When writing his Poldark books, Winston Graham made use of real placenames. Many will know that the name Demelza came from a place near Bodmin, originally Dyn Maelda, or Maelda’s fort. The Poldarks’ home of Nampara was another real place, a small hamlet near Graham’s home. It was formerly Nansbara, or bread valley. By the time Graham was writing it was being submerged by the growing tourist and retirement town of Perranporth.
Who lived at the real Nampara in 1851? In the census of that year three families were listed at the hamlet. The largest was headed by John Sobey, a copper miner, whose two sons had also followed him down the mine. John had been born in Ireland. But, as Sobey is a Cornish surname, it’s likely his parents were temporary residents there. John, 40, and his wife Harriet, had a large family of six sons and a daughter, ranging from 20 years old down to one.
One of the other two households was headed by Julia Nankivell, 69, who lived with her son or possibly grandson, James, who was a blacksmith. The final household contained the Mitchell family. Johanna was a widow of 42 described as a laundress. She had three sons, two of whom were copper miners. In addition, another miner, Abraham Pill, was lodging with them.
Roll on a generation and the hamlet was growing. Either that or its boundaries had been extended to take in more houses. By 1881 eight households were enumerated at Nampara. The Sobeys still had a presence, with 34 year old Catherine Sobey heading a household that contained her four children. Her husband, who was presumably one of the younger children in 1851, was nowhere to be seen. As she was described as the wife of a copper miner, he must have been working elsewhere in the UK or overseas.
There was still a sprinkling of miners in the other seven households, although they were now seeking tin rather than copper. Perranporth’s main mine and the reason for the village’s growth had been Wheal Leisure, another name borrowed by Winston Graham. Now the site of a large car park, it had seen its best days in the 1820s and 30s with its peak year of production being 1830. By the time of the OS map of 1879 it’s described as ‘disused’.
With the demise of Wheal Leisure there was more of a variety of occupations in the hamlet. Henry Stephens and his sons were farm labourers, Mark Odgers a shoemaker, William Batten a butcher. The other households were headed by older people described as retired, such as Thomas Mitchell, a horse bus owner whose son had taken over the business. The widowed Sarah Trebilcock, 57, looked after her two daughters who worked as a dressmaker and a housemaid. Mary Phillips, another widow, was still a schoolmistress at 71.
As in 1851, most residents had been born in the parish, with the rest from other places in Cornwall. The exception was the young Reverend Alfred Darnell, 27 years old and the local curate. He was lodging with Mary Kitto, a former dressmaker. Alfred came from Hampshire.