St Just in Roseland: learning the ropes

Cornwall’s other St Just, on the Roseland peninsula, could not be much more of a contrast with the first. No mines disfigured the verdant landscape of St Just in Roseland, no miners stanked through its lanes on their way to early core. No sounds of industry drowned out the birdsong. Moreover, while Penwith’s St Just was separated from the sea by stern and forbidding cliffs, the land descended less abruptly in Roseland’s St Just to gently kiss the creeks of the Fal estuary.

St Just’s church has been called ‘the most idyllic’ in Cornwall

Spared from grandiose plans mooted by Admiral Boscawen in the 1700s to establish a major Government dockyard at St Just Pool next to the churchtown, the parish slumbered its way into the nineteenth century. Its greatest excitement had been in the 1540s when St Mawes Castle was built to help guard the entrance to the estuary. This had led to the expansion of the small fishing and seafaring community beside it.

In the mid-1800s about a quarter of the parish’s men were at sea or working as boatmen with another quarter making a living from fishing or oyster dredging, the oyster fishery being claimed to date from Roman times. Where there were mariners and fishermen, there were tradesmen supplying their needs. St Just in Roseland therefore had its quota of boatbuilders, sailmakers, coopers and ropers. William John Hitchings, born in 1846, was the son of a master ropemaker at St Mawes. His father was employing a couple of men and two apprentices in the 1860s, one of the apprentices being William John. William was married in 1868 to Eliza Jeffrey from Devonport, the marriage taking place in Dorset. He may well have been in the Royal Navy by then, as he was listed as a ropemaker serving on HMS Cadmas at sea in 1871.

William’s naval career included a voyage to Australia where at the time of the 1881 census he was onshore at Sydney while his ship, the HMS Emerald, was in port there. On leaving the navy William suffered some hard times as the 1891 census saw him forced to seek help on census night at Whitechapel workhouse in London’s east end. At that time his wife and family were living at Devonport. However, William had managed to rejoin them in Plymouth by 1901 and in the new century, now widowed, he returned to St Mawes.

Another resident with a connection, albeit more tenuous, to ropemaking was Johanna Scubores, who was living with her aunt, the widow of a roper, at Bohello in St Just in 1861. Johanna (and others) had considerable difficulties with her surname, which was actually the rather rare Skyburriow (from a placename meaning barns in the Cornish language). This was spelt Scuborriar in 1851, Scoborior in 1871 and Schyboyar in 1881! In the meantime Johanna had shed her tricky surname and got married, first to a gardener at St Mawes and after his death to a stone quarry labourer at Lostwithiel. She outlived her second husband as well and in 1901 was employed as a cook at the Talbot Hotel in Lostwithiel.

One thought on “St Just in Roseland: learning the ropes

  1. I wonder if the final spelling you give echoes aspirations to sound more refined and cultivated, as it has very strong German connotations. Howards End (1910) by EM Forster is a wonderful discussion, as it were, of the values of German romanticism (18th and 19th centuries) that could have filtered into Cornwall and found expression in the spelling of a name.

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