Wednesday, 1 August 2012

No wonder they left Cornwall

Four sets of my 3g grandparents left Cornwall for Australia:
James GRENFELL (c1833-1896) and Nanny HATTAM (c1836-1915), emigrated 1866 from St Just in Penwith to Victoria.
Theophilus Francis OLD (c1820-1873) and Mary Ann SPEAR (c1819-1852), emigrated 1844 from Padstow area to Tasmania.
Phillip BLUETT (c1839-1899) and Mary Jane HUNN (c1837-1897), emigrated 1871 from St Austell area to Victoria.
William Harris LAITY (c1826-1889) and Elizabeth Ann FRANCIS (c1824-1917), emigrated 1852 and 1868 from Redruth area to Victoria.

I was lucky (or clever) enough to talk my non-Geni husband into visiting West Cornwall when we were in the UK. Usually his eyes glaze over at the mere mention of family history but he had lived in the UK and never got to Cornwall. Luckily for me, he is very interested in general history and food.
So this trip: St Just in Penwith - a medieval town, and Padstow - a foodie town.
The centre of St Just looking down towards the Wesleyan
Church (behind the yellow car)

St Just Churchtown is the most westerly town in Cornwall and has been inhabited since prehistory. The present layout of the town dates from the establishment of the first church by Saint Just sometime around 428AD. There are ‘spokes’ of streets and cottages radiating out from the village green, the ‘plen-an-gwary’ and the church.
The St Just parish church dates from 1334 and what little of remains of this is incorporated into the 14th and 15th century additions.
the St Just Parish Church
The town boomed in the first half of the 19th century when tin and copper were mined on a massive scale. Most of my Grenfell, Hattam, Warren, Eddy, and more, ancestors left the area to come to Australia. This proved to be a wise move as by the 1870s, mining in the St Just area had started its rapid decline, leaving great poverty in its wake.

We also visited the Wesleyan Methodist church. This was built in the boom time 19th century, and at its peak would hold almost 2000 people – a strong indication of the size of the town back then.
The road into St Just, narrow and lined with stone cottages
Both graveyards held many graves of those sharing names in my family but I didn’t see any that I could confirm were direct ancestors. Many were very hard to read probably partly due to the proximity to the sea and the (frequent) driving wind and rain.
One of the highlights was my husband wading through knee high grass and calling out “I found one”! He almost took as many photos as me.

Inside the St Just Parish Church - note the beautiful stonework
Some of the mines became world famous with the workings of one, the Botallack mine, extending about a mile out beneath the ocean bed and up to 250 fathoms below sea level. The surrounding area is dotted with the ‘ghosts of old mines’, remnants of engine houses and stacks, a very eerie landscape. The footings and some ‘arsenic’ tunnels of the Botallack mine are still there. In its heyday, this mine had 11 steam engines and employed 500 people.
Standing on the edge of the cliff amongst the remains of this huge mine, we could start to imagine the miners having to walk home across the rugged terrain in the low cloud, rain and freezing temperatures to their little cottages full of children, and not just in winter. Records of mining accidents are common.

Inside the huge Wesleyan Church with historic organ
We weren’t so lucky on our visit to Padstow – an amber storm rolled in and we could only venture out occasionally, mainly to eat. Marquees at the nearby Royal Cornwall Show were flattened and sheep had to be evacuated, for hypothermia!

And, although it is a beautiful place, this weather did make it even easier to understand why they left– we were there in summer!

Now I have to find an excuse to visit the other parts of Cornwall on our next trip.

See also my earlier (June) blog posts: Arrgh me hearties! and Western Cornish Discoveries and Padstorm

Looking across the fields at the mine stacks - in the distance
is the huge mansion at Cape Cornwall
Remnants of the workings of the huge Botallack mine

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