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Forty true stories shed light on a fascinating village

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 03, 2013

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On a Friday afternoon in February 1884 the great and the good of Gulval gathered to watch Mr W Bickford Smith of Trevarno lay the memorial stone of a new Wesleyan chapel in the village, writes Frank Ruhrmund.

An act of faith in more senses than one, it was reckoned that the building would cost "£1500, of which they already had £13, but had promises for £750 more, the rest would be raised by holding a bazaar and other events".

No-one among the 300 or so people present could have envisaged that close on a century and a quarter later chapel-goers would be so few the building would have to be sold. A sorry state of affairs, but, as it happened, the former chapel was bought five years ago by artist and author Paul Broderick who, in yet another act of faith, purchased it without actually seeing it and has since brought it back to life as a studio for himself and as a venue for several large art exhibitions.

Commenting on the dimensions of the building at the time of the laying of the memorial stone, The Cornishman newspaper stated: "The chapel will be approached by a slope on the north, leading up to an entrance porch in the centre of the frontage. The seats are mostly semi-circular and will rise one above the other in the form of an amphitheatre."

Paul Broderick is to be praised for the fact that those semi-circular seats are still there and that the building is still very much as it was in the late 19th century. He is to be praised also for his book Gulval: True Stories From a Cornish Village 1880-1943.

Fellow Gulval-based artist Michael Strang says in his introduction: "Paul has brilliantly resurrected and plucked from the lost pages of history the beating heart of a quintessentially Cornish village and breathed life into loves and tragedies, the jealousies and longings of its inhabitants."

The 40 or so stories between its covers include James Oliver's Great Great Uncle Robert Oliver, An Artistic Dynasty Founded in Gulval, First Excursion of the Penzance Antiquarian Society and First Ever Wedding in Gulval Chapel. They are as varied as they are vital. Several are terribly sad, Broderick pulling no punches, but they are all true stories.

The author is also to be admired for his courage in describing the true state of Gulval Carn and Gulval Well and their relevance to Sir Humphry Davy. Paul Broderick writes: "They are at risk of completely disappearing, inaccessible, unloved and unknown in a mass of overgrown brambles, weeds and farming detritus... now completely overgrown with not a single area of any stones being visible. The scooped top stone where Davy would sit and ponder as he gazed at St Michael's Mount is now occupied by an old chest of drawers and its contents."

If his book helps to breathe new life into them, for this alone it will be worth the many hours of research Paul Broderick has devoted to his adopted, and obviously much-loved, village.

Gulval: True Stories From a Cornish Village 1880-1943 by Paul Broderick is published by Chapel Art Publishing at £14.95

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