Farmers in the parish of St Clether, north of Bodmin Moor, must have struggled at times. Living in an upland area with some of the highest rainfall in Cornwall and dealing with the heavy, acidic clay and loam soils of the district was not the easiest task. However, because the soils of St Clether did not lend themselves to grain production, the good news was that this meant the pastoral farmers of the parish were not so affected by the economic depression that set in from 1873. The bad news was that in 1865-66 and again in 1877 there were outbreaks of cattle plague, while foot and mouth disease rampaged unchecked from 1881 to 1883, playing havoc with the livelihood of livestock farmers.
The five St Clether children in our database had all left the parish by 1891 but four of them were in Cornwall and the other one only just across the Tamar at Lifton. Salome Rowe’s migration history was typical of farm labourers’ families in north Cornwall, moving periodically in search of work. She was born at the aptly named Cold Northcott in the parish but left the family home at 19 years of age to marry John Colwill, a farm labourer from Week St Mary.
Salome and John first lived at Jacobstow and then at Tresmeer before moving back to St Clether by 1891. A year later they had departed the parish yet again to head for Lanteglos by Camelford. There they remained at Stannapark into the Edwardian years, even then moving at least once, from one cottage to another slightly bigger one.
Responding to a government survey in 1882 a local landlord reported that most ‘fair-sized’ farms in the district had cottages for their ‘regular labourers’. These were let as part of their wages for a shilling or one and six pence a week. Most had gardens for growing vegetables. Nonetheless, he concluded that ‘the condition of the labourer is not so good’, although other evidence from mid and south east Cornwall reached a more positive conclusion.
Josias Colwill (who may well have been a cousin of John Colwill above) was another child of a farm labourer at Cold Northcott in 1861. He had been born in Treneglos, his parents moving to St Clether in the late 1850s. In 1871 Josias was a farm servant at Davidstow but by the 1890s had moved south of the moor to the balmier parish of St Dominick. In between he had worked after his marriage as a road labourer at Laneast, helping to maintain the parish roads.