St Winnow: the saints come marching in

There are 212 ancient parishes in Cornwall and another six on Scilly. Of these, 60 or so are routinely identified as a saint’s name by the addition of the word Saint. In some places, saint is usually omitted by the natives in speech, as in Buryan. In others, such as Endellion, the word is sometimes added. In yet others, for example Probus or Veryan, saint is never formally appended although the parish is indeed named after a saint. In fact well over a half – 131 – of Cornwall’s parishes derive their names from a supposed saint.

The painting Cornubia: land of the saints which hangs in Truro’s Anglican cathedral
St Winnow Church overlooking the Fowey estuary

Our final explicitly saintly parish of St Winnow sprawls along the east bank of the river Fowey from a mile or so upstream of Bodmin Parkway (formerly the more sensibly named Bodmin Road) station down to the picturesque St Winnow church and the village of Lerryn, which it shared with St Veep. In the 1800s it also included a part of Lostwithiel.

In the north of the parish among the steep valleys and open downland around Kennacombe Joseph Johns was working his 50-acre farm in 1851. His sons were helping him on this unpromising holding. Over the next decade he and his wife moved with their youngest child to a fam at Downend, by Lostwithiel. Meanwhile, his oldest son John had married, branched out and taken a farm at Bodwindel next to the parish boundary with Braddock. Interestingly, Samuel, the youngest (11 year-old) son of Joseph, along with two other older brothers and his sister had elected to accompany the married John and his wife rather than their parents. Had there been a family row? Or was it just a rational use of space?

Although the others had gone, Samuel was still boarding with his brother and his wife in 1871 by which time they’d moved back to Kennacombe. Samuel eventually departed his brother’s household and took up residence at Waterlake, a mile or two to the west, on marrying Mary Dreadon in 1872. At Waterlake he was described as a milkman in 1881. He then appears to have emigrated in 1890 to Pennsylvania, where he died much later in 1934. He was recorded in the US Census of 1930 as being unable to read or write.

Platelayers at work in 1901 adding ballast to the main line near Bodmin Road station

Other St Winnow children in our 1861 database were less fortunate. Four of the 12 were dead by 1891, a high mortality rate. Another – William Jacobs – found himself a patient in Bodmin Lunatic Asylum when he was 20. William had grown up in Waterlake, Samuel Johns’ final Cornish residence. William’s father had been a farm labourer but he died when William was an infant. That left William to be brought up by his widowed mother and sister, the three of them making do from whatever the women could earn as charwomen and from dressmaking.

William had recovered from his mental illness by 1881 and moved to London, where he worked as a builder’s assistant for a time. In 1888 he married Ellen Hooper from Shoreditch in the east end. The couple appear to have had no children. William was working as a fitter’s labourer in 1891 and a general labourer in 1901, moving from Brixton in south London to Chiswick on the city’s western edge in the meantime.

2 thoughts on “St Winnow: the saints come marching in

  1. PS The lunatic asylum was a terrible place. My father, in the course of his voluntary work there many years ago, met an elderly woman who was really quite mad. Apparently she had been interned there at the age of 14 for having a child out of wedlock as a punishment. At that time there was nothing we in the modern age would call wrong with her mental health, but she lost it over the many decades she spent there, and can you imagine how much she must have thought of her child. An incredibly haunting story that has never left me, I think upon the cruelty of it often.


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