St Veep: on the roads

Constructing a road along the lines proposed by John McAdam in the 1820s. This was painted in Maryland but the same basic principles would have been found in Cornwall in the later 1800s

St Veep in the nineteenth century was a rural parish bordering the lower reaches of the River Fowey and well away from the main communication routes. More than half of its working population would have been found on the farms of the parish. However, one alternative to farm labouring in the 1800s was labouring on the roads. Before the use of tar to bind together road surfaces in the early twentieth century, roads were liable to erosion at times of heavy rain when they could turn into muddy quagmires while in dry periods they became extremely dusty. Road labourers were employed to fill the ruts and potholes of the roads and lanes for which the parish was then the responsible authority. This involved breaking up stones and laying the resultant small stones – the ideal size having a diameter of no bigger than an inch.

William Wise was one of the farm laborers in the parish but had taken on the additional role of sexton by the 1860s, digging graves and generally tending the churchyard. Whether he remained sexton very long is unclear as by 1871 he was working as a road labourer. By that year his wife had died and his 21-year-old daughter Elizabeth had taken over the housekeeping duties. She emigrated to New Zealand in 1880 with her younger brother and perhaps other family members, got married in 1884 and lived at Christchurch.

Fore Street, Lerryn in the early 1900s

Not everyone working on the parish roads were originally from labouring families although the path to become a road labourer almost invariably lay through the farms. Nathaniel Cole had been born in Boconnoc but his father, who was a journeyman carpenter, had moved to the village of Lerryn in St Veep around 1857/58. Nathaniel didn’t learn a craft as had his father. Instead, he followed the normal route for the rural labouring class, becoming a live-in farm servant, in 1871 working at a farm in nearby Lanreath parish.

By 1881 Nathaniel was back at Lerryn living with his mother and an older brother. The two brothers were both enumerated as agricultural labourers at the time. Farm work continued to employ Nathaniel’s time after he married in the mid-1880s but in the new century he turned from the farms to the roads, being a road foreman by 1901. Furthermore, on his death in 1930 he left £1,275, a by no means inconsiderable sum equivalent to £87,000 nowadays.

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