St Clement: cards and candles

Most of the inhabitants of St Clement in the mid-nineteenth century were actually living in Truro, the houses of which were expanding into the neighbouring parishes of St Clement to the east and Kenwyn to the north and west. As befits a largely urban parish, St Clement was home to a diversity of crafts and retail trades as well as containing a greater than normal proportion of professional families and domestic servants.

Contrasting with the urban experience of most of St Clement’s residents, the parish church was tucked away in a secluded hamlet close to a creek of the River Fal

The migration pattern of its children of the mid-century was also noticeably different from other parts. There were fewer overseas emigrants and a greater number living in southern England. Let’s take a look at one St Clement resident who had a London connection.

Henry Haly didn’t merely have a connection. He’d been born in London at Shoreditch, where his Cornish-born father Charles was working as a sawyer in 1851. By 1861 the family was back in Cornwall at James’ Place in Truro. Maybe Henry felt a yearning to return to the big city as before he was 21 he had returned to London, working as a General Post Office messenger.

Postcards could be used to send short messages, views or, as in this case, a poem of questionable quality. Note the date – written during the bloodletting of WW1

The GPO could trace its origins back to 1660 when the Royal Mail began to be available to everyone. In 1840 the penny post was initiated, making use of the newly invented adhesive stamp and simplifying the complicated previous system of paying for letters by weight and distance sent. The Post Office steadily expanded its activities as the century wore on. A cheaper halfpenny rate in 1870 stimulated the sending of postcards, parcel post was introduced in 1883, while the GPO had taken over all telegraph communications in 1870.

Despite this, Henry left the Post Office in the 1870s when he and his wife and family made the move to Southampton, where he worked as a tallow chandler into the 1910s. Making candles seems a far cry from carrying the mail. It was also a dirtier job – tallow candles were made from the boiled and reduced fat from sheep and cattle supplied by slaughterhouses. Moreover, tallow candles burnt with an acrid smell.

In the 1800s alternatives to tallow began to appear, such as whale oil or paraffin wax. These resulted in more consistent burning and cleaner candles for the masses by the 1860s. Yet the days of the candle were soon numbered as they were to be eventually outshone by the extension of gas lighting into people’s homes, the use of kerosene lamps and the invention of the electric light bulb. Henry Haly was not to know it in the 1870s but he was joining a declining trade.