Explore the rare and wonderful oral histories of local St. Ives people during the 1960s recorded by Dr. Roger Slack, courtesy of St. Ives Archive and newly recorded interviews undertaken in 2020
Oral Histories Old and New
James Freeman and his cousin Miss Grace Bottrell Thomas reminisce about a Mr. Welch who used to bring shipwreck survivors ashore during the First World War and talks nostalgically about how local fisherfolk were in the old days.
Memories about St Ives, sailing and fishing, shops and buildings around the Market Place.
John Cothey talks about herring catching, and the wreck of the ‘Khyber’ and finding wood to make boats. Interviewed January 1964.
Philip Roach Thomas talks about mackerel boats - their names that the family had, sails, ballast used. He also describes the nets used for catching herring and mackerel and the navigation used on the boats and where they fished for mackerel. He also talks about fishing for ray - methods and boats used. Interviewed February 1964.
Betty Ralph recollects her childhood memories of Alfred Wallis. Betty also describes different people in the town and how life used to be including Norway Square.
Carrie Lander talks about her grandfather, a boat builder, who had a boat shed around by Porthgwidden beach and her father who used to fish.
Sam Phillips talks about his grandfather and life in St. Ives as a boy when he used to stay home from school to pull the fish up to the smoke houses by pony.
John Barber interviewed by Dr. Roger Slack in 1988.
The Dr. Roger Slack Recordings
by his daughter Pippa Stilwell
Roger and Janet Slack arrived in St Ives in the summer of 1947, with a little girl of two and another on the way. Jobs for doctors returning from wartime service were surprisingly scarce, and Roger had been considering joining a practice in Merthyr Tydfil until a chance meeting with Dr. Matthew, then senior partner in the St Ives practice, changed his mind.
There was a housing shortage, but with prior information Dr. Barwell secured them a cottage in the Warren called Kay’s Folly. Walking down to the harbour the following morning, Janet, after years nursing in London during the Blitz, could not believe her luck in arriving at such a beautiful place.
Roger became a familiar figure, visiting patients in his naval greatcoat, which struck a chord with this seafaring community. At that time, telephone numbers had 4 digits and calls were connected by an operator. If a patient rang and gave an address the operator would chip in, asking ‘Do you know where that is Doctor?’ and giving directions if Roger didn’t know.
Roger was a natural archivist, and kept a diary for much of his adult life including when he was on board ship during the war – not allowed but most people did it. He was also a good photographer and kept a record of what he saw, developing the photographs in the heads (lavatories) when he was aboard. He had a huge respect for the skills, courage and resourcefulness of people in St Ives, and made many friends among them. It was an easy step for him to start carrying a reel to reel tape recorder in his car and recording the conversations that they shared. Like Alfred Wallis, who died five years before Roger arrived in the town, he wished to capture ‘what use to be’ and which was vanishing so fast. He particularly enjoyed visiting the lodges, and blamed the introduction of television for their demise.
A person who was 80 in 1950 might have known her grandmother, born around 1800, and listened to stories about French prisoners of war in the town during the Napoleonic wars, and the times when people kept pigs on the Island. Roger’s early recording captured these deep local memories. As the years went on, and technology changed, Roger started to use mini-disc recorders: finally he sent his recordings to the National Sound Archive where they were converted to CD, and now they can be found digitally online. He recorded local people who remembered, and were often related to, Alfred Wallis, as well as painters and sculptors from the heyday of the St Ives artistic movement. Not many tin miners: they died young of silicosis.
Roger entrusted all his important work to the St Ives Archive and to Janet Axten. He would have loved to have seen how well they have been curated and disseminated.