Situated in the north coast of mid-Cornwall, St Merryn is now part of Cornwall’s supposed honeypot tourism periphery, with a high number of second homes and holiday cottages. As much as 60-70 per cent of the housing stock in the coastal areas of the parish had no permanent resident in 2011. We’re still waiting for the 2021 census results to tell us if this proportion has grown or not.
In Victorian times the place was a lot more alive than the photo below might suggest. Almost half of its men then worked as farm labourers with another quarter being farmers or farmers’ sons. The rest shared a variety of occupations, often combining them with farming and apparently ready to switch jobs in the light of changing economic circumstances.
John Old was one. He was a farmer in the parish in 1851 but gave that up during the 1850s to become a shoemaker and sub-postmaster. His son Joseph, born late in 1850, had a spell as a farm servant in St Columb Major before turning to the carpentry trade and moving back to St Merryn. Joseph then combined carpentry with being landlord of the Cornish Arms at the churchtown, no doubt aided by his wife Mary, a Devon girl he had married in 1879. Then, in a mirror image of his father’s move from farming to multiple occupations, Joseph gave up the pub and, one assumes, the hammers and chisels, saws, bradawls and planes of his trade and rented a farm in St Minver parish across the Camel estuary. It was there that he ended his days in 1904.
Mary Brenton was another St Merryn child who ended up on a farm, in her case despite being brought up in a craftsman’s household. Her father was a stonemason in the parish in the 1850s. Mary undertook the normal spell as a domestic servant in her late teens and twenties, as a cook in the household of the Vicar of nearby St Eval. She then married Thomas Henry Old, recorded as born in St Merryn and very possibly related in some convoluted way to the Old family discussed above. Thomas Henry was a farm labourer and he and Mary spent time in St Ervan and St Austell from the 1870s to the 1890s. At the relatively advanced age of mid-50s, Thomas was finally able to take up a farm at Trerair in St Eval, where he and Mary lived in 1901 with one of their daughters.