St Ervan: farriers, farming and traffic

The two neighbouring farming parishes of St Ervan and St Eval north of St Columb managed to avoid the trouble and turmoil that periodically scorched through Cornish rural parishes dependent on mining. Nonetheless, their populations slowly drifted downwards in the 1800s, the exodus gaining force in the final decades of the century as farmers reduced cereal production in favour of the less labour-intensive mixed farming.

The move from farming to other trades was not all one way however. John Strongman was a shoemaker at the hamlet of Rumford in St Ervan. His son Reuben was already working as a general labourer at the age of 11 in 1861. He didn’t follow his father into the cobbler’s workshop but became a blacksmith instead. Moreover, after marrying Caroline Hooper from St Neot in 1876, John headed for London, to Peckham then Camberwell, at that time on the outskirts of south London. Reuben was described as a farrier in 1901, which reminds us that the number of horses in London remained very high well into the age of the railway.

London’s streets in the late Victorian period were as congested as they are now, but considerably smellier, as the vehicles were horse-drawn. There were three main ways of travelling overland in the city in the 1890s – by hackney coach, omnibus or cab. Hackney coaches were four-wheel vehicles drawn by two horses and had six seats. According to one historian, they were ‘dirty, expensive and disease-ridden’, often doubling as hearses or ambulances. Hackney coaches tended to decline in number as the century wore on, replaced by the less ponderous two-wheeled cabs. Cabs were lighter vehicles drawn by one horse and grew in use after the 1830s.

The cheapest and most convenient way of travelling around London was by omnibus. These were introduced in the 1830s. By mid-century they carried 12 passengers inside and up to 10 outside and were drawn by two horses. Pulling omnibuses in all weathers was hard work for the horses, whose average life in 1894 was just four years. Nonetheless, London’s omnibuses were carrying over 100 million passengers in 1901 at a cost of around a penny a mile. The need for horses only began to be substantially reduced with the introduction of the first tube trains in 1890. These followed the first underground railway, the Metropolitan Line, opened in 1863.

Busy London streets in 1903. Spot the cabs and omnibuses and at least one woman driver

Reuben and Caroline had already left London temporarily and come home to Cornwall at least once, being recorded living at St Mewan in 1891. In the new century, after both their children had died as infants, they moved to Hampshire, where they took on a farm near Southampton.

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