Warbstow: on the brink of pauperism

Warbstow is a relatively remote north Cornwall parish. Quintessential farming country, its rolling hills and valleys were mainly grazed by cows in the later 1800s. The lightly populated farms and hamlets of the parish provided just three children born around 1850 for our database. All three came from labouring families.

John Pethick and his wife Frances were teetering on the brink of pauperism in 1851 just after Frances had given birth to their youngest daughter Mary. John was receiving some poor relief although managing to avoid the dreaded workhouse. Perhaps he was ill or had had an accident or was temporarily unemployed. This was something the formal poor law was unable to deal with adequately with its default assumption that the poor were only to be relieved by entering the workhouse. However, the local Board of Guardians were obviously continuing to provide help to at least some of the poor in their own homes.

As John’s family grew up and got work things would have become easier for the family. But he was not to see this as he was dead by the end of the 1860s, leaving Frances and by now just Mary at home, making do by dressmaking. Mary soon married – in 1872 to William Fry, a labourer. The pair moved from near the village of Warbstow to Canworthy Water, just over the parish boundary, and then  back again before heading west. They didn’t go far, just to Boscastle on the coast where Mary and William, by now a gardener, settled down.

Warbstow Bury is one of Cornwall’s largest Iron Age forts with views over a wide stretch of north Cornwall

Another Mary – Mary Jane Pawlin – began life at Penwenham in the west of the parish. Her parents sent her to a nearby farm to be a general servant before she was 11. Ten years later, she was a domestic servant at another farm at Tregeen in Davidstow, a couple of miles to the south. There she married William Martin, a farm labourer, and they brought up their children in the parish.

Our final Warbstow child followed a similarly relatively uneventful life course although travelling somewhat further afield. Thomas Prout was the youngest son of John and his wife Elizabeth. Pauperism was a presence in their household too in 1851, an elderly relative, the widow of a farm labourer, living with them and receiving poor relief. After some schooling, Thomas did the inevitable stint as a farm servant at a local farm. He then avoided a life of farm labouring by obtaining a post as coachman, moving during the 1870s to St Austell via St Columb, where he had met his wife. He and his family stayed at St Austell where he progressed from being a coachman to a groom and finally to become a gardener, possibly all for the same landed family.

The main settlement of Warbstow Cross seen from Warbstow Bury

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