Mabe: the granite parish

They used to say that Cornish people had a core of granite. Amenable on the surface, they could be as hard as that rock, resistant and stubborn, standing their ground when pushed too far. If Cornishness entails the possession of a heart of granite, then Mabe could be said to be the quintessentially Cornish parish.

Unlike the previous parish of Luxulyan, where in the mid-1800s there was choice of industrial occupations – underground mining, tin streaming, clay labouring and quarry work – Mabe was a single industry parish. By 1861 around half of its men worked as stonemasons, hewing and cutting granite blocks from the local quarries. The proportion employed in the granite quarries tailed off slowly after the mid-1880s but the Cornish granite industry was spared a catastrophic slump until the early years of the twentieth century.

A disused quarry at Carnsew in Mabe. Nearby is the large quarry still being worked for granite

While several stonemasons emigrated permanently or temporarily to the US after the 1870s, with work at the local quarries available many others did not move far. For example, William Richards was the son of a granite mason living at Halvosso in Mabe. William in turn became a granite mason and when he married Harriet Winn in 1871 moved only a short distance to Rosemanowas in the neighbouring parish of Stithians.

For women, destinies were less predictable. Caroline Mary Oppy was brought up at Penryn and just west of the town at Mabe Burnthouse. Her father worked as a stonemason and Caroline followed the normal occupational route for a young woman, taking a post as a housemaid in Ashfield on the northern edge of Falmouth. Her employer at Ashfield was a retired ropemaker and it was presumably though this connection that Caroline met her husband, Falmouth-born ropemaker John Kerkin, who she married in 1872. What was more unusual was that the marriage took place in Lincolnshire, not one of the usual destinations for Cornish migrants. On their marriage Caroline and John set up home at Barton on Humber, a centre of British ropemaking. And there they stayed. John continued his work as a ropemaker, also being recorded in 1891 and 1901 as a Wesleyan local preacher, Lincolnshire being the only English county to come anywhere close to Cornwall in its affiliation to Methodism.

Barton on Humber is home to a ropewalk museum, now part of an arts centre on the site of a ropemaking business that operated from 1767 to 1789

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