Liskeard: Victorian Cornwall’s boom town

In the 1830s copper ore reserves were discovered on Caradon Hill on the southern edge of Bodmin Moor near Liskeard. Soon after, in 1843, rich lead deposits were noted to the south east at Menheniot and to the south of the town. In consequence Liskeard became Cornwall’s boom town in the 1840s as several mines were opened up to exploit these new finds and large numbers of miners flocked to the district.

At first, accommodation near the mines was hard to come by and supply of housing lagged well behind demand. The incoming miners had to find housing in Liskeard, where landlords hurriedly transformed back gardens into lucrative rows of cottages. The population of the town grew by almost 50 per cent in a decade from 3,000 in 1841 to 4,400 in 1851.

Higher Lux Street, Liskeard. Quiet in 1905 it housed over 500 people in the 1850s.

In 1849 John Allen, the town’s historian, did not let his ownership of shares in the rich South Caradon mine stop him condemning the ‘uncouth manners, abominable dialect and cheating habits’ of the miners, which had ‘considerably altered the face of society in this town’. Allen’s concerns were to be soon eased as the flood of migrants petered out in the 1850s and many moved to housing closer to their workplaces.

Mine chimney at Wheal Trehane, Menheniot

Sarah Tucker’s parents were not from west Cornwall as were most mining families. Her mother, who she was named after, had been born in Newfoundland but came to Britain in the 1830s. Sarah appears to have been born at Pondbridge in the heart of the town before her mother was married. Soon after Sarah’s birth, her mother married George Tucker, a lead miner from Menheniot. The pair lived in Pike Street in 1861 where they also accommodated six boarders, including three other lead miners.

Overcrowding had eased by 1871 by which time the family had moved back to near Pondbridge at Cannon Terrace. In the early 1870s employment at the lead mines contracted severely. Escaping the dire local economic conditions, Sarah, a tailoress, accompanied her father to Durham’s coal mines There she met and married Thomas Colwill, another Cornish native, in 1874. Sarah and Thomas and their five children had settled at Tudhoe in County Durham by 1891, having moved around Durham frequently first.

The Colwills probably arrived at Tudhoe Colliery after the disastrous explosion of 1882, the aftermath illustrated here, which killed 37 men and boys.

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