St Pinnock: the mines open, the mines close

St Pinnock just to the west of Liskeard, is another of those east Cornish parishes touched by the mining boom of the 1840s and 50s. Although on the periphery of the lead mining district nonetheless a quarter of St Pinnock’s adult men in 1861 found employment in local mines, the majority no doubt at Herodsfoot Mine, together with a handful of young women who worked as bal maidens.

After Herodsfoot Mine closed the beam from one of its engine houses was transported to a clay works at St Stephen in Brannel – by no means a simple task

Elizabeth Jane Rundle’s father John was a farm labourer at Braddock in 1851 but was attracted by the higher wages on offer in the mines. He moved to St Pinnock and turned to lead mining in the early 1850s. However, his daughter was never recorded as a bal maiden. She didn’t get the chance as John Rundle took his wife and large family (with seven children) with him in 1866 when he moved to Durham. This coincided with the first major slump in Cornish mining for 20 years as the prices of copper and lead tumbled following a banking crisis. Having got a taste for underground life, John became a coal miner in Durham rather than trying his luck back on the farms of Cornwall.

St Pinnock viaduct is the highest on the Cornwall railway line. In 1882 the original timber superstructure designed by Brunel in the 1850s was replaced and the stone piers heightened. Note the different stonework and wider arch at the top.

At some point in the early 1870s Jane married but her husband must have died soon after as she was back in the parental home in 1881 on the edge of Sunderland, a widow working as a dressmaker. A decade later in 1891 she was heading the household, which included a brother and sister, two lodgers and a visiting musician. Jane was by this time running a grocery shop. By 1901 however, the grocery business was gone and she was a charwoman, living with her widowed sister in a two-roomed house in Sunderland.

Unlike Jane, Octavia Pearce, born in St Pinnock and living in East Taphouse in 1861, was the only one of the three survivors from our database who never left the parish. (The third had emigrated and was living in Oregon in 1891.) Octavia’s father was neither a farm labourer nor a miner. On the contrary, he was a master carpenter, even employing a servant to help his wife with their large family in 1851. Maybe she had been sickly as he was a widow by 1861.

Octavia married in 1870 but did not leave East Taphouse, where she and Samuel Matthews set up house. Samuel was a miner but by this time mining hardly provided the most secure long-term job prospects. Therefore, from the 1870s Samuel had to rely on general labouring to keep the wolf from battering the door down. By 1911, worn out by his labouring, he was dead. But Octavia lived on, her status as one of the oldest (and longest) residents in East Taphouse safely attained.