Tywardreath: from Fowey Consols to the Great Western Railway

Tywardreath, between St Austell and Fowey, had seen its population soar after the formation in 1822 of the Fowey Consols copper mine from three older ventures begun in 1817. This mine boomed in the 1830s, attracting workers from a wide area. In the late 1830s and early 1840s the value of Fowey Consol’s output peaked, before beginning to slide downwards. Other mines in the parish cushioned the fall somewhat but the mining crash of 1866 saw its eventual demise.

Par Bay in 1904. Par was an industrial settlement that grew up on the boundary between Tywardreath and St Blazey. The clay port was also a terminus of the Cornwall Minerals Railway

The population of the parish reached its maximum in 1861 at over 3,300 people but then fell back to just over 2,000 at its low point in 1891, the collapse mainly occurring in the 1870s. There were only just over 30 miners left in the parish by 1891, a pale echo of the more than 500 living there in the 1850s.

As we might expect therefore the children in our database – entering the labour market just as the ominous storm clouds began to gather – had a tendency to leave. In fact, of the 27 known to be alive in 1891, nine were overseas while only five were left in Tywardreath itself. It’s very likely that several of the 12 who could not be traced were also flung across other continents.

Tywardreath provides evidence for a discernible ‘neighbourhood effect’ in migration, the concentration of emigrants from one small area of origin. Within the parish is the Kilhallon/Lanescot district where five of our sample left one after the other. This district was home to the former (by 1891) mines of the parish so a concentration of emigrants from these villages might not be a major shock. Two emigrants ended up in California, one in Oregon, one in Colorado and the fifth in Pennsylvania. Even the next on the list – Emily Bennet Trescowthick of Par Green died just after arriving at the Cape of Good Hope.

Walter Coombe

Alternatives to emigration were not entirely absent. The main Cornwall Railway line ran through the parish and offered some jobs. Walter Coombe, aged 11, was a surface worker at a mine in 1861. As the mines failed he turned first to quarrying work, as a stone labourer in 1871 living in Tywardreath. Then, after marrying in 1872 Walter found more secure work as a railway labourer. He was variously described as a railway packer or platelayer for the Great Western Railway (GWR) in succeeding censuses. A platelayer helped to maintain the track while the term packer was applied more specifically to someone packing the ballast that underlay rails and sleepers.

Walter remained in the parish into the new century, living close to Par station. Moreover, his three sons were also employed by the GWR – two as packers and a third as a bridge and viaduct painter.

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