Saint Ives, as indeed the whole of Land’s End, affords a rich field for the botanist. Ferns, mosses, lichens, and flowering plants, rare or unknown in other parts of Great Britain, are here to be found in abundance. Some idea of the riches of this district may be formed from the fact that

‘according to the census of distribution given in the “London Catalogue of Mosses and Hepaticæ,” published two years ago, every species and variety found in England, south of Lancashire, occurs in West Cornwall, with the single exception of S. laricinum, and there is reason to hope it may yet be discovered here.’ (Report of the Penzance Nat. Hist. and Antiq. Soc., 1883–84, p.383.)

The following list contains the names of some of the plants of this district, and the localities i which they may be found:

Sticta crocata. The moors of Zennor.
Lecanora hæmatomma. St. Ives.
Pycnothelia papillaria. Gurnard’s Head.
Petalophullum Ralfsii. Lelant.
Hypnum molluscum. Lelant.
H. circinatum. "
H. tenellum. "
H. commutatum. "
Bryium inclinatum. "
Entosthodon Templetoni. St. Ives.
Tortula squarrosa. Lelant.
Scapania undulata.
Thuidium abietinum.
Jungermannia Wilsoniana.
J. riparia.
Caphalozia Jackii.
Zieria julacea.
Sphagnum acutifolium purpureum. Gurnard’s Head.
S. a. rubellum.
S. fimbriatum. Try Moor.
S. cuspidatum. Gurnard’s Head Moor
var. plumosum. Near Zennor cromlech.
" falcatum. Towednack.
S. rigidum. Occurs sparingly on Clodgy Moor.
S. subsecundum.
var. auriculatum. Towednack.
S. tenellum. Clodgy Moor.
S. papillosum viride. Gurnard’s Head Moor.
The maidenhair fern, Adiantum capillus veneris. Between St. Ives and Hayle, in low dripping caves and on rocks by the coast.
The black spleenwort, Asplenium adiantum nigrum.
The lanceolate spleenwort, A. lanceolatum.
The marine spleenwort, A. marinum. On the coast generally.
The rue-leaved spleenwort, or wall-rue, A. ruta-muraria. General.
The common spleenwort, A. trichomanes.
The lady-fern, Athyrium filix-fœmina, var. convexum.
The hard fern, Blechnum spicant.
The scaly spleenwort, Ceterach officinarum.
The hart’s tongue, Scolopendrium vulgare.
The broad prickly-toothed fern, Lastrea dilatata.
The male fern, L. filix-mas.
The hay-scented fern, L. fœnisecii.
The mountain fern, L. oreopteris.
The Tunbridge filmy fern, Hymenophyllum Tunbridgense.
Wilson’s filmy fern, H. unilaterale.
The beach polypody, Polypodium phegopteris.
The common prickly fern, Polystichum aculeatum.
The common adder’s tongue, Ophioglossum vulgatum.
The flowering fern, Osmunda regalis.
The moonwort, Botrychium lunaria.
The mountain St. John’s wort, Hypericum montanum.
The stinking iris, Iris fœtidissima. Lelant.
The balm-leaved figwort, Scrophularia scorodonia. This is a West European plant, found as far south as Maderia; but in Great Britian found only in Jersey, the south-west of Cornwall, and at Tralee in Ireland.
The vernal Squill, Scilla verna. Common on the cliffs all round the coast of West Penwith. At St. Ives pink and white varieties are mingled with the blue.
The wild columbine, Aquilegia vulgaris. The blue, pink, and white varieties are found covering the slopes between Lelant and St. Ives, and also at Hayle Causeway.
The bird’s foot fenugreek, Trigonella ornithopodioides. On the coast near Gurnard’s Head.
The field gentian, Gentiana campestris.
The broad-leafed centaury, Erythræa latifolia. On the Towans.
The sea-lavender, vars. Statice Didartii and S. spathulata. At St. Ives Head, etc.
The shore-weed, Littorella lacustris.
The common fennel, Fœniculum vulgare.
The bearded broom-rape, Orobanche barbata.
The wall-mustard, Sinapis muralis. St. Ives.
The Portland spurge, Euphobia Portlandica. Between St. Ives and Hayle.
The Cornish money-wort, Sibthorpia Europæa. In boggy places.

When, in September, 1882, the Penzance Natural History and Antiquarian Society paid a visit to Towednack church, Mr. Ralfs, one of the members, having summoned the party to the tower, spoke as follows: It was rarely, he said, that a botanist had a chance of saying a word in a church; but here he was able to call their attention to a very rare plant indeed, an alga known under the name of Oscillatoria cyanea. Thirty years ago, when he visited the church, it grew all over the walls, and being of a sky-blue colour, it gave a very peculiar appearance to the interior. Shortly afterwards the pews had to be restored on account of dry rot, and a coat of lime was at the same time put over the walls, destroying the plant. The tower, however, had not been touched, and he was glad to see the oscillatoria still growing there. It was the only place in the west of England where it grew, so far as he was aware. It was remarkable that it was only found in churches, and he left it to others to explain where it was before churches existed. (N.B.—It has since been found elsewhere in the Saint Ives district.)

Grain is produced in the rich level country which lies between the Zennor Hills and the sea; but the farms within the four parishes are, for the most part, pastoral and not agricultural. In the first half of the eighteenth century even the pasturage of cattle in Cornwall was restricted by the difficulty of feeding the stock in winter; but about the year 1747 the turnip was introduced into West Cornwall by a Norwich farmer named Matthews, whose son, Thomas Matthews, brought this now well-known root into the Saint Ives district. The first field of turnips ever seen in this locality was grown by him in the parish of Lelant, and old people still speak from tradition of the crowds who went out to see the ‘Norfolk whites,’ which were to revolutionize the system of farming in West Cornwall. There is an old saying familiar to the elder generation from Truro to the Land’s End, that ‘Matthews brought in the turnips, and a King brought in the pippins,’. The latter part of the phrase is popularly understood to mean that a King of England brought the first apples to Cornwall in his pocket; but the saying, in all probability, arose from the fact that a man of the name of King introduced ribston pippins from Norfolk at the same time that turnips were first made familiar to the Cornish farmer.

Market-gardening is extensively carried on in the parishes of Saint Ives and Lelant. Owing to the mildness of the climate and the fertility of the soil in the low lands, a great trade is done in spring vegetables, especially in potatoes and cauliflowers, which are sent by rail to London. The earliest consignments of English vegetables to be seen in Covent Garden Market are from West Cornwall and Scilly.

Although the neighbourhood of Saint Ives, like the rest of West Cornwall, is somewhat bare of trees, some of the hills and valleys are fairly well wooded. The Stennack shows remains of former orchards, of late encroached upon by building operations. In most parts of the parish of Lelant there is no lack of timber; fine old elms abound near the mouth of the Hayle River, and the estate of Trevetho has been extensively planted within the present century. In the parishes of Towednack and Zennor timber is very scarce; but the bleak moors in these parishes produce large quantities of furze and of peat-turf, which are there used for fuel.

The fauna of the whole district of West Cornwall, like its flora, is very rich, especially in fishes and birds. Many different kinds of fish are caught off the coast; of these, as is well known, pilchards are by far the most important. Of the pilchard-fishery, as a branch of industry, we shall have more to say later on. In birds, perhaps no other part of Great Britain is so rich. Hawks are common among the hills of Zennor, and the peregrine falcon has also been caught there. The merlin has been seen at Zennor in winter, and the ring-ouzel is said to breed there. The rock-dove frequents the cliffs near Bosigran in the same parish. Two specimens of Schinz’s stint were shot in the Hayle estuary in October, 1846, and the great snipe was seen at Saint Ives in October, 1855.

The conchologist will find many rarities to reward his researches in this district, both of land and sea shells. On the Hayle sands, after a strong wind from the west, the Ianthina communis, or ocean-snail, is not infrequently found. The Pisan snail, Helix Pisana, is found in profusion feeding on the sea-holly (Eryngium maritimum), which grows about the coast at Saint Ives, this being the only locality in England in which this species is to be found. The only other localities in the British Isles for this snail are Balbriggan Strand near Dublin, Tenby and Manorbier in South Wales, and Jersey. These snails are said in hot weather to bury themselves some inches deep in the sand, at the roots of Carex arenaria. The Planorbis glaber (P. lavis) is found in Trevetho pond.

Here is a bit of the natural history of this part of the coast, as observed two centuries ago. The great naturalist Ray was here in 1662, and has left us the following notes:

‘Monday, June the 30th, we rode over the sands to St. Ives. We saw here some of the young murres, a bird black on the head and back, white under the breast and belly, and hath a black and sharp bill, black feet, whole-footed. We were assured that the Cornish murre is nothing else but the razor-bill. All along the cliffs, as we rode upon the sand towards St. Ives, grew Fæniculum vulgare in great plenty. We saw many of those birds, which they call gannets, flying about on the water. The bird hath long wings and a long neck, and flieth strongly. Possibly it may be the catarractes. He preys upon pilchards, the shoals whereof great multitudes of these fowl constantly pursue.’

In another place he says that

‘the gannets were almost of the bigness of a goose, white, the tips only of their wings black. They have a strange way of catching them by tying a pilchard to a board, and fastening it so that the bird may see it, who comes down with so great swiftness for his prey, that he breaks his neck against the board.’

The same author says of Saint Ives:

‘The people of Brittany drive a great trade here for raiæ, which they dry in the sun, and then carry away. In exchange for this they bring salt. The inhabitants of this town are of opinion that their fish are better and more daintily tasted than those taken about Penzance.’

Ray also observed near Carrack Du

‘a kind of plant, on a moist bank, whose leaf is somewhat like to Saxifraga aurea. It runs out in long wires like to Campanula cymbalariæ fol. At each leaf it bears one small purplish-coloured flower. We found another plant on a boggy ground, which had small grassy leaves, but very few; it was almost all stalk; it grew not above a hand high, had a yellow flower, but not open in any when we were there, it being a close day. The seed-vessel was somewhat large, round, biggest in the middle, smaller at both ends, like some rolls wherewith they roll corn.’

The climate of this locality is bracing and invigorating, but never very cold. In summer Saint Ives is without the extreme heat and relaxing air which chacterize the southern coast of the Land’s End district. In going from Saint Ives to places on the opposite coast, an unpleasant change is felt as soon as Saint Michael’s Mount comes in sight. Many persons experience lassitude, accompanied by headache, on going from Saint Ives to Penzance, so great is the change produced by the six miles’ journey from the north to the south coast of the Land’s End district. Courtney’s Guide to Penzance (1845) thus illustrates this sharp distinction between the air of the northern and southern coasts, which, moreover, the writer has often personally observed:

‘By the old road from Penzance to St. Ives, after leaving Kenegie, the tourist comes upon a sort of tableland. From the foot of the hill, on which is Castel-an-dinas, there is a gradual descent for a considerable distance, until at last a very steep declivity brings him into the village of Nancledrea. On making this descent a very curious atmospheric phenomenon is frequently observable—the clear and cloudless sky becomes suddenly dense and hazy, evidently from the condensation of the warm and rarified air of the Mount’s Bay by the colder current which comes from the Bristol Channel.’

Hicks, in his now lost MS. of the History of Saint Ives, after speaking of the plague of 1641, thus proceeds:

‘Notwithstanding the plague, in the town lives no doctor, surgeon, nor apothecary, the air being very healthy, and many of the inhabitants now living being above eighty years of age. I have known very few to be blind or troubled with the stone, although the inhabitants of the lower part of the town eat more sand than salt; and seldom or never troubled with the ague, their physic anciently being two-pennyworth of aqua vitæ and a pennyworth of treacle-water mixed together, which they take, and sweat, and so are cured. I never knew but two persons afflicted with the gout.’

The Journal of the British Medical Association of September 23, 1975, says:

‘Within ten miles of Penzance is the town of St. Ives, which, from its natural resources and position, should attract convalescents. The climate is bracing, and differs in temperature six or seven degrees from the south. It is hence suitable for lung diseases and debilitated constitutions.’

This is a convenient stage at which to treat the ethnology of the Saint Ives districts. In the main, of course, the population is Celtic, of the Cymric branch, allied to the Welsh, and still more closely to the Bretons; that is to say, the inhabitants of this district are, like all true Cornishmen, a remnant of the ancient British inhabitants of these islands, aptly, and quaintly termed by Holinshed the ‘Homelings,’ as distinguished from the Teutonic ‘Comelings,’ the Danish and German foreigners who drove them out of the eastern parts of the country, and cooped them up in Wales and Cornwall. But the best modern writers on the subject, including Professor Rhys (‘Celtic Britain,’ London, 1882), have shown that there yet remain in Cornwall dinstinct traces of earlier races than the Cymric Celts. The last-named authority points out that vestiges of the earlier Gaelic branch os the Celtic stock, and even of successive pre-Aryan races whome the Celts conquered and absorbed, are to be found in Cornwall, and have materially influenced the racial composition of the Cornish people.

Owing to circumstances which we shall presently recount, the population of Saint Ives has been much mixed with incomers from Ireland, France and Brittany. The typical Saint Ives man is of medium height, but broad-shouldered, with the Cymric round head and face; he has black hair, black or grey eyes, and swarthy complexion. In character he is warm-hearted and impulsive; quick-tempered, but readily forgiving; of an imagination easily swayed by the spell of music, and influenced by religious feeling; clannish and hating change.

It is our intention to speak of the Cornish language at a later stage, but we may here remind the reader that this dialect of the British tongue was, until the end of the last century, the spoken language of the poorer folk of the Land’s End district. It lingered longer in and around Saint Ives than anywhere else, except perhaps at Mousehole, the home of the renowned Dolly Pentreath—

‘The last who gabbled Cornish, so says Daines.’