Menheniot: gateway to the world

Menheniot, to the south-east of Liskeard in east Cornwall, was a boom and bust parish of the mid-Victorian period. The population soared by almost 60 per cent in the 1840s before peaking in the early 1860s. It then fell by over a half in the next 30 years. People were attracted to the parish by the lead mines that opened in the 1840s, but those same mines succumbed to a dramatic collapse of lead prices in the early 1870s so job opportunities in the parish became extremely limited to say the least.

Of the 13 Menheniot children traced from 1851 to 1891 and still alive in 1891, only one still lived in the parish. Thomas Hooper was a blacksmith in 1851. His son, also called Thomas, learnt the trade and, after marrying Jane Hancock in 1873, ran his own smithy in 1881. Then, rather unexpectedly, Thomas junior returned to his parent’s house, working as a blacksmith in his father’s concern in 1891. In the meantime, Jane was a housekeeper at the farm of John Martin at St Mellion, a few miles to the east. She was still housekeeping at St Mellion ten years later at the time of the 1891 census. Of Thomas there was no sign. Do the bare records of the census hide a domestic crisis?

Maybe Thomas had emigrated as did several of his contemporaries at Menheniot. In 1891 two were living in the States, one at Houghton on the Upper Peninsula and another in Pennsylvania; one was resident at Ontario in Canada; a fourth could be found in New South Wales in Australia.

Yet another was absent ‘abroad’ in 1891. John Richards had been born just over the parish boundary in St Germans. His father was a lead miner, himself born in Newfoundland. By the time John was 11 he had joined his father and brother working in a local lead mine. In 1872 he married Emma Hobbs and by 1881 the pair had moved to the new village of Pensilva near the South Caradon copper mine.

Ten years later Emma was back at Menheniot. The copper mines of Caradon were now also beginning to falter and John had gone abroad. His spell on the mining frontier obviously paid off as he returned in the 1890s with enough money for the couple to take on a pub in Plymouth, where they were living in 1901.

Some of the mine dumps continued to be picked over for their mineral content. A group of surface workers take a break at Wheal Mary Ann during the First World War

One thought on “Menheniot: gateway to the world

  1. I often wonder if the villages photographed in the early years were tidied and swept specifically for the photograph. Is that possible? It also seems sad that tarmaced roads now rush through the quiet villages that once existed, so that these villages you are discussing are hardly a glimpse in the eye.

    I wonder also if the women in the mining photograph were wearing their best for the photograph. They all look very bonny. The man on the right looks like a foreman – for me a reflection on gender power relations. So many women, one male boss (unless I have misinterpreted the man’s role – and I see the young man on the left, too).

    Like

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