Magnetic north

By 1891 for every one boy in the 1861 Calstock database left in Cornwall, two could be found in the north of England. Although the numbers are too low to draw any hard and fast conclusions, it looks as if there was a marked propensity to move from Calstock to Northumberland and Durham in particular.

Robert Williams was born in 1849 in Calstock village, the son of Robert and Mary. Robert senior was a copper miner from Redruth. Mary had also been born in Redruth, as had their three eldest children. They had moved to Calstock at some point between 1842 and 1847. By 1861 Mary was dead and Robert had re-married. The older children from his first marriage had left home, while the younger Robert was already at work at the mine, probably on the surface.

He got married at a very early age in late 1867 to Jane Adams from across the river at Bere Alston. Robert and Jane then moved to Jane’s home parish in Devon and four years later, in 1871, they were living further east at Buckfastleigh in south Devon, where Robert was working as a miner. Interestingly, their second child had been born in Lambeth in London nine months earlier. Does this indicate a failed attempt to escape mining or possibly a short-term spell as a tunneller?

Housing at Hebburn Colliery

At some point between 1874 and 1878 Robert and Jane plus their four children moved again, this time to Bishopwearmouth in Durham, where Robert found work as a police constable. By 1881 another two children had arrived. Robert’s career in the police had evidently not lasted too long as by 1891 he was back down the mine, but this time a coal mine rather than a metal mine. His two eldest sons, who were also coal miners, lived with him, his wife and a daughter in a three-roomed house at Hebburn Colliery, near Jarrow.

It wasn’t only the men who went north of course and it wasn’t only the north of England that exerted a magnetic pull. For some families, moves to remote places proved to be only temporary. Caroline Pearce was the daughter of John and Jane Pearce. Like the Williams family above Joh n was a miner from Redruth but had moved east to Calstock in the 1850s. However, the family soon went back to Redruth where two sons were born in 1862 and 1866. In 1866 or 67 the whole family uprooted and travelled north, to the iron mines of Cumbria, where John and Jane found accommodation at Dalton in Furness. This move must have occurred before March 1867 when the local registration district recorded the marriage of Caroline and Matthias Varcoe, an iron miner also from Cornwall. Caroline and Matthias lived in a separate household but in the same house as Caroline’s parents.

The close family support this suggests was not to last long as, at some point in the 1870s, Caroline’s parents and their two sons returned home again, back to the crowded streets in the middle of Redruth. Yet Caroline and Matthias stayed on in Dalton in Furness, moving to a new address with each passing census. Just before 1890 Matthias died, leaving Caroline as a widow with her five young children and an adult son who was the only wage earner. Six months after the 1891 census Caroline’s life also ended. Incidentally, she was outlived by her father back in Redruth whose death in 1902 at the age of 74 shows that not all Cornish miners died young.

Nineteenth century housing at Chapel St, Dalton, the street where Caroline was living in 1891

Almost half of the people in the Victorian Lives database who were living in Calstock in 1861 have not been traced as far as 1891. Here’s a list of them. Any further information is very welcome.

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