Perranuthnoe: what to do when the bal is scat

A rural parish to the east of Penzance and Marazion, Perranuthnoe is now merely a place to ‘escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life … [an] ideal destination for a coastal retreat’, its heritage forgotten, its history unlamented. That’s a far cry from Victorian days when the parish was better known for its mines than its coastline and its cottages were lived in by working people, not emptily awaiting holidaymakers. In 1861 three quarters of the adult men in Perranuthnoe were working in the local mines.

Perranuthnoe churchtown in 1877 with its necklace of disused mines

When the mines closed, there were precious few other work opportunities left. As a result, the parish experienced a major depopulation, numbers of residents falling from a peak of over 1,500 in 1861 to just over 800 in 1901. Even this was somewhat less than the declines seen in the neighbouring parishes of Breage and St Hilary.

In these circumstances some emigrated. Rachel was the daughter of Stephen Thomas and his wife Bridget who in 1851 were running a pub in the churchtown. By 1861 the pair had a grocer’s shop in the busy mining village of Goldsithney, Stephen was farming 10 acres and they employed a boy and a domestic servant. Things looked good.

They were still there in 1871, but no doubt beginning to worry about falling trade at the shop as the local mines began to stop work. Rachel was by this time helping out by earning money as a dressmaker. But in 1874 or 1875 she emigrated to the States, marrying William Michell from Gwennap at around the same time. The couple settled in Wisconsin.

Some moved upcountry. Another Thomas – Elizabeth Ann Thomas – also lived in Goldsithney in 1861, the daughter of a lander, someone who removed and attached kibbles to the winding rope at the top of a shaft or managed the cages at a mine (called a banksman in coal mining). She married in 1880 and with her husband John Richards moved to Dalton in Furness, where John got work as an iron miner.

A quiet day at Perran Sands in 2010. The churchtown is in the background with its necklace of holiday homes. (In 2011 22% of the houses were holiday lets or 2nd homes.)

Some, a few, managed to stay in the district. Arabella Sandry’s father James was another miner in the parish. He must have had a smallholding as in 1881 his widow Grace was described as a farmer at Perran Downs in the parish. Arabella had just married (another) John Richards – a general labourer – and the couple were living in the same house as her mother. During the 1880s they moved west to Paul churchtown where John found work as a gardener in 1891 and as a quarryman in 1901. The pair were childless which must have considerably eased their financial situation.

3 thoughts on “Perranuthnoe: what to do when the bal is scat

  1. Another amazing article. I also liked the one on Perranarworthal where my aunt and uncle lived for decades, in fact until very recently.

    Can you explain the origin of the word “church town”. I find it really odd as, for example, the Rev. Baudris in the 1700s writes about Warleggan churchtown, yet there were just a couple of houses. Why would one use the word “town”?

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    1. The English placename element -ton originally meant just a settlement or enclosure and didn’t refer to size. The restriction of the word town to places larger than villages began after the 12th century but in Cornwall, where it was probably seen as analogous to Cornish trev, which also referred to a famstead or hamlet, the older use was retained. So a churchtown was a settlement (which might have comprised just one or two houses) next to or near to a church.

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