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“Extinction or Resilience; What Can a Parish Do?”

Gypsies and Travellers Talk

Phil Eaton talk for Michaelstow Parish: ‘Gypsy and Traveller Awareness Session’

Gypsies and Travellers in Michaelstow

The Rich Culture of Gypsies and Travellers by Phil Eaton

Mr Eaton has been the Gypsy and Traveller Liaison Officer in Cornwall for the last 25 years. He manages a team of four people in the Duchy who relate to nomadic communities and people in various ways.

The Gypsy and Traveller liaison he provides seeks not to suppress the culture. Gypsies have a culture that goes back more than 1000 years and they have been persecuted and marginalised throughout this time. Part of the role of liaison he provides is to monitor and record the illegal encampments around Cornwall of which there are often 50 or 60 in a year, as well as looking after the needs of around 800 individuals living in the Duchy. As in all unauthorised encampments he provides a ‘code of conduct’ and acceptable behaviour to them which is often read out to the Travellers. This includes basic health and safety agreements, looking after the land, controlling animals, fly tipping and excrement disposal. Their stay on council land is dependant upon holding to this code, which they are asked to sign.

If they are on public land or land owned by or responsible to the Council, he needs to ensure that their rights, education, health and welfare is within basic limits. They are also assessed for needs, for example the needs of a transitory traveller trading illegally by the roadside are different from those of a Showman taking a break from a busy season. A family unit with caravans or an individual homeless or someone travelling ‘for economic purposes’ – all present different challenges.

There are several different types of Gypsies and Travellers. For example Roma Gypsies and Irish Heritage Travellers or the ‘Hippie Convoy’ New Travellers, sort of setup. All have a nomadic lifestyle but they are separate ethnic groups. Romany Gypsies are said to have their roots in India and came to Europe in the 13th century, while Travellers are ‘mainly of Irish origin’. Some of the communities can be quite tribal. They are a colourful people in life and death and can be very religious. Their culture, claimed Mr Eaton is rich in many ways that ours is not.

One incentive offered to all nomadic travellers to get them to settle, is to place their children into mainstream education. But even this process of ‘assimilation and integration’ can be seen as a tool of cultural suppression, forcing a culture that is essentially nomadic into the irrational views of corporate consumerism. The Australian Aborigines, South American Jungle Tribes, Masai Tribesmen of Africa, North American Plains Indians, even, some claim ‘The Cornish’ are a host of indigenous peoples losing their ways of being to a dominant culture.

It seems that that the basic values of a nomadic culture run counter to those of a capitalist culture. A society based on economic participation, static ownership and accountability does not mix well with that of nomadic peoples who can just move on when they want to. In these circumstances it is difficult to avoid cultural imperialism when integrating travellers of another culture, especially when so few of them want to be integrated into static living.

Central government want to get Gypsies and Travellers off the road and into sites and some funding is offered to bring this about, although most travellers do not seem to want this. In Cornwall there are presently just three authorised sites dedicated to Gypsies and Travellers.

  • Wheal Jewel is a 24 pitch residential site near St. Day – opened in 1992. Cornwall Housing Ltd are responsible for the management and maintenance here.
  • Boscarn Parc is a 32 pitch residential site built in 1968 to accommodate the gypsy families living on Carn Brea. Since 2012 the site has been run by Cornwall Housing Ltd. There are four dominant families on Boscarn Parc.
  • Fordown Parc is a 10 pitch residential site in Pensilva – again managed by Cornwall Housing Ltd. It was opened in 1968 and hosts a small, vibrant community which has integrated locally.

A recently finished, Accommodation Needs Assessment, commissioned by Cornwall Council and other South West local authorities, show that there is a need for a further 318 residential pitches in Cornwall, 60 transitory or short stay, emergency, pitches and 11 ‘Showmen’ pitches before 2030. The liaison office hope to put forward plans soon for the building of a 15 pitch transit site, for which planning permissions have been given, outside Liskeard at Horningtops. ‘Cornwall’s Draft Gypsy and Travelling Communities Strategy and Delivery Plan’ is underway – providing clear guidelines for the future accommodation needs of Gypsies and Travellers.

It is hard to identify appropriate land. Nobody wants a Gypsy encampment anywhere near them, so sites are not found even when land is available. The MOD, the church and local authorities all possess thousands of acres which may be suitable, but it never gets to planning. In the 25 years that Mr Eaton has been in this job, no additional site provision has been made in Cornwall. What is certainly needed, explains Mr Eaton, is at least, small, easily managed and maintained, temporary or emergency traveller site’s on the ‘Atlantic Highway’, and other main routes, heading from Wadebridge towards Bude and up into Devon as this route is being used more and more now by itinerant Gypsies and Travellers as they make their way in and out of Cornwall. Any services in these sites will be paid for by the users as a rent.

The audience for Mr Eaton’s talk harboured a range of prejudices. One person thought that Gypsies and Travellers were best treated with threatened shot guns and sprayed pig slurry. Others thought that Gypsies routinely avoid all taxes, pay no rent, avoid business rate charges, leave considerable mess, steal things, are rude and violent – and so on. Mr Eaton challenged some of these. Travellers on the authorised sites in Cornwall pay rent, tax and council tax, they pay for water and waste disposal – if they don’t – they get moved on. As with all people, settled and travelling, there are a few bad ones who tarnish people’s opinions.

Mr Eaton told us that although a private land owner has no duty of care if there are Gypsies or Travellers on their land, the County Council has a duty of care. It costs a lot of money to move Gypsies and Travellers on. A court order is needed and a Judge can actually decide to not move them on, as they have welfare, health and education needs as well as safety and human rights. The Police, who have powers under the Criminal Justices and Public Order Act 1994 can only move on Travellers if they have somewhere to move to – which seems unlikely at present in Cornwall. With the provision in Cornwall, and many other Local Authorities in the country, of new Gypsy and Traveller sites being non-existent, the police cannot move them on anywhere. As a result of this Cornwall Council, and others, have adopted a ‘policy of tolerance’ which means it takes a lot longer to move Gypsies and Travellers on.

The talk dipped in and out of issues surrounding Michaelstow’s New Traveller encampment, just off the B3266 near Fentonadle. Mr Eaton did not want to focus on this but he thought they would be moved on – eventually. One councillor asked Mr Eaton if he was aware of a Bentley often parked at the woodcarver’s site. He thought there might be a hierarchy in which a traveller family was managing several economically active sites (eg there are 4 woodcarver sites in Cornwall). It was clear that the roadside trader was also selling in cash and avoiding tax and associated premises costs by setting up on County Council land, much to the annoyance of others who have to pay. Mr Eaton agreed that there were clear hierarchies with the family structure for Gypsies and Travellers.

Although the talk was controversial for some, it was well-attended and provided good information and interesting challenges. Mr Eaton’s enthusiasm and depth of knowledge on this subject were well-received by an audience who seemed happy to have their prejudices challenged.

Queen’s Birthday Bonfire

Jem Marshall, Chairman of the Parish Council, lighting the barbecues

Jem Marshall, Chairman of the Parish Council, lighting the barbecues

View across to the moors over the ancient remains of St Syth's Chapel

View across to the moors over the ancient remains of St Syth’s Chapel

At dusk, a tractor is brought in to lift the bonfire and light it from underneath.

A tractor is brought in to lift the bonfire and light it from underneath.

Traditional tractor decorations were applied

Traditional tractor decorations were applied

Soon it catches and the flames start to spread

Soon it catches and the flames start to spread

please note that any similarity here to Pink Floyd's 1975 Album cover for 'Wish You Were Here' is entirely coincidental

please note that any similarity here to Pink Floyd’s 1975 Album cover for ‘Wish You Were Here’ is entirely coincidental

Night falls and the celebration speech from Prince Charles to Her Majesty on her 90th birthday is read out

Night falls and the celebration speech from Prince Charles to Her Majesty on her 90th birthday is read out

The fire reaches its zenith just as drops of rain begin to fall

The fire reaches its zenith just as drops of rain begin to fall

Michaelstow Church

Introduction for talk on Michaelstow Church provided by Cllr. A ffrench Blake

Michaelstow ChurchPope Francis speaking last week to an enormous audience in S America said that: “You do not have to believe in God to be a good person, nor do you need to follow an established religion to be a spiritual person. Many people find spiritual comfort and inspiration from nature”.

The philosopher Roger Scruton made some delightful observations about our country churches, which I am drawing on now to explain something of the appeal of our church to those who may not believe in God or only rather vaguely as is quite acceptable in the Anglican tradition.

For 800 years our church has stood at the centre of the community keeping patient vigil over the countryside. It stands as a monument to the language and culture of the English people, an affirmation of the land and a guardian of the dead who lie there. Of course it is also a Christian church, with a message of redemption. But it couches that message in an idiom of homecoming and safety: “we are the sheep of his pasture … and we have erred and strayed from his ways like lost sheep”. The thought and language is pastoral. That is why country churches have such appeal to the modern traveller, who steps from the car, creaks open the heavy wooden door and sniffs that curious smell of dried flowers and polish which is the smell of God at home in England.

English churches tell of a people who preferred seriousness to doctrine, and routine to enthusiasm. The walls display discreet memorials, placing the dead at the same convenient distance that they occupied when living. The pews are hard, uncomfortable, designed not for lingering but for moments of penitence and doubt. The architecture is noble but bare and quiet, without the lofty aspirations of the French Gothic or the devotional intimacy of an Italian chapel. More prominent than the altar are the pulpit and the lectern. For this is a place of singing and speaking, in which Biblical English passes the lips of people who have believed that holy thoughts need holy words, words somehow removed from the business of the world, like gems lifted from a jewel box and then quickly returned to the dark.

Over the centuries the power and prosperity of the hierarchy of the Anglican Church has gradually weakened and its religious message has been losing appeal, to the extent that the diocese can no longer provide parishes with Vicars or play any useful role in the upkeep of parish churches and graveyards. So it is up to us to see that our church continues to keep vigil over our community and provides for those who may, even occasionally, need in it the comfort of religion- a religion that mutters in the background, demanding neither passionate belief nor strenuous observance, but in some mysterious way consecrating the land.

To return to Pope Francis’ theme: you do not need to believe in God to value the place of our church in the community, to understand the historical and spiritual importance of it and want to help maintain it for future generations.

Residential Planning and the NPPF

Number of new housing estates jumps by a quarter since planning reforms.
New figures reveal extent to which Government’s relaxation of planning rules has seen a significant rise in the number of large scale developments being pushed through. The number of large scale housing estates being pushed through by developers across England has soared over the past two years, according to the most extensive analysis ever of the Coalition’s relaxation of planning laws.

The figures are the most detailed and authoritative analysis yet that the Government’s relaxation of the planning rulebook has seen a significant rise in building across the country.
The report is also the first clear evidence of claims from campaigners that planning wars between developers and hard-pressed communities about unpopular new building are breaking out across the country.

approved planning applications in Cornwall

Number of Applications approved 2013

Separately, a Conservative peer and a key member of George Osborne’s inner circle said the Government should allow building on hundreds of square miles of greenfield areas, and order an urgent review of green belt rules.

Lord Wolfson of Aspley Guise told The Daily Telegraph that ministers should increase the proportion of Britain which has been developed from 8 per cent to 9 per cent, equating to a further 808 square miles or the equivalent of 30 times the size of the city of Nottingham

The six-page report by Glenigan, which uses figures from councils and builders to analyse and forecast building trends, found evidence of a “substantial increase in both the number and the proportion of larger residential schemes securing planning approval over the last two years, with a smaller proportion of applications being refused or withdrawn”.

The report is the first analysis of the effect of the National Planning Policy Framework, which introduced a bias in favour of sustainable development, by comparing the two years before and after it was introduced at the end of March 2012. The reforms were fought by readers of The Daily Telegraph through its Hands Off Our Land campaign.

The study – “Residential Planning and the NPPF” – that English local authorities approved 194,700 planning applications in the year to the end of March – a nine per cent increase on the average number of approvals in the two years before the changes.

The biggest increase was among large residential developments where planning permissions for large schemes of 10 or more dwellings increased by a quarter from 3,956 in 2010/11 to 4,931 in 2013/14.

Over the same period the numbers of applications for large schemes which were withdrawn or refused also fell.

Permission was granted on 77 per cent of large schemes, “up significantly from the 73 per cent average approval rate seen prior to the NPPF in 2010 and 2011”.

Among smaller housing schemes – with between three and nine homes – the Glenigan research found that in the past financial year, 10,474 schemes were given planning permission, up 29 per cent on the average in 2010/11 and 2011/12.

Allan Wilen, economics director at Glenigan, said: “The rise in approval rates indicates the NPPF has begun to release more sites for development.

“However despite the rise in planning approvals, new housing supply continue to run below the potential growth in new households.”

Sir Simon Jenkins, the chairman of the National Trust, said the research was evidence that local developers were simply buying up “three fields and putting down 300 homes” on the edge of small rural communities.

He told The Daily Telegraph: “One of the big problems is that the housing decisions generated by the NPPF have been industrial scale volume housing which by its nature is insensitive to the rural economy and small villages.

“We need to build our new homes where they are needed – in towns and cities.”

The news comes as MPs from the Communities and Local Government committee prepare to start an investigation into the impact of the NPPF. The deadline for written submissions to the inquiry is May 8.

Clive Betts MP, the Labour chairman of the committee, said he was concerned by anecdotal evidence that most of the building was happening on greenfield sites, rather than previously developed areas of towns and cities.

He said: “What we need is analysis of the sorts of sites these are – whether they are brownfield or greenfield? All my instinct is there is actually a bigger percentage of applications going in on greenfield sites.

“That is a worry – and that is what we want to dig away at in the inquiry to find out if it is happening and if so why it is happening. Is the NPPF driving that? Are there things in the NPPF which we ought to be questioning?

Neil Sinden, director of Policy and Campaigns at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “We welcome an increase in housing supply, but we need the right type of housing in the right places.

“Unfortunately, our own research tells us much of this increase is driven by large scale greenfield developments being granted on appeal in conflict with local plans.

“In many parts of England, councils are being forced to accept major development against the wishes of local communities so they can meet top-down housing targets.

“We need more housing but the Government’s approach is undermining local planning. Ministers appear to be beginning to realise that there are serious problems with the impact of their planning reforms on the ground.

“They need to do more to ensure that we regenerate brownfield sites first and avoid unnecessary loss of the countryside.”

Nick Boles, the Planning minister, said: “Our country badly needs more homes, and we should welcome the fact that local councils have given permission for almost 200,000 new homes last year.

“We have safeguarded national Green Belt protection and abolished top-down Regional Strategies, protecting the countryside and empowering local communities.

“This shows that the Government’s long-term economic plan and our locally-led planning system is working. We’ve seen more than 1,000 communities swiftly take-up neighbourhood planning and the first plans now in place.”


Michaelstow Beacon

Helsbury - Michaelstow Beacon (©Historic Environment Record_ Cornwall Council_ 2008_ F86-038)

Air photograph of Michaelstow Beacon – Helsbury: ©Historic Environment Record,
Cornwall Council, 2008; F86-038

This year’s talk was given by Graeme Kirkham, who works for Cornwall Archaeological Unit (CAU), based in Truro. The Unit is responsible for a variety of excavations, surveys and other archaeological and historic building work in Cornwall. He thinks that the site of Michaelstow Beacon is of interest despite Davies Gilbert’s assertion in 1838 about Michaelstow that ‘There is little deserving of notice in this parish, except some doubtful remains of military antiquities.’ Mr Kirkham enjoyed the opportunity to look at the ancient site of Helsbury and made several visits to take photographs and view the surviving remains and wider landscape, including the ramparts, the site of the Chapel, cultivation ridges in the interior and the patterns of the surrounding fields.

The complete circuit of the inner rampart of the Iron Age hillfort is still visible, with a bank at least 10m across and an external ditch 4-5m ditch across which would have been cut down another metre or so from its present depth. Air photographs and historic maps also show an ‘annexe’ on the eastern side of the site, which survives as an earthwork, and a probable outer enclosure.

Helsbury: the impressive bank and ditch on the western side of the hillfort (Photograph: Graeme Kirkham.)

Helsbury: the impressive bank and ditch on the western side of the hillfort
(Photograph: Graeme Kirkham.)

There has been no excavation on the site so there is little information about internal arrangements and other details of the hillfort. Only a single piece of pottery is known – recovered from a badger’s set – but geophysical survey carried out by the Tintagel Environs Survey Project may show the locations of a small number of roundhouses within the annexe. Air photographs and geophysical surveys in the wider area around Michaelstow Beacon show numbers of enclosed hamlets or ‘rounds’ dating to the Iron Age, and it is this local population which is likely to have constructed the hillfort , probably around 400-200 BC.

Helsbury is one of a number of hillforts in this part of Cornwall, with other impressive sites at Tregear Rounds (St Teath), Dunmere, Pencarrow, Bodmin, Cardinham, St Neot and Warbstowbury. Current thinking about hillforts is that they were not primarily defensive sites but rather were intended to look impressive as the focal points for particular territories. They were probably used for communal gatherings and ceremonies but the outer enclosures on some of the sites suggest that perhaps they also functioned as places at which livestock was mustered and managed.

Mr Kirkham also looked at the later history of the site. The hillfort formerly stood on an area of open downland, enclosed as fields probably during the 18th century; it is clear from maps and air photographs that the site is the oldest element in the visible landscape, with the road which passes to the north and adjacent field boundaries all later than the hillfort. The name Helsbury is first documented in the late 13th century and comes from the Cornish words ‘hen lys’, meaning ‘old court’ or ‘ruins’, with the Old English word bury added, meaning a defended site or earthwork. The elements ‘hen lys’ also appear in the place-name Helstone, and the whole area formed part of the Domesday manor of Helstone-in-Trigg, recorded in 1086 as henliston. The ‘old court’ referred to by these names was probably the ancient meeting place for the hundred of Trigg (a hundred was an administrative division in the medieval period) and it is possible that the hillfort at Michaelstow Beacon, or Helsbury, was the site for such meetings.

A ruined building within an enclosure in the interior of the hillfort has traces of medieval carved stonework, including a door jamb and an arch which probably formed the top of a door. There are no historic records of a chapel here, although the stones certainly appear ecclesiastical in style. The hilltop was referred to in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as St Syth’s Beacon, possibly a reference to the medieval female saint St Osyth, and this probably led to the first large-scale Ordnance Survey map labelling the ruins as ‘St Syth’s chapel’. A much more likely dedication for a chapel on a hilltop site such as this would be to St Michael, the dedication of Michaelstow’s parish church, and Mr Kirkham pointed out that the ‘chapel’ building would itself have been aligned towards the chapel of St Michael on Rough Tor.

Michaelstow beacon: detail from John Norden's map of the hundred of Lesnewth, about 1600.

Michaelstow beacon: detail from John Norden’s map of the hundred of Lesnewth, about 1600.

The beacon on the hilltop was first documented with a symbol (resembling an upside-down ice cream cone) shown on a map by John Norden of about 1600. Beacons were used to raise the alarm across the county in case of invasion or other emergencies and that at Helsbury formed part of an extensive network across Cornwall. The beacon – in the form of a metal fire-basket on a pole – was probably located at a point on the western rampart of the hillfort from which there are extensive views in all directions. (A number of places now have replica beacons for midsummer celebrations; one has recently been installed in Lescudjack hillfort in Penzance for a midwinter community event.)

Replica Beacon installed at Lescudjack hillfort in Penzance

Replica Beacon installed at Lescudjack hillfort in Penzance

During WW2 Michaelstow Beacon was used as a Home Guard Observation Post. There are still signs of the site of a shelter built into the west side of the rampart. The observation post was connected to Michaelstow House by field telephone.

The whole Michaelstow Beacon site is a ‘Scheduled Monument’ and the chapel is a ‘Listed Building’. Such sites need to be managed and cared for to ensure that they are conserved for the future – the current regime of grazing sheep on the site keeps vegetation down and allows the earthworks to be seen. Gorse and scrub are a problem because of potential root damage and because when a site is overgrown livestock are concentrated onto narrow paths which erode easily. In 2011 and 2013, a group from The Conservation Volunteers, organised by CAU’s Scheduled Monument Management project, cleared gorse from part of the western ramparts; these are now much more visible to interested visitors and offer spectacular views out over the landscape. Care must be taken to avoid possible damage to buried archaeology when material is burnt on the site. Fortunately, for this work it was possible to burn the cut gorse on a site which had previously been used by local people for a celebration Jubilee fire.

Clearing gorse from Michaelstow Beacon in April 2013, as part of the Scheduled Monument Management project (Photograph: Ann Preston-Jones.)

Clearing gorse from Michaelstow Beacon in April 2013, as part of the Scheduled
Monument Management project (Photograph: Ann Preston-Jones.)

Mr Kirkham very kindly offered to lead a guided tour of the site should enough people be interested. He was also in agreement with suggestions that a ‘Friends of Michaelstow Beacon’ group be set-up so that local people could be more involved in caring for and using the site, with, of course, the permission of its owners. Please contact the parish clerk should this interest you.

To find out more about the work of the Cornwall Archaeological Unit please visit the CAU website   –
website visitors may also find the Historic Cornwall website maintained by our colleagues in the Cornwall Historic Environment Record of interest –

Article written by the parish clerk based on notes taken at Mr. Kirkham’s talk, then edited and corrected by Mr. Kirkham

Addendum from David Ford by email:

I just wanted to comment on your notes on Graeme Kirkham’s talk last year (which we were away for) ; well done for putting up a precis of it by the way. He doesn’t seem to be 100% sure about St Syth’s Chapel having actually been a chapel building. In Michaelstow church there is a granite cross which was illegally excavated and removed many years ago. The anonymous person who did this told Revd. John Brendon Cook that after his death it should be returned to the parish, and this was done ten or more years ago.

John Edward Collins mounted it on a wooden plinth and it now sits on the window sill at the east end of the north wall, beneath the window containing fragments of medieval glass. The archaeologist working for Truro Diocese when they put together the Treasures of the See exhibition had a look at it and thought that it was probably from a pinnacle of the chapel. Just a little bit of extra information.

It does highlight the point that we do need an up to date Church History/Guide putting together. Maybe the Friends organisation might be able to help when they get going.

It is very frustrating that there seems to be no written information on the chapel.

Gunner H H Inch

The information and images below were very kindly sent to me by Mike Evans.

Military Cemetry on the Somme

Military Cemetry on the Somme

On a recent visit to some of the battlefields on the Somme I came across a  headstone in a military cemetery which may be of interest to people living in Michaelstow. The headstone referred to Gunner H H Inch of the Royal Field  Artillery who died on the 8th August 1918 aged 24 years. At the foot of the  headstone is the legend  ‘Late of Trenewth Parish of Michaelstow, Cornwall,  England.’  The date is interesting because that was the day that the Germans referred to as ‘The Black Day of the German Army’. I took a photograph  of it on my iPad so if someone would like it I would be happy to forward it with  location details.

headstones of Gunner H H Inch and Private W L Rae

The headstone I mentioned was in the Military Cemetery near  Villers-Bretonneux (Somme). Of all the many British & Empire cemeteries in  France this one is of particular interest because it serves as the Australian  National Memorial to all her men lost on the Western Front in the Great War.  There is a tower within the cemetery designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens which is  dedicated to almost 11,000 Australian dead who have no known grave. The 8th of  August, 1918 was the start of the Battle of Amiens and is seen as a turning  point in the war on the Western Front with the Allies advancing 9 miles in one  day. Australians, with their habit of abbreviating pretty well everything refer  to it (with great respect) as ‘VB’.


View of the Military Cemetery near Villers-Bretonneux

Herewith 4 photos which may interest you. There are two general views, one of which clearly shows the gentle undulating terrain which is the Somme. The headstone of Gunner Inch you know about. I also include a photograph taken of an Australian headstone where full vent is given to the feelings of the family. Out of interest, a private message at the foot of the headstone was available to the families of British victims at a rate of so much per letter. I believe that the Australian government paid for such inscriptions for their families.