Polperro: not just although mainly about the fishing

Lansallos parish contains part of the coastal village of Polperro (shared with the neighbouring parish of Talland). Now the epitome of a ‘quaint’ and picturesque Cornish village, Polperro in the 1800s was a self-contained and busy working village, its people earning their living mainly from fishing.

Self-contained but hardly parochial or inward-looking. Jonathan Couch was a native of Polperro who, while rarely leaving the village after qualifying as a doctor, became one of Cornwall’s leading intellectuals, producing his classic four volume History of the Fishes of the British Isles in the1860s. Couch’s profession as a doctor gave him sufficient leisure time to devote to his studies. Others, for whom leisure time was more in the way of unwanted idleness waiting for storms to subside or fish to arrive, were more anonymous but also rather more typical of the village’s workforce.

Francis Roose for example grew up in Lansallos Street at just about the time that Jonathan Couch’s books on fish were being published. Francis became a fisherman, as was his father before him, and as did his eldest son after him. He had married Catherine Jolliff in 1875 and by 1891 they and their seven children were living in what must have been cramped conditions in a three-roomed house near the lime kiln in the village. Nevertheless, Francis became an employer by 1901, suggesting that he had access to a few more resources than some.

Not everyone who grew up in a fisherman’s household had to look forward to an inevitable life on the sea. John Turner was the son of a fisherman in Polperro but, perhaps because the family needed his earnings, had been sent to work on a nearby farm by the time he was eleven years old.

John married a local girl – Fanny Hunkin – in 1872. He may have then spent time working on a vessel engaged in the coastal trade as in 1881 he and Fanny were living far from Polperro at Liverpool. There, John got his living from the precarious calling of dock labouring. He remained a docker and also a resident of Kirkdale in Liverpool, re-marrying in 1901, his second wife being 24 years younger than  he was.

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