Linkinhorne: born out of wedlock

The third quarter of the 1800s was a time of profound social change at Linkinhorne, a parish to the east of Bodmin Moor. It was on the edge of the district that experienced a mining boom from the 1830s to the late 1860s. As a result, its population almost tripled during those years as miners flocked into the parish.

Other social changes accompanied the demographic. For example, the number of illegitimate births in Cornwall had been rising in the early Victorian years. Before the mid-nineteenth century the rate of illegitimate births in Cornwall had been consistently lower than in England and Wales. However, in the 1850s and 60s the gap steadily narrowed. By 1870 the situation had been reversed and illegitimate births in Cornwall were significantly higher than in England and Wales. They peaked around 1880 and began to decline again thereafter.

Daniel Gumb’s ‘cave’ nowadays, with the Cheesewring in the background beyond the quarry.

A Linkinhorne resident who had no illegitimate children was Daniel Gumb. Daniel was a stonecutter and a self-taught mathematician. He gained fame by carving out a home in the 1730s for himself and his wife and their nine children under a large granite slab near the Cheesewring rock in the parish. Some of this can still be seen, with Pythagoras’ theorem neatly cut into a rock. What we see now however is not the original home, which was reportedly 30 feet long and divided into rooms. In the nineteenth century, as the quarry got closer to it, some of the remains were moved to its present location by the quarrymen. The tale is that Daniel would sit on the massive top block on a clear night watching the stars rotate and contemplating the mysteries of existence. No light pollution in those days, especially at one of Cornwall’s highest points.

To some extent, the rise in illegitimacy rates in the mid-1800s was caused by a disruption of the traditional plebian courting culture in Cornwall. Formerly, marriages often, or perhaps usually, took place after conception rather than before. Economic crises and sudden decisions to emigrate were liable to interrupt this pattern and lead to more broken promises or inability to finance the expected marriage.

In addition, in all places there existed a core group in which illegitimacies were more commonplace, occurring across the generations. Was Elizabeth Ann Rickard a part of this group?  In 1861 she was living in the household of farm labourer James Hocking and his wife Elizabeth at Treasize Mill in Linkinhorne. Her relationship with James was not stated but Catherine and Charles Rickard, daughter and son in law of James were also resident. It looks as if Elizabeth was the daughter of Catherine and the granddaughter of James and Elizabeth, although entered in the 1871 census as their daughter and reverting to the surname Hocking after 1861.

By 1881 Elizabeth and her widowed grandmother had moved to the new mining village of Pensilva, although Elizabeth found work on a farm rather than at the mine. By this time there were two ‘grandsons’ also present. Roll forward to 1891. Elizabeth’s grandmother was dead and the two boys plus another three children were recorded as sons and daughters of the still single Elizabeth Ann.

Eventually, in 1892, Elizabeth Ann married Thomas Bassett, a labourer from Menheniot who was ten years her junior. They, plus three of Elizabeth’s children, moved to Devonport where Thomas found work as a labourer. In 1911 Elizabeth and Thomas were staying with Elizabeth’s daughter Sabina, a washerwoman who was a widow at 28, with four children of her own, the first apparently born when she was just 16.

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