St Juliot: hardy young men

Emma Gifford in 1865

In 1870 a 30-year old assistant architect working for a Weymouth-based firm was sent to Cornwall. His task was to assess the state of the ‘seriously dilapidated’ St Juliot church overlooking the picturesque Valency valley in north Cornwall prior to planning its restoration. While working on the project over the next two years the architect met the rector’s sister-in-law, Emma Gifford. The architect was Thomas Hardy and his romance with Emma – they married in 1874 against the wishes of both families – served as the inspiration for his third published novel A Pair of Blue Eyes.

Hardy’s novel was set in the rural farming countryside of north Cornwall in a parish loosely based on St Juliot. When Hardy was there the people of the parish were almost entirely dependent on farming for their livelihoods. Inevitably, the two St Juliot children in our database were both from farming families.

About a mile east of the church at Tresparrett, Richard Cory was a master blacksmith at mid-century. He had expanded his interests during the 1850s to take on a small farm of 26 acres in addition to his smithy. James, his third son, helped on the family’s farm in his 20s. in 1881 he must have given up farming as the census of that year described him as a very young ‘retired farmer’, who was visiting another farm in the neighbouring parish of St Gennys.

George Dymond grew up nearer the coast, his father moving from one small farm of 30 acres in 1851 to another of 52 acres ten years later and then to a third of 100 acres by 1871. But the prospect of a future struggling to farm a hundred or so acres on the exposed north Cornish coast like his father didn’t appeal to George. Instead, he emigrated to Canada in 1872, marrying a local woman at Guelph in Ontario in 1877. The rest of his days were spent farming in the very different conditions of southern Ontario between the Great Lakes.

The lane to Lower Beeny Farm, one of the farms in which George Dymond grew up