North Hill is a rural parish, its fields and woods rolling down off the eastern edge of Bodmin Moor to the valley of the River Lynher and beyond to the productive farmland east of it. Most of its settlements were scattered along the valley, including the churchtown and, to its north, the small hamlet of Trebartha. Trebartha was significant as the home of the Rodd family in the nineteenth century, prominent Cornish landowners and magistrates. The grounds of their estate are still there but not the original house, demolished and replaced in 1948.
At the time of the 1871 census the head of the family – the 65 year old Francis Rodd – was resident at Trebartha Hall. This was relatively unusual as the Rodds, in common with the other wealthier gentry, spent a large part of the year travelling, both in Cornwall and further afield, visiting relatives and other gentry and doing what’s now called networking. However, in April 1871 the census-takers found the widowed Francis and his two adult daughters at home.
There were also six domestic servants at the house to look after them. Five were female servants: two housemaids, a cook, a kitchenmaid and a laundrymaid. One was a male – William Lea – a footman. William happens to be included in our database. He’d been born and brought up in the parish, one of the half dozen or so children of Samuel Lea, a farm labourer, and his wife Grace.
William married Annie Ough in 1878 and was living in the hamlet of Trebartha in 1881. Described as a gardener, he was no doubt at that time still working for the Rodds. However, by 1891 he’d struck out on his own, becoming a nurseryman and seedsman who by 1901 was recorded explicitly as an employer. His nursery was on the eastern edge of the parish at Illand, about two and a half miles from Trebartha. Was it rented from the Rodds? There is still a nursery and garden centre there.
All 14 of the 11-year olds from North Hill in 1861 in our database have been traced to the 1890s so the parish provides a good snapshot of Victorian migration, although by 1891 four of the 14 were dead. One had married a mariner and was living in Cardiff. A second had joined the Royal Navy and was surviving on his pension at Gosport in Hampshire. A further boy had become a policeman in Exeter. The other seven were still in Cornwall, three in North Hill, including William Lea and the rest all not far away in east Cornwall. By Cornish standards this was a relatively unadventurous sample, which is one reason it’s been possible to trace all their life courses.