St Mellion: trees, wooden and family

St Mellion near the Tamar in south-east Cornwall is now home to an Australian-owned up-market golf resort with its hundreds of holiday lodges and periodic controversial planning disputes. In the 1800s it would have been much less manicured. It’s another in what sometimes feels like an endless run of smallish rural parishes that were mainly dependent – although in St Mellion’s case not over-dependent – on farming. Market gardening on the banks of the Tamar and proximity to the large urban market of Plymouth meant that St Mellion weathered the economic storms battering Cornish rural parishes rather better than others.

Bringing in the harvest at St Mellion in 1912
The slogan ‘three acres and a cow’ was part of the Radical Programme of 1885 and rapidly inserted itself into British culture

The parish contributes just a single child to our database. James Veale was one of the at least seven children – all boys – born to carpenter Thomas and his wife Elizabeth. The family seems to have moved around within the parish. By the time Thomas died in the 1860s his widow had access to five acres of farmland, pre-empting Joseph Chamberlain’s electoral appeal in 1885 of ‘three acres and a cow’ for agricultural labourers.

Meanwhile, James and two of his brothers pursued their father’s vocation and became carpenters themselves. They may have been experts working with trees, but their family tree becomes somewhat tangled with confusion between James and his brother William, two or three years younger. The most likely course of events is that James and his wife Mary moved across the Tamar to Devonport in 1873. James may well have found employment at the Dockyard as there were two dockyard smiths lodging with the family.

James then turns up in Pennsylvania in the 1880s. In 1900 he and Mary were enumerated at Hazleton in the state, having expanded from carpentry to become a general contractor and builder. However, by 1910 James’ status had returned again to that of ‘wage earner’. That in turn proved to be temporary and in the course of the inter-war period in the twentieth century he was an employer, presumably avoiding the worst of the depression years as he survived into his 90s.

The possibility of obtaining land and a few livestock would have been a lot easier in the USA in the 1880s. Although Hazleton and presumably James Veale’s fortunes depended on the local coal mining industry

3 thoughts on “St Mellion: trees, wooden and family

  1. Interesting article, and when I looked up Joseph I learned he was the father of Neville Chamberlain.

    Regarding the three acres and a cow, would that we today could be content with this level of ambition.


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