile behind the coast. The hilltop was first occupied maybe 2,500 years ago by iron age men, living and farming the denuded hillside.

250 years ago a chemist, William Cookworthy, came here for a look. While he looked, he wandered, and as he wandered, picked up bits of rock. Some hard granite crystals. others more crumbly. Chalky almost. Throwing away the granite lumps, he put these softer bits of rock into his pocket and went home, ground them up, made Chinese clay and blasted it into pot.

 

Cookworthy (friend of Captain James Cook, the navigator) came back, started digging and quarrying, pleased with his “China” and wanting more. He carved a line of pits, making a lane as his men quarried upwards. When they reached the hill’s ridge, they dug out their biggest hole and named it after him.

By 1910 the china was no more and the digging and the dynamite and noise of the quarrymen had all gone eastwards, the barren hillside left over again for the butterflies, the birds and the fox.

Follow the path from the fort downhill, along the ridge, then skirting Cookworthy’s straggling quarries to where his lane begins and hooks left. The ocean zooms back into sight. You see this same spot from lower down, at the bottom of the moor lane, just by a rough field a barn owl sometimes hunts in.

 

Harry Davis, local potter. Photographed on Tresowes Hill by Hans Börjeson in 1958.

Stand in front of the gate where the lane bears left for a second time. As Cookworthy’s quarrymen had hacked out those new claypits higher up the moor, so they barrowed the waste and spoil back down. Back filling their oldest hole. 

Three tall pines stand behind you in a paddock where animals graze. In front, a grassy field climbs past a small cowshed. And at the top of this mound of spoil?

At the top, looking down at you, stands a simple bungalow.

To its right another path, more of a trod, cuts across the remaining quarry top, leading into another field. Chickens bark loudly, unseen behind its hedge.

 

An old Cornish farmer stands up there, looking down, coat tied with twine. That’s Ivor, it’s 1993, this is his home and this is where this short story would end. At a dilapidated home up a crooked lane built by the old man’s own hands seventy years earlier. But soon after, he passed on to dust and his family came to see and to mourn and to sell his fields and cows and hens and home. So Cookworthy’s lowest quarry changed hands again.

Tolvan, by Doug Francis.

There’s two tales as to what happened next.

One is that the quarry and its house were put on the market. Or the second, that Ivor passed on the house to Jean, a niece. This is the better story and the one we’ll follow. Jean inherited Tolvan, sold off the paddock with the pines, and the fields with the hens, then demolished the house.

The money made she ploughed back into creating a new house fit for what was now a new millennium. Of course, this can hardly be true unless the land was seamed with gold (or tin), but that doesn’t fit the story.  

Jean was an Eco Warrior. Returned from abroad to build an Eco Villa.  With concrete walls and draft free windows. Incredible amounts of insulation. A solarium capturing the sun’s energy. Pumps recycling heat and harvesting rainwater. Marble floors and sustainable drainage. All gathered together, working in harmony.

But soon after building it, she tired of New Tolvan. And again, our quarry changes hands twice more. Others arrive, admiring the view but perhaps not the vision. Ideas are neglected, pipes are cut. Drains are filled in and parts disconnected.

I’d walked past that gate many a time, the featureless lawn climbing to a bleak looking building, menaced by rabbits. I saw the paddock bulldozed; the tall pines felled. More buildings built.

Still the magic tugged at my mind.