The foreboding opening scene of The Miner and the Viscount is set in a magnificent natural amphitheater, Gwennap Pit, just southeast of Redruth. At the time the story opens, and into the early 19th century, Gwennap parish incorporated the great Poldice mine and was dubbed the “richest square mile in the Old World”. Stannary Rolls record sales of tin back in the 14th century. The intensive felling of trees for charcoal to smelt the ore has left a stark moorland landscape. Today Gwennap forms part of the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site.
Gwennap Pit may have been formed by the collapse of a working mine. Mary Fryer is from Illogan in Cornwall, and she told me she had played in the Pit as a girl. Mary is a Tangye and her family is connected to mining. Her great great grandfather Sir Richard Trevithick Tangye manufactured hydraulic pumps used to drain the mines. He was named after the great Cornish engineer Richard Trevithick.
My wife Penny and I went to Gwennap Pit during our research visit to Cornwall in 2012. I stood at the rim opposite her some 200 feet away and we conversed in normal speaking voices. She said, “I can hear and understand every single word you say.”
I whispered to myself, “First time in years.” She shouted back, “I heard that!”
Gwennap Pit’s acoustic properties made it a marvelous place for meetings. John Wesley visited Cornwall 32 times and preached at the Pit many times. He wrote in his Journal of preaching there to “two and thirty thousand souls.” Read Chapter 68 for a description of one of John Wesley’s great sermons, when he charged the gentry to pay heed to those in great need.
Gwennap was owned at one time by the Williams family of Scorrier House, respected Cornish mine operators, who gave it to the Methodist Church in 1978. The famous Lt. Col. J.H. Williams was a descendant who was born in St. Just. He served in World War II with the British Fourteenth Army in what was then known as Burma. He was skilled in training elephants and played a major logistical role in the campaign. After the war he joined a teak company. I remember when I was a boy at Clifton reading his wonderful book “Elephant Bill” about his experiences.
Researching an historical novel turns up so many connections!