Although this description is in respect of Newlyn, the way of life was similar in many Cornish villages if not towns. "Ope" is a diminutive of opening. These were common in the old Newlyn and, unlike a lane, were not open to the sky but were a way of interconnecting courts, lanes and allies. The entrance way went underneath a first floor dwelling.This opened out the end of what would otherwise be a dead end. The room above was on what we call a "flying freehold", having only air beneath it. Many of the entrances to the old courts were once like this and the op/ope gave access to the net lofts and yards/courts that were communally used. This was where the women could beat or braid nets and the men cutch/bark the nets or sails in the pits, all within sight and sound of the children. Children would always be children however, and sometimes they fell through the ill-fitting pit lids and were "tanned" for several weeks. Boys anxious to show of their sculling skills 'borrowed' punts tied up at the wharf and used any old piece of wood as an oar....they were often found, beyond the old quay stuck on the mud as the tide fell. Stuck they stayed until the turn. It was impossible to walk on the sand at certain states of the tide, despite it looking firm. This is why so many little boats were kept bottom-up in the courts. Oars were always taken ashore to prevent mischievous boys showing off to the girls. They would go to sea for real at 12 years of age so they learnt many skills at an early age.
Where several courts joined up there was created an open square large enough to dry nets and sails in, after barking. These were called "Gearns" and were more common in the 'Newlyn Town' area. Later on, the narrow cuttings between houses, making short cuts between long streets, were also called opes, although, strictly speaking, they were not of the same construction.
As for down-along, this word was in good company; there were also up-along, out-along, in-along, and home-along. These were used to describe any place in relation to your current position, although down-along was only used when going back uphill and the upalong when going downalong [if you get the meaning]. In-along was to anywhere slightly towards the inland country not up a hill eg.Stable Hobba or Larrigan or perhaps as far as Penzance. Anything some distance away like St. Ives, Marazion or Hayle was over- to. For example: "over to Hayle".
The Cornish use of 'to' is confusing. It is sometimes used as in the question "Where is it?", "Where's Mum to?", "Where's dinner to?". One person was on a railway platform in London some time ago, and asked the porter "Where's the train too?". "Train to where?" came the reply! There was only one train leaving at a time at Penzance and one up track! Paddington was a revelation.
"Out-along" was a short way along the cliff/strand road beside the harbour in either direction. "Home-along" was usually said by the old men after spending the morning discussing things amongst themselves. This could have been on the seats outside the Seamens' Mission at Newlyn Bridge, Street-an- Nowan or at the Seamens' Rest at the bottom of Church Street on the Cliff in Newlyn Town. They could have used "Up-along" but at the disappearance of one of their number, the conversation went something like this. "Where's e' gone to ?", and the answer came back "'ome along for 'is denner".
Some old-timers in St. Ives have been heard to use these expressions also but whether from their own tradition or picking up the Newlyn one is not clear.
Several places had houses name Up-Along, Down-Along and Homealong in the 1950s, as if trying to preserve the custom and language. However, name changes have taken place. Today these names are replaced with "Ebb-Tide", "Cosy Nook", "Demelza", "Nampara" and "Matelot's Cottage".
The two parts of Newlyn were once very distinct. Newlyn Town was above the old medieval harbour and was cut off twice a day by the tide from Street-an-Nowan.This was originally so named as it was at the end of the new road they built from Penzance alongside the Western Green beside the sea and to the old Newlyn bridge. This was in the early 1800s, then literally "The New Street". This was washed away several times, in the storms of 1880 & 1895 in particular, after the last of which they were re-constructed in its present position, 100yds further back. Then they built the new bridge and "Buccas Pass" to link with the old way up Jack Lane. This was so steep for horses they had to zig-zag up it, wedging the wheels as they went. It was not popular with the tradesmen and, when the tide was favourable, they still went via the strand. However, if they took this route sometimes horses were swimming in an attempt to gain a foothold on the far side, rather than wait or go the long way around. The sight of a four horse team and a cart loaded with granite stone from the quarry, swimming for the shore must have been something worth watching. Motor lorries had no choice and although they were few they were on the increase. Trades people were pressing for a road to be built connecting the two halves of the village along the strand from Champions Slip to the wharf. This was rumoured to have the effect of increasing the rates and there was a protest movement amongst the local residents of Paul, Mousehole and Newlyn. Their slogan was "We ed'n goin' to ab'n". However, when the local 'establishment' got behind the plans and promised, at a special meeting in Paul Church Hall, that the rate would be so small that they would hardly notice it; the protest gradually faded.
The quarry between the south pier and Penlee Point would provide the stone & more jobs for the local men and this was probably the deciding factor. The rampart started from the Penlee end and gradually grew in length until it reached the Wharf opposite, where the present day Fish Market is. It was officially opened in 1908. This is why the boat-building yards ended up the wrong side of the road and the Nor'ard,[also known as Gwavas], Champion's and Newlyn Slips end on tarmac instead of the water. The old Keel Alley beach at the Fradgan remained but accessed only through the columns supporting the road. The fish cellars and waterside homes were cut off from the sea. Many hours could be spent combing this little beach as a child whilst thinking how lucky were those who lived in the little cottages on the rocks above. They had pretty little gardens with rose arches over garden gates that opened on to the water. This little tidal waterside beach was finally filled in about 1980 as it was claimed that the smell from the tidal mud was offensive to the residents! Was this progress? It always seems that the baby was thrown out with the bathwater, even if it is attempting to preserve things.
My Granma who died in 1948 still referred to Newlyn by the name Streetnowan and I was always very puzzled, then and later, when I could find no reference to it on any map.. I have many old maps now and I still can find no such name. The locals had a good oral tradition but much has been lost in the last 50 years through emigration and the immigration if those not directly connected to it. Sad to say, the two meeting places of the "parliament "of old men have both gone in recent years.The buildings remain but the seats outside have been removed. The other two favourite debating places were the blacksmiths and cobblers shops but who "taps" shoes for man or beast these days.There were two blacksmiths when I was young, Clements on the pier and James Rowe by the old bridge. There were 5 cobblers of which two were Madderns: Tommy was a Streetnowan lad and Jimmy was a Towner. I remember they were related to each other.[cousins, I 'spect!]. Funny thing was, each were in premises next to a gents.' barbers, another talking shop.
I have seen some howlers of explanations as to why places were named so & so and who ran what shop and when, which I know, from personal witness, are not true. The Cornish are inclined to leave the search for our forgotten or hidden history to strangers which is a shame. Not that their research is invalid it is that ours would be of a different character and emphasis. We all need to understand what makes us what we are and where we come from. Why, even though we do not appear to have any links with a certain places or people, they draw us back. I think we Cornish often thought that there would always be someone more ancient and revered who held the knowledge like some Holy Grail if we did not. We then suddenly realise too late that these old ones are no more and what they knew went with them. As a race few write their memories down, either in prose or poetry or encapsulate them in works of art. Subsequently, our experiences are lost, as the oral tradition today has been lost. When we were young we did not always listen to the tales our elders told us. It is only afterwards that we realise our mistake and wish we had been more interested. The world changes faster with every passing hour. We cannot be in the close-knit family units we once were but the internet has come at a time that enables us all to link in ways we could never imagine. The whole world has become our village. Ask a question on it, someone may have the answer or can tell you how to find it. We can gossip and natter about this or that inconsequential thing, even those not strictly speaking Cornish, and disagree and fall out. Friends and family have done the same thing for eons. But talking is better than silence; that way we can learn. Whether it is vital or not is a subject for debate.
(Reminicences by Sandra Pritchard)