Tintagel: not what you expect

Tintagel, on the north coast of Cornwall, was a no-nonsense, workmanlike sort of place in the mid-1800s. Its children, sons and daughters of slate quarriers, farmers and their labourers, lived hard lives wresting their livelihood from the land and braving the frequent westerly gales that swept in off the Atlantic. The Tintagel children in our database are a little elusive. Only three of the six have been traced as far as the 1880s. None of them had left the district.

Loading slate at Tintagel Island around 1900 with some old ruin in the background

Selina Cornelius wasn’t born in the parish, but at St Tudy, south of Camelford, where her father Francis was a farm labourer in 1850. Moving to the hamlet of Trelake in Tintagel in the 1850s, Francis took on the village pub. Selina left the family home when she was 18 to marry Lawrence Tregay, a slate quarrier. The couple first lived near Camelford before moving on to Rockhead near the Delabole quarries in the later 1870s. Around a decade after that Selina’s death was recorded.

Mary Matilda Martyn survived a lot longer. She was the daughter of William and Mary, who farmed 300 or so acres at Trecarne in the south of Tintagel parish. Mary stayed at home and when her father died in the 1860s helped to organise the domestic chores aided by two servants. Meanwhile, her mother had carried on farming with the help of a son and a couple of live-in farm servants. By 1881 Mary’s mother had handed the farm over to her two sons and in the 1880s she and the unmarried Mary Matilda moved to live at St Minver village, a few miles away.

Finally, William Henry Hambly was born into a slate quarrier’s family at Trevena. The village is now known by the name Tintagel, although that name was restricted to the parish until the nineteenth century. William was described as a miner in 1871 although it is unclear what he might have been mining in this non-mining parish. By 1881, still in the village and now married, he was given the less surprising label of ‘slate quarry labourer’. However, like the miners of the west, William was prepared to turn to farming if the opportunity (and the resources) allowed. In 1891 he had left the slate quarries of Tinatgel and moved (less than a mile) to farm at Halgabron to the east of Trevena.

Aerial view of Trevena in the early twentieth century

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