The secluded and wooded Vale of Lanherne running inland from Mawgan Porth is peaceful these days. But it was a political flashpoint in the late sixteenth century, regarded as the hotbed of Cornish Catholicism. This was the base of the Arundell family which attempted, ultimately without success, to keep the flag of Catholicism flying in Cornwall. That project foundered in 1577 when the Catholic priest Cuthbert Mayne was arrested at the home of the Tregians, who were closely linked to the Arundells through marriage. Mayne lost his head, the Arundells lost their lingering power, Cornwall was secured for Protestantism and Mawgan reverted to somnolence for a few centuries until the nearby airfield opened in 1933.
In the mid nineteenth century it was a predominantly farming parish. However, life courses varied considerably and depended to a large extent on the luck, or lack of it, of one’s birth. Cordelia May was one of the lucky ones, born into a farming family in neighbouring St Columb in the new year of 1851. Soon after her birth, Cordelia’s father John took over the substantial 300-acre farm attached to the old Arundell house at Lanherne, by this time a closed convent.
Cordelia grew up at Lanherne farm, surrounded by the bustle of a large farmhouse, the coming and going of farm servants and the day-to-day activities of the farming year as she and her siblings helped out on the farm and in the house. That was her life until 1875 when she married William Langdon, a solicitor.
She then accompanied William to Islington in London, which must have been a bit of a culture shock. However, William died in the 1880s. Cordelia didn’t return to Cornwall but moved to Fulham with her children, the eldest of whom duly becoming a solicitor’s clerk. The governess employed in 1891 and the loyal servant who was with the family in both 1891 and 1901 attest to a relatively comfortable life.
Henry Roberts was less fortunate in his choice of parents. Born into a labouring family at St Columb, Henry had to leave home to work as a farm boy by the time he was 11. In 1873, no doubt tiring of life as a farm servant, Henry left for the United States. He made at least one return trip in 1880 but by the 1890s was firmly established at the anthracite mining town of Carbondale, north east of Scranton, Pennsylvania, marrying a local girl there in 1896.