A KEEN walker has turned detective to solve the mystery of a fatal fall from a cliff in west Cornwall.
Barry West, of Century Close, St Austell, has brought the long-forgotten tale from 140 years ago back into the spotlight after discovering a weathered granite memorial while walking the cliff path at Lamorna.
"I wasn't looking for a mystery to solve; it was totally unexpected, but then perhaps the unexpected brings the best stories to unravel," said Mr West, 50.
Only one letter of the stone's inscription could be read, and Mr West spent hours at the site and visiting locals to try to piece together the puzzle of who the granite cross commemorates, and why.
"The first time I went to the memorial I took photographs and I could make out a W," he said. "When I went back all I had were some indigestion tablets to chalk out the lettering on the stone.
"It just goes to show they cure more than ingestion."
What he found were letters spelling out 'DWW March 13 1873.'
"No one knew the story. The Old Cornwall Society didn't know it; the Lamorna Society didn't know it. It was a forgotten story."
Mr West believed he had hit a dead end until Lamorna resident Estelle Fox, whose ancestors were millers in the village for 400 years, suggested a story with a Cambridge connection, in which the victim had been collecting eggs when they perished.
Thanks to the help of Cambridge University Mr West now knows not only the name of the victim but how he met his demise, thanks to a report of the inquest found in a yellowed copy of the Cornish Telegraph.
"We now know his name was David Wordsworth Watson," he said.
"We know he died two days after his 23rd birthday.
"We know he was staying with a group at the Beachfield Hotel, Penzance.
"We know they travelled in a fly (a horse and cart) to Lamorna and we know some of the group went off to paint, while David seems to have gone to look for ferns when he fell and was dashed on the rocks.
"My theory is different. In my opinion he just went to enjoy the view and slipped.
"It's such a precarious spot I wouldn't recommend even today's walkers going down there."
However, Mr West, who has been walking the coast path with his best friend Steve Brown since he was 11, said there was still a final piece of the puzzle to be found: David Wordsworth Watson's last resting place.
"We know his mother's and father's graves are in Guilsborough, Northamptonshire, where David's father was vicar," said Mr West, a railwayman for 32 years who now works for Network Rail.
"We have to solve that mystery now and I'm going to keep going until I solve it." Mr West is so pleased with his successful foray into bringing the past alive that he hopes to do more to draw attention to the county's rich, varied and often tragic past.
"I'm interested in the people and the culture as well as the process of uncovering the stories," he said.
"I'm just afraid that if we don't capture these stories now they'll be lost for ever.
"I'm not a historian; I'm just passionate about Cornwall."
Mr West has already collected a wealth of research on other spots around the county with stories to be told.
"I'd love to retell the stories of our county, although no one can tell the stories like the elders of the villages," he said.