St Levan: exceptions in the far west

The majority of men in Victorian Cornwall probably followed the same occupations as did their fathers. Moreover, the majority of those tended to stay in that occupation for the rest of their lives. However, the exact proportions may well have varied from place to place and from one occupation to the next. When complete, the research in this database might help shed light on these issues of occupational mobility. But until then, it’s worth considering some exceptions.

One exception was found at St Levan on the far south-western tip of Cornwall. Charles James was the only son of a master blacksmith in the parish. Yet Charles did not learn the blacksmith’s trade at his father’s elbow. Instead, he became a teacher, moving away to board at Gunnislake at the other end of Cornwall by 1871. But teaching did not prove to be Charles’ vocation, because ten years later he had changed course to become a draper at Petersfield in Hampshire.

The reasons for this occupational and geographical switch can only be guessed at. Charles had married Mary Phillips in 1872 while living at Gunnislake. Was her opinion central to his change of course? Or did he just find teaching uncongenial or too taxing? Mary died in 1885 and Charles re-married not much more than a year later. He appears to have been quite mobile for a time as his marriage to his second wife Lilly, 13 years his junior, took place in Warwickshire. Lilly herself had been born in Durham. However, by 1891 the couple were back at Petersfield where Charles was a draper’s manager and well-off enough to employ a servant.

St Levan parish was itself an exceptional place in that, in contrast to most of rural Cornwall, its population rose between 1861 and 1891, by a substantial 41 per cent. This was no doubt related to the growth of the small coastal settlement of Porthcurno. In 1870 the final section of an underwater telegraph cable from India was brought ashore there instead of the originally intended Falmouth. This decision led to Porthcurno telegraph station becoming the hub of communications across the British Empire. The first cable was joined by 13 others by the 1940s making Porthcurno ‘the most important telegraph station in the world’.

One thought on “St Levan: exceptions in the far west

  1. My ancestors, the Gueguen Clan, supposedly emigrated from the Dumnonia area of present day Cornwall to present day Plougonven Brittany sometime in the 9th century. The Celtic name Gueguen derivation reportedly is variably translated as warrior, battle soldier, etc. Is it possible that my ancestors were Celtic warriors which would be personally disappointing to me as I am a pacifist! Any Gueguens still in Cornwall that I can communicate with? Dr. William Gueguen Gouveia

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