Anecdotes told of Lewis Grenfell of St Just in Penwith
Reproduced from Cornwall and Its People by A. K. Hamilton Jenkin, republished by West Country Books by permission of Jennifer Heseltine who retains the copyright.
The quickness of wit and nimble action required by the latter-day smugglers is well illustrated by the story told of a certain quaint old journeyman tailor – Lewis Grenfell – of St Just. One cold mid-winter day, Grenfell and a companion were engaged in removing a cask of brandy from one of the mine adits which formed a favourite hiding-place for smuggled goods in this district. They had just brought out the cask from the tunnel in question when, as luck would have it, an exciseman was seen approaching. The tailor’s companion, thinking discretion the better part of valour, promptly took to flight and hid himself in a thick furze brake near at hand, leaving the other man to face the situation as best he could. In answer to the officer’s stern enquiries, Grenfell, who appeared to be shaking with the cold admitted the offence – indeed, with the incriminating cask beside him he could do no other – but pleaded in extenuation his extreme poverty and the needs of a large family and a sick wife. Finding, however that pathos produced no effect on the exciseman, the old man begged only that he be allowed to taste a drop of the precious liquor to warm his shivering bones. To this the officer agreed, and handed him a gimlet with which to make a hole in the cask. The tailor’s hands were numb, however, and his movements so slow that at length the ‘sarcher’, whom was also quite ready for a drink, leapt down from his horse and, handing the reins to Grenfell, began ‘spiling’ the cask himself. Hardly had he began to do so, when the tailor, perceiving his chance, jumped on the horse’s back and made off at a gallop. The officer thereupon gave chase, and scarcely were both men out of sight around the shoulder of a hill, when the tailor’s companion crept out of his hiding place and quickly secured the cask, which, needless to say, exciseman never saw again!
Many ludicrous incidents are related at funerals. Many years ago now, a man who went by the nickname of ‘Brother’ died at evin in Sancreed. Amongst those who were present at the funeral was a quaint old tailor, Lewis Grenfell by name, a local character, and eccentric. In the absence of any more desirable person, the latter was asked to announce a hymn with which to start the procession. Nothing loath, old Grenfell promptly raised his hand to secure attention and then, whether as a makeshift to cover his woeful ignorance of hymns, or out of sheer devilry it is not known, gave out in solemn tones:
Poor ‘Brother’ is dead and gone
And no better is left behind him,
We’ll carry him off and bury him up
Where the Devil shall never find him!