Launcells: crossing the border

One of the small bridges across the Tamar near Launcells now proudly bearing its Kernow sign

Rivers can act as boundaries between culture areas. Or they can also bring people from either side of the river together. Launcells was a farming parish on the upper reaches of the River Tamar bordering Devon. The Tamar was just a small stream this far north and no barrier to communications. But did the border act as a cultural barrier to movement?

The answer has to be no. Twenty-seven of Launcell’s 693 residents in 1861 had been born in the neighbouring Devon parish of Pyworthy, just across the river to the east. Meanwhile, 19 originated in the Cornish parish of Stratton immediately to the west. In fact, the preponderance of movement into Launcells from Devon was even greater than this suggests. Pyworthy had less than half of the population of Stratton in 1851 so the pool of potential migrants was that much smaller. Allowing for this, the pro rata migration rate for Pyworthy to Launcells was 41 per 1,000 whereas from Stratton it was only 11 per 1,000. This means the folk of neighbouring Pyworthy in Devon were four times more likely to move to Launcells than were the people of the neighbouring parish of Stratton in Cornwall.

Migrants could also move in the opposite direction. Fanny Lyle had been born at Moreton in Launcells, just yards from the Devon border, where her father Daniel farmed 68 acres. In 1866 aged just 16 or 17 she married Edwin Oliver, a farm labourer who came from Bridgerule, which straddled the border to the south. They moved to Devon and lived at Pyworthy until Fanny’s death in 1884.

Horizons were not limited to the immediate area for everyone from Launcells however. Samuel Bassett, born at Bridgerule, was the son of a farmer at Treyeo, next to the Tamar.  In 1868 he enlisted in the army and by 1881 was a corporal of horse in the elite 2nd Regiment of Life Guards, part of the Household Cavalry stationed in London. He remarried at least once and in the early twentieth century came back to end his days at Helebridge near Stratton, not that far from his birthplace at Bridgerule.

One thought on “Launcells: crossing the border

  1. A really miniature bridge in the photo I think!

    I carried out research some time back in Madagascar and asked women to draw a map of their local area. This was a participatory map with no rules and they could use materials from their environment. They took flowers, twigs and little stones and so on.

    Their world was a small one, centred on the spice plantation where they worked. They highlighted the primary school, clinic, local shop, pathways – and bridges, of which there were quite a few. When I asked them to interpret their map for me they said bridges were really important because this is where they stopped to chat. Like the bridge indicated on the photo the bridges were small (and ramshackle in most cases – not sure what the crossing would have looked like in Launcells in Victorian times).

    In the Malagasy case, women worked really very hard and their only “leisure” was to stop for a moment, put down whatever they were carrying, and talk for a moment. Perhaps something similar occurred in Launsells – a pause to get to know each other, catch up, a natural stopping point to glance over the stream or river – always a lovely experience in itself.


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