St Neot: leaving for town and new jobs

St Neot is a large parish in east Cornwall stretching from the valley of the River Fowey in the south onto empty moorland as far as Dozmary Pool, to which the Arthurian tale of Excalibur and the Lady of the Lake were attached in the nineteenth century. More prosaically, St Neot shared a little of the mining boom that had transformed its neighbour to the east – St Cleer – in the middle decades of the 1800s. In 1861 around a third of the households in the parish depended on mining, while another half were headed by farmers or their labourers. But more novel occupations were beginning to be available in the nineteenth century, if not in St Neot then elsewhere.

Elizabeth Ann Auger was the daughter of a farm labourer and his wife who in 1861 lived at Colliford, high up on the moors and now drowned by Cornwall’s largest reservoir. In the 1860s the family moved to the less meteorologically challenging parish of St Winnow near Lostwithiel. There Elizabeth met and married Henry James Rowe in 1878. Henry was a gardener and the couple spent their early married life in his home town of Lostwithiel. Thirteen years after their wedding, the 1891 census found them and their ten-year old daughter visiting London, staying at Kensington with an eating house keeper from Cornwall. Before the 1850s and the arrival of restaurants, the main places to buy a meal outside the inns would have been eating houses. As their brutally functional name suggests these offered the same basic fare – beef, potatoes and beer or port – as did the inns.  

The Callaway window at St Neot church. The church has the best collection of stained glass windows in Cornwall, hidden and saved from destruction after the Reformation

Whether Henry and Elizabeth were inspired by the experience or whether there were undiscovered family connections involved, the couple stayed on. By 1901 they owned or more probably rented their own dining rooms at St Pancras, employing three servants in the business and also putting up a couple of boarders. The money gleaned from this venture enabled them to return to Cornwall in the first decade of the new century. They then went back to a more traditional calling and rented a farm at Trevosper in South Petherwin, which they ran with help from their daughter and son in law.

Another St Neot child who switched occupations over his working life was Edward Lobb. Edward’s father was a blacksmith in St Neot village at mid-century and the family combined this with running a grocery store. However, Edward was not attracted by either the smith’s anvil or groceries. Instead, he had moved to Plymouth by 1871. There he obtained work as a railway porter.

The railways provided growing employment opportunities in the second half of the nineteenth century. By 1881 and now married, Edward was recorded with the unusual label of booking constable. Given his previous railway work, this is unlikely to have meant a policeman and more probably was used for a ticket collector or booking clerk. The men who checked tickets for some early railway companies were known as constables. But a railway career was not the end of Edward’s job history. Having re-married in 1890 after his first wife died, Edward was in 1891 working as a portrait agent. This would have been another new occupation of the 1800s, presumably drumming up business on behalf of a local photographer in Plymouth.

One thought on “St Neot: leaving for town and new jobs

  1. That photograph is very identifiable to me as I went to primary school in St. Neot during the 70s and we used to go for lunch in the village hall on the other side of the bridge. The hill which the sheep are about to embark on seemed as steep as could be! The names Lobb and Rowe are still very prevalent and I believe when I was at school the butcher was called Mr Lobb. It is interesting there is a glass house attached to one of the houses. And a wonderful tree – looks like a larch.

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