Victorian Cornwall’s boom parish

To find Cornwall’s boom town in the mid-nineteenth century we have to look east, as far east as we can go and still be in Cornwall, to Calstock on the tidal reaches of the Tamar. In 1851, when the folk in the Victorian Lives database were 11 years old, Calstock was in the middle of a boom. The population had grown by 67 per cent in the preceding decade and was to expand by another 56 per cent in the next. Numbers in the parish peaked at over 7,000 souls in the mid-1860s. This was a level not to be approached again until the twenty-first century.

Now fuelled by Plymouth commuters and retirees, the causes of the nineteenth century population explosion were very different. It was the result of growing employment opportunities in the local mines and a few other trades, notably brick-making. Half of Calstock’s men worked in mining in 1851, although the number of women on the surface dressing the ore was noticeably lower than in the mining districts of the west.

Calstock Viaduct was opened in 1908 when the East Cornwall Mineral Railway was joined to a line to Plymouth. Note the lift for taking wagons to and from the quayside below.

Few places in Cornwall displayed a faster growth rate than Calstock during the 1800s. Earlier, the district east of St Austell around St Blazey and Tywardreath managed that feat in the 1810s and 1820s when mining was expanding rapidly in mid-Cornwall. The only parish to grow as fast as Calstock in the Victorian years was St Ive, also in east Cornwall, between Liskeard and Callington, when mines opened up there in the 1850s, resulting in a new settlement at Pensilva.

However, just as those born in the boom years around 1850 were entering the workforce the economic wheel turned. As a result many left Calstock. Half of the women in the database who survived to 1891 remained in the parish but only one in five of the men. Where had they gone?