Gorran: more than just a haven

The parish of Gorran is a reminder that fishing villages in Cornwall were relative latecomers in the historic landscape. The parish church on the plateau, with its handful of houses standing sentinel and the scattering of tre- placenames around it indicate the earliest settlements. Fishing villages such as Gorran Haven, in the 1300s known in Cornish as Porthjust (harbour of St Just), did not begin to grow until the 1400s.

Gorran Haven around 1900

Now the biggest settlement in the parish, Gorran Haven in 1861 housed less than one in three of Gorran’s parishioners. However, unlike East Looe, the 32 fishermen comprised the largest occupational group in the village, accounting for 40% of the adult men and outnumbering the 17 mariners and coastguards.

Image of an early treadmill. At Bodmin, there would have been partitions between prisoners. No talking was allowed even if there was sufficient energy left for it.

Thomas Climo wasn’t born into a fishing family but his father was a coastguard, moving from Polperro to Gorran Haven when Thomas was just 11 months old. We don’t know where Thomas was in 1871 although it’s very likely he was at sea as Thomas Climo from Gorran was given a short prison sentence in 1876 for ‘refusing to proceed to sea in the ship Elizabeth Mary Ann’. As a result, he spent time in Bodmin Jail on the treadmill. According to the Bodmin Jail website this involved 15 minutes on and 15 minutes off the mill for eight hours a day, six days a week.

In the same year as this episode Thomas married Joanna or Hannah Blamey. The imminent birth of their first child or the marriage itself may have been the reason he broke his contract and refused to go to sea. He then turned his hand to fishing, moving the short distance to Hannah’s home parish of Mevagissey. In 1881 Thomas and Hannah were living there with their three young children – Thomas William, Dorothy and Edith. Then the parents disappear. Had they both died? Or had they migrated without their children? Whichever the case, the two youngest were pauper inmates of St Austell workhouse in 1891. Meanwhile, Thomas junior was apprenticed to a hairdresser in the same town.

Not all census entries imply stories quite as sad as this. Loveday Wills was born into a family who worked the large (by Cornish standards) farm of Treninick at Gorran. It seems Loveday had a quiet life, until her 40s living in a house with a couple of servants at her beck and call.  Remaining unmarried, by 1891 she was being tasked with the ‘supervision of the farm house’. A decade earlier, in 1881, she was described as a ‘lady in waiting’, her father John Wills deploying a wry sense of humour, which Loveday may or may may not have shared. After her mother died in 1898, Loveday became the sub-postmistress in the parish, where she lived alone until her death in 1936, leaving the substantial sum of £2,441 (equivalent to £176,000 now) to a lucky nephew.

One thought on “Gorran: more than just a haven

  1. Wonderful as ever. Two comments:
    1. Then the parents disappear. Had they both died? Surely it is possible to find this out from local burial records, even burial stones? From what you said earlier in the text it looks like they were “stay at homes” and I wonder if they died in the cholera or something? Whole families seem to have been extinguished around similiar times in Warleggan which surely must have been due to terrible diseases.
    2. Was Loveday so happy? She may have stayed alone through choice (then = happy, and perhaps she may have been a lesbian, why not) or she may simply have longed for marriage, companionship – and her father’s wry humour may have been very painful. But, as said, it could have been her choice.


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