St Enoder: engines and hospitals

St Enoder can justly claim to be at the centre of Cornish life, situated as it is midway between north and south coasts on the one hand and Lands End and the Tamar on the other. In 1861 its occupational structure was also fairly typical of rural Cornwall. Around half of the households in the parish were dependent on farming or farm labouring with a quarter obtaining their sustenance from mines and (a few) clay works, with the rest being the usual collection of crafts, trades and general labourers.

The parish was also known for being the location of Summercourt Fair, one of Victorian Cornwall’s largest, with a history going back to the early 1300s. Many would have walked or ridden miles to get there every September when it was held. The local children would have looked forward to the annual fair. One of these was Philippa Osborne, the daughter of William and Elizabeth Osborne. William was a farm labourer in 1851 but by 1861 had moved on to tending the engine at a tin mine. With his son also working at the mine and a daughter on the surface dressing tin, the family’s finances must have Improved over the 1850s.

Philippa left at the end of the 1860s and for a time worked as a domestic servant at the East Cornwall Hospital, which could be found in Bodmin, located behind the Assize Hall, now called ‘Shire’ Hall. This was a voluntary hospital, one of the over 100 that had been founded by 1844, when it was opened. Voluntary hospitals were financed by subscription. Prospective patients, supposed to the ‘deserving poor’ had to be nominated by a subscriber as suitable to receive charitable support.

The first rule of the hospital

A survey in 1863 found that the East Cornwall Hospital had 12 beds, three medical staff and two nurses and had spent £390 (around £50,000 now) over the year. Things had changed little by 1871 when Philippa was there. There were eight patients, which suggests a staff-patient ratio that would be the envy of many modern hospitals, with a matron and nurse on site. The hospital was closed in 1936.

By 1880 Philippa was married – to John Udy from St Issey. The couple took up residence at Fraddon, back in St Enoder, before moving to nearby Indian Queens. John, like Philippa’s father William, was an engine driver but, as befits the changing economy of mid-Cornwall, at a clay works rather than a tin mine.

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