St Ives: Downalong and upalong

In many ways St Ives has been the exemplar for the currents of change swirling around Cornwall and its communities since the early 1700s. In 1743 it hosted (although not without opposition) some of John Wesley’s first preachings in Cornwall and the beginning of his mission, one that would reinvigorate the popular culture of the Cornish. In the twenty-first century it stands at the forefront of attempts to limit the spread of second and holiday homes and the baleful consequences of ‘overtourism’, having seen much of its native population dispersed and replaced during the second half of the twentieth century.

Going downalong at St Ives around 1900

In between, in the 1800s, the parish was home to large communities of miners and fishermen, two of Victorian Cornwall’s economic mainstays and icons of the regional identity. Fishing families lived downalong in the streets and courts packed into the narrow neck of land between the harbour and Porthmeor beach. Upalong, mining families shared the rest of the parish with mariners and others. However, this was anything but a static picture. In the generation from 1851 to 1881 the number of miners halved as local mines stuttered and failed. Meanwhile, as at Newlyn on the opposite coast, fishing was booming with the number of fishermen in St Ives doubling over this same period. By the 1880s fishermen in the parish well outnumbered miners.

Children born at mid-century into mining families were more likely to emigrate; conversely the offspring of fishing families were more likely to live out their lives in St Ives. Furthermore, the sons of fishermen almost always became fishermen; sons of miners rarely did. Meanwhile, according to myth at least, inter-marriage between the two communities was supposedly limited.

Giew Mine, the last tin mine to survive in the St Ives district

But there are always exceptions. For instance, Richard Bryant’s father was a tin miner, living in the neighbouring parish at Lelant churchtown in 1851. He moved to St Ives, being found in 1861 at Street an Garrow then on the edge of the town and downalong. Richard was adding to the family income by working for a local farmer. However, by 1871 he had turned his hand to fishing, although still boarding with a mining family.

Hannah Perkin moved in the opposite direction, from a fishing family to the mining community. She was the daughter of a fisherman who lived on the wharf in 1851 and at Teetotal Row in 1861. In 1869 Hannah married William Trevorrow, a miner. Two years later she and her daughter were with her parents and back at the wharf. William was not around but had no doubt departed for America to prospect the ground for his family. Sure enough, by 1880 Hannah had joined him at the copper mining town of Calumet on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Tourist St Ives – a dreamworld of mesmerising fantasy – the light magical, the beaches golden, the waters always azure and the surrounding countryside green and pleasant

One thought on “St Ives: Downalong and upalong

  1. Thank you for that post, especially for the excellent photo of Wheal Giew, of which only the enginehouse seems to remain. My grandfsather worked there as an engineer in 1910-11, apparently for ‘N M(ining?) Co’. He was then sent to Wheal Jane for a couple of months, seemingly under the same management. He had been promised a house but it didn’t materialise, and not long after he was relieved to get a job with Taylor’s at the Cordoba Copper Company in Spain, which lasted for eight years before it was ‘scat’. His diary is a catalogue of interviews and short-term jobs, with only Spain and India providing any continuity in his career. Employment was precarious for an engineer as well as for a hands-on miner, and several times his wife and family was left behind while he tried out jobs.
    As for St Ives, I wonder whether Easter Island is a fair comparison, only the scenery and picturesque artefacts remain from a former civilisation.

    Liked by 1 person

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