St Gennys: scattered to the four winds

St Gennys is a farming parish on the north coast of Cornwall. It’s best known for its spectacular cliff scenery and is where we can find Cornwall’s highest cliff – the unimaginatively named if eponymous 735 foot (223m) High Cliff a mile or so south of Crackington Haven. Here in 1836 plans were mooted to construct a new town with 12 acres of harbours and docks and a rail link to Launceston. This didn’t materialise but reminds us that a cavalier attitude to Cornwall’s landscape and environment is nothing new.

The view northwards from High Cliff

The parish may have been relatively remote but St Gennys’s children of 1850 were not exactly rooted to the local soil. Of the seven in our database, only two were still found in Cornwall in 1891 (just one of them in the parish itself). Three others were living in the cities of Bristol, Cardiff and London, one was in New Zealand and the final one was dead. Moreover, one of the two still living locally in 1891 had left by 1911.

Mary Matilda Cory had married Samuel Sandercock in 1873. Mary had been born in St Gennys and was the daughter of a blacksmith. Samuel came from neighbouring Poundstock but farmed 80 acres in St Gennys parish. In the 1880s the family moved to another farm at Trebarfoot in Poundstock but, swapping the hills and valleys of north Cornwall for the flatlands of Cambridgeshire they then moved on again in the first decade of the new century. Cornish farmers could make the grain-growing farms of eastern England pay even as the local farmers were queueing up at the bankruptcy courts. It helped that Samuel and Mary had two adult sons and three daughters who could assist them on the farm and keep their labour costs down.

Even the sole non-mover Elizabeth Sandercock did not spend her entire life in her native parish. Elizabeth was the daughter of a farm labourer who by the 1870s was employed to maintain the parish roads. The family had moved at least twice before Elizabeth left home, but within the confines of the parish. She married Richard Chapman, a waggoner and farm labourer from Minster, in 1878 but the couple remained in St Gennys, albeit with three different addresses over the following half century. Additionally, one of their children was born in the nearby parish of St Juliot around 1884, suggesting at least one short sojourn outside St Gennys.

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