Stratton: harbour, canal and visitors

There was something different about Stratton. Located in the far north of Cornwall, its exceptionalism was signalled by the fact that its population rose in the second half of the nineteenth century. This was most unusual in a region where the general experience in this period had been substantial depopulation.

Stratton was a Janus-faced sort of parish. Most of it looked back to its rural past, season slowly succeeding season as the sun beamed down in the periods of respite from the drizzle and rain that soaked the farmland and the generations of farmers that worked the soil. Periodically, they’d go into the old market town of Stratton. The town’s roots were sunk deep in the medieval period, while its citizens could still dream of the glory days of the Civil War in the 1600s, when local landowner Bevil Grenville led his Cornish troops to victory at nearby Stamford Hill.

The New Inn at Stratton at the end of the 1800s. If this was the state of the New Inn what was the Old Inn like?

But a new kid on the block was making his presence known by 1900 and beginning to overshadow his parent. The small village of Bude facing the Atlantic breakers had been boosted by harbour works accompanying the completion of a canal, opened in 1823. This ran inland from the village to the Tamar at Launceston. Canals were not common in Cornwall, where the hilly terrain didn’t lend itself to their construction. Indeed, in the case of Bude’s canal, once it was inland inclined planes were used rather than locks to move boats to different altitudes.

The harbourmaster at Bude in the period from the 1880s to the 1910s happened to be one of our database children. Thomas Found had been born in Stratton in 1850. His father William was one of the many farm labourers in the parish. However, in the 1850s William had got a lucky break, moving to Marine Terrace in Bude and becoming the harbourmaster and lock keeper. Thomas Found was already assisting his father in 1861 in maintaining the Bude Light, this presumably a light to aid navigation in and out of the harbour rather than the intensely bright oil lamp of the same name invented by Bude resident Goldsworthy Gurney in 1839. Thomas then went to sea, in 1881 working as a mate on a coastal vessel at Cardiff. Four years earlier he had married and by 1891 he had taken over from his father as Bude harbourmaster.

The seaward end of the Bude Canal around 1900

The canal functioned until 1891, taking sand inland as fertiliser for farmers as well as coal for fuel and slates and bricks for building. However, the railway was undermining its trade once it reached Launceston in the 1860s. By 1898 Bude itself was the terminus of a branch line from Okehampton. It was the railway’s arrival that stimulated the real growth of the town as a resort. Samuel George Walkey was one who took advantage of this. The son of a shopkeeper – a draper and grocer in Stratton – Samuel had duly entered the drapery business. He worked as an assistant in London and Plymouth before establishing his own drapery business back in Bude by 1901. in his 50s he saw the way the wind was blowing and opened a boarding house in the town, not the first and certainly not the last.

One thought on “Stratton: harbour, canal and visitors

  1. I read your article on Stratton with interest and there are always snippets in these that adds to the picture of our local history. I write, however, as the history of Bude tends to start with the opening of the canal. I have just completed writing a book about the harbour in the period up to the the canal era. It had an estuary not unlike that of the Camel and would have remained so had not Sir John Arundell, in c1577 build a tidal mill and millpond right in the middle of the estuary, completely changing the geography of the town and the levels of silting in the valley. Stratton, was the gateway to Cornwall and Bude,harbour was its early beating heart.

    Liked by 1 person

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