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Cornwall’s first female Folklorist – Enys Tregarthen

Folktales are an important part of Cornwall’s character, many of our myths and legends have been told by the fireside for hundreds of years. They are one of the peculiarities of our culture that makes Cornwall feel so unique in many ways and not a little mysterious at times.

Men such as Robert Hunt and William Bottrell became famous for gathering and recording hundreds of Cornish folklore stories and publishing them in collections which are still read to this day. But few people realise that Padstow had its very own writer and folklorist, and she was not only a woman but she was also paralysed from the waist down for most of her life.

Nellie Ellen Sloggett was born in Padstow on 29th December 1850. She had quite an ordinary childhood and remembered in later life her joy at chasing around the narrow streets and the fields surrounding the town with her friends. However a mysterious illness in her early teens caused Nellie to lose the use of her legs and she was never able to walk again.

Fortunately for us Nellie’s family was well off enough to still be able to provide her with a good education. She began, perhaps at first to pass the time, keeping a diary and writing about flowers, birds and animals, in fact anything that she could see outside her bedroom window. As the years passed Nellie began to collect and record the folktales of Padstow and the surrounding area. It is said that local people would visit her to pass on the myths and legends that they knew.

Myths and legends and folktales of Padstow

During her life Nellie produced an astonishing amount of work. She published fifteen novels for young adults under the pseudonym of Nellie Cornwall but for her six volumes of Cornish folklore, for which she is best remembered, she used the pen-name Enys Tregarthen. Her first book Daddy Longlegs was published in 1885 and some of the many books that followed included Piskies Folklore and Legends, The Maid of the Storm, The Piskey-Purse, The House of the Sleeping Wind and North Cornwall Fairies and Legends.

Enys Tregarthen’s work has preserved a truly wonderful collection of Cornish folktales for us to enjoy but her writing also acts as an invaluable window into the lives, beliefs and preoccupations of her family, friends and neighbours. Indeed, her books are a fascinating glimpse into the whole community of Padstow and the north Coast of Cornwall during the 19th century and are well worth discovering.

Nellie died in October 1923 having spent fifty years writing about the myths and legends of Cornwall from her bedroom in Padstow. An obituary published in the Western Morning News highlighted that her fame as a writer had spread across the Atlantic to the United States and that her death was mourned by not only the people of Padstow but also her wide circle of friends.

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