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How to Charm a Wart

"How to Charm a Wart" is an idiosyncratic history of Cornwall, blending legend, fact and anecdote. A focus on a single family lends intimacy to the story - we Angoves have shared Cornwall's fortunes, good and bad, and were eye witnesses to the major events of Cornish history, dating right back to the days of the famous Michael Joseph An Gof. Events such as the Cornish uprisings between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries and the hardships of the tin miners during the economic upheavals of the nineteenth century are given freshness and immediacy by being told with excerpts in narrative form. Cornwall's legends and folklore are similarly treated, with re-tellings of myths in the style of a traditional Cornish droll-teller, and instruction on the subjects of dowsing, the curing of ringworm and - of course - how to charm off a wart.

Here's an extract...

After leaving school at the age of twelve Selina went into domestic service with a Mrs Skentlebury, the wife of a St Cleer schoolmaster. This must have been a hard life. Domestic servants were among the poorest paid of all female employees - even when the free food and lodging that often went with the position were taken into account, earnings were generally derisory.  Working hours tended to be long and irregular, the work was physically demanding, and domestic servants tended to be isolated both from their employers and their peers - and were often lonely.


One of her responsibilities was to walk from St Cleer to the library in Liskeard (some four miles) to change the Skentleburys’ library books.  Sometimes, on her way home, she would be overtaken by a local family in their pony and trap - a Mr Isaac Foot, and his five sons - known locally as “Mr Foot and his five little toes”. Mr Foot worked in Plymouth as a solicitor, and his sons attended school there. Every day they took the pony and trap to Liskeard station, and then the train into Plymouth. When they saw my grandmother on the road, the Foots would offer her a lift - a fine example of Cornish Liberal egalitarianism in action.


Mr Foot later became the local Liberal MP, capable, apparently, of stirring up almost religious fervour among his supporters. He served two separate terms in Parliament - as another example of Cornwall's independent spirit (or perhaps, isolationism) Liberalism continued to be strong in Cornwall even after it had largely been replaced by Labour in the rest of the country. My dad remembers Mr Foot patting him on the head when electioneering in the 1950’s.


The Foot boys grew up to be distinguished members of their professions - notably Michael, who became the Leader of the Opposition during the Thatcher years. This intellectual and high-powered politician - who played such an important role in the Parliamentary scene of my childhood - was once known to my gran as one of the “five little toes”.