Morwenstow: ‘what Cornish lads can do’ and did (and maids too)

Morwenstow has spectacularly dramatic coastal scenery framed by its high cliffs and is Cornwall’s most northerly parish. But it’s more likely to be remembered for its association with the Reverend Robert Stephen Hawker, its vicar from 1834 to 1875. Hawker was a somewhat eccentric character, a high church Romantic who was no mean poet, a self-taught architect and a passionate local patriot. It was Hawker who penned ‘The Song of the Western Men’, more usually known as ‘Trelawny’, which rapidly became Cornwall’s de-facto national anthem. Ironically, Hawker himself had been born in Plymouth.

A video of the hut which Hawker built on the cliffs

Less well-known, but hardly less interesting, are two life-course examples from Morwenstow. Both had farming backgrounds, which was not unexpected in this parish where over three quarters of men worked on the local farms. Selina Trewin Tape was the daughter of Daniel, a farm labourer, and Ann at Shop in the parish. By 1871 she’d left home and was working as a kitchenmaid at the Falcon Hotel in Stratton, the nearest town.

Ten years later however, Selina had moved to Liverpool and was employed by a pawnbroker as his servant. She soon married James Driscoll, a seaman from Swansea. The pair moved out of the city, but not far, taking up residence in nearby Bootle. By 1901 James was more permanently on dry land, having become a docks watchman, although he died in the 1900s. Selina stayed in Bootle, acting as housekeeper to another, widowed, watchman in 1911.

The docks at Bootle, where Selina Tape’s husband was a watchman

Strangely enough, one of Selina’s neighbours in Morwenstow in 1861 – Noah Gay of Eastcott –  also developed a Swansea connection. Noah’s father was a farm labourer and Noah himself was working at a local farm in 1861 as a cowhand. In 1871 he married Mary Gifford, the pair at first living at Woolley, the neighbouring hamlet to the north.

However, between 1874 and 1878 Noah and Mary moved to Swansea where Noah obtained work as a labourer at a lead smelting works. By 1891 he had exchanged this for work as a coal haulier. Meanwhile, Mary had died and Noah remarried. His second wife Annie hailed from north Devon and no doubt helped to persuade Noah to move back south. The family were living in Bideford in Devon by 1901 and there Noah died in 1910.

One thought on “Morwenstow: ‘what Cornish lads can do’ and did (and maids too)

  1. A good sense of lowering clouds in the Hawker video and a reason for a well-battened hut.

    Don’t you think that the reason why two couples may have ended up in Swansea is personal connections, potentially even through being related somehow? Or friendship during childhood? An old lady in our village had the most amazing family tree in her head – she could “relate” dozens of people who were connected somehow at a moment’s notice – oftentimes the links she reported went back decades and were sometimes unknown to later generations. That is, people living today did not know they had been related to someone else they know in some way in the past.

    I always wanted to take lots of A3 paper and start her on mindmapping all these relationships but the scale of the task continually put me off and now it is too late. It would have been wonderful though, because these days very few people hold such relationship maps in their minds.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.