A house in Downalong in St Ives

Bethesda Hill toward Porthminster, St. Ives

Bethesda Hill

(The Pool of Bethesda was a pool in Jerusalem known from the New Testament story of Jesus miraculously healing a paralysed man, from the fifth chapter of the Gospel of John, where it is described as being near the Sheep Gate, surrounded by five covered colonnades or porticoes.)

This cobbled hill leads down to the harbour and affords a view of the pier and the more recent lighthouse at the end. These are fisherman’s cottages essentially, and there was a sail loft- now Bradbury’s architects with a small raised forecourt from which artists would frequently paint the attractive view. Fore-sand is just at the bottom of the Hill and very popular with tourists. Just to the right of the exit at the bottom was an area often occupied by a horse and cart selling vegetables. Yet another horse and cart was used for unloading the catch of fish directly from the punts- very useful in this tidal harbour. The horse had no problem in a depth of water of the order of a metre. The catch was weighed at the platform in front of the Sloop- an area now completely occupied by the customers. The small weigh-house is still there; now entirely unknown except to a small number of locals.

The house itself backed onto a concrete lined fish cellar, into part of which, coal was delivered by Bennetts merchants and sold by the hundred weight. Its price, a constant source of worry for my parents. As far as I can recall, the house was purchased from my Uncle around about 1953 though I had slept there before whilst my Mother had to go suddenly into West Cornwall for an appendix operation. I think she was in hospital for some two weeks or so and probably operated upon by Mr White, the esteemed surgeon who perfected his skills in the Western Desert.

The coal cellar under the house occupied much of my time in childhood. It had my father’s tool kit – he had worked as a plumber and an aircraft fitter during the war. The was a steel ARP helmet and a washday mangle which became my “spaceship”, but I had been well drilled in health and safety. The lighting and ventilation were poor. I should perhaps explain that when my parents moved in, there was no bath and no hot water. Mr Brian Stevens, now a distinguished St Ives historian assisted in the building of a kitchen and bathroom at the rear of the property. My father installed a boiler system behind one of the coal fires and this was supplemented by a cylinder with an immersion heater. This rapidly used up 2-shilling pieces in the coin slot meter. Every time this ran out, my Mother would ask, “Where was Moses when the lights went out?”

It is perhaps worth mentioning that the walls between houses were very thin. We could easily hear, each Sunday evening our neighbour’s son playing Elvis whilst his parents were at Chapel. The small house was overfilled with visitors for many years and sometimes we all had to sleep downstairs. This was the era of Bed and Breakfast when everywhere was packed during for instance, Swindon week when railway workers had free transport to St Ives.

The Hill had two or three interesting features. There was a small meeting house tucked away in a small courtyard which was said to be used by a small Jewish community. There was at the top of the Hill on the way to the Island several larger guest houses and a shop where I was frequently sent where saffron cake was cooked each week and sold, there was often a long ash on the cigarette of the gentleman stirring the mixture and I often wondered if it fell in with the other ingredients. Cheese was sliced through by a wire and quarter a pound of sweets served into small paper bags from large tin boxes which had glass lids. On the doorstep milk was delivered in glass bottles and potato skins collected from a bin regularly by the “pig-man” in return at Christmas we sometimes received a pork joint. Ray (Skate) wings were often hung up for a day or two -said to improve its taste but also attractive to flies.

Monday was wash-day and sheets would sometimes be taken to the Island to dry. At this time there were some difficulties as fisherman used much the same space for drying freshly tarred nets!! The fisherman’s loft above Porthgwidden Beach -close to where Sven Berlin once worked was where the netting was stored. During the war, camouflage nets were made here and in the early 60s there grew a cottage industry in making up Brussel sprout bags with thick cord drawstrings. I remember helping my Mum a little by carrying rolls of 100 nets for which she was paid just a penny, I think. I would also load up bone needles- cut by my Father’s fret-working skills from ribs-with string. I could do a number of these quite quickly. The string was bound the thick cord around the net which was suspended from a cup-hook at a convenient height in the wooden door frame.

We left left the house which then still had round pin 15 Amp plugs in 2002. It is now, I think, an Air B’n’b cottage and house prices are currently above a third of a million.

 

 

Author: penwithlit

Freelance writer and radio presenter

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