Gwennap: family size and fleeting fathers

In 1861 Edwin Triniman was living in Wheal Jewell Row near St Day in Gwennap with his parents and five siblings. His father, aged 51, was a miner as were two older brothers, while an older sister was employed at a rope works. Edwin wasn’t at the mine, but he was working as a farm labourer. The family of seven shared what was probably a three or four roomed cottage. But how typical was this? Were large families the norm in Gwennap?

Cottages at Wheal Jewell around 1900

We can calculate the average size of the families of the 110 children from Gwennap in the Victorian Lives database. It turns out that Edwin’s experience was almost precisely the norm. Most of the children of 1861 were in families with two to six children with the average family size being around seven. However, this wasn’t fixed over time. In 1851 when they were one year old and their parents were that much younger the same children lived in somewhat smaller families, with an average family size of more like six, comprising four children plus a parent or two, or sometimes grandparents.

The experienced family size of the Victoran Lives Gwennap children

at 1 year old (1851)at 11 years old (1861

Individual cases could differ widely, of course. Edwin was one of the youngest in his family and in 1851 had to share the home with eight other children, the oldest of which was 17. Grace Triniman, Edwin’s mother, had in fact had at least 11 children, but the oldest was already leaving home by the time the youngest were arriving.

Edwin himself left to marry in 1869, aged 19 or 20. In 1871 he and his wife Nanny had just one child and even a small cottage would have been roomy enough. However, this state of affairs would be short-lived as the family inevitably grew, usually quite rapidly. In Edwin Triniman’s case it didn’t. In 1881 he and Nanny were living with Nanny’s mother in Scorrier Street in St Day with their three children, the most recent born back in 1874.

Folk in Scorrier Street gather around in 1905 to stare back at the camera

After a long gap, Nanny had a further child in 1881. The gap was caused by Edwin’s departure in the 1870s to work elsewhere. In 1891 he was absent again, Nanny being the household head in Scorrier Street but described as a ‘wife’. Like many other Gwennap men, Edwin had gone upcountry or overseas for a spell in the difficult years of the 1870s, came back for a time, and then gone away again.

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