St Ive: riding the rollercoaster

Outside Cornwall the east Cornish parish of St Ive is liable to be confused with the better-known St Ives in the west. But St Ive experienced a much more dramatic change in the Victorian period than did the stereotypically picturesque St Ives. Within the space of one generation St Ive had been transformed from an agricultural parish on the south-eastern edge of Bodmin Moor into a busy mining parish.

The population almost quadrupled between 1841 and 1871 as miners flocked to the copper mines of the Caradon district while an entirely new village emerged at Pensilva. Then, as the copper mines on the slopes of Caradon Hill faltered, the population wave sharply receded. In the following generation large numbers of miners left again as the parish lost 53 per cent of its people between 1871 and 1900.

As a result a very low proportion of the 17 children in our database who were living in St Ive in 1861 and born around 1850 were still in Cornwall by 1891. In fact, just three were left in St Ive itself. Sarah Richards had married a local tin miner who was still clinging on to his employment; Mary Venton was unmarried and living on her own means, having been a dressmaker, while Matthew Warn was still at the family farm helping his father.

Two other women were still in Cornwall, both married and at St Austell. Where were the rest? The largest number – seven of 17 – had gone overseas. Four were in the United States, two in Australia and one in New Zealand. The other five were elsewhere in the UK. Four were scattered across the north of England with one in Scotland. Three of these were coal miners or the wives of coal miners. Zacharias Carkeet had made good as a coal merchant in Paisley, near Glasgow, while Stephen Sanders had turned from mining to a career on the railway, becoming a railway policeman at Bristol before progressing to stationmaster in Yorkshire and then a track manager in the Midlands.

Pensilva in 1904. The village appears to have boasted its own town crier

Meanwhile, those left in St Ive and Pensilva turned back to farming. The only reminder of St Ive’s all too short period spent at the leading edge of Cornish mining was the sound of the wind whistling across the moor through the crumbling engine houses, the sight of the mounds of mine waste strewn across the hills or the rusting rails of the abandoned mineral tramways and the care needed to avoid open mine shafts that could swallow the unwary.

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