“Cornwall is by tradition the home of the artist and the craftsman” notes a newspaper article as the Sloop Craft Market opens in the 1960s. By reputation, St Ives is one of the highlights of Cornwall, an ancient fishing village characterised by narrow lanes and alleyways, beautiful beaches, home to an internationally important arts community. In the Sloop craftsmen work behind large picture windows set in Cornish stone, producing woodwork, jewellery, rugs, and stained glass art. Is this the kind of souvenir I want, or what else can I find in St Ives?
The site of the Sloop could have become a ‘Gifte Shoppe Arcade’, full of ‘souvenirs and any old local stuff’. Any number of such gift shops encircles the Harbour, with beach gear piled up outside. Tourists group themselves around the postcards hanging outside: “Right, everyone freeze”, “Wave” laughs an elderly gentleman to his companion sat below in a wheelchair; “St Eeves” mutters a French man to his wife as they decide which postcards to send home to “ma mere”. “Keep looking, there’s loads of shops” says a mother to her daughter; “They might have one in here” says the women to her partner. A young girl, dressed in Barbie-pink tugs at her mother’s arm: “Look at this Mummy, the shell; look at this massive shell, look, Mummy, look, look at this massive shell”.
Midpoint, in Fudge Kyst, the owners, surrounded by children’s drawings of seagulls, and verses to Nana and Grandad, pass the time of day with the tourists. When asked, ‘what’s particularly Cornish?’ he replies “oh, you won’t find much Cornish here, what’s not made in Cornwall is what sells”, drawing my attention to the yellow boxes of fudge on which “only the postcard ever changes”, as “it’s what people buy”. The brisk trade ongoing in Kelly’s local ice cream, and fudge “traditionally handmade by ourselves”, especially Clotted Cream flavour, indicates otherwise.
Further along, in Lower Deck, past the beachwear, general gifts, and £2.99 tropical fish moneyboxes (Made in China), a range of walking stick badges, key rings, pens, pencils, badge patches, and flags, are displayed around the counter. The young girl behind the till wrinkles up her nose as she says “It’s all tat really… but it all sells… it’s what people want”. Unfortunately, she hadn’t been able to get hold of baseball caps with ‘Cornwall’ written on them, although many people ask for these to prove that they’ve been to Cornwall.
Entering Ocean Grill, attracted by the vulgar seaside postcards, tripping over the baskets piled high with shells, the shop is a jumble of items: Cornish mugs, tea towels and calendars, magnets, Cornish piskies; models of ships, pirates… and cats, cuddly toys, sunhats, pens, a lucky Buddha, a British Mini. In shorts, check shirt and flip-flops the middle-aged manager tells me that the traditional Cornish seaside town is dying, as locals are priced out by Londoner’s moving to St Ives with change in their pockets. New residents, including retirees, want to take part in activities: the Tate and the Eden Project, waterside activities – Harbourfront store Dive St Ive offers dive lessons for the adventurous. Rather than buying ‘something else to stick on the shelf and gather dust’, time – and money – are spent in quality restaurants and art galleries.
Along the seafront, the Blue Harbour Gallery offers a range of limited edition prints, largely of local scenes, a piece of local art for £30-£100. “Oh, that’s lov-er-ly, isn’t it” says a woman in her sixties, recounting a tale of the genuine art she has bought in French Markets. “That was here last year” notes a tourist of retired age. Other galleries were not to be found on the Harbour. Heading into the back streets a different range of shops is on offer: surf shops with a range of Animal, Billabong, Quiksilver, Salomen, and Rip-Curl branded goods; signed copies of ‘Soggy to the Rescue’, a children’s book – set in St Ives – fills a bookshop window; opposite a woman peers into a window full of knick-knacks: “I don’t know what I’d ever do with it, but just look at the intricate detail on that”.
Clearing up at the end of the day in the seafront ‘Cornish Pasty Shop’, which sells over 400 traditional pasties a day in summer, the shopkeeper lent on her broom and stated that “it’s the law” to have a pasty, a cream tea and an ice cream when visiting a Cornish seaside town. People may visit Cornwall for the arts, crafts, and watersports, but there is still a place for a Cornish Pasty, whether traditional or chocolate (display model melted), and the finest of Brighton Rock, sold as ‘A Present from Cornwall’. For me, I’ll have a Kelly’s chocolate fudge ripple ice cream, and some clotted cream fudge.