The Tale of Jack and Wilmot Matthews
of Pendeen and Australia
Introduction by Alan Rowell
It was in 1987 that I wrote this long poem – a made-up story about a couple called Jack and Wilmot Matthews. ‘Wilmot’ was used as a girl’s name locally – we have some Wilmots buried in Pendeen. Jack has always been such a common boy’s name that the miners who went from here and finished up all over the world are known as ‘Cousin Jacks’. And very many of them did go over the world.
In my story Jack and Wilmot go to Australia and have a very tough time there. But when things are at their lowest Jack has a dream, or a vision, which helps him to see things in a better light – it is of being back right here! Anyway, quite recently I remembered this 20 year old poem and thought it was worth setting it to music.
A few notes might be helpful to people who are not familiar with Pendeen Church, and its history.
This goes back to the middle of the nineteenth century – there was no church, school or vicarage here before that, but our first vicar built them all, being his own architect and using local labour and local stone – granite quarried from the Carn, the hill at the back of the church. It is said that Parson Aitken would go up to the carn with a piece of newspaper he had cut to the right size and shape and tell the men – “I want the next stone like this, please!”
In fact Aitken had already had an amazing career before he came here: He had built a church on the Isle of Man – a Methodist Church as it happens – and he’d travelled far and wide as an evangelist. Just one of his converts, a William Bridges, was the influence in forming two denominations – The Dependents in Sussex (the Cokelers) and the Union of Evangelical Churches in Essex (The Peculiar People). And although he never moved from Pendeen, his influence continued. One William Haslam visited him here and shortly after became an evangelist, now better remembered than Aitkin himself, though he acknowledged his debt in his book From Death Unto Life. A young William Booth also came here to see Aitken: he later founded the Salvation Army.
Like most churches Pendeen has the Holy Table and Communion Rail at the East End. According to my song, Jack and Wilmot kneel and have Holy Communion at their wedding. The great East Window, just above the Communion Table, is the most striking feature of the building. It has five tall lancets, making that whole end wall into a blaze of light. The glass has particles of gold and silver in it, which always gives the impression of sunshine, even on a dull day. That window was put in when the church was built but the other two windows, mentioned in my song, both went in later (as memorials to people) and replaced original, plainer windows.
The one nearest the great East Window is in memory of Aitken’s own wife and daughter. You will already have gathered that being married to Parson Aitken was quite a calling in its own right. Left to her own choices Mrs Aitken may have preferred to be in more civilized company than that of the mining folk of Pendeen – or the ship-bilders of Clydeside, who had been Aitken’s last flock. But we understand that she was a true helper and support to the great man, following wherever the Lord called: Which was also true of Ruth. Ruth, that is, whose story is told on one book of the Bible. Ruth came from a foreign country because she knew that was right. What she didn’t know was that one of her descendents would be king of her adopted country. The story was probably an inspiration to Mrs Aitken – and also to her daughter (she married a doctor, in ‘foreign parts’ – Doncaster!) Anyway, that window tells the story of Ruth.
There is another ‘replacement window’, and that is in memory of a young man, Richard White, who drowned while bathing in the sea here in 1934. This window has a text from Isaiah – ”I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters I will be with you”. But what is pictured in the window is something which is recorded in St Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 14:21-33). This is when the disciples are in a boat and Jesus comes to them walking on the water! Understandably they are terrified, but He tells them that it is Him. Peter says “If it’s you, tell me to come to you walking on the water!” So Jesus tells him to come. At first Peter walks on the water too, but when he takes his eyes off Jesus and looks at the wind and the waves instead he begins to sink! The point is – we are still better off looking at Jesus than looking at our troubles. In my song Jack and Wilmot learn this: Perhaps I will learn it one day too (and you if you haven’t).
I ought to mention that I’ve used a couple of Cornish words – Crowst means lunch and Wisht means sickly.
And I hope my song means something to you.