Tall stories from Little Petherick

Little Petherick, a few miles to the west of Wadebridge, wasn’t called little because it was small, barely a mile wide and running down a creek draining north into the Camel estuary. It was ‘little’ in reference to its big brother of Padstow, two miles to the north. The patron saint of both parishes was Petroc, who also had another three parishes in Cornwall to look after plus a host in Devon.

Petroc must have been a busy chap but he was clearly inured to hard work on limited sustenance. His Life, written in the twelfth century, tells us that he lived on an island in the ’eastern ocean’ for seven years sustained by a single fish. More credibly, Petroc’s monastery was at Padstow until the attentions of marauding Vikings in the ninth century got a bit too close for comfort and the monastery and Petroc’s supposed relics were hurriedly shifted inland to Bodmin.

Little Petherick village nestling in its valley in the early 1900s (cornishmemory.com)

To move from the fictional inhabitants of Cornwall to real ones, in 1861 three children from Little Petherick showed up in the Victorian Lives database. All three of them have been traced, all three had fathers who were agriculturists, all three left the parish, but none of them went that far.

John Best’s father was a master nurseryman, employing more than a dozen gardeners in 1851. John was living at his uncle’s nursery at St Neot in 1871 but died a year later in 1872.

Maria Henwood’s father Felix, a rare first name in Victorian Cornwall or at any other time come to that, was the local miller in 1851 but was farming in the parish ten years later. Maria married Henry Hawken from the neighbouring parish of St Issey. Henry was a carpenter in 1881 but, like his father in law, had turned his hand to farming by 1891.

Finally, the third Little Petherick resident in 1861 was Fanny Veal Mitchell. She was born at St Columb Minor in 1850, the daughter of a farm labourer. In 1861 she was at a house ‘on the downs’ upstream of Little Petherick’s church. There, she was helping to look after a new-born child, which served as good preparation for her later life. After marrying farm labourer William Roberts in 1868, the family moved to William’s parish of St Columb Minor before drifting back to near Wadebridge via Roche. In the meantime, Fanny was kept busy giving birth to 19 children, 18 of whom were still alive in 1911, a barely credible feat but one fully supported by the historical record.

Fanny Roberts’ child-bearing recorded in the 1911 census

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