Veryan: breaking the rules

Situated on the Roseland peninsula in mid-Cornwall, Veryan in the 1800s was virtually untouched by mining or emigration, unlike the subjects of my two preceding blogs. The majority of its men worked on the farms of this rural parish, although it was relatively more diverse than most farming parishes. Craftsmen accounted for roughly one in six of the working men while in 1861 a similar proportion could be found at sea or making their living from fishing.

Charles and Maria Dunn

Charles Dunn was one of the majority, renting a small 20 acre farm at Penvose in 1851 and even employing a resident farm servant to help him. Ten years later, he had moved to the neighbouring hamlet of Polmenna, being described as a ‘retired farmer’ at the age of 39. His 11-year old son Charles Henry was still at home. By the end of the 1860s, Charles Henry had left to board with a builder further inland at Grampound Road in Ladock parish.

After marrying Maria Guest at Ladock, Charles Henry moved to south Devon, where he was recorded as an elementary school teacher at Harberton in 1881. In the late 1890s he and Maria moved two or three miles south to Halwell village. He became the schoolmaster there, although combining this with business as a tea merchant.  Meanwhile, Maria was given the occupation of schoolmistress, despite also having five children under ten at the time.

Married schoolmistresses were a rarity at Board Schools at this time, given a supposed marriage bar whereby females had to give up teaching on getting married. Nonetheless, Maria got around this and continued to work as a schoolmistress into the new century, although Charles had dropped the tea trade. Moreover, their eldest child Maud was also an assistant teacher by 1901. A decade later both Charles and Maria were retired and were both receiving their teachers’ pensions while living with a married daughter at Halwell.

Elizabeth Dunstone was born and brought up in a fishing family in the village of Portloe in Veryan.  Fishing villages tended to be more demographically stable in the late 1800s, but that didn’t stop Elizabeth leaving Portloe with her husband, journeyman carpenter Benjamin Pearce. The couple left for Truro around 1872-73 and then went further afield to Hackney and Stoke Newington in London in the mid-1870s. According to the 1891 census entry Benjamin had made an interesting career move.  Moving out to Tottenham he had apparently switched from carpentry to become a compositor, someone setting up the type for printing. This would have been a growing trade at the end of the century with the rise of cheap newspaper and magazine publication and a mass reading public.  

Or had it been a move at all? For the 1901 census clearly records his occupation as a carpenter again. You can’t always trust what you read in a census, just like a newspaper.

An architectural curiosity at Veryan are the five round houses built to accommodate workmen and their families in the 1810s. This photo was taken around 1900

2 thoughts on “Veryan: breaking the rules

  1. Hello,

    I’m sorry to be so digitally inept, but I tried to get a message through
    to ‘Bridget’, re St Merryn, and don’t know whether either of my attempts
    have made it.  I write a response, go to send it, and at that point it
    asks me to log in.  She visits this area from tomorrow and I hoped to
    get a message to her in advance, or at least share my email address.

    Richard Pearce


  2. Fascinating account as ever, and truly amazing to see the houses at Veryan! So different to today, and seemingly to house poor and ordinary people. The woman would be amazed at how her home has changed, and its surrounding.


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