St Stephen’s by Saltash: selling insurance and saving souls

St Stephen’s was the parish out of which Saltash, Cornwall’s most easterly town, was carved in medieval times. Now, the boot firmly on the other foot, Saltash devours its parent in turn as Plymouth’s commuter belt greedily siphons up south east Cornwall’s countryside.

St Stephen’s church before World War One. It’s not advisable to walk down the middle of the road these days.

In the 1800s, St Stephen’s by Saltash was a large fairly unexceptional farming parish, with over a half of its residents dependent on the farms for their living. Nonetheless, their offspring did not have to end up either farming or labouring. In fact, of the 14 St Stephen’s children of mid-century who survived into the 1890s, only five, or just over a third, were farmers or farm labourers or married to men with these occupations.

Jessie Martyn was one of those that were no longer part of the farming community, even though she grew up at Wivelscombe Farm in the parish. When her farming father died in the 1860s Jessie moved with her mother into Saltash. She then appears to have left Cornwall, marrying Francis Sopp in Kent, where they settled in 1882. Francis had been a soldier and on leaving the army became an insurance agent.

The insurance business grew rapidly in the eighteenth century adding fire insurance to the previously mainly marine business. Although lives were also insured life insurance was a relatively small market, confined to the wealthy who used it as security against borrowing. Industrial life insurance for the working classes then emerged in the late 1800s, using an army of door-to-door collectors. By 1914, 39 million such policies had been issued in the UK although the average amount insured was just £10.

Jessie was not the only St Stephen’s child to leave the parish. Although they did not emigrate half of the St Stephens by Saltash children in the database moved away eastwards to places in England. Ellen Frood was one. She was actually from Northampton originally, the daughter of an inland revenue supervisor. In 1861 she was boarding at a small private school at Trevollard House in St Stephen’s. On returning to the Midlands she married a Wesleyan Methodist minister and then accompanied him on his regular moves from circuit to circuit, mainly in the north of England.

Aerial view of Trematon Castle in St Stephen’s parish, with Plymouth lurking in the background across the Tamar.

2 thoughts on “St Stephen’s by Saltash: selling insurance and saving souls

  1. My Symons ancestors are buried at St Stephens, St Germans Parish. Is this the same? They had other farming and work interests around Saltash, and also late 1700s/1800s at Stoke Demerol. Two brothers emigrated to NZ in 1840/ 1841 and another to Tasmania. Other Symons and Morshead relations then followed. Thankyou, I can now picture the area and what it would have been like.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.