St Mabyn: a maltster and a vet

Another year and St Mabyn, between Wadebridge and Camelford, is another fairly typical Cornish rural parish. Around two-thirds of its men were employed on the farms of the parish in 1861. Demand for labourers then gradually fell and in consequence the total population of the parish had declined by 12 per cent by 1900, in line with that for Cornwall in general. St Mabyn probably sent fewer of its children overseas than the norm; at least none of the five St Mabyn children in our database ventured across the seas.

However, the parish offers a glimpse of two rural occupations not so far covered in this series of blogs. Emma Bate was the daughter of an innkeeper at the Old Inn in St Mabyn churchtown. Her father John also farmed some land and by 1871, when he had had moved to the New Inn at Dinhams Bridge in the parish, was also doing his own malting. When John died, his son Theophilus took over the inn and the malting and brewing business. Emma remained in the family home and ran the house for her unmarried brother.

Malt can be produced from various grains but the vast majority comes from malting barley, a special kind of barley. Although malt is nowadays also used to flavour other foods, its main use by far in the nineteenth century was as an ingredient in beer. Traditionally malt was soaked in water to allow germination and then spread out over a floor, occasionally raked or turned to prevent excessive heat build-up. When ready it was loaded into a kiln and dried or roasted by a flow of hot air. Variations in the heat applied could produce subtly different tastes in the beer. We shall never know what the Bates’ beer tasted like, but things would hopefully have improved since Andrew Boorde visited Cornwall around 1540 and pronounced Cornish ale as ‘looking white and thick, as if pigs had wrestled in it.’

The countryside near Trescowe Farm these days looking north

Harry Olver was the son of a well-off farmer at Trescowe Farm. Harry embraced a career as a veterinary surgeon, moving away to practice in Staffordshire, where he lived until his death in 1903. In his will he left the considerable sum of £16,192 (around £2 million these days). Veterinary practice was obviously a profitable business.

Like other professions in the Victorian era vets had been able to establish a closed shop and keep out unqualified and traditional practitioners (including women). In 1844 a charter was granted to protect the status of the profession and a Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons created. Veterinary schools followed, the earliest in Scotland in the 1850s. The outbreak of rinderpest (or cattle plague) in 1865/66 increased the demand for the profession and the Veterinary Surgeons Act of 1881 further limited entry into the Royal College. It is noticeable that Harry was careful to add FRCVS (Fellow of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons) to his name in the 1881 census. The enhanced status of the profession was further indicated when he became a Justice of the Peace in the 1880s.

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