Week St Mary: old crafts and new

The parish of Week St Mary was a typical north Cornish farming parish in the mid-1800s. Yet it had known better days. The village which shared its name with the parish was the site of a medieval castle and market. Although the medieval borough never grew into a modern town, it was the site of a short-lived college funded by Thomasina Bonaventure, the Week St Mary girl who became a wealthy widow of a Lord Mayor of London.

Week St Mary’s former status as a town can clearly be seen from this OS map surveyed in 1882. Note the ruined castle, the unusual (for Cornwall) broad village green and the burgage plots behind the houses

The Week St Mary children in our database were neither so fortunate nor so wealthy. William Featherstone was a farm labourer in the village in the 1850s while his wife added to the family income by making dresses. Their son William managed to avoid a life on the farm by being apprenticed to a master carpenter at nearby Warbstow Cross in the 1860s. William became a master carpenter in turn, marrying in 1872 and moving to Poundstock on the coast.

Two other Week St Mary children died before they reached 40. Like William Featherstone, William Benoy became a carpenter. But this William was the son of a carpenter in the village and learnt the craft from his father. In the 1880s he was a journeyman carpenter and, still resident in the parish, his death was listed in 1886. John Orchard was the son of the innkeeper of the Kings Arms in the village in 1851. By 1861 his father was recorded as a farm labourer only, the innkeeping business having failed, as so many apparently did. John died in 1871 aged 21.

Emma Ayres was luckier, surviving into the twentieth century. Emma was the daughter of a farm labourer in the parish. She was still living at home and helping her mother in 1871 but married John Gregory in 1877. At first, the pair lived with her widowed father but then moved to Marhamchurch near Bude. Their next change took them to a farm in Stratton parish before ending up in the town of Bude by 1900. John had been a mason but in the 1890s and early 1900s was working as a farm labourer before setting himself up as a market gardener by the time he and Emma had reached Bude.

John and Emma’s son Samuel gained a newer skill that was growing in demand, becoming a wallpaper hanger in 1911. Wallpaper had gone from a status symbol of the rich to a necessity for the respectable middle-class home by the mid-1800s. New technologies made it cheaper and the number of rolls turned out in the UK went from five million a year in 1850 to 50 million by 1900 and 100 million by the 1930s, when it was an everyday commodity, an essential part of making a home and asserting an identity.

The ruins of Penhallam Manor can be found on the western edge of the parish. This moated manor house, mainly built in the 1200s, was the home of the powerful Norman family, the Cardinhams, whose presence nearby was no doubt a factor in the medieval importance of Week St Mary. It was later abandoned, became ruined and the remains were re-discovered in the 1960s.

2 thoughts on “Week St Mary: old crafts and new

  1. A complex and interesting account. I wonder what the word “Week” in the village name refers to.

    Also interesting to know about links between the family Cardinham and the village also called Cardinham (and what the name actually means)


    1. Week was an English placename element meaning a dwelling or settlement, sometimes with a specific trading connection. Cardinham is tautological, from car (fort) and dinan (fort). Oliver Padel suggest that it was ooiginally Dinan, with ‘car’ added later. The Cardinham family probably took their name from the parish. Coincidentally, in the late 1200s the manor of Cardinham came into the possession of the Dinhams of Devon.


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