Four lions escape from a village circus

lion tamer

A vintage lion tamer image from Wikimedia

This is one of my favourite true stories, discovered from a newspaper cutting at Helston Folk Museum. What a brilliant tale!

[Illustrated Police News, Thursday 14th May 1931]

Four lions escape from village circus
Exciting hunt seen by crowd • One lassoed in a pond, another on pony’s back

Four fully grown lions had a brief, but hectic spell from captivity during a circus performance in the Cornish village of Helston. While about 700 people were watching the beasts performing in an enclosed arena, one of the lions slipped through a gap between two pieces of the iron railings. The remaining three followed, and all four trotted out by the performers’ entrance.

The escape occurred so quickly that there was no actual panic. As one of the lions slunk back into the big tent and advanced towards the audience, a few women screamed and rose from their seats, but the noise so scared the animal that he turned tail and walked straightway into his cage.

Another lion, a fully-grown beast, had been followed from the tent by a coloured attendant, who saw him bolt into a cattle shed in a field, and promptly shut the door on him. A third sprang into a tent where a pony was tethered, jumped lightly on the pony’s back and off again. The pony broke it’s halter and rushed out. The flaps of the tent were closed by an attendant and the ropes cut so that the canvas collapsed. The lion in this way was secured with comparative ease and hauled back to his cage.

The fourth lion sprang across a road into the park, whre there were several people including Mr. and Mrs. Garfield and two girls. The girls ran away screaming, and Mr. Garfield shotued to his wife to run also.

“But I could not move. I was rooted to the spot with terror,” she related afterwards. her husband dragged her down behind a bush, just as the lion leaped overhead and went plunging into a small lake.

Capt. Pinder, the owner of the circus, with attendants, lassooed the lion. It was dragged snarling from the water, and, as it was impossible to approach it closely, Capt. Pinder felled it with a heavy iron bar. The stunned lion was then bound and carried into the enclosed part of the arena. It soon recovered.

Meanwhile, members of the audience with attendants had dragged one of the cages on wheels to the shed in the field where the most ferocious lion was trapped. With iron railings they made a tunnel from the door of the shed to the entrance of the cage, and the animal was driven into the cage by a long iron rod called a “scoop”.

“The lion that jumped into the lake,” said Capt. Pinder, ” was the only one which really gave any trouble. I found him in 6 feet of water with his forepaws on the pathway. I roped him, but he was excited by liberty and became nasty and made at me. I side-stepped and he tried to jump a wall, but as I was still holding the rope I dragged him so that he became jammed between the wall and a tree. I got the rope around his neck and forepaws and we were able to capture him.

“All the lions are in their fifth year and fully grown. They have been accustomed to human beings since they were two months old and there was no danger in their liberty. If they saw human beings, they would turn away from them, although they might attack horses.”

Local Helston boy Ernie Whear (born in 1916) recalled the incident in an interview on the Cornish Memory website: (26:02 onwards):

Down on the Porthleven Road, right opposite the park there’s now a row of bungalows all the way along there, but that used to be a field and I can remember very distinctly a circus in there one night, or well he was there for two nights I believe, and they had a big lion display and everything on there. I forget how much it was to get in but it was too much for we boys to pay so we was all outside and then half way through, when they had the lion show on, the lions broke away, broke the thing down and they went out. Some of them went in the park, some went up the top of the field and went in the shed up there and some went down cassowary[?] but they had some job to catch them, but when they caught them they had them all back again and they said now we’re alright we can open up again now. But where they only had about say 50 people in the circus, now the circus was packed from end to end – all we boys went in and said look we lost our tickets you know and they couldn’t say nothing so we all went in and had a real good time.

The story of the escaping lions travelled far and wide – it was retold in newspapers in Launceston and in Singapore! It even prompted a question to be asked in Parliament, asking the Home Secretary whether he would be investigating the incident using his powers under the Performing Animals Regulations Act (see this extract in Hansard).

Other newspapers covering the story for future reference:
Cornishman, 7 May 1931 (story) and 21 May 1931 (question in Commons)
Dundee Courier, 6 May 1931
Western Times (Devon), 8 May 1931
Western Daily Press, 6 May 1931


“Who should I vote for?” in the Cornwall Council local elections 2017

I have heard a number of people say recently that they don’t know who to vote for in the local elections. Some people say they don’t know what their candidates stand for; some are not aware of who their candidates are. This post won’t tell you who to vote for, but it will, I hope, enable you to find the information you need to make up your mind. It really is worth 1/2 hour of your time to do a bit of research.

Cat yawn

Is this your attitude to voting?

Please vote!

Firstly I would say: Please do it! Please vote and encourage others to do so. The people that are elected will be deciding where funds are spent in Cornwall for the next four years, and influencing policy-makers in Westminster for even longer-term plans and funding. Voting is on Thursday 4th May, between 7am and 10pm. You can vote at your local polling station. Your polling card will tell you where to vote, but you can vote without having to take the card with you. It only takes a few minutes of your time.

Why I would vote for the party, then for the person

I would advocate choosing the party first, and then the person. Many people choose to vote for a candidate that they believe is caring and has integrity. This is good. But if your chosen candidate honestly and genuinely thinks the opposite from you on a number of key issues that matter to you, they are still going to do what they think is best and will not make the decisions you would wish them to make.

Information to help you decide

Now – on to the information!

1. Who are your candidates? Check the list here for names and political parties standing for election in your Division:

2. What does their party stand for? The parties are listed in alphabetical order with link to their manifesto. Some parties also have websites for local branches, it would make this post to long to list them all here but a quick internet search should find them.

Cornwall Conservative Party
Cornwall Conservatives Manifesto (link to pdf)

The Green Party in Cornwall:
Cornwall Green Party Manifesto (link to pdf)

Independent candidates:
Obviously they don’t have a party, although previously some Independent Cornwall Councillors have formed a group to work together on some issues. Skip to the next step to find out what your Independent candidate will be focussing on if they are elected.

The Labour Party in Cornwall:
Cornwall Labour Manifesto: (link to pdf via google drive).
Website: I haven’t found it yet but they have a Facebook page:

The Liberal Democrats in Cornwall:
Manifesto: I will put a link here when I have found it, in the mean time there are some useful blog posts on their website below.

Mebyon Kernow:
Mebyon Kernow Manifesto (link to pdf)

Cornwall UKIP Manifesto (link to website)

3. Find out what you can about your local candidates.

  • The internet is your friend! Search online, many candidates have a profile on their party’s website (often under their local branch), or have social media profiles. Some have featured in news stories. Some may have already established a reputation locally as a Town or Parish Councillor.
  • If they are already a Cornwall Councillor, you can find out what they are interested in by checking which committees they have worked on. You can also check their attendance record. Go to the Council website and put your postcode in the box: You should see a lovely photo of your current Councillor; click on the Contact box under their name to get to their profile.
  • Read any leaflets etc that come through your door, speak to your candidates if they come round door-to-door, or go to any public meetings and size them up in person.

4. Time to decide… if you haven’t made up your mind already from what you have found, you could pick one or two key things that really matter to you for the future of Cornwall and weigh up what you would like to see against what you have discovered from your research.

My preference would be for deciding how to vote based on the things that will make the most difference to Cornwall (e.g. social care and inequality; balancing affordable housing vs overdevelopment; funding for the arts and cultural activities that inspire and celebrate and open minds; greater local power to make budget decisions; lobbying Westminster to include Cornish issues in Brexit negotiations) rather than the very local issues that some people appear to raise with their Councillor based on leaflets I have seen (e.g. potholes, speeding, overhanging trees), however annoying these are. A good Councillor will be able to do both but they will be making key policy decisions on your behalf!

Now go! Vote! Remind your friends to vote! It does make a difference.


You decide.

PS If you have voted in the past and been disappointed, please carry on voting! But you may also like to join the campaign for Proportional Representation:

PPS I am not affiliated to any political party or organisation. I wrote this because I hoped that some people would find it helpful and because I believe it is important that people use their vote. If you find information here that is incorrect or out of date, please let me know or post a comment below and I will probably amend this post when I have time.

A shady tale from the Stannary Courts

From the 13th century all matters relating to tin mining in Cornwall and Devon were dealt with by the Stannary Courts. Between 1836 and 1896, the Stannary Courts also dealt with other metalliferous mines, including Trenow Consuls Mine, a copper mine at Perranuthnoe. This story is from Stannary Tales: The Shady Side of Mining, by Justin Brooke (Twelveheads Press, 1980):

Opened by a cost-book company formed in 256 shares about the second half of 1843, the mine made its first sale of copper ore in December of that year. In 1845 it began paying dividends, and at one time its shares, on which £20 per share had been called up, reached a price of £190. In January 1846 an 85 in. pumping-engine was erected. The following month the mine reached a depth of 4 fms. below the 65-fm. level at Angove’s shaft, and the 50-fm. level was driven easterwards up to the boundary with Carn Perran mine. In June 1846 Dr Johnson, the mineral lord of Great Wengre (a field whose name may be derived from the Cornish whennegow, weedy ground), which was part of the area leased for mining, tried to have the lease revoked so that he could renew it at a higher rate of dues. This he did by pasting a notice to this effect on the capstan. His representatives then ordered the labourers to stop work, and promised them a good dinner as soon as the affair was settled. A large bottle of brandy was produced and served out, and attempts were made, both by threats and promises, to seduce the men from their employers, as a preliminary step to regaining possession of the mine. The next day was sampling day, but sampling by the representatives of the copper ore buyers was prevented by a mob that had been collected. Owing to the coolness and firmness displayed by the agents of the mine, knowing that they had justice on their side, nothing untoward took place. A neighbouring magistrate refused thirteen warrants for pretended assaults against Trenow men, and Mr John, a Penzance solicitor, gave Dr Johnson’s representative a severe lecture. After this the parties seemed to have given up the affair, but in the case that followed the Court refused Dr Johnson’s application to recover his land as he had acted improperly; and noted that his daughter had received £1,000 for the field in question.

A cost-book company was a mining partnership in transferable shares, without limit to the number of partners.


Joseph Emidy’s grave

Joseph Emidy's graveToday I finally remembered to look for the gravestone of violinist and composer Joseph Emidy, famous in his time. He is buried in Kenwyn Churchyard.

“He was a native of Portugal which country he quitted about forty years since and, pursuing the Musical profession, resided in Cornwall until the close of his earthly career.”

In actual fact he was sold as a slave from his native West Africa and worked on the plantations in Brazil before his owner brought him to Portugal where he was taught to play the violin. His story is told in Alan M. Kent’s play ‘The Tin Violin’.

New video: Times are Hard / Dozmary Five

Emma and I performed this set in Penzance a couple of weeks ago when we supported Martin Carthy at St Mary’s Church, at a gig arranged by Inn the Bath Productions.

Times are Hard is an adaptation of a song collected in Canow Kernow – Songs and Dances from Cornwall, edited by Inglis Gundry. The book is a wonderful and well-used source for traditional Cornish songs and tunes, and it can be a challenge to find something new in such a well-known collection.

This song caught my eye because it begins in 5/4, a popular dance time for the kabm pymp in Nos Lowen dancing, although in the original transcription it quickly diverts back to 4/4, swapping to 5/4 again for a bar here and there throughout. However changeable the time signature, the sentiment remains current – times are hard, particularly in Cornwall, in the current economic climate. Here is the original from Canow Kernow:

Times are hard original

I adapted the tune to make it minor, more fitting for the lyrics, and made the rhythm a consistent 5/4 throughout.

The tune which follows is Dozmary Five, written by Emma Packer. Dozmary Pool is on Bodmin Moor, the tune was inspired by hearing her granny talk about how she became engaged to Emma’s grandfather.

Ethical Fashion: Truro Shoppers Guide

Or download the printable pdf version.

This is by no means a comprehensive guide but is meant to serve as a prompt for people who want to shop in a way that makes a difference to those bearing the hidden cost of our ever-increasing desire for more and cheaper clothing.

There are things that we can do as consumers that make a difference – this guide highlights some of the ways to take positive action, including asking brands ‘Who made my clothes?’, buying from ethical companies (there are some great Cornwall-based clothing companies who work with the people who make their clothes to ensure that everyone gets a good deal), and buying second-hand or vintage clothing.

I wrote this to support the showing of The True Cost on 18th March 2016. The event was generously hosted and supported by Epiphany House, Truro who also gave me some time to prepare this guide.

“Thy face is a rough as Morvah Downs”

“Thy face is a rough as Morvah Downs that was ploughed and never harved (harrowed) they say, but I’ll have thee for all that and fill up with putty all the pock-mark pits and seams; then point them over and make thee as pretty as a new wheelbarrow”

From an old Christmas play, ‘Duffy and the Devil’, found in Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Second Series, by William Bottrell, 1873.

Sailors boot stick instrument

No instagram filters will turn this into a good photo but the instrument itself was quite unusual – a 4ft wooden pole tucked into an old sailor’s boot, decorated with jingling metal bottle tops. Played not only by stamping it on the floor but also hit with a notched stick to make guiro type sounds. Seen in action at Looe folk club this evening. Quite fascinating!