Personal Reminiscences from George Care
Personal Reminiscences of Penzance Amnesty some Thirty Years Ago
Penzance Amnesty Group in the early 1980s very much revolved around the intriguing figure of Dora Begart. Dora lived at number eight, Marine Terrace along the promenade. It is perhaps worth recalling these houses had been totally flooded in the great Penzance storm of 1962, the so-called Ash Wednesday Storm http://www.archives.picturepenzance.co.uk/photos/browseimages.php?c=373. Hence, cottages along the front were always somewhat vulnerable despite the mild micro-climate along the promenade. Palm trees and other more exotic bushes were to be found in profusion in Dora’s garden. Meetings, which were generally crowded, were held in Dora’s front room that offered glimpses out to sea. The room itself was remarkable and gave some insight into Dora’s past. She was in her eighties and had spent some time in Africa, where her experiences, I assumed, had led her into her deep concerns for the development of that continent and hence, I guessed for Human Rights.
The downstairs room contained comfortable sofas and armchairs and rugs and throws in vivid colours particularly, red, white and black in what seemed tribal patterns. Weavings also bedecked the walls and wooden figurines and carvings were in profusion. The occasional wicker chair seemed to add to the post-colonial atmosphere. There were photographs on the side which showed the refined, elongated features of a handsome and earnest looking fellow that I assumed was Dora’s husband. She never spoke to me about him but I somehow assumed that their relationship had been very close and that perhaps the Amnesty work to which Dora was so deeply committed was perhaps a testimony to her love for him. Crowded meetings were held here and under good chairmanship with Dora’s considered direction as Secretary much was achieved in a formal manner but in appropriately international surroundings. Dora was also a member of the Tregenza family, a prominent and well regarded family from Newlyn involved in education, medicine and local natural history.
There were several personalities who were influential both at meetings and in counting the cash after street collections. These included Edith and John Wigzell. I had the impression that John had been a judge and his skilled diplomacy at this period made him an excellent chairman presiding over meetings that seemed balanced and effective in getting through business. There was a great effort put in each year in presenting a display in Penzance Library. A considerable amount of time was devoted to designing an impressive display. The process of designing this long banner took up a great deal of floor space. This was done with the help also of Kay and John Charlton, both devoted Amnesty members and both retired scientists from ICI. John had been a chemist and Kay had worked in some field that involved botany and microbiology. We often had long discussions on how to present the Amnesty posters to make them effective without being too horrifying when put up. We wanted to display, in particular, the work of the local group. We were all agreed on the importance of good lettering in getting the message across. Many hours were spent in scrambling around the floor with sellotape and scissors. I am trying to recall if Blu-Tack had come into use at this point in time.
The poster assembly took place under Dora’s encouraging direction in the upstairs room at Marine Terrace. She had a wicker rocking chair in the bay window, which afforded a splendid view at the front, where she would often sit reading or entertaining guests. The process of design could take place over a half-term week and was continued at Kay and John’s remarkable barn out in the secluded countryside. Kay was a warm and supportive host who was very good at entertaining the children while the adults made progress assembling the posters. The barn was a splendid house with a waterwheel and a profusion of Gunera, which is the plant that looks like gigantic rhubarb leaves, around mossy ponds. In such surroundings the process of making the final display, facilitated by cups of tea from Kay served in robust but well crafted Cornish mugs was completed on time.
Amnesty was prominent in Penzance at this time and supported for many years by the steady and regular years of diligent commitment by Dora, Kay and many other friends and relations. Their work ensured a sound foundation for the continuing efforts of today’s members.