Morvah: the parish with no labourers

Morvah is easily overlooked. It’s one of Cornwall’s smallest parishes, hidden deep in West Penwith and comfortably tucked between St Just and Zennor. In the 1861 census Morvah unusually recorded only one labourer among its working age men. This was more a result of the very small holdings that needed little help beyond the immediate family than an innate egalitarianism or the presence of a leisured utopia. Moreover, over half of the men were working in local mines, which would have involved a fair degree of labouring, not to mention the womenfolk labouring at home or on the farms and mines.

Despite its size Morvah has still managed to deliver four 11-year olds to our database. One didn’t survive into the 1880s, while the other three were all still living in West Penwith in 1891, although only one in the parish itself.

Mary Ann Williams was the eldest daughter of William, a miner, and Mary, living at Morvah’s diminutive churchtown in the 1850s. During the 1860s the family left and moved to the growing village of Pendeen, a mile or so down the coast. Mary Ann was not with them in 1871 but was most probably in service somewhere, as she was recorded as a domestic servant at Cape Cornwall Street, St Just in 1881. Ten years later, she was back with her mother at Pendeen. Her father was not around although, as her mother was not widowed, may have been off working elsewhere or even abroad, despite being in his 60s.

Humphrey Trembath also grew up in a mining family although his father was less fortunate, dying in his late 20s. With the urgent need to add to the family income, Humphrey was down the mine before he was 11 along with his even younger brother. By 1871 the two brothers and their mother and sister had moved to St Just.

The entrance to Chun Castle – an iron age hillfort – on the hills behind Morvah

In 1876 Humphrey married Jane Lawry. The 1881 census is silent on Humphrey’s whereabouts.  However, his wife was recorded as visiting a farmer back at Morvah and described as an annuitant. This most likely meant she was in receipt of remittances, which Humphrey was probably sending back from upcountry or overseas. The boy must have done well as by 1891 he was back at Morvah’s churchtown, renting a farm and employing servants. In 1914 he died, still at the churchtown, leaving £1,532 (equal to £182,000 in 2021) to two of his five children.

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