Feock’s hidden past

Feock is now one of Cornwall’s posher parishes, with more than its fair share of upmarket housing, retirees and Truro commuters. It wasn’t always so. In 1861 a range of more proletarian occupations were represented in the parish. These included the familiar farmers, agricultural labourers, miners, mariners and shipwrights – with none of these groups dominant. But in addition there was also a considerable number of labourers working on Devoran quays or the railway or at the lead smelting works at Point, established in 1827. These accounted for one in ten of the parish’s male household heads.

A quarter of the 24 Feock children in the Victorian Lives database were sons or daughters of lead smelters. However, none of the boys followed their fathers into that occupation and none of the girls married lead smelters.

By 1880 the lead smelter had closed and the works concentrated solely on tin smelting. It eventually shut down in 1905.

Edward Dunstan was working at the lead smelting works in 1851. He lived up the hill from the works at Goonpiper. His son Richard, born in 1850, decided to go to sea rather than the smelting works. By 1871 he was a seaman working the east coast of England and boarding at Great Thornton Street in Hull. Later that year he married Ann Elizabeth Steele from Hull. The family then continued to base themselves in the city, living at Division Road in 1901, when Richard was described as a ‘ship steward’.

Charles Lilly was also a lead smelter living at Feather Cock Hill in 1851. One of his sons, like Richard Dunstan, became a merchant seaman. Meanwhile, his daughter Mary Emma stayed at home as her parents aged. Resident at Millbrook at Penpol near the smelting works, she watched her father give up labouring at the lead works in the 1860s to become a general labourer and then a farm labourer, a living example of de-industrialising Cornwall in the later 1800s. Emma was still unmarried and at home with her parents, now in their 70s, in 1891. Her mother died in 1895, followed by her father in 1901. Mary was then left living alone although still at Feock in 1911.

Today’s view of the site of the smelter. You wouldn’t know it had been there!

One thought on “Feock’s hidden past

  1. Dear Emma. The terrible and never discussed sacrificing of a daughter to care for her parents. So common. And then left to live her own life totally alone.


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