Christmas day in the workhouse and a corn mill in Cardinham

Four month old George Cornish was one of the inmates of Bodmin workhouse in 1851. He was probably the illegitimate child of Mary Ann Cornish, also in the workhouse and described as a farm servant. George’s birthplace was given as St Columb, suggesting he had been born outside the workhouse but that Mary had had to seek admission at some point between Christmas 1850 and the census of April 1851.

In 1861 George was living with the miller at Cardinham Mill. It’s not clear whether he was working as a servant at the mill or whether he was related to the miller, or both. In 1866 the death of a George Cornish was recorded, but in Redruth Registration District, some way to the west. Was this our man as there was no other George Cornish near the age of 11 recorded in the 1861 census?

The next parish in our Victorian Lives database, where George Cornish made his brief appearance at the mill – contrasts starkly with the previous one. Unlike Camborne, Cardinham wasn’t industrial, it wasn’t in the west, it wasn’t urban. Instead, this is a rural parish on the south western slopes of Bodmin Moor to the east of the town of Bodmin. Moreover, if we include George Cornish, all eight of the Cardinham children of 1861 who qualified for inclusion in the database have been traced. Four died before 1891; the other four survived.

Children gather for the Band of Hope festival at Cardinham’s Board School around 1900

Of those alive in 1891 none were still in Cardinham. For that matter, neither were the four who had expired before that date. While those departed (in both senses) had moved to other parts of Cornwall – Hayle, Liskeard and Bodmin – three of the four survivors had gone further afield, to Sheffield, Devonport (via Aldershot) and London. Cardinham may have been rural and relatively remote but its sons and daughters were hardly immobile.

For example, Martha Magor was born at Bodmin but her father, a farm labourer, had moved his family to Cardinham between 1854 and 1857. Martha left for the bright lights of Plymouth in her late teens, working as one of the two domestic servants in a retired civil servant’s house at East Stonehouse in 1871. In 1874 she married Thomas Elston from Nottinghamshire, who was 16 years her senior. She and Thomas left Plymouth and eventually ended up in the steel town of Sheffield. There, they lived in Brightside while Thomas worked as a night watchman. The couple appear to have had no children, although one or two of Thomas’s nephews were living them in the 1881 and 1891 censuses.

Don Street, Sheffield, c.1890, where Martha lived in the early 1880s, surrounded by breweries and steel works and with a lovely view of the gas works
An aerial view of the same district in the 1920s. The housing around Don Street has now (2021) all been cleared and replaced by industrial units