Obituaries Peter Pool

A Scholar 

This Obituary, by Professor Charles Thomas, appeared in the Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall.

The passing, on May 1996, of Peter Aubrey Seymour Pool at Hayle, the town to which his family had contributed so much, deprived this Institution of a past president, long-serving member of Council, medallist, benefactor, and former editor of this journal.   It also deprived Cornwall of her major historian in the present century, and Cornish cultural life, through countless organisations, of one whose presence and contributions could in no sense be called lightweight.   Peter has left two legacies.   The first is his published work; the second the memories and affections of his friends.

He asked me to visit him in the week before his death; he had been putting things in order and commented wryly that it was a very odd experience when, supposedly recovering from influenza, one learned that one was dying.  Within the frail clay, a magnificent critical mmd struggled and then succeeded in giving me a detailed reference to a monument that I had mentioned (but of which I knew no early name) in my last book.   Upstairs, he had been battling to round off a family history. Our first contacts (quaintly, as ''Dear Mr Pool. Dear Mr Thomas") were as letters about place-names; two young men, one still at Oxford, the other trying to become an archaeologist.   When in 1967 I first became a professor I was happy to realise (and to tell Peter so) that he was already a far better historian, medieval to modem, than l could ever hope to be.   In recent decades it was obvious that he was also a far better historian of Cornwall than anyone else had been, Charles Henderson included: l did not tell him that because he would have regarded it as impious.

Peter Pool's intricate Cornish background was immediately centred on J & F Pool Ltd, or Pools Engineering Hayle, the family firm.   If at one stage he could be a director of it, Nature never cast him as any kind of engineer - he was hopeless with machinery - and from school he read law (Honours Jurisprudence) - as I did myself, a little before him - at Oxford.   From Keble he went to London for his law finals, inevitably finding himself within the London Cornish Association, before returning to Cornwall as Solicitor: at first in Bodmin, then at Morrab Road, Penzance.    It may be said at once that as a lawyer (and I write as a grateful former client) he was highly efficient, scrupulous, up-to-dale and on the ball, and obviously the possessor of a first-class intellect that, had he not understandably wished to hasten back to Cornwall, would have marked him out in that profession.  In fact Peter hated being penned into an office.   Nature had also cast him in the role of fieldworker and most cruelly on sunny days, the field beckoned: notably as his special love, West Penwith or the Land's End peninsula.

I do not want to fill pages, the same pages that Peter used to condense brutally as Editor with one eye on the costs (in his many other capacities as Treasurer of this-and-that), with a dry catalogue of all his achievements; instead to pick out highlights.   For the printed record there are some admirable Press obituaries, the fullest and best being Ann Trevenen Jenkin's.    The offices and honours that meant most to him were his early election (as a Cornish language) Bard 1955 with the name Gwas Galva; his elevation as Honorary Freeman of Penzance, very properly accorded him by that grateful town and ancient borough in 1988; his active Presidency of the Royal Institution of Cornwall (1974-76) and the many other. before-and­-after involvements that went with this; and his Fellowship of the Society of Antiquaries of London, with which went the time-hallowed status as "Local Secretary for Cornwall".

Peter was an Antiquary, in all the best senses of the word.   So had been his 18th-century hero Dr William Borlase, whose life, writings and achievements at last found full and informed treatment through Peter's promotions, exhibitions, lectures and published editions or commentaries.  In the late 1950s the Prehistoric Society held its summer annual conference in west Cornwall.   The venerable H St George Gray from Somerset, excavator of the lake villages, youthful assistant to General Pitt-Rivers, in his 90s but still spry as a newt  attended; he was to be driven to Chun Castle and helped to the hilltop.   Peter, deputed to look after him, was delighted to experience this link with the beginnings of British, and Cornish, archaeology (Gray's last visit to Truro, to make plate photographs of beakers for Abercromby, had been in the 1890s(!) and was fresh in his mind).    En route Gray remarked that he could smell an odd smell in Peter’s car.   "Oh yes,” Peter told him, "there's a dead badger in the boot."   "A badger”, remarked the sage, thoughtfully, 'How very singular…”: it had of course been garnered from some verge and was destined as a specimen for Dr Frank Turk, a naturalist of equal eminence.   In Gray’s person, Peter was glancing right back to 1827 (when Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers was born) and Mr Gray could assure him that, contrary to lying Rumour, the General did not have webbed toes ("Perfectly ordinary;  saw them many a time myself").

This may well serve to introduce Peter Pool, the Man; a character of singular sweetness and generosity, of fortitude in the face of all adversity, of inimitable humour.    One did not laugh at Peter; one laughed with him.   Because of what seemed to be the uniquely funny, spasmodic, chronicle of his everyday life as retailed by himself.   His cars, for example; machines for getting places, whose workings he did not understand and had no time to master.   In the first, a vintage object, he was driving with Christopher Crofts, rector of St Buryan and president of the West Cornwall Field Club, when the milometer crept from 99,999 to 100,000 Crofts made Peter stop, get out, and even kneel at the (Tregiffian) roadside while he asked a blessing on this ageing automobile: Peter, who kept his religious views very much to himself, glanced around nervously in case anyone who knew him should drive past.    A subsequent car, crammed as usual with his boots, digging-equipment, a crate of mineral drinks and remnants of cake, was reputedly found to be harbouring a nest of mice.

Many of Peter’s stories, though true, almost beggared credulity.   As a Penzance bachelor solicitor he went for a lunchtime dip at the Marazion beach, disrobed, and when poddling down to the sea he passed a family of three whose small boy exclaimed “O, look at that funny fat man!”   Floating along, like an indignant porpoise, Peter pondered a suitably crushing retort: when he emerged and came up the beach again, he paused and announced: “You're a horrid, rude little boy”.   The child burst into tears.    Peter had floated further than he had realised, and it was the wrong family.    Later, married, visiting Notre Dame in Paris and having climbed up hundreds of steps, he sat down to rest at the entrance, mopping his brow and placing his upturned hat beside him, tourists, mistaking him for one of the omnipresent mendicants, started to throw small coins in it.

Those who knew Peter Pool mainly in later life, when he could be moved to gobbling irascibility by inefficiencies, departure from his own high standards of conduct, any criticism of his hero Robert Morton Nance, or the movement to reform the spellings of the Cornish language, missed a younger Peter who lived life to the full, inspired universal friendships and had a markedly romantic side.   Once at Zennor Carn, a raven that alighted beside him and croaked meaningfully was (he was certain) an avatar of William Borlase.    It was Peter who acted for the poet Arthur Caddick in the famous case of the Worshipful Makers of Woad, against Lt. Col. Gayre, the maker of Mead at the Gulval Mead Hall: and for Sven Berlin in the multiple libels thought to arise from his The Dark Monarch (1962) at the end of which Peter sent around to privileged friends a now much-prized, typescript identifying all the St Ives personalities hidden under names like "Vi Gannet". [1]

In 1965 he married Audrey Randle Humphris, herself already active in many of the Cornish interests that he had begun to champion.    As some of us frequently reminded him, it was the best thing he ever did.   Their successive homes - near Zennor, just outside Penzance, and then at the rambling Treeve House near Connor Downs - expressed and reflected their combined characters and a notably happy union over 31 years.

Peter Pool’s overt pleasure in filling the many presidencies and chairmanships that he was naturally offered was matched by the endless attention and hours of labour he gave to those offices.    In photographs he beams with joy.   His open, and actually very handsome, Cornish face is incapable of guile; brow and jaw announce a powerful mind and, on occasions, iron determination.  Two positions escaped him.   For reasons too complicated to describe now, he was deprived of the Grand Bardship of Cornwall; probably because of inertia and oversight, he was never offered an honorary degree by the regional university (Exeter). These gaps reflect no credit on either of the organisations concerned.   Peter's scholarship - discovery, primary research, lectures and extensive publication - was Cornish-based but spread over four or five linked topics.   These were the Cornish language, archaeology (in the west of Cornwall), dialect and local writings, recent history with a special emphasis on Penzance and West Penwith, and medieval Cornish history from documents.   l have, so far, not succeeded in compiling an absolutely complete bibliography of his publications; this should be done, and the total runs well into three figures.  To ensure wide local currency at affordable prices, he published many (invaluable) items himself; shrewdly, too, and as far as I know always in profit, with reprints if necessary.   l have to be selective.   Among the Cornish classics now must be his great edition of R. Morton Nance’s A Glossary of Cornish Sea-Words (1963); as of A Cornish Farmer's Diary by James Stephens (1977); The History of the Town and Borough of Penzance (1974), magisterial and model, and backed by half-a-dozen smaller Penzance specialised studies: and the long biographical introduction to the 1973 EP Publishing reprint of Borlase’s Antiquities (2nd edn 1769), which with Peter’s other writings on William Borlase brought him well deserved pride and satisfaction.   The many smaller works on the Cornish language, some designed to assist would-be learners and speakers, all the gazetteers of place- and field-names (and these were far removed from armchair exercises; he had clambered over, and sometimes dislodged, hundreds of West Penwith hedges), the “instant” studies - for a Borlase exhibition, opening of the Branwells' house, Penzance celebrations, conference notes, etc - universally exhibit a blend of acute research, profound knowledge and an ability to write with directness and economy.   Even his latter-year polemics on contentious topics (A Plea For Unified Cornish, 1987: The Second Death of Cornish, 1995), whether reaching receptive or deaf ears, must command the same degree of attention.

After a lifetime of dabbling, myself, in half-a-dozen topics Cornish and otherwise, I can only offer a personal view; but as one who wrote a number of things jointly with Peter, has been on and off another local historian, and realised about I960 (as I told Peter, many times) that his combined handling of history, archaeology and language was unique.   His discovery and analytical publication (1957) of the Penheleg manuscript showed both his critical powers and extraordinary command of so much of Cornwall's detailed past.   The long paper on the West Cornish Tithings, in this Journal (ns III 3 (1959)), was not only an academic accomplishment whose importance was probably missed locally: it attracted heavyweight attention and acclaim well beyond the Tamar.   Peter had gone a full step beyond Charles Henderson.  Partly, I think, because he, and I, and others, were of a generation of Cornish students whose researches had perforce been incomplete with the lack of that vast resource, the Arundell archive at Wardour, he gave a great deal of time in the last few years in assisting with the happy acquisition and cataloguing of these papers at the County Record Office (on whose Records Committee he served co-opted).

There is so much more that could be cited here: years of work for the Cornish Language Board (as its first secretary), for the Penzance Library, his pet Old Cornwall Society at Penzance and, while I was its Director, on the Board of the institute of Cornish Studies. The successful transition of the West Cornwall Field Club to Cornwall Archaeological Society in 1960-62 owed much to Peter, as an officer, and as the author of the new constitution (another of his specialities). His older friends - the few, now, who even addressed him in private, with real affection, by what seems to have been a self-chosen nickname will treasure that long, rich, colourful string of memories, the many idiosyncrasies.    Peter had somehow convinced himself that he would not see old age.   It proved impossible to nudge him out of the belief and, like Morton Nance, he became unhappy to cross the Tamar in case he should meet his end in (horrors!) non-Cornish England.   He died in Hayle.    The Royal Institution of Cornwall, corporately, has not yet grasped how much, and for so long, it has owed to him.   The one word by which he would most wish to be remembered is simply: Scholar.   I cannot imagine a more fitting recipient.

[1]In fact Peter acted for a number of these people against Sven Berlin, including Arthur Caddick.   Unfortunately, I have long lost my copy of the transcript.   High prices are now sought for second-hand copies of the book.    AP


Peter Pool

By Ann Trevenen Jenkin    

The Independent.  Monday 27 May 1996

Peter Pool was a passionate devotee of the Cornish language, whose revival has been such a spectacular feature of 20th-century Cornwall. Only Hebrew and possibly modern Manx have seen such a dramatic rise in interest.

Pool was one of an active Cornish group following the early pioneers who set up the Old Cornwall Societies and the Cornish Gorsedd (the assembly promoting the cultural identity of Cornwall) in the 1920s. Born in 1933, when the revival of Cornish was still being treated with some suspicion or derision, as a young academic he espoused the cause of Cornish with enthusiasm. In 1996, Cornish is now taught as a GCSE subject, is accredited by the Institute of Linguists, and studied by hundreds of students in Cornwall, Europe, and by emigrant Cornish and others round the world.

School in Penzance and Brickwall, Sussex, was followed by a Law degree at Keble College, Oxford, and further law training in London. There Pool joined the London Cornish Association, learnt Cornish by correspondence with Robert Morton Nance, the second Grand Bard of the Cornish Gorsedd, and became proficient, teaching others, and in 1958 producing his book Cornish for Beginners.

In the 1950s, he returned to his beloved Cornwall, first practising as a lawyer in Bodmin and then setting up his own business in Penzance. At the same time, he became immersed in Cornish activities, becoming a Language Bard in 1955, with the bardic name of Gwas Galva, servant of Galver. He served on the Council of the Cornish Gorsedd, and became a respected archaeologist, taking part in many digs. He was elected FSA for his research, some of it with Professor Charles Thomas, first director of the Institute for Cornish Studies, an academic body set up by Exeter University and Cornwall County Council to further local research. With Thomas, he wrote The Antiquities of West Penwith (1954), an unrivalled guide to west Cornwall. Pool was a research fellow in History at the institute for some years and also helped to establish the Cornish Language Board and was its first secretary.

Numerous books followed. The first was The Typography of the Penheleg Manuscript (1959) - a manuscript written in the 16th century by John Penheleg, Head Bailiff of the Arundells of Lanherne of the Hundred of Penwith at their Manor of Connerton. (It was found under a butcher's bed in St Buryan.) Other books were Reminiscences of Penzance by William Boase, which he edited, and in 1986 a definitive life of Dr William Borlase, the 18th- century antiquary.

In 1965, Pool married Audrey Humphris, a Celtic/Cornish enthusiast, and moved to a new house at Zennor, a small parish on the north coast of Cornwall, home of many writers from D.H. Lawrence to Virginia Woolf, an unspoilt area which he made his spiritual home. A plaque on the wall records John Davey, one of the last speakers of traditional Cornish.

Windswept and exposed, Zennor epitomised Peter Pool's Cornwall. He immersed himself in its history and became an authority on the parish, publishing The Life of Henry Quick (1963), the peasant poet of Zennor, and editing The Diary of James Stephens (1977), a Zennor farmer, which was one of the first Cornish books to deal with agricultural life in the last century. After moving back to Penzance, he researched and published The History of the Town and Borough of Penzance in 1974, and in 1988 was made an Honorary Freeman for his services to the town.

Peter Pool was more than Cornish language expert, historian, archaeologist and lawyer. For many years he served the Cornish community as director of Pools Engineering Hayle, the family firm, as Chairman and Librarian of the Penzance Library, Vice-President of the Celtic Congress, President of Penzance Old Cornwall Society, legal adviser to many organisations. From 1974 to 1976 he was President of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, an academic body based on the Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro, and as editor of its journal was twice awarded the Henwood Medal for research.

Pool was trenchant in his opinions, and one of his last booklets was The Second Death of Cornish (1995), where he attacked others who believed that Unified Cornish, the language as formulated in the 1920s by Robert Morton Nance, needed drastic and sweeping changes. It was a strong plea for careful and considered research first. While some did not agree with his stance, most have respected his scholarship. He was a founder member of Agan Tavas ("Our Tongue"), an organisation promoting Unified Cornish.

Peter Pool is buried in the little stony churchyard at Zennor, the heart of his beloved Cornwall, near the grave of Robert Morton Nance and under the shadow of Carn Galver, from which he took his bardic name.

Peter Aubrey Seymour Pool, historian, archaeologist, lawyer: born 16 March 1933; married 1965 Audrey Humphris; died Hayle, Cornwall 18 May 1996.

Peter Pool

Obituary in The Times    31 May 1996

Peter Pool, solicitor and Cornish historian, died of cancer of the pancreas on May 15 aged 63.   He was born on March 16, 1933.

A BARD of the Gorsedd of Cornwall for forty years, Peter Pool, who took Gwas Galva as his bardic name, was a master of his county's ancient Brithonic tongue.   A keen expo­nent of unified Cornish, he devoted himself to its revival.

He was a member of Agan Tavas (Our Tongue) and the founder and first secretary of the Cornish Language Board.   He took a passionate part in the controversy which surfaced in recent years about alternative forms of the lan­guage, writing in The Second Death of Cornish, his recent booklet: "I appealed to all sections of the revival move­ment to work out some form of compromise and save our cause from ruin; my reward was to be lampooned as a dinosaur. The time has come for this dinosaur to roar.”

Pool was also a scholar of the history and archaeology of Cornwall.   He wrote numerous articles and pamphlets on local historical and antiquari­an topics and was twice awarded the Henwood Medal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall for his contribution to journals.   His books include a History of the Town and Borough of Penzance pub­lished in 1974, and a 1988 biography of William Borlase.

Peter Aubrey Seymour Pool was born in Penzance.   His father ran a family engineer­ing business at Hayle, and Peter was educated locally at St Erbyn’s School before going on to Keble College, Oxford[1], where he studied for a degree in Law.

It was while he was practis­ing as a solicitor in London that he first began to take a serious interest in the ancient language of his county.   He began to attend weekly lessons with the second Grand Bard of the Cornish Gorsedd.   A dedi­cated student, he soon went on himself to teach Cornish in London, and based his book Cornish for Beginners around his experience.

In the 1950s Pool returned to Cornwall, as he had always wished to do, and set up his own firm of solicitors.   Howev­er, he still found time to pursue his scholarly pursuits. He published a pamphlet, The Typography of the Penheleg Manuscript, which dealt with a document written in the 16th century by the Head Bailiff of the Arundells of Lanherne.   Pool had come across this manu­script quite by chance under the bed of a butcher in St Buryan.[2]

After moving to Zennor in 1965 he involved himself in the work of the peasant poet Henry Quick. and also edited the diary of the Zennor farmer James Stevens.

He played an active part in local life.   He was the local secretary of the Council for the Protection of Rural England and as such played a vital role in the preservation of Penwith from Carnelloe to Chapel Carn Brea.   He was a member of the Penzance Old Cornwall Society, acting as its president five times.   He was also a member of the Naturalist Trust and an active member of the West Cornwall Field Club which became the Cornwall Archaeological Society, taking part in a number of excavations.

After his retirement in 1988, he devoted much time to researching and compiling a history of his family[3].   He leaves a widow Audrey, who is also a Cornish Bard.

[1] In fact his secondary education was at Brickwall, Sussex   AP

[2] In fact the butcher Leslie Pascoe had found the manuscript under the bed and, having suspected its significance, called in Peter.   AP

[3] Alas, not completed.   AP

P.A.S Pool - A Tribute

By Craig Weatherhill   

Peter Aubrey Seymour Pool, West Cornwall's greatest historian since Dr William Borlase 200 years ago, died peacefully on Saturday May 18th1996, leaving a gap that perhaps no one will be able to fill until another two centuries have passed.   Of the great Pool family of Hayle, Peter was educated at Oxford, gaining a Master of Arts degree, and soon turning his finely tuned mind to the history and archaeology of his native Cornwall[1]and Penwith in particular.   He was prominent in the surge of revival of interest in the Comish language, spearheaded by Robert Morton Nance and served on the Cornish Language Board for many years. His own book Cornish for Beginners introduced a great many people to the language and its revival and a book,The Death of Cornish detailed the final centuries of the living language. Peter knew Morton Nance personally and held the great man's memory in deep respect through­out his life.  Peter Pool also became a leading light in the Royal Institution of Cornwall, eventually becoming its President, and was installed as a Bard of the Cornish Gorsedd, taking the Bardic name Gwas Galva – servant/fellow of Carn Galva.   His fascination with local archaeology was heightened by a period of lodging at Zennor’s Wayside Museum, founded by Lieutenant-Colonel Frederick Hirst, also the founder of the West Cornwall Field Club. Peter also became a promi­nent member of the WCFC, and of its direct descendant, the Cornwall Archaeological Society.   Along with the irrepressible Vivien Russcll, he undertook a series of excavations: the Tyre menhir: Chapel Jane; Puskus Croft; and the Corfury menhir among them.  His researches brought him to study the lives of the great antiquarians of the past, such as Crozier, William Copeland Borlase. John T Blight and, the greatest inspira­tion of his own life, the great man himself Dr William Borlase.   Peter Pool's tireless endeavours brought much of the previously little - known work of these men and others to public knowledge, often in papers published in the Journal of the Roval Institution of Cornwall – the Penhelig Manuscript; TheTithings of Penwith; and more recently in the journal Cornish Archaeology, the fascinating account of Crozier’s discovery of Chysauster.   He also rescued from obscurity, edited and republished a number of priceless 19thcentury gems, among them G C Boase’s Reminiscences of Penzance, James Stevens’s Diary of a Cornish Farmer and The Life and Progress of Henry Quick.

Archaeology, history and the love of the old language merged in two of Peter Pool’s best known works, The Place Names of West Penwithand in 1990, The Field Names of West Penwith, the latter being a massive and intricate undertaking typical of his meticulous eye for detail, bur the great ambition of Peter's life was to enlarge on an early account of the life of Dr Borlase published in the Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall and to produce a detailed biography of that remarkable man. The beautifully written book William Borlase finally appeared 1986 and was indeed the highlight of his work.   No less detailed was his History of the Town and Borough of Penzance,  commissioned to mark the official ending of the borough itself in 1974, and in 1988, Peter Pool was finally paid the accolade he fully merited - the Freedom of Penzance.

One day his own biography will be written.   Peter Pool did not lead as colourful a life as Dr Borlase but his was a personality no less remarkable, and the same must he said for his dedicated researches, publications and actions, especially when it came to defending the environment of the peninsula he loved.

In the 1960s, Penwith was under siege, with real and appalling threats to its landscape: proposals to mine at Carnelloe; for huge open-cast china-clay pits at Tredinney Common and worst of all, an horrific proposal to take out the entire ridge from Greenburrow Stack at Ding Dong to Carn Galva in a gargantuan open-cast mine, the valleys on either side to be filled with the spoil. Peter's hard-hit­ting article in the Cornish Review, The Battle of Penwith, sparked the public response, headed by himself, Patrick Heron and others, which destroyed those proposals forever.  Nearly two decades later, after the accelerating destruction of ancient field systems and of moorland, Peter Pool was again to the fore in the fight to reverse national and European policies in this regard, securing another huge public response packing St John's Hall in 1984, a meeting at which his impassioned words provoked massive support and eventually secured that very goal, the reversal of agricultural grant policies which led to the continuing designation of much of West Penwith as one of the Environmentally Sensitive Areas. It takes a man of extraordinary courage to take on the giants of politics and industry and win.   Peter Pool was that man.

The other side of Peter Pool showed him to be a studious and steady man.    A solicitor of excellence at the firm of Pool, Purchas and le Grice (later Pool. Purchase and Stokes), he was also a warm human being eager to share his great knowledge.   Such was the man I was introduced to twenty years ago when, working alone, I was sur­veying West Penwith archaeological sites one by one in an attempt to translate Vivien Russell's West Penwith Story into accurate plan form.   Ignoring my scruffy, windswept and bramble-torn appearance, he immediately became my mentor.   My own knowledge of Penwith, its archaeology and history increased a thou­sand-fold. It was Peter Pool who eventually persuaded me to write the book Belerion, and it was he who secured a publisher for it.    It was Peter who urged me to under­take the detailed survey of Late Iron Age courtyard houses that Col. Hirst had called for half a cen­tury previously, and it was he who nominated me as a Bard of the Gorsedd.   Peter and Audrey Pool became firm friends, confidants and instruments of encouragement.   Never was he loathe to pass knowledge on to me and, in later years, I was highly flattered to find that, on occasion, he would contact me to pick my brains. When we disagreed, as we did on which direction the revival of Cornish should take, we did so in a professional and friendly manner, each acknowledging the true value of each other's endeavour.

Physically Peter Pool was a big man.  He had to be in order to house a huge heart and massive devotion to his native Penwith.  Weak ankles from an early accident, and a heart operation when in his mid-fifties curtailed his physical ability to continue his research in the field: they did not curb the activities of that mighty brain and the intellect it housed.

I have not the slightest doubt that Peter Pool. M.A. (Oxon); Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and Freeman of Penzance, was not only the equal of Dr William Borlase, but in some inexplicable way, he was Dr Borlase, and we shall not see his like again in our lifetimes.   Penzance, Penwith, Cornwall and countless people will sorely miss him but, for such as myself, his memory will be a continuing inspiration.

Thank you, Peter, my good and generous friend, and farewell.

[1]To his great regret, Peter was not born in Cornwall, though he did little to disabuse anyone of this belief.   He was born in County Durham, of long lines of Cornish ancestry traceable to the early 17thCentury.   AP

Peter Pool and Ralegh Radford

By Charles Thomas   

Cornwall Archeology Society (Journal 36 - 1997)

Professor Charles Thomas; the Joint Obituary of Peter Pool and Ralegh Radford that appeared in In August 1961, with a confirmatory meeting in April 1962, Cornwall Archaeological Society came into being, formed by planned expansion - in scope, membership, aims and title - from the previous West Cornwall Field Club.   Most of the WCFC officers were carried over, with C.A. Ralegh Radford as President, Florence Nankivell as Secretary, P A S Pool as Treasurer and myself (after an 18-months’ lapse, when Bernard Wailes stood in) as Editor.

Peter Pool was a passionate devotee of the Cornish language, whose revival has been such a spectacular feature of 20th-century Cornwall.   Only Hebrew and possibly modern Manx have seen such a dramatic rise in interest.

That bold statement serves to introduce this short, necessarily rather sad, memoir penned by a survivor.  It does so because Peter Pool and Ralegh Radford are no longer with us, and Florence Nankivell has also departed.  When what must now seem, in retrospect, as rather an old-fashioned and sub-County field club decides to enlarge itself and to join the ranks of full County societies - this has happened in a number of places - the process requires a great deal more than an AGM with appropriate resolutions, and the printing of new headed paper.   As Secretary, Florence Nankivell's job was relatively straightforward and as Editor, mine was simply to design, fill, and produce a new and larger annual proceedings, manifest as Cornish Archaeology 1 (1962).The real burden fell on the other two.   Peter Pool, not just a lawyer but a person richly experienced in such fields, had to draft a new constitution for CAS embracing all possible eventualities, and at the same time to construct actuarial forecasts; could we afford to produce a bigger and much more expensive journal?   Could we contemplate any sort of enlarged excavation programme? Radford by then was widely recognised as the most experienced, possibly the most cunning, chairman in British archaeology.   Having decided a course of action, he never took votes but worked through magisterial persuasion.   I recall that members of the committee expressed alarm at the idea of the necessarily increased annual subscription.   Would existing followers not resign?   Radford's forecast, entirely correct, was that about ten percent would drop out but that membership would rise from around 100 to 400 in ample time to meet likely outgoings.   By 1963, when work started at the Rumps, most people had forgotten that doubts had ever been expressed.   In retrospect, I can see - and Florence Nankivell would have agreed with me - that the successful launching, the productive decade in the field that followed, the continued existence of CAS and the appearance of our journal well into its fourth decade (a striking and remarkable contribution to south-western prehistory and history) are all things made possible, and arguably only made possible, by the personal endeavours of Peter Aubrey Seymour Pool, FSA, 1933-1996, and Courtenay Arthur Ralegh Radford, FBA FSA, 1900-1998.   Both men were stalwarts from the era of the West Cornwall Field Club; if Peter can be labelled as an archetypal Cornishman, Ralegh would have to be described as a lifelong Dumnonian.   This is no place to repeat or to paraphrase the main public obituaries and indeed anything approaching a full account of Dr Radford's prolonged and extraordinary life would require something close to a short book.  May I confine myself, for the benefit of those who knew both of them and I hope also for the enlightenment of members who knew neither, to an appreciation.

Both were Oxford men. Peter read law, or Honours Jurisprudence, at Keble, while Radford very much earlier had been at Exeter where he read medieval and modern history.   In respect of their contributions to the pre- and proto-history of south-west Britain (remembering that Radford also worked in a great many other areas) it could fairly be claimed that they exemplified the truth of one of Christopher Hawkes's more pungent comments: 'At Cambridge, they are taught that Cambridge men know all the right answers.  Oxford has always been different.   At Oxford, people are taught to ask the right questions'.

Peter Pool was born in Penzance and when, after Oxford, he attended law school in London and joined the London Cornish Association he was involved with the Cornish language; with Robert Morton Nance, Mordon, second Grand Bard whose children were indeed briefly tutored in the 1920s by Ralegh Radford; and with Cornish history.   His election to Fellowship of the Society of Antiquaries, expanded to his role as 'Local Secretary for Cornwall', set the seal on what was to be a dual career.   He was a practising solicitor, and very shrewd and skilful in that role, in Penzance, forcing himself to attend an office when he would overtly, and far rather, have been out in the sunshine.   He was also an Antiquary, as had been his hero Dr William Borlase, but the delightful thing about Peter was that a practical, productive and impressively learned concern with Cornwall’s past was indivisible.

One could separate out his roles as fieldworker, excavator, linguist, dialectologist, place-names exponent, local historian, palaeographer, historical jurist and social chronicler, and in compiling a full catalogue of his published work - a formidable task! - sub-divide the books, pamphlets and papers under those specific headings.   It never occurred to him to do so.   The past, most notably of his beloved west Penwith and of the borough of Penzance to which he gave so much, and which rightly honoured him as an Honorary Freeman in 1988, was an unending challenge, but it was also indivisible.   To every one of his investigations he brought a powerful critical mind, the mind of a trained jurist and a first-class historian, and was aided by a prodigious memory.   To his friends, Peter was a constant delight because of his humour, sweet nature and cultivated eccentricities; but those same friends appreciated his stature as President of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, as Editor of JRIC and in all the many other elected or appointed capacities in which he served in Cornwall, and deplored with shared fury such setbacks as the failure to elect him Grand Bard.   Proceedings of the West Cornwall Field Club, Cornish Archaeology, Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall and Old Cornwall all possess indices. Perusal, sn. “Pool, P A S.”, suffices to sketch, not the whole extent of his published output, but enough of it to confirm his stature as Cornwall's premier historian of the day.

lf Peter was the Cornishrnan par excellence, in later life even unhappy to venture beyond the Tamar in case of being run over by a bus in foreign England, Radford was perhaps the Last of the Dumnonians.   His near-lifelong involvement with Cornwall - like Peter Pool, also a Bard and also a President of the RIC- accompanied comparable status in Devon, and in Somerset. Though he was actually born in Middlesex, the family removed to Bradninch Manor in Exeter when Ralegh was in his teens.   Among his names, 'Radford' denotes a vast Devonshire clan of medieval origin, its story explored in print by several members, 'Courtenay' and 'Ralegh' hardly call for further Devonian explanation and 'Arthur', in fact the first name of his father Arthur Lock Radford, almost predicated an involvement - at Glastonbury, Castle Dore, Tintagel and other minor localities - with the quasi-historical dux bellorum of the same title.

Radford's involvement with both the archaeology and the early history of Cornwall spanned eight decades, almost every period from the Early Iron Age to the sub-recent, and most of the elective offices open to him. Punctilious in attendance at every council or committee that had managed to secure his services, generous with shrewd advice (and, behind the scenes, often generous in other directions).   He made little allusion when in Cornwall to his huge range of wider positions - on Royal Commissions, Ancient Monuments Boards, regional societies elsewhere in the British Isles, and national societies ranging from the Prehistoric Society to the Society for Medieval Archaeology.   Nor did more than a handful of those friends and followers permitted to call him 'Ralegh' know, and then only in outline, his pre-War career at the British School at Rome or the Indiana Jones-style adventures attendant upon his period, ranking as a lieutenant-colonel, in a Department of Psychological Warfare.  Fewer still were professionally equipped to explore, though somebody must explore, the paradox of a man who never wrote a book yet was very largely responsible for the emergence of early medieval archaeology as a discipline; who dug so many crucial sites, yet brought few to the state of a final report and lived to see most of his earlier conclusions overturned, not least by his own disciples; and who, giving hundreds of learned lectures and holding dozens of impressive offices, neither held nor could ever have wished to hold a university post.

I conclude with a retrospective glance at an extremely happy event, the 1985 celebration of the West Cornwall Field Club's 50th anniversary and thus of the ultimate genesis of our later Society.   Peter Pool, on a previous occasion - a Prehistoric Society conference based on Penzance - had been deputed to drive H St George Gray around, and to his delight was able to hear from the venerable Sage of Mendip first-hand stories about Lieut-General Pitt­-Rivers, who was born in 1827, or just over a half-century from William Borlase's death (1772).   We were talking along these lines and Radford, who at Oxford had attended classes given by Haverfield, effectively the founder of Romano-British archaeology, pointed out that when he himself was elected an FSA in March 1928, he met certain octogenarian Fellows whose elections belonged to the Hanoverian phase of the Society of Antiquaries, before the move to Burlington House, at Somerset House.   The day itself was graced by July sunshine of a kind we seem no longer to enjoy.   It began with an address on 'Our Founders', which as the CAS president I had prepared at length because it contained the first full account of Lieut-Colonel Frederick Christian Hirst, né Shirt, the WCFC's founding president.   This was to be given from the pulpit at Zennor parish church, and as a Methodist I had been uncertain what I was supposed to wear for the occasion.   Seeking Radford's own High Anglo-Catholic advice, as I had done on so many points since about 1950, I was told - rather unexpectedly - that academic dress was required, and with slight embarrassment I emerged from the vestry in scarlet and grey Oxford D.Litt. robes.   (The garment, hideously expensive to clean, was packed up before we left the church for our Wayside Museum picnic.)   After lunch, Peter and I asked Radford, the only person present who had known him personally and who had actually been offered, but had then to decline, the WCFC's initial presidency, what Fred Hirst was really like; as a living, breathing, man, that is. Radford lowered his voice.   We awaited our mentor's reply. 'I found him a very carnal  person', he told us.   Peter and I were baffled then, and I still am.   Clearly this comment in no way diminished Radford's considerable admiration, which we and all the remaining Field Club members shared, for Hirst's many and remarkable pioneer accomplishments and predictive ideas.   Indeed delivering as always a masterly impromptu address to precede unveiling of a plaque, Dr Radford paid a glowing tribute to Colonel Hirst, Mrs Constance Lloyd as she then was, and Ted Wigley.   The present was united with the past.   As 'the present' marches onward, into this fresh century and millennium, the formative past of the Cornwall Archaeological Society is inevitably largely unrecorded at the level of all the individuals - officers and members - who have constituted it, and the band of memory-holders diminishes.   Peter Pool and Ralegh Radford were both, by standards much wider than those of Cornwall and Dumnonia, memorable scholars and outstanding personalities. My preceding memoir here may be unconventional, but I know that it will strike many chords in the hearts of all those who remember them.


Gorsedd mourns language scholar and bard

Douglas Williams

The Cornishman May 21st 1996    

One of Cornwall’s most distinguished sons and scholars has died.   The life and interests of Peter Pool ranged through the academic spectrum from language and history to archaeology, law and literature.    A Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, a bard of the Gorsedd of Cornwall for forty years, and former President of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, he was aged 63.

A service of thanksgiving for his life will be conducted by the Grand Bard, the Rev Brian Coombes, at St Mary’s Parish Church on Friday at 2.30pm.

Mr Pool worked at Bodmin before returning to his home town of Penzance and a partnership there, and advised many groups in an honorary capacity.   He lived at Treeve House, Hayle, and leaves a widow Audrey.   In recent years he worked on the family history; his father Franklyn Pool of Newton Ferrers celebrated his 90th birthday a short time ago.

He had been a director of the family engineering business at Hayle.

The Honorary Freedom of Penzance was conferred on him in 1988, and he published the definitive history of the First and Last Borough in England.   He was one of the founders of the Cornish Language Board, served as its first general secretary and later its treasurer, writing the book Cornish for Beginners.

He was educated in the Westcountry and at Keble College, Oxford.

Mr Pool was twice awarded the Henwood Medal for his contribution to its journals.   A leading member of the Cornwall Archaeological Society he was also a research fellow of the Institute of Cornish Studies.   To all his activities he added a delightful and personal humour.

Mr Pool, who devoted most of his life to the revival of the Cornish language, wrote “in both sorrow and anger” on the controversy over the alternative language forms of recent years.   In his booklet two years ago – The Second Death of Cornish – in which he expressed his feelings, he declared: “some time ago I appealed to all sections of the revival movement to work out some form of compromise and save our cause from ruin; my reward was to be lampooned as a dinosaur.   The time has come for this dinosaur to roar.”   Since its publication, there has been a coming together in friendly discussion of the various language interests.

He lived at Zennor following in 1965 and the committal will take place there following the service at St Mary’s.   Donations in his memory will be for the Mayor of Penzance Appeal Fund.

Man of Integrity and Humour

Christine North. County Archivist 1986 - 2000, Cornwall County Council    

May I endorse Douglas Wil­liams' tribute to Peter Pool (Corn­ishman May 21) and add my own.

Peter was for many years a va­lued co-opted member of the coun­ty council's Records Committee, which dealt with all matters rela­ting to Cornwall's archive ser­vice.   His comments were invariably well considered and apposite, his knowledge of the county's history was extraordinary in its breadth and depth, and he encouraged and negotiated the transfer to the County Record Office of many groups of records.

His own historical research cov­ered many areas of Cornwall's past: the derivation of place­ names, field patterns, the 16th century Penzance merchant Alex­ander Daniell, the history of the boroughs of Penzance and Mara­zion, and (his own particular fa­vourite) the life and work of Dr William Borlase.   His research was meticulous and thorough, and was underta­ken with characteristic enthu­siasm and energy.

His involvement in the acquisi­tion and cataloguing of the Arundell archive gave him and us enormous pleasure, and we can only regret that he did not live to use in his research the documents whose return to Cornwall had gi­ven him so much pleasure.   He was a long-time member of the Council of the Royal Institu­tion of Cornwall, a past presi­dent, and for many years editor of its Journal.   He remained an active member of the Royal Institution's Publica­tions Committee and when I was appointed editor of its journal his advice and help were given with characteristic generosity.

He was a man of integrity, hon­esty and great good humour, un­failingly courteous even when engaged in the fiercest of acade­mic debates, and with an im­mense capacity for enjoyment.   Cornwall has lost a loyal advo­cate and a very good friend.