Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Minions and Daniel Gumb's House

The village of Minions courtesy of Creative Commons - Hugh Venables

The village of Minions haunts my thoughts every now and then, this bleak little hamlet set high on Bodmin Moor is hardly the prettiest village in Cornwall but it has an enigmatic air when you come on it in the mist and rain, a hint of times past.   The settlement here was due to the industrial age, a railway was constructed sometime in the 19th century and a primitive settlement developed for the men working at the quarry round 1863.  The hamlet itself consists of a row of cottages, chapel, a few other houses, very popular pub and restaurant and one shop.  Situated next to the Hurler's stone circles and with the Cheesewring looming in the distance, prehistory is found to have layered this part of the world.  LS was surprised I wanted to live here in one of those little cottages that line the road, but to wake up next to a moor with such an atmosphere would be a wonderful experience, a couple of dogs and a horse, who would want for more..........

You can just see the cave opening to the left of the photo, Cheesewring in the background, plus of course Stowes Pound Neolithic enclosure.  The quarry has of course been extended and that is why Gumb's house has but a small part remaining.

So who is Daniel Gumb? Well I think he must have been a very interesting man.  Born in 1703, when he grew up and worked at the quarry, he went and built himself a stone 'cave' near the bottom of the quarry. You can still see the place though much reduced from the original three roomed thirty foot long 'house'.
In this house he and his wife raised 9 children, he carved his name and date 1735 into a stone, and because he was interested in astronomy also carved out mathematical signs into the long stone that served as a roof.
Water would have been easy to find, it lies all over this part of the moor in small pools, left over from mining for tin, but how did this large family survive for food?   More information here, though don't follow the video which is incredibly slow.

Raking around on the net I came up with this book on Gutenberg by S.Baring-Gould - Cornish Characters

.All that is really known of this eccentric characters is in  three collected stories are written.  found in a letter of J. B. to Richard Polwhele, dated September, 1814. His correspondent says:—
"Daniel Gumb was born in the parish of Linkinhorne, in Cornwall, about the commencement of the last century, and was bred a stone-cutter. In the early part of his life he was remarkable for his love of reading and a degree of reserve even exceeding what is observable in persons of studious habits. By close application Daniel acquired, even in his youth, a considerable stock of mathematical knowledge, and, in consequence, became celebrated throughout the adjoining parishes. Called by his occupation to hew blocks of granite on the neighbouring commons, and especially in the vicinity of that great natural curiosity called the Cheesewring, he discovered near this spot an immense block, whose upper surface was an inclined plane. This, it struck him, might be made the roof of a habitation such as he desired; sufficiently secluded from the busy haunts of men to enable him to pursue his studies without interruption, whilst it was contiguous to the scene of his daily labour. Immediately Daniel went to work, and cautiously excavating the earth underneath, to nearly the extent of the stone above, he obtained a habitation which he thought sufficiently commodious. The sides he lined with stone, cemented with lime, whilst a chimney was made[Pg 92] by perforating the earth at one side of the roof. From the elevated spot on which stood this extraordinary dwelling could be seen Dartmoor and Exmoor on the east, Hartland on the north, the sea and the port of Plymouth on the south, and S. Austell and Bodmin Hills on the west, with all the intermediate beautiful scenery. The top of the rock which roofed his house served Daniel for an observatory, where at every favourable opportunity he watched the motions of the heavenly bodies, and on the surface of which, with his chisel, he carved a variety of diagrams, illustrative of the most difficult problems of Euclid, etc. These he left behind him as evidences of the patience and ingenuity with which he surmounted the obstacles that his station in life had placed in the way of his mental improvement.
"But the choice of his house and the mode in which he pursued his studies were not his only eccentricities. His house became his chapel also; and he was never known to descend from the craggy mountain on which it stood, to attend his parish church or any other place of worship.
"Death, which alike seizes on the philosopher and the fool, at length found out the retreat of Daniel Gumb, and lodged him in a house more narrow than that which he had dug for himself."

Bond in his Topographical and Historical Sketches of the Boroughs of East and West Looe, 1873, describes the habitation of Daniel Gumb as seen by him in 1802:—
"When we reached Cheesewring—our guide first led us to the house of Daniel Gumb (a stone-cutter), cut by him out of a solid rock of granite. This artificial cavern may be about twelve feet deep and not quite so broad; the roof consists of one flat stone of many tons weight; supported by the natural rock on one side, and by pillars of small stones on the other. How[Pg 93] Gumb formed this last support is not easily conceived. We entered with hesitation lest the covering should be our gravestone. On the right-hand side of the door is 'D. Gumb,' with a date engraved 1735 (or 3). On the upper part of the covering stone, channels are cut to carry off the rain, probably to cause it to fall into a bucket for his use; there is also engraved on it some geometrical device formed by Gumb, as the guide told us, who also said that Gumb was accounted a pretty sensible man. I have no hesitation in saying he must have been a pretty eccentric character to have fixed on this place for his habitation; but here he dwelt for several years with his wife and children, several of whom were born and died here. His calling was that of a stone-cutter, and he fixed himself on a spot where materials could be met with to employ a thousand men for a thousand years."


  1. Sounds like I am living that life. I do love it so much after so many years in the city as a 'younger' woman!

  2. You are lucky to be living away from grotty towns, everyone's dream, but think of poor Daniel stuck in a rock house with no paper to write on but the rock face and 9 children to feed. Apparently there were 13 children born, the rest must have died, and he did have three wives as well....

  3. I think that village street looks fascinating Thelma. how anyone can bear to live in the city I do not know. After twenty five years back in the country - I feel it is the only place to be. But reading your reply to Em above - I do agree that in days gone by there was a lot of poverty there (of course there was in the city too.)

    1. Hi Weaver, These industrial villages of the 19th century will often produce old photos of very thin people, thinking here of the Porthgain and Aberridy ruined cottages in Pembs, starvation and living on the breadline was very much part of being poor.....

  4. What a fascinating man - such education (one assumes self-acquired in the main) yet happy to live the life he did . . .I wonder if his wives and family were so keen? Not so much on where or what his dwelling, but the basic-ness of it, and the discomfort in the winter.

    BTW, I have several of Saine Baring-Gould's books - a fascinating man himself.

    1. As we both love history, prodding below the surface at these characters is fascinating, it seems most of his children emigrated to the 'New World' America to start life afresh, might do some work there ;)

  5. Hello Thelma - Very interesting post about my direct relative, Daniel. He must have been a fascinating man and I've always wonder what he could have achieved had he been born into a family with wealth, he could have been a great man but he still has a very fascinating legacy none the less! Most of his descendants that I've been in contact with through my family history research have ended up in Australia rather than America. For my own line I'm descended through his son John 1744, Daniel 1778 and Elizabeth 1812. Elizabeth married Samuel Doney and my line eventually moved to Durham in 1871, no doubt for the work available in the coal mines. I was born in Durham but, strangely enough, emigrated to America when I was 27! What I like most about Daniel was the wry sense of humour exhibited in his own self-carved epitaph at Linkinhorne church. I think it says a lot about him personally.

    Here I lie by the churchyard door
    Here I lie because I'm poor
    The further in, the more you pay
    But here lie I as warm as they.

    Brenda Butler

    1. Hi Brenda, Sorry for not replying, but your comment did come through and I recorded it elsewhere. Anyway here is a few photos.