A life of service: ageing servants from Ludgvan

Domestic service, as we have seen, was an occupation with a young age profile. The vast majority of such servants were young women and most spent only a few years in service before exchanging the authority of their employer for that of their husband. It was a similar story for surface workers at the mine, although they enjoyed more independence before marriage and, according to commentators in an increasingly patriarchal Victorian society, were overly headstrong after marriage.

However, there were always some exceptions, women who remained domestic servants and unmarried into middle age. Ludgvan offers one example of this and another example of a man who similarly continued to be a farm servant into his 50s.

Jane Pearce left the mining family in which she grew up at Whitecross, Ludgvan, to become a general servant on a farm at Tregellast, about half a kilometre away. By 1881 Jane had decided to sample the urban life and taken a post as servant to an unmarried master butcher, his brother and widowed mother in Belgravia Street, Penzance. Ten years later she was working at the more middle class Morrab Road, again the sole servant in the house of a retired grocer and his wife. And there she stayed for well over ten years. By 1911, her employers, who would have been 90 and 86, were presumably deceased and Jane, still single, was boarding with Edwin and Mary Hawken, possibly relatives, possibly not, at Park Corner, just up the hill from Morrab Road.

Although living at Ludgvan in 1861, Edmund Skinner was born well to the east at Perranzabuloe. His father, a farm labourer, moved to Ludgvan in the late 1850s. Edmund took up the traditional route to becoming a farm labourer by first working as an indoor farm servant, meaning he boarded with the farmer. He did this at a farm at St Issey in mid-Cornwall. Normally, labourers spent a few years in their teens and maybe twenties as a farm servant before marrying, renting a cottage and finding work as an independent farm labourer. But Edmund stayed at the Henwood’s farm at Penrose in St Issey. And stayed. And stayed. Until his death there in 1911.

Edmund’s employer at Penrose, like Jane Pearce’s at Morrab Road, was getting on in years when Edmund first became a farm servant. He was 55 in 1871 and lived into his 80s, when his sister, 91 in 1901, took over from him. Ageing but long-lived employers who were themselves unmarried provided the continuity and conservatism for things to remain peacefully unchanged. Season remorselessly followed season and Edmund never married. Maybe he preferred the company of his cattle (he was described explicitly as a ‘cattleman’ in 1901) to the fickleness of human beings, especially those of the opposite sex.

Penrose (in the background), where Henry Skinner lived and worked for over 40 years (Janine Forbes / Trevilgus Farm (foreground) and Penrose / CC BY-SA 2.0)

One thought on “A life of service: ageing servants from Ludgvan

  1. You are assuming of course that people were not “gay”. In my own family (Manchester side) there were two non-related women, Grace and Amy, who were extremely close to my great-grandparents. It was decades later that my gran said my dad in the form of an amazed relevation, “Do you think that Amy and Grace were, you know …?” Grace and Amy lived together all their lives and I have one or two lovely images of them as young trendy women in the 1930s, full of laughter (as well as older). There is no doubt that they were, you know …

    Just saying this because perhaps the single lives you describe so beautifully here and elsewhere were lonely, denied lives.


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