Penzance’s ‘truly independent cordwainers’

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.)

A rather crowded bus about to leave Penzance station. This might have been the inauguration of the GWR’s Marazion to Newlyn bus service that began in 1903

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.

The back streets of east Penzance, where William Carpenter spent his whole life. This was the district that elected Cornwall’s first (and only) Chartist town councillor in 1844

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.

4 thoughts on “Penzance’s ‘truly independent cordwainers’

  1. Dear Mr Deacon
    My name is Alan Edwin Caddy
    I believe 3 bother’s tin miners from Currie are the base of all of us here in Australia. Hope you can throw some light on it.
    Best regards, Alan


    1. Hi Alan, I think you need a genealogist rather than a humble historical geographer like myself. Maybe a reader can help. For what it’s worth, the sumname Curry or Currie, although present in Cornwall at least from the 1550s, was far outnumbered by the spelling Cory, from which I think it had diverged. It had the same geography, both names concentrated in the far north of Cornwall. But you need a historian of the Curry/Currie family to tell you the detailed history of 19th century emigrants with this name.


    2. Hello Alan

      Would you have been married to Cheryl Ann Joyenson ?
      I am researching the the Plunkett family
      Would you be interested in the family history ?

      Regards Sandra kelleher


  2. I am looking for my ancestors (Batten surname). Joseph Batten from Pengegon and married to Martha Tonkin. Do you have any knowledge of him?


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