Helland and the pull of Devon

The name Helland is, despite its appearance, thoroughly Cornish, from hen lan, meaning old or ancient holy site. The parish, tucked between Bodmin to the south and Bodmin Moor to the east, was one of Cornwall’s smallest in terms of population. In 1861 there were no miners at all there and four out of five men spent their working hours toiling on the farms of the parish. Helland had already experienced some loss of people, numbers falling from 300 at their peak in 1841 to 224 by 1861 and then gently drifting down to 202 by the end of the century.

The parish supplied just two cases for the Victorian Lives database. One – Andrew Searle – was the son of a farmer. His father was farming in Lanreath, several miles to the south, when Andrew was born, but in the 1850s took on a lease at Broads Farm in Helland. However, Andrew did not live long enough to take up farming, as he died in 1870.

Places mentioned in this blog

The other Helland 11 year old in 1861 was Mary Grose Bligh. Like Andrew Searle, Mary had not actually been born in Helland, but at North Hill, on the other side of Bodmin Moor. Already at 11, she was recorded as being a domestic servant at Stoney Farm, a name that doesn’t appear on the modern map. As the farmer shared Mary’s surname it’s very likely they were related in some way.

Highweek in 1906

Mary became a domestic servant, moving to an urban environment and away from Cornwall to Southernhay in Exeter in the later 1860s. There she worked with two other servants in the house of a retired army captain and who was also a magistrate. The year 1881 found her with three fellow servants catering for a tanner and his family at Highweek, now a suburb of Newton Abbot. Not long after that in 1884 she married George Winsor. George was a grocer at South Wolborough, less than a mile outside Newton Abbot. Mary looks to have become a naturalised Devonian by then, living around the area with her husband and by 1911 moving back into Newton Abbot.

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