FIRST IMPRESSIONS of a place often prove misleading -- but in this instance they showed a melancholy accuracy. No mining town can ever be a thing of beauty, and Tregenny was certainly, in the local idiom, a "rough shop." The community's existence was centred in the mine, and as the little Tregenny Coal Company, though highly rated for integrity and fair dealing, was not a rich concern, operating at a disadvantage in wet, narrow seams where the coal was of indifferent quality and difficult to "win," and as, moreover, the mining industry in general had, at this period, lapsed into a slump, it was inevitable that local conditions should be bad, with a complete absence of those amenities which one normally expects in a civilised country.
There was no hospital, no ambulance, no X-ray apparatus. The sanitation would hardly bear looking into -- one shuddered at the thought of future epidemics. The houses were damp and in poor repair, many without water, others with washing facilities only at the scullery sink. In such an environment medical practice could hardly conform to the more romantic traditions of the profession.
The company did its best by providing a doctor for the miners and their families, but, inevitably, the standard of men attracted to such an appointment was lamentably low. Thus in recent years Tregenny had seen an irregular coming and going of raw youngsters fresh from college, older practitioners unaware of what they had "let themselves in for," licenced apothecaries with quasi-medical degrees, and, worst of all, a draggled succession of "dead beats,"