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The Story of Tom Trevorrow

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10 May 2009

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On the wild sea-lashed cliffs west of St. Just, near Land's End is one of the oldest mines in Cornwall. This was Ballowal, and was worked for tin, some say, even before the flood a hundred years or so ago, anyone from St. Just would tell you that thousands of spirits haunted this wild and lonely place, not only knockers but also ugly spriggans who guarded the centuries' old workings of Ballowal as well as the mineral riches and tools left behind by miners long dead and gone. It was enough to daunt the staunchest working man. One such was Tom Trevorrow, a miner from Trencrom who came down to St. Just seeking work and found himself a job in Ballowal, along with his eldest boy.

From the start, Tom was conscious of Knockers in the mine. Wherever they were working, they appeared to be coming nearer and nearer to Tom's own pitch, for the noise of their tiny shovels and picks daily grew louder. In fact, in the end they started to irritate him. He began to realise that, in some way, they could see him at work and that, whenever he made a clumsy stroke, their tee-heeing and squeaking - quite bad enough in the ordinary way - grew much noisier. One day he lost his temper.

"Get out of it you old Jews' sperrats!" he cried, throwing a handful of broken stones along the dark level where he worked. "Or I'll scat your brains out!" At once a shower of loose rock fell about him and scared him out of his wits for a moment. But Tom was rather a happy-go-lucky fellow, so shrugged his shoulders and resumed work. After a while, he sat down to eat a meal he had brought underground. There was silence as he made his way through the solid meat fuggan and then ,as he came to the last crumbs, a chorus of squeaky voices rang out: "Tom Trevorrow! Tom Trevorrow! Leave some of thy fuggan for Bucca, Or bad luck to thee tomorrow!" Foolishly, Tom ate the last morsel. His candle was almost burnt out and he felt very sleepy. For the last week he had worked almost without ceasing and his eyes were heavy, his limbs very tired. Against his will, he fell fast asleep.

When Tom awoke, the level was dark and silent. Before him were dozens of knockers, also resting. As he stirred, their ugly heads all turned to look at him and, in a game of follow-my-leader - for the most horrid of them seemed to command them - they leered at him between their spindly shanks, thumbed noses, squinted their eyes and pulled the most frightening faces. Tom was very scared and thought it best to light another candle. To his great relief they vanished, there and then, like smoke and he made his way to the surface as fast as his stiff, cold bones would allow.

Tom's friends all shook their heads when they heard of his foolish treatment of the knockers but he was not one to worry overmuch about such things and in the morning set off to bal as cheerful as a cricket. The first thing he noticed was that some of the timbering supporting the level was about to give way. Tom and his boy repaired this in an hour or so, the knockers, of course, working away close at hand, almost knock for knock. The two then decided to get some of their tin ore up to the surface. To do so, they had first to repair a small shaft and windlass and it was then that the disaster occurred. As Tom busied himself repairing the timber, he noticed the knockers hammering closer and closer to the spot where he worked. Then suddenly without warning, the ground began to move beneath his feet. Against the downward rush of rock and timber, his son desperately pulled him to safety and when Tom, safe and sound, was able to recover himself, he saw that all the ore which they had won over the past weeks, as well as their tools, had gone down the shaft with the rest. It was a miracle that he had not been killed.

Tom's ill-luck was a sharp lesson to all he knew. It persisted for years, not only at Ballowal but during the dreadful days when he was forced to turn to farm work to make a living. In the end, it was his wife who brought about a change in poor Tom's fortunes by visiting a "white witch" who, in secret conclave with the unlucky miner, finally broke the spell of ill-wishing by the vindictive knockers.






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