Padstow: saints but no sinners

Some have argued that Christianity first arrived in Cornwall in Roman times from Ireland (others prefer Gaul or the south east of Britain). Several ‘saints’ later venerated in Cornwall had connections with Ireland. One was Petroc, who was supposed to have studied in Ireland and who gave his name to Petrocstow, also known in Cornish as Lanwethenek (named after another saint – Gwethenek) and now as Padstow.

Padstow became Cornwall’s main port for trade to and from Ireland. Leland noted in 1536 that as a result the place was ‘full of Irishmen’. The Irish trade and the demand for ships and provisions for them stimulated a local shipbuilding industry and the growth of the town.

Padstow harbour in the 1920s

By the Victorian period the Irish connection was considerably fainter. That said, Louisa Matilda Harris from Padstow married an Irishman in 1879. Her marriage took place in New Zealand, but if nothing else it shows that Irish-Cornish relations, often tense if not openly hostile on the mining frontiers of North America and Australia, were not always so. Louisa had emigrated from Padstow with her family in the 1860s. Her father had been a farm bailiff in 1851 but ten years later was described as just a farm labourer. Perhaps down on his luck, the decision to move to New Zealand offered the chance of a new start.

William Geach also left Padstow but remained in the British Isles. William was the son of a ropemaker, a trade closely associated with shipping. However, he didn’t follow his father into ropemaking, instead becoming a draper’s assistant. This was made easier by his sister marrying an outfitter and shoemaker from Wiltshire. In 1871, William was assisting his in-laws’ business in Ludlow, Shropshire.

By 1881 he had taken to the road, or more accurately the railway, becoming a commercial traveller in drapery, linen and hats. Marrying in London in 1873, he was based in Cambridgeshire in 1881, Tottenham on the edge of London in 1891, Wood Green in suburban Middlesex in 1901 and Streatham Common in 1911. He died in 1935 in Surrey, leaving £129 (£9,500 nowadays) to his wife.

Padstow is best known for its ‘obby ‘oss celebrations in May. This is claimed to be the first sound film of this event

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