Camborne and Hayle May 12th 2007
Some 28 members gathered at Cornwall College Camborne for a day devoted to maritime art, and the port of Hayle.
Firstly, Robert Jones gave us an account of the busy career of pierhead painter, Reuben Chappell. His early career was in Goole, where, surrounded by ships and a seafaring family, his early photographic career soon turned to painting ship portraits for captains and owners. He had to paint rapidly and accurately, often on one docking. Purchasers demanded accuracy, and his sketches show his attention to detail. The tower and lighthouse at Goole were frequently in the backdrop, but he didnt prepaint these as is sometimes suggested. His charges were modest, and output very substantial. Many are the only visual record of a ship
As well as fair and foul pairs of pictures, his buyers were attracted by his skill at portraying sea and sky. This was the more remarkable as he only went to sea twice in his life. As well as classic ship portraits, a few were of spectacular events, such as enemy attacks in WW1, dismastings etc.
His contacts with Danish captains at Goole encouraged him to move to Par with his family when advised to do so for the benefit of his poor health, as he knew they also traded there and he could retain some of his clientele. Many of his paintings now featured Start Point in the background, and many from this period are held in Danish museum and private hands.
As well as a being a prolific painter, he was a skilled modelmaker and his fine model of Cutty Sark survives aboard Wellington on the Thames. He also put forward various ingenious ideas to the Admiralty in WW1. Very much a family man and community stalwart, he has left us a precious and extensive record of vessels of the epoch.
Tony Pawlyn then took us through the history of Hayle and its famous industrial pioneers. The early history was dominated by conflict between the Cornwall Mining Co and the upstart Harveys, leading at one point to pitched battle. The copper smelting business gradually faded and Harveys and its mining foundry and shipbuilding came to dominate the port. These were not the only businesses, grain milling and tin smelting also featured in the complex.
Their first, wooden, boats were for internal use, mainly to bring pig iron and coal from South Wales and to deliver finished goods. This evolved into building vessels for more general trade for other customers. As the century progressed, they turned to small iron vessels, and in the 1880s to larger 2000-ton tramp steamers, after heavy investment in new equipment.
This was not a great success as customers wanted ships too big for the estuary, and the business never approached the scale of Northern and Scottish yards. Eventually the shipbuilding business ended after a financial dispute. It all sounded to me like a prequel to the fate of those competitor yards in the 1970.s and 80s
Altogether, the yard built 83 ships.
After a good lunch, Tony took us on a tour of the quays and remnant sites. We started at the old power station and chemical works site, now flattened, and moved to the quay that Harveys built, as well as the remnant lock gates of the pounds used to hold water to flush silt from the quays. Sadly, in the 1980s there was very little foresight and perception of the potential for regeneration, and many important structures such as the Coliseum machinery assembly hall were demolished.( was this a world first ? ).
Today it would probably be chasing World Heritage status. At present, the remains of the quays and most buildings have been used as a landfill site. The pubs seem to have survived! It is almost unbelievable that such a superb site in a holiday zone has been left in such a state.
Our thanks go to Robert and Tony for their presentations and David Clement for organising an excellent day.
Roberts beautifully illustrated book on Reuben Chappell, reviewed in
South West Soundings 66 , is available from him at a discount for members.
Reuben Chappell- Pierhead Painter. Signed editions available to members, £25. Signed, cased and numbered editions available at £35 +£2.50 postage.
or tel: 01736 754697
Also available, editions of Alfred Wallis Artist and Mariner £29.99 +£2.50 P+P.
Robert may also be talking about Alfred Wallis at Penzance in September
Reported by Jonathan Seagrave
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