Roche in mid-Cornwall is on the northern edge of the clay country. At the time the children in our database were born in 1850/51 the extraction of clay was only just beginning to scar the landscape. The creation of the white mountains of the clay country and the sterilisation of many square miles of countryside was yet to arrive. In 1861 there were still twice as many miners and tin streamers in the parish as clay labourers although the latter already amounted to a sizeable 20 per cent of the workforce.
Three of the children from Roche in the Victorian Lives database grew up in clay labouring families. What happened to them? The first was Luke Thomas at Criggan Downs. His father had switched from tin streaming to clay labouring in the 1850s, a move we’ve already come across at Luxulyan on the eastern edge of the clay district. Luke was a clay labourer by the time he was 11 years old. After marrying Deborah Strickland in 1875 the couple had sufficient reserves to run a grocery store in the village of Bugle in neighbouring St Austell parish and even employ a domestic servant to help them.
We might be forgiven for thinking the store hadn’t succeeded as by 1891 and 1901 Luke was recorded in the census with the sole description of clay labourer. But in 1911 he was again describing himself as a shopkeeper. In fact, with an address as the Post Office, Bugle and two sons employed as postman and telegraph messenger he was the village sub-postmaster. The shop must have been run by Deborah and not mentioned in the census, as Luke appeared consistently in the trades directories as the sub-postmaster for the village from 1883 onwards.
The other two from clay labouring families both ended up emigrating. Richard Hancock had actually been born in the Channel Isles at Jersey where his father worked for almost a decade at a quarry. Returning to Cornwall in the late 1850s he turned to clay labouring, as did his son in the 1860s. However, in 1885 Richard married Catherine Lamerton and the couple left for Butte, Montana, where Richard was a miner in 1890. He died at Butte in 1914.
Ann Thomas was another emigrant. Her father had been a clay labourer at Tresays in Roche. In 1871 Ann married John Williams from St Breock and the pair departed for New Zealand in 1878 on a steamship from Plymouth as assisted migrants. They arrived at Canterbury on New Zealand’s South Island in early 1879 and she was still living there in 1890.