St Thomas by Launceston: a gentleman and a grocer

St Thomas by Launceston was part rural, part urban. On its eastern side it probed into the village of Newport that lay in the valley between St Stephen’s and Launceston. To the west, it stretched into the countryside alongside the River Kensey. It might not have been very obvious by the mid-1800s but this parish had been the site of Cornwall’s largest and wealthiest early fourteenth century monastic house – Launceston Priory. By the 1800s it had been demolished, levelled and largely forgotten, even its exact site had to be rediscovered in the 1880s during the construction of the North Cornwall Railway.

A reconstruction of the Priory in the 1500s before its dissolution in 1539

At the opposite end of the parish at Tredidon House in 1851 lived James Bucknell, who described himself as a gentleman farmer, employing four house servants as well as the usual quota of live-in farm servants. James died before 1870 but left his widow sufficient resources to fund their son Samuel’s university education at Wadham College, Oxford from 1870 to 1874. Indeed, in the 1871 census James, down from Oxford, was recorded as head of the household at Tredidon.

Samuel Bucknell’s short obituary in the South Australian newspaper The Advertiser from October 1903

Like many Oxford graduates of the time, Samuel Bucknell was duly ordained as a minister of the Church of England in 1875, in the same year marrying Helen Harington at Cheltenham. He then spent some years in Northumberland as a rural rector before being appointed rector of a church in Hobart, Tasmania in 1892. Samuel became a rural dean in Tasmania in 1895 but returned to London in 1901, dying suddenly there two years later. He left £1,167 (around £150,000 now) to his widow Helen.

To the east of Tredidon, nearer the urban part of the parish at Trebursye Lane at mid-century we could have found Edward Bickle, a master blacksmith. By 1871 Edward and his wife together with their son John Henry had moved to the northern edge of Dartmoor near Okehampton., By this time John Henry was working as a grocer, presumably in the town of Okehampton. Marrying in 1872, he and his wife Harriet then struck out for London, where he found work as a grocer’s assistant in Battersea until at least 1883. The family then returned to Okehampton, running a grocery store there in 1891. However, that doesn’t appear to have prospered and John Henry was back in London again – a grocer’s assistant boarding with a relative in Chelsea in 1901, before Harriet rejoined him, the pair living in Fulham in 1911. Maybe John was working for one of the new grocers’ chains that were springing up after Thomas Lipton had started the first in Glasgow in 1876. Prepackaged food and brand marketing were making the grocery business more competitive by the 1880s as it brought the delights of tinned corned beef, condensed milk, margarine and marmalade to the British table.

Navvies at work in 1891 constructing the line of the North Cornwall Railway at New Mills in St Thomas parish

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