Victorian Bodmin: migration hub

Bodmin in the 1850s still had a claim to be regarded as Cornwall’s leading town. It was home to Cornwall’s Jail, its lunatic asylum and still hosted the assizes, albeit shared with Launceston. But as the economic centre of gravity shifted westwards, Bodmin was gradually supplanted by Truro. This process began with the building of the Cornwall Hospital at Truro and was completed when Truro was chosen as the location for a cathedral in 1876 and meeting place for the new Cornwall County Council in 1889.

Bodmin in the second half of the nineteenth century acted as a hub for those on the move as people came and went. Four fifths of the 45 children in the 1861 database have been either traced to 1891 or their death registration discovered. This enables us to get a good snapshot of migration to and from Bodmin.

Only just over half of those children of 1861 had been born in the town. Nineteen had moved with their parents or others from elsewhere over the preceding decade. This indicates a considerable amount of short distance migration at mid-century, what some geographers have described as ‘churning’. Most of the arrivals hailed from other places in Cornwall, usually, as the following map shows, not too far from Bodmin.

In 1891 at least 28 were still alive. (For a list of those missing from the records see here.) Just under half remained in the town but a greater number had travelled across the Tamar, most them being found in England, with two in Wales and one overseas.

The strong impression is that Bodmin acted as a stepping stone for many, first moving from the nearby countryside and then on to other towns and cities up the line. Did other Cornish market towns have the same experience? We shall see. In the next blogs we’ll meet a couple of examples from Bodmin of long-distance migrants.