The Smugglers of Zennor
by George Pritchard
In the early 1960's I and a group of friends visited Zennor to see the mermaid. After visiting her in the church we made our way to the little Wayside museum to see if we could find a book or leaflet giving the background to the story but found nothing. We spent some time going around this wonderful museum and talking to one of the voluntary staff who I think was from the Old Cornwall society. I asked about the mermaid story and he told me that Cornwall and particular its western end was full of such stories which some said were put about by the local smugglers as a way of warning people that there were certain places they should steer clear of. This was so that the smugglers could get their cargo ashore unseen. Could the Mermaid of Zennor story be one of these or was there another explanation?
There is no doubt that the Zennor Gentlemen, as the smugglers were called landed cargo in the cove below Church town where the mermaid was supposed to have lived. The little booklet on Zennor, written by Joyce Wigley and Dorothy Dudley which I purchased at the Wayside Museum that day, tells how most of the locals had a hiding place for their contraband. Many of these would be in the Cornish hedge where the removal of a few stones would give access to a chamber measuring around a cubic meter. In the introduction to the museum booklet a story is told of how a local bee keeper would keep the Preventative man enthralled by his description of how to make a skep (hive) from willow, twisting and twinning the wicca until he felt certain the kegs were safely stowed.
In the days when the only transport was by horse, donkey or boat, Zennor was a very close community; indeed it is said that all there supplies were paid for by barter and that even copper coins are very rarely found there as liquor and tobacco were paid for in tin and wool, which would then be used to barter for other goods. It would be easy to come to the conclusion that the Mermaid story was probably created as a way of discouraging people especially strangers from going down to the cove.
Last modified: Saturday July 06, 2019 .
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