St Columb Minor: full circle at Newquay

Newquay, in the parish of St Columb Minor, is now one of Cornwall’s largest towns. With its surfing and music festivals, reputation for drunken partying and crowds of tourists, it’s not the most obviously ‘Cornish’ place in Cornwall. Mediterranean-style seafront developments and massive housing projects, with a lot more to come, that steadily encroach on the nearby countryside (with a lot more to come) add to the air of the pursuit of mammon that envelops the town.

Newquay’s harbour in 1911. Silvanus Trevail’s Atlantic Hotel, opened in 1892, looms in the background, the harbinger of Newquay’s future

This was not the case at the time when the children in our database were born around 1850. Or at least the sources of mammon were different. In the early 1800s Newquay was a small and largely disregarded fishing and trading port. However, in the 1840s a new harbour and the plans for a railway connecting it to the quarries, mines and clay works of the St Austell district were bringing it into Cornwall’s mainstream.

Newquay’s industrial phase was short-lived. By the 1890s new hotels and better railway communications with the big cities of England were prompting businessmen to start marketing the attractions of Newquay’s beaches and tempting local residents to turn their homes into lodging houses. This process took a large step forward with the Great Western Railway’s invention of the Cornish Riviera and its subsequent popularising in the Edwardian years. Newquay was set on the path to tourist heaven. The population of the parish – only around 2,000 in 1861 – steadily expanded later in the century, a stark contrast with most of the rest of Cornwall.

‘turn their homes into lodging houses’. At first Newquay’s charms were aimed up-market

As Newquay grew, opportunities proliferated and the proportion of its natives who stayed in the town was relatively high. However, Sarah Teague Husband was not one. In 1861 she was living with her mother Mary Ann and sister Mary Elizabeth in the town. Her father, a general labourer in 1851, had disappeared.

Sarah left the family home to become a teacher. In 1871 she was lodging in the vicarage at nearby Crantock and instructing the vicar’s children, but from the late 1870s to the 1900s had lodgings with same family at Modbury in south Devon. There, she taught in one of the new board schools established by the 1870 Education Act, eventually becoming the head teacher. Sarah preferred her job to marriage (female board school teachers had to resign on marriage) and by 1911 had returned to Newquay, living at Mount Wise with her mother, now 86 years old and a lodging house keeper, and her widowed sister Mary Elizabeth.

At a time her home town was setting out on uncharted waters Sarah had come full circle. Joseph Brown was also born and died in Newquay. Joseph was the son of a coastguard boatman and followed his father by going to sea, obtaining his master mariner’s certificate by 1881. In both the 1881 and 91 censuses he was recorded as master of a small vessel off the Pembrokeshire coast, working the coastal trade from Newquay to south Wales. This must have been lucrative enough as by 1911 Joseph was back on land and described as a shipowner, living with his wife in Fore Street in the town.