St Martin by Looe: what could keep them down on the farm?

St Martin by Looe was the mother church of the town of East Looe. By the 1800s East Looe had long been hived off, leaving St Martin as a small rural parish in east Cornwall, where farming employed almost 90 per cent of its men.

Farm track near Treveria, where Thomas grew up

Only two of the five St Martin by Looe children in the database have been traced into their 40s. The first was Thomas Hill Roseveare, son of William Roseveare, a farmer at Treveria in the parish. However, Thomas left the farm in his teens to be apprenticed as a millwright at the Roseland saw mills in Menheniot. His father then also gave up farming in the 1870s, taking his family, including Thomas, to Barrow in Furness in north-west England. William became a railway porter, while Thomas used his training to find work as a millwright and then a fitter. Meanwhile, two brothers got jobs as coach and wagon builders. The family’s transition from agriculture to manufacturing and industry was complete.

Barrow in Furness in the early 1900s, where Thomas ended up

Not that agriculture was suffering too badly in south-east Cornwall when compared to the rest of Britain. The Royal Commission on Agriculture of 1882 was a response to the growing cries from landlords and farmers alarmed by the fall in grain prices triggered by the import of cheap grain. Yet it found that farms in this neighbourhood were doing relatively well with little sign of crisis. Bankruptcies were only five per cent higher than the mid-century average and there had been no distraints for non-payment of rent (although rents had generally been reduced by 10 to 20 per cent). In addition, none of the farms in the district, normally let on 14 year leases, remained unlet.

The second St Martin by Looe case was Elizabeth Jane Cook. Her father Richard farmed 65 acres of land among the steep hills and valleys near the coast. Elizabeth, like three of her sisters, remained unmarried into middle age helping her parents on the farm.

Early 20th century painting of the coast at St Martin, looking east from Looe

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