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On Soap, Books, And Hitler
In Mevagissey, a few miles south of St Austell
Chindu Sreedharan comment 0 Comments access_time 3 min read

Mevagissey has much going for it than meets the casual eye. It is pretty. Of course. Which Cornish coastal village isn’t? No, what makes this fishing port a few miles south of St Austell interesting is a bunch of other reasons.

Did you know Mevagissey did its fair share in making the world a cleaner place? It was this village that gave us Pears, the transparent bar of freshness that has lathered our parents for generations. Mevagissey actually gave us Andrew Pears, who went on to give us Pears soap in 1709, but that’s a pernickety point.

Pears—the man, not the soap—was born here in 1770 (or thereabouts) and Mevagissey nurtured him for 19 years before sending him to London. Pears became a barber there, and, between appointments, somehow managed to invent a gentle soap for the delicately complexioned London upperclass. Imagine. But for the son of a Cornish farmer we would not have the oldest continually existing brand in the world and London’s rich would have been a decidedly grimy lot in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Normal Cornish villages have one holy well, often none. Mevagissey has three: Brass Well, Lady’s Well and another in its old vicarage. You usually have one patron saint per parish. Mevagissey not only has two, but has been farsighted enough to achieve both gender balance and diversity in this allotment, appointing St Mevan, a Welsh man, and St Issey, an Irish woman.

Mevagissey is the venue of two of Susan Cooper’s books in The Dark Is Rising fantasy series (Over Sea, Under Stone, and Greenwitch). Cooper used to holiday here as a child and had fond memories of it. So when she grew up and became a writer, she brought her characters—Simon, Jane and Barney—to enjoy the Cornish air while attending to the fight between the Light and the Dark. Mevagissey has a park, which locals call Hitler’s Walk.

Some people say the park was named after a local councillor with Hitlerian tendencies, who walked here a lot. Others say the home guard patrolled the area during wartime, looking for German invaders. Nobody is sure how the name came to be, but Mevagissey got into big trouble for having ‘Hitler’s Walk’ signs in the park, first in 2005 and then again in 2015.

Mevagissey was in the news again last summer. Its sole surgery shut doors, leaving the rural village with no doctor. What did the Mevagissians do? They wrote a highly photographable message on the beach, which said #WILL YOU BE MY GP, and took to Twitter.

I shall report back on the state of the surgery and the signs of Hitler’s Walk in due course. For now, know that She Sells, the popular cafe on the seafront, has too many ‘Londoners’ queuing for a humble hiker to get a peaceful cup of coffee. But there is a nice shop round the corner called The Locker, run by a nice Russian (?) woman who rolls her Rs like in all those Netflix movies.

I got myself some delicious blackness from her and sat down on a bench outside the Sharksfin pub, looking at the colourful boats marooned on the brown by the retreating sea. I had an enjoyable five seconds all by myself before a large, fish-eating family descended on me and crowded me out. Londoners, gah!

Cornwall Mevagissey Nonfiction Pears Susan Cooper Travel