When I was a child my father said his mother had told him that the family was related to the Cornish Giant. I was an impressionable child and this story filled me with awe. Being related to a giant seemed kind of freaky – not quite right. I mean wouldn’t ‘nice’ people be related to pleasant beings like the fairies at the bottom of the garden or sweet little pixies. Having a giant as an ancestor kind of fitted with my family though. My dad was over 6′ tall and his sisters were tall unmarried women with mannish haircuts. My dad also had a foul temper and was prone to throwing his weight around. All in all, I was inclined to believe there might be some truth in the story.
As an adult I learned that there are many legends about giants in Cornwall so I can’t be altogether sure just which one I’m supposedly related to. One of the best known was Cormoran, a giant who lived on St Micheal’s Mount. He was a fearsome character who terrified the local villagers so much they offered a reward to anyone brave enough to kill him. A young boy called Jack claimed the reward when, against all odds, he disposed of the giant.
He did this by digging a pit half way up the Mount when the giant was asleep. He then roused Cormoran by blowing on his horn. Cormoran ran down the hillside in a rage and fell into the pit. Jack then quickly filled in the pit and buried him. Legend has it he then collected the giant’s treasure.
In this legend you would definitely want to be related to Jack rather than Cormoran.
In more recent times there was a Cornish man who some called a giant:-
” Anthony Payne was born in Stratton, Bude in Cornwall in 1612 and was a sporty lad who grew to be 7’4″ tall (223.5cm) and 32 stone. A great bear of a man he was also quick-witted and gentle.
Anthony became the bodyguard of a local notable, Sir Bevill Grenville, and fought along side him during the Civil War.”
One of my daughters is currently investigating our family tree. At my suggestion she searched for Anthony Payne but hasn’t been able to trace dad’s maternal line back to the 1600s. The earliest ancestor she’s been able to find on that line is a woman called Sarah Wiseheart.
What a wonderful name. Apparently Wiseheart isn’t all that uncommon as a surname but I hadn’t heard it before. I imagine Sarah Wiseheart as a kindly village elder skilled in herbal lore – an embodiment of the crone archetype back in the days before such women were given a bad rap by Christian priests and burnt at the stake.
Facts, fictions and imagined stories blend together in my mind to form an impression of magical times when giants roamed and wise women were honoured. In my mind I visualize these characters living in on mist shrouded craggy mountains beside the sea. Down in the valleys lie little villages where wood fire smoke curls and spirals into the golden light of evening. Women gather herbs in the fading light while brave boys strut around proudly.
Another time and place only half real but somehow leaving traces in my DNA…