Lords and labourers at Boconnoc

Boconnoc in the 1800s was an exceptional parish. It was ‘closed’, meaning that all or almost all was owned by one landlord. This was unusual in Cornwall, where it was much less common than in rural southern England.

Originally a part of the Earldom of Cornwall in the 1200s, Boconnoc had passed through the hands of various families before the 1700s. It was the early part of that century that saw the construction of the present house. This was created by Thomas Pitt just after 1700 and remodelled by his grandson, another Thomas, later in the century. By the mid-nineteenth century it had changed hands again, into the ownership of the Fortescues, a Devonian family.

Most of the 66 households in the parish in 1851, containing 343 souls, obtained their living from farming. A fifth of the heads of households with occupations listed in the census were farmers while exactly a half of households were headed by farm or garden labourers. The rest included a smattering of craftsmen – carpenters, masons, shoemakers and similar – plus one ‘son of a peer’, the Honourable George Matthew Fortescue and his wife, Lady Louisa, at Boconnoc Mansion.

The half dozen 11-year olds of 1861 in my database did not include anyone at the great house however. In fact, all six were a lot less fortunate, being born into families of farm labourers. This no doubt helps to explain why only one has been traced through to 1891. At least two had died before then and another three had dropped out of the records in the 1870s and 80s. (For their details see here.)

The only survivor was Grace Ede. Grace’s connection with Boconnoc was actually quite fleeting. She had been born in the nearby parish of Cardinham but even before the 1851 census, Grace, possibly an only child, had been taken to Liskeard, where her father William had obtained work on a farm. But by 1861 the family were living at Higher Botallick in Boconnoc. Ten years later in 1871 and they had moved again, and maybe more than once, but only to Pigscombe, a quarter of a mile distant across the parish boundary in Lanreath.

Lanreath village at the end of the 1800s

Meanwhile, Grace had married Edwin Heller, a mariner, although she and her son William were still staying with her parents while her husband was away at sea. Edwin unfortunately died a few years after 1871. Grace soon re-married, in 1874 choosing Elias Sandy, a local farm labourer. The pair left William to live with his grandparents and set up house in Lanreath village. By 1881 Grace had established a grocer’s shop there. They clearly aspired to better things and by 1891 Elias had taken on Trengove Farm, just north of the village. We can only speculate what Elias and Grace might have thought of the ‘Enchanted Valley Yurts’ now located at the farm.

Parishes mentioned in the text