Hard times at Advent

The name Advent has nothing to do with the period before Christmas, the parish in north Cornwall being named after St Adweny. By the 1500s it was known as Adwen or Adven and then Advent. One of Cornwall’s smaller parishes in terms of population, although not extent, Advent was a place of scattered farms and cottages between Camelford and the north western slopes of Bodmin Moor.

Only three children from Advent find a place in my migration database. One – Emma Kellow – died at the age of 13. A second – Elizabeth Bettinson – a farmer’s daughter, disappeared in the 1870s and remains untraced. The third – John Alford – was still living in the parish in 1891.

The view east from above Higher Steps farm, with Rough Tor and Brown Willy in the distance

John was brought up at Higher Steps Farm, where his father had died sometime in the 1850s. His mother Susan did not re-marry, but, helped by John and one or two farm servants, carried on farming from 50 to 70 acres of land on the edge of the moor. Meanwhile, John married Mary Roose, from nearby St Kew parish, in 1877. In 1881 they were still living at Higher Steps but by 1891 had, with their six children, moved to a neighbouring farm at Quitecoombe, just 200 metres or so across the valley to the north.

An example of someone who stayed put, John’s life, spent among the fields and moors of this quiet landscape, looks unremarkable to that point. But it became distinctly more interesting thereafter. In 1901 he was found incarcerated in Bodmin Jail and described as a general labourer, implying some hard times had befallen the family. His wife had moved from Quitecoombe and was living a few miles to the west at St Teath churchtown with three of their children, eking out an existence as a charwoman. It’s not known what John had done to deserve his spell in prison.

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