Newlyn: fish hawkers and octogenarians

In May 1871 the Great Exhibition opened its doors in London. The Crystal Palace constructed in Hyde Park was the wonder of its age, a giant greenhouse containing exhibits from around the globe as Victorians revelled in their technical wizardry and the bounties of free trade (and colonialism). Meanwhile, 256 miles away, an old lady born in Madron in 1766 was intrigued by news of this Great Exhibition and decided to go up and see what all the fuss was about. Other sources suggest she may have walked to London to put her case concerning a grievance over an unpaid pension.

Unable to afford a coach or steamship ticket, the 84-year old Mary Kelynack (also known as Mary Trezise) set out on foot. This eventually attracted some notice in the press and she became a minor celebrity. Arriving in London, she met the Lord Mayor, received various gifts and charity and was thoroughly patronised. She died four years later back in Penzance, having, according to an obituary ‘not tended to sober down after her return’. (For stories of Mary see here and here.)

A postcard of two fish jousters, possibly from a staged photo

Mary was a fish-jowster, or fish-hawker, tramping around the district to sell the catches landed at Newlyn, Cornwall’s premier fishing port.  Like Mousehole, Newlyn was dominated by the fishing industry and populated principally by fishermen and their families. Most of them would have spent rather less eventful lives than Mary, well away from the metropolitan spotlight until the arrival of the Newlyn School of painters in the 1880s.

Annie Wills was one such Newlyn native. Annie was born in North Corner Street. Her father was a fisherman who interspersed time on the fishing boats with spells as a merchant seaman. In 1872 Annie married John Wright, another Newlyn fisherman. At first the couple lodged with Annie’s parents at Prospect Place before finding themselves a house to rent at Trewarveneth Street. By the time the new century had arrived they were back in Prospect Place. Annie died in 1934 at around the same age as Mary Kelynack, having spent all her life in and around the streets of Newlyn.

The Fradgan in Newlyn in 1910, where Mary Kelynack lived in 1841

Even when they did move it was sometimes difficult for Newlyn folk to shake off the smell of fish. Richard Maddern was already recorded as active ‘on the fishery’ in 1851 when he was 11 years old, working presumably with his father and brothers. However, in 1872 Richard married Philippa Glasson from Redruth. Philippa persuaded Richard to move ‘upalong’ and they set up as fishmongers in Redruth. Some of the next generation broke the link with fishing, their children working in local mines in 1891. Nonetheless, one son remained active in the fish hawking trade into the twentieth century.

3 thoughts on “Newlyn: fish hawkers and octogenarians

  1. In the picture of the two old ladies, the one on the left is my three times GT Grandmother, Blanch Courtney. She and Betsy Lanyon, on the right, were favourites of the artists and photographers of the time. There are quite a few studio portraits of them around.

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