WHOLLY WELL READ - Robert Charles Hope (2000)
Oakmagic Publications, 2000.
By Robert Charles Hope
Ah the West Country, land of legend, rugged coastlines, lonely moorland, romance and cream teas. It is a landscape jam-packed with megaliths, wells, crosses, hauntings, witches, faery folk and customs. A little part of England steeped in history and myth which attracts millions of visitors each year in search of fact, fiction and folklore. In good free-market tradition, this demand has been supplied by a plethora of writers and publishers, one such publisher is Oakmagic Publications.
Oakmagic Publications are a small press based in Penzanze, Cornwall, right at the heart of the West Penwith region. They specialise in producing reprinted works by early authors about Cornish folk customs, pagan beliefs and ancient sites. Of late they have extended their geographical range to include Devon and even Wales. In addition they produce a number of original works, many of which have been written by Cornwall scholar, and one half of the Oakmagic team, Kelvin Jones. If that isn't enough Kelvin's partner, Debbie Jones, is an excellent artist and her work can also be purchased through Oakmagic.
So what do we have in this offering from the Jones'. It is an A5, card bound, entirely monochrome reprint of the chapters on Cornwall and Devon in Hope's The Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, originally published in 1893. It is as simple as that really. No revisions to bring it up to date, no direction maps, no grid references, no claims that it is a complete list of wells in these counties, in fact no frills whatsoever. On the other hand it is a mine of information about the better known holy wells on the south-west peninsula, at a price that won't even stretch my minuscule bank balance.
Hope's Legendary Lore is a beautiful book. However, it is now notoriously difficult to find, and copies in good condition are expensive. In it Hope attempts a survey of the wells for all of the English counties, a project that most readers of this journal will agree is a massive task. Fortunately for Hope, there was considerably less written about the holy wells of England in the late nineteenth century. Consequently, he missed more than he found. However, Cornwall and Devon are particularly rich in holy wells and the venerable gentleman managed to find thirty-five named wells and four sacred pools in Cornwall, and another nine wells and four pools in Devonshire. Not all of the sites get much of a mention, but more than half are illustrated. Some of the better known wells, (e.g. Madron well, St Nun's well, Pelynt), have quite extensive notes. Even the shorter entries are often interesting and intriguing in equal measure. For instance, the entry for Cranmere Pool, Devon reads; 'Cranmere Pool is believed to be a place of punishment for unhappy spirits, who are frequently to be heard wailing in the morasses which surround it'. That is enough to make this reviewer grab his cameras and take a look!
Hope makes a number of references to the Borlase's earlier account of the Antiquities historical and monumental of the county of Cornwall but greatly expands on the Reverend's accounts of holy wells in the county. Consequently, this is an excellent resource for anyone interested in the holy wells of the West Country.
Sounds great, but what is the catch I hear you ask. Well, unfortunately, being a grumpy Goth I must have a moan. And my first moan is that in my review copy some of the original text appears to have gone missing. The entries for Basil's well at St Clether and St Gundred's well at Roche are incomplete, and the entries between them (namely Scarlet well at Bodmin, and Brass well at Trelevean) are completely missing. Obviously some mischievous piskie has managed to hide some of the text from the Jones' as they prepared the text. Anybody who has ever prepared text for publication will tell you how often the little folk get away with their little pranks. This is a shame, and is quite rare for an Oakmagic publication, which are generally very good.
My major moan is that the quality of the illustrations could be better. They are pretty good scans but most of them have suffered a little in the reproduction. The kind of detail that can be seen in the originals or, indeed, in Feorag NicBride's online version of The Legendary Lore is unfortunately not found here. This is no doubt because costs are kept minimal by producing this volume with a photocopier. But they are good enough, and the beauty of these West Country wells can still be admired.
In conclusion then, this book is a steal at a measly three quid, even with averagely produced illustrations and a little bit missing (although I daresay that the Jones' will replace the missing text in future copies). If you want a transcript of Hope's The Legendary Lore for these most magical of counties that looks better than a web page print-out then get in touch with Oakmagic Publications. The added bonus is that you will then be supporting a local press that do some sterling work in making little known and difficult to find writings about the West Country available at minimal cost. It is worth every penny for that alone.
Reviewed by: Rich Pederick
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