St Breward: lead and granite

The parish of St Breward encompassed a large chunk of the western side of Bodmin Moor. While the upland area was mainly populated by sheep the human population clustered in the settlements overlooking the river flowing south from Camelford. Now called the Camel for its whole length, at St Breward it was formerly known as the Alan River, the name Camel being reserved for the stretch upstream from St Breward. The Ordnance Survey had confused the name of the Alan with another river – the Layne – to which they transferred the name Allen.

While confusion may reign over the names of the local rivers, the St Breward children in the Victorian Lives database are straightforward enough. There are only two of them. One stayed in the parish; the other one left.

The hamlet of Row in St Breward around 1903 -home to both Samuel Polkinghorne and Elizabeth Philip at different times

The first – Samuel Polkinghorne – was the son of a miner and spent part of his life in a house with the intriguing name of ‘The Ragged House’. In the 1860s Samuel joined his father as a lead miner and continued to be so in 1881 despite a severe contraction of Cornish lead mining in the early 1870s. In 1874 he married Elizabeth Lander from the same parish but she died in 1886, leaving Samuel with a few children to look after on his own.

The De Lank quarries in the 21st century

But not for long. A year later he was married again. This time to Susan Jose from Camelford, who he also outlived. By the 1890s Samuel had bowed to economic inevitability and turned from lead mining to labouring in a granite quarry, probably the de Lank quarries which had been opened up in the 1850s. This is now one of the last working granite quarries in Cornwall. Samuel was unskilled and his job description as a coal and mill labourer in 1911 suggests that, after giving up mining, he was prepared to turn his hand to any labouring job. Interestingly, he signed the 1911 census form with a mark, which was unusual at this date.

Elizabeth Ann Philip

Elizabeth Ann Philip grew up in the same hamlet – Row – in which Samuel later lived. Her father, a farm labourer in 1851, had become a quarry labourer in 1861, by which time the local quarries were employing one in five of the parish’s men. When Elizabeth left the family home, she became a housemaid for the Rector of Calstock, one of four servants and a governess. She stayed there for at least a decade, being the cook in 1881, before marrying Thomas Rooke, who worked in Calstock’s market gardens, in 1884. She and Thomas, who was from Devon, settled at Honeycombe in Calstock and spent the rest of their lives there.

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