Penzance was a diverse place, containing a variety of occupations. The largest occupational sector in the town was craftsmen, accounting for almost a half of the adult men. Indeed, this was the largest of any Cornish parish in 1861. Among them were shoemakers.
The shoemakers of Penzance had been described in1845 as ‘the bravest of the brave among labour’s sons’. They had played an enthusiastic part in the Chartist agitation of the 1830s and 1940s demanding political reform and universal suffrage (for men). Penzance was home to the most successful Cornish branch of this movement. (For the history of Cornish Chartism see here.)
Several of the Penzance children in the Victorian Lives database were sons and daughters of shoemakers. However, hardly any of them appear to have ended up as shoemakers or in families containing shoemakers. Eliza Donnithorne for example was the daughter of a shoemaker in Camberwell Street in Penzance. She went into service and in 1871 was the domestic servant at a butcher’s house in Belle Vue Terrace. But at some point during the 1870s Eliza looked further afield and found a post as housemaid to a retired merchant at Newport in Monmouthshire. She stayed in south Wales, moving to West Glamorgan and marrying William Day at Neath in 1890. William was a platelayer (someone who maintained and laid railway track) from Somerset.
Living near Eliza Donnithorne at the back of Adelaide Street in Penzance in 1861 was William Carpenter. Williams’s father was also a shoemaker but William was apprenticed to a confectioner. He duly became a baker, marrying and living in Mount Street from the late 1870s to his death in 1923.
Penzance’s shoemakers do not seem to have spawned many emigrants, but was this true of its craftsmen more generally? And how did it compare with neighbouring Paul parish? These questions will be answered in the next blog.