Cry of Tin to Shake Rag Alley – ’twas Cornish Cousins!

– ONE of the wonderful things about being of Cornish birth or ancestry is that (almost everywhere) in this wide world the sun never sets on a Pasty!  … Or more seriously, on people being proud of the strong (or even scanty) threads of Cornish connections they have (or indeed they have just discovered)!

Visiting Bard and 'Town Crier' Howard Curnow, with Albert Jenkin (also Tommi O'Hagan (lady on the right))

For around 200 people gathered in the Wisconsin prairie locale of the City of Mineral Point – established almost 200 years ago, population 2,462 (but once bigger than Chicago) – those points of pride, and many more, were well evidenced.

Those numbers swelling the town were attending the 16 International Gathering of Cornish  Cousins in North America. It was held from 10th—14th August 2011 and its theme was ‘Remembering Cornish Heritage – Making the connection’.

Those connections were not only with the homeland nation of Cornwall, but across North America arising from the mining ‘line-of-load’ migrations of the Cornish and their descendants to places like Grass Valley, California; Calumet, Michigan; Butte, Montana, the Tennessee copper basin,  the mines of Nevada; Arizona; Colorado, British Columbia, and more!

Why Mineral Point?

The discovery of lead near Mineral Point gave rise to the first “mineral rush” in the United States. In the 1830s, news of the lead mining rush reached Cornwall across the sea in Britain and the Cornish miners and their families started arriving in Mineral Point. Mineral Point is home to one of the finest inventories of 19th century architecture in the Midwest.  In 1971 the entire city was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has also voted among the ‘Coolest’ places in the USA.

Pendarves House and Trelawney House, Mineral Point

Why ‘Cornish’?

These immigrant Cornish miners brought advanced hard rock and deep mining skills along with a distinctive stone building tradition to the area. The Cornish character of the community remains prominent to the day, in large part because of the many limestone and sandstone buildings constructed by these early immigrants.

Much of the interest today is in family history but along with that often comes interest in the culture and history of the ancient Celtic nation of Cornwall, and how that influenced the on-going heritage the Cornish migrants left in their countries – as well as the conditions of the Duchy of Cornwall yesterday and today.

The Cornish American Heritage Society which arose out of those interests, with the support of the local Association and community, put on this  Gathering.

Why ‘Cousins’?

Well even today Cornish folk throughout the world are often known to each other as “Cousin Jack” and “Cousin Jenny.”  Perhaps in came from those mining migrations times when it was common for chain-migration of families and even villages, so that it was indeed ‘my cousin Jack’ who sponsored the move or maybe wrote the letter that gave glowing reports.

OK, I’ve got that – so what about this “Cry of Tin to Shake Rag Alley’. What is that all about?

Well, the Gathering was held over 6 days and involved not only many organised events, but also many ad-hoc meetings and exchanges, friendships enjoyed,renewed, or made! Far too many to  be  recounted in this feature article, so we needed a catchy title.

The Cry of Tin is a musical, produced in Cornwall in 2008: “A terrific collection of sophisticated contemporary folk songs that combine with brief scenes to tell the story of tin”.

It was performed by an ensemble of the Grass Valley Male Voice Choir which with their director and Bard, Eleanor Kenitzer, was enthusiastically received by the audience. “These great folks from California who put heart, soul and voice into the presentation are to be thanked, along with Mike O‘Connor and all of the other Cornwall Songwriters for permission to present this powerful musical drama at our Gathering”, said Tommi O’Hagan.

Howard Curnow and Eleanor Kenitzer

Shake Rag Alley is the historic heart of Mineral point, and home to an energetic new education center for visual, performance, and literary arts. A tree-shaded, flower-filled, stream crossed park with nine historic structures, it includes an 1828 original log cabin, the oldest building in this historic mining town.

Pendarves House is an 1830s stone Cornish cottage, restored in the 1920s; and owned and operated by the State Historical Society. Costumed interpreters offer guided tours through the Pendarvis complex, recalling the days when Mineral Point was a rough and tumble lead mining camp. They explain what brought the Cornish, with their expert knowledge of mining and stone masonry, their Celtic superstitions, and their frugal foodways, to settle in this Shake Rag neighborhood.

So how did the Gathering turn out?

For those many gathered from locally, across North America, from Cornwall and elsewhere in the UK, and NSW in Australia, there was an amazing variety of excellent Workshops / Demonstrations, and it truly would have been very hard to work out what to miss:

Poems prompted by Photos Cornwall: A story of Settlement, Shrinkage, Seeding, and Survival; If the Truth be Told – Tall tales of Cornwall; Cornish Miners of Iowa County; Remembering our Cornish Heritage (Odd Fellows); History, Mystery, Mansions and Mines Words Carved in Stone; The Original Identity Theft; Connecting 18 th century to 21 century Methodism; Truly Cousins – Intermarriage among Cornish in Linden area; AD 1870: The Art of William J. Richards; Nothing too Dangerous; Cornish Hurling 2011; Across the Border – Cornish in Jo Davies County; Founder Effect – Cornish English in SW Wisconsin; a Cemetery Walk (Follow up of Words Carved in Stone); Plus there was a Book readings and Pub Night at Pendarvis – musical entertainment by Jim Wearne; Book readings by Gage McKinney, Jim Jewell, John Caddy and Sue Pellowe.

And there was ….. yes, a Pasty Picnic in the Park located across Shake Rag Street from Pendarvis House!

The full Gathering programme is listed after the end of this article – get enthused for 2013!

Let us hear from some who were there:

Outgoing CAHS President Tommi O’Hagan, said: “The 16th Gathering of Cornish Cousins is behind us but fresh in our minds are many great memories. The wide varieties of topics presented in small group sessions were interesting and thought provoking. The newly renovated Opera House provided a wonderful venue for the evening events. IONA – an outstanding Celtic band from the (US) East coast – was greeted with much enthusiasm as well”.

As always there were reunions with family, extended family and Cornish friends from across the continent and new friends and connections made in daily sessions, around dining tables and at all the events during the four days of the Gathering. For many cousins lodging at the Quality Inn the visiting often began at 6AM over coffee and breakfast and went on all day! The hard working committee who put this all together are unwinding and relaxing – with satisfaction in a job well done. For me this was the culmination of my term as president of the Cornish American Heritage Society“.

I very much enjoyed … the bus trip to Platteville and seeing the Southwest Wisconsin archive (which I hope will digitize and post some of their unique old record books so that those of us from afar can access the collections). It was very good to meet old cousins again and find some more new ones as well”. Wesley Johnston, Clovis, California

Regular gatherer Albert Jenkin recalled: “On the day scheduled for the Bardic Gathering, there was a spot of rain and our president regretfully cancelled the outdoor event.  This was a disappointment for the young woman who had worked so hard on her Cornish language piece as ‘Maid of the  Flowers'”.

“Four of us; (musician and Bard) Jim Wearne from Chicago, Mike from the Cornish Global Migration Programme, and myself were having a Spotted Cow (the local brew) at the Midway in town, when we were joined by (Bard) Howard Curnow”.

“We all agreed that  it  was a right shame that the Bards, and the Maid of the Flowers, would not be doing their thing.  We decided right there that something had to be done about it.  Howard took a bit of paper from the barmaid/waitress’ order pad and jotted down what we had been discussing”.

That evening before the banquet, as all were gathering, I marched in with An Baner Kernewek, and announced, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bards of Cornwall.”  All the Bards we could gather, in their robes, marched in and formed a half-circle at the front of the banquet hall.  Our Maid of the Flowers presented the ‘Fruits of the Earth’ to the representative of the Grand Bard – that was Howard, of course, a brief speech was given, and we all marched out feeling that we had done Cornwall proud”.

“Later, I thought to myself that some would never believe we had planned this over ‘a-pints of Spotted Cow.  Others who know us will never doubt it.  Kernow Bys Vyken!” he added.

Kernow bys vyken! Onen hag Oll

An 1860s Primitive Methodist Church

More information:

Cornish American Heritage Society, and the Cousins:

Previous article on the Festival:

More about Mineral Point:

Thanks go to Judy Powell of California for many of the photos, and to Albert Jenkin, Tommi O’Hagan, Wesley Johnston and Gage McKinney, for your help with this feature. All errors are mine.

This can be a living piece – corrections, improvements and additions are welcome, to :

Compiled by Chris Dunkerley, for e-magazine
8 September, 2011

Programme schedule:

Tuesday, August 9,2011:
4:00 – 7:00 pm Registration at the Quality Inn
Wednesday,August 10,2011:
7:30 – 8:30 am Early registration at the Quality Inn
8:30 am Bus tours depart the Quality Inn
3:00 pm – 8:30 pm Registration at the High School
7:00 pm Cornish Film Clips at the Opera House (Included in Gathering registration) ($5.00 at the door for non-registrants)
Thursday, August 11,2011:
7:00 am – 4:00 pm Registration at the High School
8:00 am – 8:30 pm Opening ceremony at the High School
8:30 am – 10:00 am Cornwall’s Contribution to Mankind
10:15 am – 11:45 am Workshops/Demonstrations:Cornish Architecture in Mineral Point
Cornish Family History Society Database – Demonstration
Building Relationships – Student Exchanges
1:00 pm – 2:15 pm Workshops/Demonstrations:
What did Women Wear?
Cornish Folk Songs
Religion came with the Cornish
Trevithick, Man And Machine
Cornish Sing-a-long
2:30 pm – 3:45 pm Workshops/Demonstrations:
Tregellas Tapestry
Tracking our Cousins – Research w/orig documents
Cornish films and TV
Cornish Language 101
An American transplanted to Cornwall
Cornish Dancing
4:15 pm Cream Tea at the United Methodist Church
7:30 pm Cry of Tin (Admission included in Gathering Registration) – ($12 advance $15 at the door admission for those not registered for the Gathering)
“A terrific collection of sophisticated contemporary folk songs that combine with brief scenes to tell the story of tin,” conceived in the Crucible of the Gods.” Songs vary in style from storytelling to anthem to ballads, from boisterous to poignant. THE CRY OF TIN humanizes Cornish miners across the centuries and across the world. An excellent experience not to be missed.”
Friday, August 12,2011:
8:00 am – 9:00 am Opening presentation at the High School – Understanding the Cornish Gorseth, a video by Grand Bard Mick Paynter
9:30 am – 11:00 am Workshops/Demonstrations:
Poems prompted by Photos Cornwall: A story of Settlement, Shrinkage, Seeding, and Survival
If the Truth be Told – Tall tales of Cornwall
Cornish Miners of Iowa County
Remembering our Cornish Heritage (Odd Fellows)
1:00 pm – 2:30 pm Workshops/Demonstrations:
History, Mystery, Mansions and Mines
Words Carved in Stone
The Original Identity Theft
Connecting 18 th century to 21 century Methodism
Truly Cousins – Intermarriage among Cornish in Linden area
2:45 pm – 4:00 pm Workshops/Demonstrations
AD 1870: The Art of William J. Richards
Nothing too Dangerous
Cornish Hurling 2011
Across the Border – Cornish in Jo Davies County
Founder Effect – Cornish English in SW Wisconsin
Cemetery Walk (Follow up of Words Carved in Stone)
5:30 pm Pasty Picnic in the Park located across Shake Rag Street from Pendarvis
7:00 pm Book readings and Pub night at Pendarvis – ($10 admission for all)
Musical entertainment by Jim Wearne; Book readings by Gage McKinney, Jim Jewell, John Caddy and Sue Pellowe
Saturday, August 13,2011:
7:00 am – Masonic Breakfast (not included in $60 meal package) at the Masonic Hall on High Street
9:30 am – 10:30 am CAHS Biennial meeting at the Quality Inn
11:00 am – 1:00 pm Taste of Mineral Point (not included in $60 meal package) location to be announced.
Done eating? Now is the time to visit the shops, take tours of Pendarvis, Christmas Mine Hill, the Railroad Museum, Orchard Lawn and other interesting places in Mineral Point.
3:00 pm – 3:30 pm Bardic Ceremony at Orchard Lawn/ Gundry House (rained out, see article above)
4:45 pm Cash bar at Quality Inn
5:30 pm Banquet at the Quality Inn
7:30 pm IONA “the Best Celtic Music America has to Offer” at the Opera House (Included in Gathering Registration) (Non-registrants $15 in advance, $20 at the door)
IONA’S mission is to present the rich musical elements of all the Celtic cultures – Breton, Cornish, Irish, Manx, Scottish, Welsh, Asturian and Galician, blending them into a tapestry that resolves in the New World, as evidenced in Appalachian, Cape Breton and Cajun cultures. “…They are careful with their source material and will command the respect of enthusiasts for the tradition…..” Mike O’Connor, Cornwall Songwriter, quoted in Cornish World magazine.
Sunday, August 14,2011:
10:30 am – 1:00 pm Farewell brunch at the Hodan Center
Date: August 10 -14,2011
Quality Inn, 1345 Business Park Road,Mineral Point, WI 53565
Mineral Point High School, 705 Ross Street, Mineral Point, WI 53565
Hodan Center,941 Fountain Street,Mineral Point, WI 53565