Lesnewth and one of Cornwall’s first old age pensioners

No need to take hours pondering over which fascinating biography to choose to illustrate a life from this parish. For the simple reason that Lesnewth, near Boscastle on Cornwall’s north coast, provides just one case for the database. Fortunately, or unfortunately for the length of this blog, the life course of Fanny Woolridge can be traced from her birth in 1849 to her death in 1917 aged 69.

Fanny offers an example of border-hopping as her life criss-crossed the Tamar. Her parents were from north Devon where her father James had worked as a farm labourer and where Fanny came into the world at Holsworthy. Around 1851-53 the family made the trip across north Cornwall to Lesnewth when James presumably contracted to work on a farm in that parish.

Remains of Coombe arsenic works at Harrowbarrow, where Samuel may well have worked for a time

On leaving home Fanny spent some time as an inn servant at the London Inn in Church Street, Launceston. She didn’t stay long, marrying Samuel Bickle, a farm labourer from nearby Werrington, in 1872. In 1881 the pair were living in that parish while the birthplaces of their children suggest they’d been there since their marriage. However, between 1884 and 1886 they moved down the Tamar to Harrowbarrow in Calstock parish, where Samuel got a job labouring in an arsenic works.

In 1891 the couple and their eight surviving children aged from two to 18 shared a three-roomed cottage. They had little choice but to get used to overcrowded conditions as things hardly improved after moving to Devonport by 1901, via Tideford in St Germans. In 1901, Fanny and Samuel, two children and a grand-daughter lived in a two-roomed apartment. Not only that but they still had room to take in a boarder, a 21 year old ‘general cart man’, probably a workmate of Samuel and his son who by this time were making a no doubt precarious living from carting goods from place to place.

By 1911 the family were back across the Tamar and living in Torpoint. The occupational description in  72 year old Samuel’s census entry originally read ‘labourer’. But that was crossed out and ‘old age pensioner’ written in its place. Samuel was one of the first recipients of Lloyd George’s new old age pension, a princely sum of five shillings a week for those aged over 70 who had an income of less than ten shillings a week and had not applied for poor relief during the previous year. Such overwhelming generosity!

(For comparison five shillings in 1911 equals £62 now. Income support in the UK is now £75 a week; the basic state pension is £138, or only about twice as generous as was Lloyd George.)

Samuel Bickle’s 1911 census entry

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