Many lovely peeps, young and old, have asked about the name Archavon [Arc-a-Von] and where it comes from.
Now I love telling the legend of St Just’s tiny giant, and I’ll happily sup an HSD while recounting the life of our diminutive hero, but trouble is, I tell it differently every time.
So given the prodigious rainfall and sudden chill today I’ve decided to light the fire, open a bottle, and set about putting the legend to paper (or at least type) for the first time in hundreds of years.
As the lucky inhabitant of Archavon’s monument in the centre of St Just I’m the keeper of his tale, and I’m proud of my role. I hope I do the fabulous fellow justice in my humble recounting of his long, and influential life.
Like all good legends, much of the tale of the tiny giant of St Just comes to us from back in the mists of time.
His story starts truly ages ago, before there were even McFadden’s, or Warren’s or Old’s.
St Just was a different place indeed.
You think the Wi-Fi is rubbish now? You should have been here in Archavon’s hey day. Most hovels didn’t even have dial up back then.
A diminutive giant?
Now the first thing to get straight is this apparent contradiction of terms regarding the fellow’s height.
Archavon was a small giant and there’s nothing wrong with that.
The reason it confuses us all is simple.
These days we refer to tall people as giants, and you can see why. Back in their day most giants were much taller than the hunched over peasants who scratched a living around these parts. And the term stuck to the tall, whether they were real giants or not.
But the fact is, actual giants are a species in their own right.
So just like dogs that come in all shapes and sizes from the chi chi Chihuahua to the monster Mastiff so too giants were, well, giant giants a lot of the time, but then again some were smaller.
Think of Archavon as the Jack Russell of the giants and you’ll get the picture.
An industrious little chap, running around getting stuff done as the big guys lumbered from place to place. A worker giant, planning the giant projects that the giant giants carried out.
And what a bewtie he was.
Archavon wasn’t born in St Just.
Like so many Cousin Jacks he was born up ‘Druth.
Now we bemoan the cuts to the National Health Service today, but they are nothing new, and even in Archavon’s time there was no maternity unit in Penzance.
(Back then they hadn’t even invented Truro and so the threat of all births moving to Treliske wasn’t even on the horizon).
Now I said that Archavon was industrious, and so he was.
He played a significant part in so many of the big stories of his time, but trouble was no one knew how to pronounce his name and so he gradually dropped out of history.
It’s that bleddy haitch’s fault. No one knows whether to say haitch or aitch, and, as if to exact some revenge the H throws everybody when they’re naming Archavon. Just forget the H was ever there and you’re on the right track.
Tristan and Iseult.
Let’s harken to some of the tales of the little giant and you’ll begin to wonder how he isn’t the hero of all Cornwall.
Most of you will know something of the story of Tristan and Iseult, the love tangle between the handsome Cornish King Mark, his knight Tristan, and the beautiful Irish girl Iseult.
Just to bring you up to speed, Tristan was sent off to Ireland on a mission of the king to fetch Iseult who had just won Miss Cork for the third consecutive year. The king had agreed to marry the beautiful Irish girl, even though he couldn’t download her picture from Tinder. To ensure her safe passage to Cornwall he’d sent his most trusted and respected knight as her escort.
But alas all didn’t go to plan, or not to King Mark’s plan at least.
On the ferry back to Cardiff both Tristan and Iseult took a drink of a secret potion d’amour that resulted in them falling passionately in love.
With each other.
Well tha’s just ‘ansom in’um?
‘Cept of course she was betrothed to the king.
The king who was Tristan’s sponsor and guardian.
It was going to get complicated for sure.
Their bond of love doomed them to a life of heartache and pain so sad that we speak of it still today.
In fact the old sage Melvyn Bragg managed to spin a whole episode of In Our Time from their story on Radio 4 only yesterday. Yet even Mr Bragg and his learned friends didn’t mention Archavon.
That’s because the silly bugger Thomas of Britain, who was actually French, couldn’t decide how to spell Archavon’s name and so he left him out.
Yet our giant’s role was pivotal.
Archavon was a spy who infiltrated the crew, sent by Bolster, one of the giants who used to surf at St Agnes, although it wasn’t called that then as we’ll learn later.
Bolster had an eye for the ladies and although he wasn’t sharking after Iseult he wanted to make sure King Mark didn’t claim her either.
Archavon’s part in the story was subtle, but without it there’d be no story worth recounting.
Bolster wasn’t too clever, but he knew he could trust his little friend Archavon to come up with a cunning plan, and cunning it was too.
It was Archavon who mixed the potion d’amour that was the root cause of all that went awry for the love triangle.
Archavon has always played down his role, claiming that the potion was nothing other than Blue Wkd double spiked with vodka, but whatever it was that he laced their drinks with, it certainly succeeded in sealing their fates.
Different tellers tell us different tales of how the lives of Mark, Tristan and Iseult panned out, but no matter who you listen to none will try to spin a happy ending to the sorry tale.
Now from our human perspective it might seem that this devious deed cut Archavon as the villain, but we have to remember that while he stood at a mere 6 foot tall, he was still a giant, and was doing a more giant giant’s will.
Nuclear Power and the Mermaid of Zennor!
It was ages ago that Tristan and Iseult sulked around these parts, so you’ll be forgiven if you don’t know much about them. If you’re from upalong you may never have heard of them at all. However you must know about the mermaid of Zennor.
My gar, I’ve just realised that the Mermaid of Zennor is another tale of some ‘ansom girl who Archavon got involved with. Another tale of love that didn’t work out. Although the facts of this tale are better than the legend most of us are used to.
The mermaid is thought to have lured the sweet voiced choir boy Mathey Trewella out to sea with her after he’d enchanted her with his singing, and the oft told version says you can sometimes hear him even today down at Pendour Cove singing his little heart out.
Well anyone who knows about Archavon will know that tha’s poppycock.
Mathey is just the name Archavon was using back when he was checking out Zennor as a potential site for Britain’s burgeoning nuclear power industry in the 1950’s.
He certainly was lured by the mermaid, in fact he was completely smitten and used to go down to the bridge at Pendour with his croust most days. He’d sing his heart out in the hope she’d pop out of the water and invite him in for a dip, but she was a right one and she didn’t show up very often.
She didn’t drag him beneath the waves as the legend suggests, rather Mathey, aka Archavon, filed his report saying that it was a ridiculous idea siting a power station near a pub as good as the Tinners for all the workers would be in there supping ale all day instead of keeping the place safe. Once that was done he seemingly disappeared sure enough, but only because he’d cleared off back to St Just.
The Devil’s Tunnel and Newquay Steam.
Around that time he was living in the devil’s tunnel under the Plain in St Just. He’d built the tunnel hundreds of years before, but not many about knew that it still existed.
He’d dug the Plain in the first place, and lined it with granite seats so that his travelling player friends had somewhere to perform and educate us local heathens in the way of their lord. Miracle Plays they were called, maybe because they were all about miracles.
After a few years of Miracle Plays the players weren’t converting enough of us locals into Christians and they were worried they’d lose their grant funding.
They asked Archavon for his help again.
They asked him to think of some magic that’d help them make the devil appear in the middle of a performance. They were sure that would help them put the fear of God into the audience.
Archavon knew magic was just a figment of the imagination, but he was clever enough to realise that while magic might not really happen, it wasn’t too hard to create the illusion of magic, especially when most of the crowd will have been in The Star for hours before the plays started.
So this is what he did.
He told the players to clear off to ‘Druth for two years, after all there were more heathens there than in St Just anyway.
He built them a small temporary Plain in Redruth next to the brewery, although that turned out to be a bit like the Pirate’s temporary stadium down the Menaye Field. Temporary in that it was crap, but permanent in that it never evolved.
Anyhow, while the players were up ‘Druth getting lashed on Newquay Steam Archavon closed the Plain while he secretly dug under The Red Star Chinese takeaway and built a devil’s tunnel all the way to the middle.
It was a hellofa job, especially as he did it all at night so no one knew the secret of the magic.
He had to take all the soil, and rab, and rubble, and stuff down Carn Gloose and piled it up there. You think that barrow is a barrow? Well…
Archavon was no slacker though and after eighteen months he was ready to make the magic happen.
Trouble was that band of players liked the steam beer a bit too much, and by the time Archavon sent for them to come back on Warren’s coach they were no use to nobody. If there’d been a Co-op back then they’d have hung around outside it drinking plastic bottles of White Lightning. But there wasn’t. One by one they either drowned in the brewery leats, or fell down one of ‘Druths many shafts. Not one of them made it back to St Just.
Poor Archavon was knackered from the effort, and mightily pissed off with the players. He needed to change things. But he didn’t know where to start.
The first long rest.
That was when he took his first long rest.
Most giants get killed in stupid challenges against each other, or against hundreds of humans, but those who don’t must rest from time to time.
Finding a place where they’re happy they’ll take in their surroundings, paying attention to the little details that escape us on a day to day basis. The birds, rain, cloud formations, or the music of the trembling earth.
Standing stock still a giant can become closer to the nature he loves, and within no time people will forget that he’s anything but granite. Their rest periods are long, and their need for rest gathers as they age. The post-Plain period was Archavon’s first rest, and he was still then for about fifty years – that’s one heck of a nap isn’t it?
Time travels in its own fashion.
Now if you’re not familiar with any of Archavon’s feats you may get a bit confused with his apparent journeys through time.
I’m not surprised. It has taken me yonks to get the hang of it, but basically time doesn’t work quite the same for the giants as it does for us, and somehow it favoured the smaller giants, probably a bit like the way Great Danes don’t live anywhere near as long as Jack Russells.
The Tregeseal Stone Lady Circle and Warren’s Pool.
Have any of you been up to Warren’s Pool on the common above Tregeseal? Well, that pool hasn’t always been called Warren’s Pool. Before it silted up and disappeared in the 1800’s it was called Hailglower Pool, and a sinister place it was indeed.
If you think it’s misty on the moors today, you should’a seen it back then, you could rarely see across the pool for the fog swirling around it.
Old Man Hailglower was a bastard, of that there can be no doubt, but the tales have it that he was irresistibly handsome too.
A fair maiden only had to have Hailglower’s gaze fall upon her for her to swoon, and should he touch her while she was in her smitten state, then she’d be sure to fall in love with him and only death could save her from his spell.
Trouble is death saved those poor helpless girls rather faster than most might have liked, for Hailglower had the pool dug with a specific and dreadful purpose.
It was where he’d drown his loves when they’d fallen from favour.
On a warm moonlit night at the end of the summer he’d take his love to the Wink for a skinfull, then romantically serenade her on the walk to the pool under the pretence of rekindling their passion on its banks.
They’d drink a draught of wine together that had no ill effect on Hailglower, but it’d sink his wife into a deep sleep from which she’d never wake.
When she’d passed out he’d tie her to the granite pasty his father’s servants had carved decades before, and walk deep into the pool carrying her and the pasty in a scene befitting a Rosetti in Birmingham’s central art gallery.
With the gentle grace of a lover he’d allow her body to slip from his arms and sink to the bottom of the pool. It would have had the potential of being a beautiful, if tragic, scene, were it not for the slightly comic effect of the huge granite pasty.
Now you might be getting carried away with the story here but suddenly stop and cry “’Ang on a minute. Isn’t this supposed to be the legend of Archavon? Don’t tell me that he was in disguise and did all those horrible drownings?”
It was Archavon’s job to haul the bodies out 11 months later, by which time they had turned to stone. The tiny giant then dragged them a few hundred meters east along the path and set them upright where you’ll find them still today in the stone circle of Tregeseal.
He also had to get the pasty out too, but that’s less memorable as it doesn’t involve beautiful maidens, and there’s no physical evidence of the pasty, other than the rope marks around the maidens’ necks where it had pulled them to the depths.
When you go up to see the proof you’ll notice that there are a heck of a lot of standing stones there and it’ll hit you that old Hailglower was quite a goer. Not only that, but given that each lived under him (however you want to read that) for 11 months or so, the goer was a goer for a fair few years.
Those that like a moral will be glad to read that his appetite for a gorgeous girl was his comeuppance too.
Back then you couldn’t go off with so many women without coming across one who’d had her charms exploited by some other evil type, and if you found a certain discomfort after falling in lust then chances are that discomfort was caused by an itch that’d rot your body faster than a fast thing.
Realising that he’d contracted something dreadful Hailglower followed the fate of his women and took the pasty for one last walk, but tied around his own neck.
Archavon left him there, and the pool was allowed to silt up and grow over.
Curiously the pasty was never found when the pool was dug anew a few decades back.
I wonder what happened to that?
Bolster and Agnes.
You already know that Archavon was sent off to dash King Mark’s hopes of lasting joy with the beautiful Iseult, but what do you know about the giant’s sponsor, the truly enormous Bolster?
Bolster used to hang out at The Driftwood Spars down at Trevaunance Beach drinking mead, chasing girls, surfing and generally being a lout.
He used to heave great rocks at giant Cormoran down in Marazion as a bit of sport, and that other lout Cormoran would heave them back, up until the time when he started building Cormoran Island, which you’ll know as St Michael’s Mount.
It would have been a hellofa sight seeing two giants hurling boulders the size of a car across Cornwall, but trouble was it played hell with the land in between. Imagine being in the line of fire of something that big.
There’s living proof too – Carn Brea is just a pile of the rocks that hit each other half way, a bit like an American missile intercepting a Russian one over Britain, although that may cause us even more problems than the didykai’s used to on the Carn.
Archavon was big mates with Bolster and would help him scheme against the unpopular Cormoran, but more importantly he introduced Bolster to the local sweetheart Agnes.
Naturally a girl would be terrified of a 15 foot tall giant, but the smaller Archavon managed to make friends with Agnes and convince her to meet Big Bolster down on the beach one day when he’d been surfing the huge swell barefoot. That is surfing barefoot as in just on his feet with no board. A pretty cool trick for impressing the girls.
Bolster fell for her big time. He adored the girl and when she was around he forgot about everything that annoyed him. He forgot Iseult, and Cormoran, and the Aggy carnival, and everything else.
Agnes was pretty impressed by the big fellow too, but her heart was set on marrying another surfer called Saul.
It was Saul who brought about Bolster’s end.
It was Saul who tricked Bolster into his suicide.
But the event went as badly for Saul as it did for Bolster.
One summer’s evening Agnes was coming home from the Miner’s Arms full of the joys of the warm evening and hoping to see Bolster around his patch.
Well, find him she did.
Agnes found him weakened, bleeding still, and tried to save him, pleading with him to hold on while she sealed his wound. The now feeble Bolster explained that he’d done a deal with Saul and that Saul had agreed to leave Cornwall forever as his part of the bargain, leaving Bolster to look after Agnes for the rest of their days.
Bolster’s love was so strong that even as he drew his final breaths his passion was stronger than his pain, and he died a happy giant with Agnes holding his huge head in her lap.
Bolster’s part of the deal was that he had to fill a blow-hole with his blood.
Probably not a deal you’d agree to no matter how much you loved someone, but Bolster was huge, perhaps not that bright, and he believed he had plenty of blood to spare. What he hadn’t figured out was that a blow-hole is constantly washed out by the sea below and could never be filled.
Agnes cradled Bolster’s head as the last of his giant life faded from him, and next day, tormented by rage and grief, she plunged herself into the blow hole, hoping to drown in her giant’s blood. Whether there was any of his blood left down there or not is debateable, but she had no chance of coming out alive.
Poor Archavon was beset by grief as well, holding himself responsible for introducing his best friend to the girl in the first place. Posing as a clergyman he initiated the campaign for Agnes’s beatification and the eventual naming of the town of St Agnes is lasting testimony to another seemingly implausible tale, and again one where the proof stares us in the face, daring us to question the facts.
Archavon’s life wasn’t just one of love and broken hearts. He travelled widely too, most recently, and again with lasting proof, to Italy fetching marble for Barbara Hepworth’s sculptures. He’d describe to her the beautiful chunks of potential he’d seen in the Carerra Mountains and she’d dream of their future forms until he delivered the raw materials of her fame.
He did a lot of her casting down at Holman’s Foundry in Tregeseal back along. Because he had so much puff he could get the bronze a lot hotter than the men, and that meant it flowed into the mould better, and then he’d finish each piece, getting the patination just right by burning strange alchemic chemicals onto the surface of the exposed form.
It’s funny, I went to the Hepworth Wakefield gallery recently to see if they acknowledge the huge part he played in her success and do you know, they seem to have conveniently forgotten him as well. I know he was only the journeyman, the helper, but she loved the guy.
By the Hepworth years he was old even for a giant and he knew he’d have to take another rest, a very long rest indeed.
Don’t worry. Archavon isn’t dead, but if you saw him today you wouldn’t immediately see the giant he once was.
He’s standing outside the house that bears his name on Market Street in St Just, slightly disguised with a smattering of pebble dash. He’s still watching what goes on, absorbed by the sky and the sparrows, somewhat disturbed by the buses and fire engines, but he’s unlikely to respond to any situation for a century or so yet. He has sunk his toes deep into the soil, and needs to gather his strength again like an ent.
How still is he?
Very still indeed.
The big stuff that Archavon slept through.
The down side of taking a 50 year nap is that you can miss some pretty major events.
Archavon was off in a world of his own in 1496 when An Gof and his mates could have done with a hand. It was the last time that London has been invaded from the land as a band of angry Cousin Jacks marched on the capital, but the Cornish Rebellion failed, perhaps for want of another giant on their side?
He was around for the mining heyday, and leant a hand in rescue at both of the big local disasters, lifting huge slabs of rock to get to the boys trapped underground at the Crown Mines and Levant.
He missed two world wars last century, but that was probably a good job. His brute strength may have had a place in the Great War, but he’d have found the second too sophisticated by far.
He stirred in the 60s when a stone turner set up shop in his yard, but when I say stirred, it was little more than reaching a higher consciousness, becoming aware of what was going on around him. No one would have noticed any outward change.
And we don’t know when he’ll move again.
Perhaps he won’t.
Taking on the mantle, learning the legend.
The previous guardians of the legend didn’t take their role too seriously.
When they thought it would be funny to link his head to the house with an arch he didn’t flinch. They even told me this. The joke was so obvious it made me cringe, but they saw the funny side.
They told me their Alsatian used to cock his leg on Archavon and even then he’d only groan a little, although that groan was enough to scare the dog witless and he’d stand in the old porch for hours afterwards growling and snarling at Archavon, stock still outside.
For my part, the solicitor explained the gravity of my task when I took on the property. Strangely there is no hand over ceremony, rather I had to find all the little snippets that are written about St Just history, and piece together the bits that may relate to our giant. Just as the solicitor explained, like making a jigsaw, you simply know when pieces of the tale fit together.
There are many more tales of the tiny tall guy, but the rains are finally abating and Polly dog needs to go for her walk.
As a collie poodle cross she knows not to mess with the giant. She can’t read, but she can sense history and passes him daily with her head bowed in respect for a greatness most of us will never quite understand.