From Botusfleming on the lower reaches of the Tamar we travel up to Boyton on its upper reaches. Boyton was a border parish with the Tamar demarcating its eastern side. It’s six miles from the nearest town – Launceston – and by the 1850s was well into a process of rural depopulation. Its population, 551 in 1831, had already fallen to 414 and was to go on to bottom out at just 239 in 1931. (It’s now almost doubled again.)
While over half the men of Boyton depended directly on farm work, what did the women do? In 1851 six out of ten of them over the age of 14 were managing the household, bringing up their children and making do. Of the single or widowed women, 34 were given other occupations in the census. Three quarters of them were either domestic servants, usually on farms, or described explicitly as farm servants. Four were dressmakers, one ran a small shop, one worked at an inn, one was a schoolmistress and one a charwoman, scraping by through cleaning and other odd jobs.
Only one of the three girls in the parish in the Victorian Lives project can be traced to 1891. Hannah Cornish was born and brought up in Boyton village, the daughter of a farm labourer or waggoner. So far so normal. But in her late teens Hannah obtained a place as a housemaid in the house of two unmarried sisters in London, at Sloane Street, Chelsea, a far cry from Boyton in terms of surroundings and social status.
In 1875 Hannah married Thomas Owen, a railway porter from Lambeth, south of the river Thames. They lived at Granby Place, with their two children and a boarder, another railway porter. This was a row of small, terraced houses conveniently sited right next to Waterloo Station, the building of which in the 1840s had cut through a part of the street. Interestingly, Hannah’s second child had been born in Boyton, involving a trip all the way home for the birth.
The marriage did not last long, as Thomas died in the early 1880s. The 1891 census tells us that Hannah had not remarried, but was still living with her two children in three rooms in another part of Lambeth and working as an office cleaner.