Saturday, 19 May 2018


Following the established pattern, here is the May Mailchimp newsletter recirculated as a blog. For the record, there has been no further news from the land of Caxton from any quarter. We wait - and dispatch more submissions. 


If you know anyone you think might be interested in these mailings about 'Jago' do encourage them to follow the link to my website. Here it is:

You can also use this page to access my Jago Stone blogs.

Copies of 'The Road to Corbyn' can be purchased at a discount using this link: I am chuffed to see the Morning Star carrying my advert for TRC yesterday, May Day!

A reminder about my Residency at the Redwing Gallery in Penzance in June this year - I'll be there from 10.30 to 12.30 every Tuesday and Saturday morning throughout June, with a programme of eight 45-minute talks, each running from 11 to 11.45 in my 2-hour slot. The subject matter will vary - four different talks on 'Jago', two on 'TRC', one on 'Drink in Victorian Norwich', and one on 'What's Wrong with Schools'. I'm looking forward to the experience - and hoping I can sell more copies of 'The Road to Corbyn' and get even more people interested in 'Jago'.

In this month's Newsletter, I thought I would share my experiences so far in my moves to secure publication for 'Jago' - and gift you some, until now, unpublished images of Jago paintings.

Having completed the draft of 'Jago' by the beginning of March, I decided to focus initially on approaching literary agents rather than publishers. There are very good reasons for putting the task of securing a deal with a publisher in the hands of someone who understands the publishing market. The 'Writers' & Artists' Year Book 2018' is the current gospel for those supplicants who desire ordination by publication and so I started at the back-end of the entries for 'Literary Agents U.K. and Ireland' and began working towards the front, picking out any agent who specified an interest in 'biography'.

Thus far, averaging one a week, I have contacted eight agents from those pages. I have also emailed two in the United States, one in New York and one in California, from the pages in the Year Book for 'Literary Agents Overseas'. Ten in all. Seven remain in silence, three have responded. I should say at this point that I have now discovered from webpages that supplicants can expect to wait 6-8 weeks in most instances, although some agencies take legitimate pride in a much faster turn-around.

My thanks to Nick Michas for this image of Banbury Cross, painted by Jago in 1973

I was impressed with the quality of the Robert Smith Literary Agency website, one of the three agencies that has responded so far - and with their speed and manner of dealing with my submission. Twenty days later (13-04-2018), I had

Friday, 11 May 2018


Even as I was completing my biography of Jago Stone, a new American connection was being made in February this year. Jenny Janzen, from Virginia in the USA, emailed me with the story of her connection with Jago through the 16 paintings of his that she and her husband have in their home. As the months have passed, we've kept in contact and in fact Jenny was in the UK in April, visiting London and cousins in the Cotswolds. Unfortunately, technical problems have prevented me from seeing any images of the art but Jenny has provided me with a list of the 16 paintings that I've scanned for you to see later in this blog. Jago's painting subjects are wider than I realised. Did he work from a photo when he produced his painting of Elm Hill in Norwich?

Jenny explained that she had been a long-term resident in England and first became aware of the name 'Jago Stone' possibly in 1988 when he died and she heard something about it on the BBC. Twenty-two years later, she went to her High School Reunion and met her widower high school/college former boyfriend, Bob. 'It was like picking up on an unfinished conversation'. Their romance led to marriage in December 2011 and afterwards when she came to her husband's house in Virginia to live she became acquainted with the Janzen collection of Jago's art. Bob, like John 'Adam' Adamski, had been a senior member of the USAF command - in Bob's case, at the Croughton base next to Upper Heyford, for three years in the mid-70s. He and his wife, Norma, had collected the Jago paintings and then taken them back across the Pond when their tour was over. How many other Jago collections are there in the States awaiting discovery?

Then at the beginning of this month of May, Dee Allen emailed me from Texas in the United States. She began by saying 'We always enjoyed Jago's visit" and continued by relating the story he had told of his hiding in the church under the altar to steal the communion ware; his being caught and sent to jail; and his learning the art of water-colours whilst inside. Dee continued: 'I don't think he had been out of prison very long when we first met him'. Soon, Dee and her husband, Gene, began to acquire works of art by Jago.

Here, above, is an image of a Jago Stone painting of 'The Bridge at Edgcote' - a subject I had not seen depicted by Jago before - that is in her collection.

Dee sent three other images of Jago paintings that she had - and then forwarded images of two water-

Tuesday, 24 April 2018


This post is designed to give advance notice of an advert that will appear in the UK's only socialist daily newspaper - the Morning Star - with its circulation of around 10,000 copies a day. If you search Wikipedia, the Morning Star does not appear as a national daily newspaper but there is a separate entry for it which gives that figure for circulation. Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott, the shadow Home Secretary, contribute articles regularly. It remains a thorn in the flesh of the Establishment and I'm proud to be a subscriber, through my newsagent, six days a week. On Saturday 28 April and Tuesday 1 May and Saturday 12 May, the paper will carry an advert for my first book: 'The Road to Corbyn' (2016) - see the picture below.

I thought it timely to remind readers of the Big Picture that has been taking shape since 2010. Remember the struggle to understand that Big Picture was the inspiration for the writing of 'The Road to Corbyn'. I needed to get my own head around what was happening and why.

Back in 2010, the Conservatives with their neo-liberal, nasty agenda came to power in a coalition with the Lib-Dems. Shame on Clegg and the Lib-Dems. Five years of Austerity followed - years of personal suffering for many with no good outcome for the national economy which continues to

Saturday, 14 April 2018


This blog, like last month's, is using material already posted in the current Mailchimp newsletter, my monthly update on the research and production of the biography of Jago Stone - and I've added some detail that has arrived since April 1st. Here's the link for anyone who would like to add their name to the list of Mailchimp newsletter subscribers - it's free and it helps support my presentation to literary agents and publishers in my bid to get 'Jago' into book form. Please press here.

You can also use this page to access my Jago Stone blogs.

Copies of 'The Road to Corbyn' can be purchased at a discount using this link:

I have a Residency at the Redwing Gallery in Penzance in June this year which means that I'll be present for 2 hours every Tuesday and Saturday morning for four weeks, answering questions, giving talks, doing readings, and other such literary things. I'm looking forward to the experience - and hoping I can sell more copies of 'The Road to Corbyn' and get even more people interested in 'Jago'. 

I promised last month to keep the focus on Jago Stone palette-knife painting in this Newsletter and I showed the two palette-knifes that the parents of my wife, Louise, commissioned Jago to paint. They also bought two others that in the course of time have become part of our collection. First, there is this study in blue that is signed and dated, Jago Stone, 1968 and has the inscription 'Bardon'. We cannot be certain but we think that this is a reference to a Grade II listed building, a farmhouse  dating back to the 16th century (now a house) that lies in the village of Williton in West Somerset on the edge of Exmoor. The village of Monksilver is close by and that is where Jago was interviewed by Kenneth Griffith, especially sent down from London for the purpose in 1969, in the village pub 'The Notley Arms' - see Chapter Nine, 'Jago on Jago' in the hopefully soon-to-be published biography. We know that Louise's parents made a journey to the west country to see Jago in his studio. They went with another couple from Gerrard's Cross who had supported Jago and arranged an exhibition for him in a gallery in Eton High Street. Jago had been given his studio space in a disused barn by the owners of the Bardon farmhouse . And Louise's  parents returned with this study in blue.

Last month, I quoted from the communication I had received from the American art-collecting lawyer who had been moved to buy a Jago Stone palette-knife painting at auction by its power. Here it is again: 

‘… As one retreats from the painting to a distance of, say, three metres, the way it coalesces into a readily recognisable street scene is quite remarkable, and the colours, though not typical of such a scene, are absolutely appropriate. It is difficult to imagine how the artist, who obviously had to work

Sunday, 8 April 2018


This story starts a week or so ago when David sent me an email. That's David Siggers, my friend in London. He is the subject of a celebratory blog I posted last year. Do press the link here to remind yourself of his story or discover it for the first time. Trust me, he is remarkable.

And so to this post's focus - Prison Wisdom. Those of you familiar with the Jago story will know that Jago spent nearly two decades behind bars before he had reached the age of 40 - and that he had sane and civilised views about the state of our penal system and the need for radical reform. He wrote about these matters in his autobiography: 'The Burglar's Bedside Companion' (1975) and his status as a prison reformer receives its due attention in my biography of the burglar-turned-artist. I have already published a post on the subject that you can access by pressing the link here.

Strangeways prison riot in 1990

David's email brought the subject of prison reform crunching down on my desk. He had been trawling through the Guardian newspaper archive online for his own research purposes when he decided to tap the name of Jago Stone into the search engine. He got a tantalising glimpse of a letter containing that name - and emailed me immediately. I took out my 7-day free trial on the Ancestry website - Ancestry have served me well; Jago's birth, marriage and death certificates have come my way through their services - and made the full discovery. On Thursday April 3, 1975, the Guardian

Sunday, 1 April 2018


The views expressed in this post are of course mine but I want to start by acknowledging my debt to - and admiration for - another blogger in cyberspace who composes his posts under the name 'davesrebellion'. He is David Rosenberg, an educator, writer, and tour guide of London's radical history. Here - without further ado - is a link to his blogsphere:

The media seems to have relished the opportunity to marry together the words 'Labour Party' and 'anti-Semitism' and 'Jeremy Corbyn' over the last few weeks. Personally, I believe that the combined efforts of media and establishment interests to damage the reputation of JC - and thus diminish any chance that he could become the PM after the next General Election - are going to backfire. But then I'm a blue-eyed optimist who is something of a prophet where JC is concerned.

A parliamentarian with a record on human rights that is second-to-none - Jeremy Corbyn

I have, nevertheless, learned much from David Rosenberg's blogs and want to share some of that knowledge here. Every ripple in the ocean of enlightenment is precious.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews was founded in 1760 and is the main representative body of British Jews. Its actions hit the headlines last week when it organised a demonstration on Monday outside Parliament to protest against the rise of anti-Semitism. It did so in conjunction with the

Friday, 30 March 2018


The first post in this series now has 68 page views on the fourth day of publication. The second post - yesterday's - has 55 page views. No copies of TRC sold yet through these two blogs but I'm an optimist ... (here's that link again - ... and I'm delighted that these extracts from the book are getting this kind of circulation. Today, I offer some thoughts about our brains.

Here's the Interpreter responding to Pilgrim's enquiry about whether he thinks people are born with different degrees of brightness and dullness:  

'Pilgrim was considering his own views on the matter even as he asked the question.

Interpreter:  'Indeed I do not. The human species has evolved from other higher primates and possesses an electro-chemical powerhouse – the brain – that is species specific. There may be glitches and twists in the hard-wiring of that brain that become evident in specific individuals from conception or from birth but by and large human beings are gifted similar human features. You and I have eyes to see, legs and arms to move, noses to smell, lungs to breathe, ears to hear, and brains to use to coordinate movement and thought and language and action. The differentiation in the wiring of the brain, the degree of complexity in the arrangement of the axons and dendrites, the whole cellular structure that is opened up by the knife of the brain surgeon, all that is the fruit of the inter-relationship between the brain of the individual and the life experiences of that same individual.

We are human ...

Here in this land they called it the nature-nurture issue and debated how much importance should be given to each in explaining our actions in life. Not before time, there are now academic voices

Thursday, 29 March 2018


Sixty-four page views in three days for Part One suggests some interest in TRC - here's Part Two and some light, if serious, reading for you over this Easter break.

First, more from the book itself - the end of the first chapter in which Pilgrim meets the Interpreter:

Pilgrim:  'You speak of market forces … It is a term with which I am unfamiliar.'

Interpreter:  'The idea of the market is one I know that you understand. Quite soon in their history,
human beings began to buy from each other the things they needed but could not themselves grow or make. Humans became buyers and sellers in the market place. Soon the market became a place where humans sold their own labour to others for a price. Money was minted to make this buying and selling more straightforward. Humans worked for others to make or grow things and were paid with money which meant they could go back to the market to buy what they needed. A new force had now entered the world. People began to realise that a profit could be made from such market

Green shoots? 

deals. More money could be made from making sure that the deal was fixed to your advantage.
Money and power became inextricably linked. Power was needed to gain the advantage; money
helped ensure you had the power. The industrial revolution which I have already explained accelerated these market forces in a way that humans have not yet fully grasped. Now there is a
market place that fills the whole world, a global economy, in which those who have fallen in love
with money invent ways to make more money, more profit. Money can be made from money. It is
commercial alchemy. Every activity, every transaction between humans, can potentially become part of this market. You will see much of this on your journey.'

Pilgrim:  'But surely these market forces will mean your developed world will always seek to have the advantage over the developing world? And won’t the rich and powerful always be striving
to keep their wealth and their status at the expense of those who have less?'

Interpreter:  'You have already begun to draw your own conclusions about how far the few who have wealth shape what is called democracy. As you consider these matters, remember those things

Monday, 26 March 2018


How ‘The Road to Corbyn’ began - and came to see the light of day
In 2008 when the financial crisis erupted, I sensed the historical significance of the time.

By 2010, I was compiling material from a range of sources that helped me make sense of what was happening in society and in politics.

By 2013, I was writing ‘Deception – a modern day Pilgrim’s Progress through the lifetime of the 2010-2015 U.K. government’.

By early 2014, the final draft was finished and I began the search for a publisher or agent hoping for publication before Christmas that year in time for the May 2015 General Election.

Some kind words and praise followed in 2014 but no one wanted to take the plunge.

A week before that election in May 2015, I had an email from an Edinburgh publisher that showed some interest. A phone conversation followed between us. He recommended getting the book read in a readers’/writers’ group. I did.

Sunday, 18 March 2018


This blog uses material already posted in my March Mailchimp Newsletter, my monthly update on the story of the research and production of the biography of Jago Stone. As I have explained before, the advantage to you of signing for a free subscription to the Newsletter is that you get to read the news and see the pictures first before I later use them in blogs such as this. And the more people I have signed up for the Newsletter and expressing an interest in the book, the better it looks to those who are considering publishing the biography. Here's the link for anyone who would like to add their name to the list of subscribers - there are 55 at the moment, English and American: press here.  

This month's Newsletter focussed on a Jago Stone palette-knife painting that is dated 1976.

Here is a section from Chapter 7: 'The American Connection' of the first draft of the biography I have written:

"But here I am talking of his water-colours. He himself once remarked to the TV presenter, Lionel Hampden, in an ATV programme in 1972, that he painted these to provide the money he needed so he could paint the real art:

‘I paint pictures of people’s property for money in order that I may paint the other sort of painting which is a palette-knife painting – which is directly derived from my prison experience.’

 These words of Jago are given detailed attention in Chapter Nine: ‘Jago on Jago’. At this point, I want only to raise the question: Why did Jago apparently cease to produce the palette-knife

Saturday, 10 March 2018


To be honest - and that's a start that's going to get me into philosophical problems straightaway - there never was a Part One, strictly speaking. But for the sake of creating a series of posts dedicated to the theme of Philosophy, could you please accept that my post on 'Robert Pirsig and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance', dated 15 December 2017, was Part One. Here is a link to that post

which is now formally declared to be the first in this occasional series, titled 'What does a philosopher have to say?'. Press here for an introduction to MOQ - the Metaphysics of Quality.

Interestingly, a couple of weeks ago I received this message out of cyberspace from Anthony McWatt, the author of the article in 'Philosophy Now' that inspired my blog in the first place:


Thank you for your kind review of that PHILOSOPHY NOW article about ZMM, LILA and the MOQ.
I've just retired so it was a lovely note to finish on.
A whiter shade pale even...

(Dr McWatt)'

The reference to ' A whiter shade pale ...' was of course to Procol Harum's iconic recording from 1967 which Anthony embedded in his message. I listened:

And then replied:

 'Good morning, Anthony
What a lovely way to start the day! An unexpected and delightful
communication - thank you. I have just spent quality time exploring the

Sunday, 4 March 2018


A few days ago I put the finishing touches to the 'Summing Up', my conclusion to 'Jago' - the biography of Jago Stone (1928-88), the burglar-turned-artist. The work is now complete - although subject of course to revision, amendments and additions. At present there are 66,537 words and the illustrated book comprises 206 pages. I have already started the journey to find a literary agent who can secure publication.



By Rob Donovan

Above is the working title page for the biography. The image of Jago at work is used with the permission of Michael Mort, originally from Michigan and now resident in Abilene, Texas having retired from the United States Air Force . Michael's contribution to the biography is evident in the following extract from Chapter 7, 'The American Connection' and the accompanying photos that he

Thursday, 22 February 2018


In the American Connection blog that I posted last month - Part Five - I explained that the material for the blog had come from my Mailchimp newsletter for December. This blog - The American Connection - Part Six - is based on material from the January Mailchimp newsletter. Mailchimp readers get the stories first! If you want a free subscription so you can read on March 1, 2018, the latest news about 'Jago', my biography of Jago Stone, the burglar-turned prize-winning artist, press the link here. 

And now, the story of an American FIII fighter-pilot called Bob Pahl and what happened when he met the remarkable artist, Jago Stone, back in the mid-1970s:

"Last month I reported on the latest upsurge in interest in Jago across the Pond. This month I continue with that theme, focussing on one American in particular and his collection of Jago Stone paintings. First, though, a reminder of what Jago himself wrote in 'The Burglar's Bedside Companion':

"A large number of the personnel (at USAF Upper Heyford) take home my paintings of the Cotswolds when their tour of duty ends. There are innumerable Jago Stone works of art in Texas, Alabama, California, New Mexico, Washington - and there are even a couple of pictures of Banbury Cross on Sunset Boulevard. It seems like a joke, but I can lay claim to being an international artist." (P.118)

And this month the American in the spotlight is Bob Pahl. I can best tell this story through using extracts from the second draft of Chapter Seven: 'The American Connection' in the biography 'Jago'. Giving my Newsletter readers a taster of the book seems a good idea.

Jago and the Americans from their USAF base – they went together like a horse and carriage. A kind of marriage. During the Cold War (1946-1991) between the forces of capitalism and communism, the USA and NATO countries squared up against the USSR and its allies in the Warsaw Pact. In 1950, permanent United States Air Force (USAF) bases in Britain were approved. American Strategic Air Command were worried about the vulnerability of their bases in the east of England and established four more bases to the west, at Upper Heyford, Brize Norton, Fairford and Greenham Common.  Between 1951 and 1953, the RAF Upper Heyford air base was given new runways, aprons and hard-standings as well as new purpose-built structures to allow maintenance on the new generation of bombers designed for the age of the nuclear bomb. By 1971, Upper Heyford was probably the largest fighter base in Europe. From the late 1970s, over fifty hardened aircraft shelters were constructed including those in the Quick Reaction alert area in which planes armed with a nuclear bomb could take off within three minutes.

It was into this concentration of focused threat and retaliatory power that Jago found his way. What he made of the politics of it all, I don’t know – but those magnificent feats of engineering – the aircraft – would have thrilled him and the men who flew them he would have admired. Many became his patrons as his brush strokes captured the likeness of their English homes. He would have loved the fact that some of the new aircraft shelters were painted by the air crew – one with tigers and stripes, another with a red dragon. Today, Upper Heyford has more wall art than arguably anywhere else in Britain. Maybe, Jago inspired some of it, even added his own touches. And English Heritage has declared the Upper Heyford air base site Britain’s best-preserved relic of the Cold War, comparable to Hadrian’s Wall in its significance as a military structure.

And so we come to the Bob Pahl connection. Bob was an American pilot, one of the elite flying crew who - with their families - were billeted in the villages around the air base. His tour at Upper Heyford was from 1974 to 76 and all the paintings whose images are shown in this Newsletter were commissioned or bought by Bob and went back with the Pahl family to the United States. I am very grateful to Bob for his kindness in giving me permission to show them in this way. 

Here is Bob's story and how it touches Jago's. I have placed it in the context of last month's extracts from Chapter Seven so you will recognise the opening section:

In mid-November 2017, one Saturday tea-time, I contacted the three websites on Facebook created and used by those – mostly American veterans - who had served on or had some contact with the Upper Heyford air base. I explained that I was writing the biography of Jago Stone and re-posted my first American Connection blog with its picture of Becky Bender’s English home, painted by Jago in 1983.  By midnight, that re-posted blog had had 168 views. The views for Sunday, the next day, were 511. Truly a gold-rush in cyber-space!

I had asked for memories of Jago, stories and images of paintings. They came in their scores.

From C L Kolodny, now living in Premont, Texas, there was this story:
“Lived in Merton, near Bicester in an old stone cottage near to the Plough, a free house owned and operated by Lou Bevan. One day I was there drinking pints of Hooky when a phantom with a small entourage flew in. I thought I had gone back in time and encountered Oscar Wilde. This guy was a real character. We drank and talked for a couple of hours and he departed never to be seen again. This chance encounter was so electric and mystical that I have thought about it many times over the years. It was a Sunday afternoon in 1980 0r 1981.”

I asked if there were any other specifics that he remembered.

“… (Just) the flamboyant dress, intense facial expressions, rapid intellectual mainly one-way conversation …”

All this, from “a brief encounter leaving a real memory”.

And from Marie Mazy Cooper, now resident in Sarasota in Florida, came this comment:
“My husband and I were stationed at our RAF Heyford and lived in Wardington. Jago knocked on our door one night in 1975 to ask to paint the Vicarage we lived in. We were told he was a thief and not to allow him in and that had stolen from churches and spent time in prison …  But we did and became friends … he had such great stories and we have 2 beautiful paintings of our beautiful Vicarage. Afterwards, we introduced him to a number of friends stationed with us to have their homes painted … he was a character you could never forget.”

A few days later, in response to my question: “What stories did he tell?”, Marie added:
“Jago had so many wonderful stories about his life as a thief stealing from the churches … he met many Air Force members and painted all their homes.”

Bob Pahl, from Holly Springs in Georgia, whetted my appetite with these words:
“I still have a host of his paintings and have some great stories. I met Jago during my tour at Heyford, and specifically when living in a 450- year-old manor house in Hampton Poole, just north of Oxford, from July 1974 to July 1976. We had many an occasion where he would show unannounced and asked to paint for a minimal fee. Also we were invited to his wedding reception.”

At the start of 2018, Bob sent me images of the six water-colours that he had bought from Jago and still hang in Bob’s house in Holly Springs. He explained:

“Two of the paintings (both undated) – ‘England’s smallest bar’ in Godmanstone, Dorset and the 15th century ‘Victoria and Albert’ pub in Netherhampton, Wiltshire - he just showed up with and sold for a few pounds”.

Three paintings in the collection, all dated 1976, depict idyllic English settings: the courtyard at ‘Poyle Court’, a 16th century Grade II listed building in the village of Hampton Gay and Poyle, just north-west of Oxford; cottages and church in the village of Welford-on-Avon in Warwickshire, near Stratford-upon-Avon; and the ‘Old Crown’ pub at Chiddingfold in Surrey, a one-time 13th century rest-house for monks.

And then there is Jago’s water-colour interior of the living room of the 16th century manor house that Bob and his family lived in during their two-year tour. Yes, as you might have guessed, the Pahl family lived in the very same ‘Poyle Court’ as described above. Bob wrote that when Jago heard about the house they were living in ‘he became extremely interested in painting it’.

That painting now hangs in the home of Bob’s younger son. Poyle Court was owned and rented out by a retired American brain surgeon who had worked at the Radcliffe hospital in Oxford and was now was living in Scotland. The American government and its defence department knew the value of looking after its elite flying crew at home and abroad. Nothing but the best for the best.

Bob Pahl’s service history is extraordinary with four tours in the UK between 1968 and 1990 that included seventeen years flying F111s. These tours were interspersed with reassignments flying F-100s in Vietnam, flight testing in Rome in the state of New York, service at Ramstein air base in Germany, and two years as Test Pilot at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas followed by five years in New Mexico flying F111s.

Bob took to Jago because of the man’s talent as an artist and his eccentric character. Jago, I imagine, would have taken to Bob because the American was young and skilled and flew those magnificent aircraft behind the perimeter fence at Upper Heyford - exquisitely engineered birds, soaring upwards to freedom. Jago would have loved the company of another freedom-finder. 

I hope you have enjoyed the Bob Pahl gifts and story. The year, remember, is 1976 - the American bicentennial year of celebration for the nation's declaration of independence from British imperialism in 1776. Jago gifted his painting of George Washington's ancestral home, Sulgrave Manor House, to the American president, Gerald Ford, and the peoples of America in 1976. It was also the year he got married. He also in 1976 painted a palette-knife painting that I only discovered this autumn.

I thought that Jago had ceased to paint with the palette-knife by1972 - I had no evidence of any such work after that date. How wrong I was. The story of that painting and its discovery I hope to give you next month in the March Newsletter. Meanwhile, if any of you readers out there can re-educate me further on Jago's palette-knife painting history I am your willing student. Artists are worth remembering for several reasons - knowledge of their best work is a very important one.

I promised in the title an update on progress to publication. Having secured my copy of the 2018 edition of the 'Writers' and Artists' Year Book' and read the relevant sections, I now realise I need to complete the biography before seeking an agent. My aim is to finish by mid-March."  

 I hope that has whetted your appetite for the Mailchimp Newsletter and for the book itself.

Sunday, 4 February 2018


Here is Part Two of my piece that stands as a tribute to the late Jim Hodge who passed away on November 23, 2016 and has recently been published in a slightly adapted form in The St Ives Times and Echo.

A word first about the images that accompany the text. In 1893, the photographer, J.C. Burrow, was commissioned by local mine owners to bring the underground world of tin mining to life. He used very early flash photography techniques in these images from four tin mines at Camborne, Dolcoath, St Agnes and Pool. And now, to continue:

'One all-important dimension in this Cornish industrial landscape is, nevertheless, missing. Where in the description are the women and children working above ground, where are the men working below ground? It is as if they have been airbrushed out of the picture. The wealthy and powerful had reasons to fear the masses and distance themselves from that world; the shadow of the guillotine and the events of the French revolution at the end of the eighteenth century cast a long shadow over Europe in the first half of the nineteenth century as industrialisation and the exponential increase in population reshaped the world. It was not until the mid-nineteenth century that the social conscience of a few enlightened reformers within the Westminster elite led to such eye-opening documents as Edwin Chadwick’s Report on the Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population (1842) and the slow acceptance of the need for reform.

But only with the advent of the Edwardian age at the beginning of the twentieth century did a new kind of sensitivity develop within the ranks of the Westminster elite and the urban and rural elites from which it was drawn. For the first time, those with wealth and power began to vote through legislation that raised taxation centrally from their own pockets to pay for the amelioration of the social hardships that unregulated market forces inflicted upon three-quarters of the nation:  the labouring poor. In 1910, in Norwich on the other side of the country, Sir Peter Eade, a physician, and still, in his eighties, one of the leading members of the urban elite having served as councillor, sheriff and mayor, captured this change in outlook: ‘“Socialism” as it is called, undoubtedly demands better conditions for the poorer classes of all classes and the result of investigation into the present condition of any of these fully justifies many of the ends for which socialism is aiming and agitating … The rapid increase of population (and) the growing scarcity of  work and employment, are intending the poverty of large numbers of the working classes with the necessary consequences of home privation and enfeebled health to all, but especially to the young'.

The fabulous wealth of men such as Taylor (who came to Cornwall from Norwich to make his fortune) and Halse was made through the sweat and labour of fellow human beings, labouring under the ground in appalling conditions with their heads filled with the constant fear of death or injury. A.K. Hamilton-Jenkin, in his seminal work on the Cornish Miner (1927), noted that one writer in 1847 calculated that nearly one out of every five Gwennap miners incurred a violent death to produce the copper that made such a contribution to the wealth of the country. Descending and ascending the mine shafts for hundreds of feet by rope ladders was fraught with peril, to name one particular hazard. Medical authorities calculated that in the 1850s, in and around the St Just mining area, the average age of a miner was in the late twenties; the average death age was around the late forties. A miner who escaped the perils of a premature death faced a future of light surface work or at worst
nearly twenty years of unproductive life as a result of accident or disease.

The installation of steam-powered man-engines, the first in the 1840s, to drive a series of interconnected small platforms that were raised or lowered twelve feet in the shaft at every stroke of the engine, saved many lives.  However, the development later in the century of the machine drill turned out to be deadly for the miner underground. In 1904, a Government inquiry into The Health of Cornish Miners established that there had recently been “an enormous increase in the death-rate from lung diseases, in miners particularly between the ages of twenty-five and forty-five”.  The death-rate among Cornish miners was eight to ten times higher than that for coalminers. The explanation lay in the machine-drilling of granite that produced clouds of dust containing fragments such as quartz that were inhaled and over time effectively punctured the lungs – the medical condition known as phthisis was the new killer. Ameliorating the effects of dust inhalation, particularly through water spray, became a twentieth-century priority.

The labouring mass of humanity that worked the Cornish mines over the last three centuries were sustained not through the benevolence of the mine owner; the money the miners earned when the markets were paying good prices was more than they could have made from farming or fishing but amounted to a risible fraction of the profits made by the owners.  They were sustained by other means, perhaps above all by their own camaraderie in the face of accident and death. Drink provided an acceptable social release of working pressures. Many embraced the salvation offered in this life and the next by the good Lord as revealed through the Methodist evangelism that the Wesleys brought to Cornwall in the second half of the eighteenth century. John Wesley preached 18 times between 1762 and 1789 at Gwennap Pit, a hollow formed by the subsidence of old copper mine workings on the edge of what was described as the richest square mile in the world. Christianity and Mammon have always had an uneasy relationship.  

As Jim and John told their stories of life under the ground, Jim with his focus on water drainage and supply, John from his mining perspective, an undercurrent of danger, fear and death was never far from the surface of the tale. Sometimes, it burst through to harrowing effect. They shared an account of a young miner they knew who on the spur of the moment decided he would get his tea break early and attempted to hitch a lift on a kibble – a large bucket – that was being raised up through the vertical shaft to the surface. He misjudged the move and was left hanging on by his fingertips. The men at the top of the shaft saw him come into view as he and the kibble neared the surface. His last words were: ‘I can’t hang on anymore. Goodbye.’ It took the other half of the day to get his body back to the surface.

Fear and the closeness of death; the sheer peril of going underground surfaced in Jim’s account of an adit inspection that very nearly cost him and his miner companion their lives. Adits are drainage channels, generally at a relatively shallow depth, inclined gently towards the outside to allow passive drainage. The survey map on our table showed clearly the course of the adit for the Stennack lode, intersected at intervals by the vertical shafts excavated through the rock to reach the lode. Jim had determined that this adit needed a clearance and maintenance inspection.

Ankle deep in water, Jim and a local labourer entered the adit through a shaft in the town itself. Jim had his measuring instruments, the labourer his tools; a telephone system had been set connecting Jim with a water board architect at the top of the shaft ready to plot the information, the measurements and bearings, passed on by Jim through the telephone. Jim and the labourer began to thread their way through the tunnel that measured around five feet by three feet for most of its length, around two hundred feet beneath the surface.  After an hour or so when they were more than half way up the Stennack Jim noticed that the water level had reached his calves. The phone line connection had begun to crackle and was then lost. ‘I think it’s time to turn back’, he said to the labourer who had scarcely noticed the rising water. Their return journey in that dark, low narrow tunnel became a race for survival as the waters rose steadily around them towards the top of the five feet high ceiling in the tunnel. They just made it to their entry shaft before the waters covered them completely. A white-faced architect met them with the news that there had been a cloud burst over St Ives and the Stennack was awash. 

Jim spoke with pride of the engineering achievements of H.E. Phillips, the man in charge of the mains water supply for St Ives from the 1930s. In 1935, Phillips oversaw the construction of a project to use the waters gathered in the now disused Trenwith mine area to supplement the town’s water supply, specifically to supply the Downalong area of central St Ives. Effectively, 200 million gallons of water were contained by an underground dam, controlled by a penstock, a valve or sluice gate, which in the course of time Jim through his rising seniority was able to operate. He quickly learnt to fasten himself to a nearby structure to stop himself from being washed away in the surge of thunderous water released as the valve opened. 

The Trenwith mine had yielded both copper and tin in the first half of the nineteenth century but falling international prices forced its closure in 1856 as a copper producer. However, in 1908 Trenwith reopened as a radium mine under the control of the Germanowned British Radium company, with some of its output being used by Madame Curie in her experiments. It had been in the 1840s that some of the Trenwith copper ores had been found to be mixed with pitchblende, a mineral then of little perceived value, but later to be worked as the source of radium. The Company had plans to turn the Great Western Railway Tregenna Castle Hotel in St Ives into a health resort – a Cornish spa - utilising the supposed curative properties of the water but these ideas came to nothing and the mine itself was forced to shut down with the outbreak of war with Germany in 1914. 6 Jim told the tale passed down to him of a rich German who bought at some expense measures of radium to cure his illness and died of a radiation overdose soon after – but  evidently the radium content of the water supplied to Downalong residents from 1935 was safe enough. Both John and Jim drank it as children in Downalong as did tens of thousands of others. Those who implemented European health and safety legislation in the 1970s perhaps erred on the side of caution when it was decided that Trenwith water was no longer suitable as a source.

One last story remains, a warning perhaps for the future since so many in St Ives live above the industrial mining landscape buried beneath the surface. Jim told the tale of the lady in one house in Trenwith Place towards the bottom of the Stennack who was awakened one night over fifty years ago by an alarming sound from downstairs. Fearful, she descended the stairs and looked round the living room. Nothing out of place. She opened the kitchen door, hesitated before entering the room, reached for the light and lo! Before her stretched a gaping hole, a sixty foot drop into the world beneath her feet. The kitchen floor had disappeared into an old, unmapped mine shaft. The shaft infill had collapsed. 

To have had the opportunity to listen to the stories of Jim and John and see the survey plans, to have seen the jar containing almost pure tin extracted from the ore, is to have experienced  the wonder of recapturing the past. All who value the understanding of those things that have shaped us will appreciate what we were gifted. A Cornishman, Nicholas Johnson, who played an instrumental part in the inscription of the Cornwall and West Devon mining landscape in the UNESCO list as a World Heritage Site (WHS) in 2006, has stated that overall there was little recollection of mining’s eighteenth- and nineteenth-century heyday among the Cornish:  ‘… once [the memory of mining] passes beyond your grandfather, it almost passes out of mind.’ I hope this essay can play some small part in keeping the past alive.