West Looe: the sea, family support and snooker

West Looe sat on the less populous bank of the estuary of the Looe River. The town straggled along the river and up the steep hill leading out into the surrounding countryside. Unlike its bigger brother across the bridge, West Looe had no large community of fishermen and their families in the mid-1800s. There were some but they were outnumbered five to one by mariners, while there were also more craftsmen, farm labourers and dock labourers living in the small town.

All the various elements of West Looe life were found in the biography of Jane Ann Hambly, born in Fore Street in the heart of the town. Her father had been a farm labourer but during the 1850s turned to labouring on the quays in East Looe, helping to move copper ore from the railway trucks which brought it down from the Caradon mines to the ships waiting to load up.

The market at West Looe around 1900. Jane Hambly lived in the street running off to the left

Before she was 21, Jane married a seaman. William Turner was away at sea at the time of the 1881 and 1891 censuses but home often enough to father at least nine children. The family continued to live in and around the cramped town centre until moving a short distance to somewhere on West Looe Hill in the 1900s. By this time, Jane had come full circle as William, now back from sea, had found work as a farm labourer, the occupation of Jane’s father at the time of her birth.

Looking down West Looe Hill

Thomas Sanders had also been born in West Looe in the winter of 1850/51. His father was a merchant seaman, but Thomas didn’t go to sea as did many of his peers. Instead, he entered the retail trade and got a job as a chemist’s assistant at Launceston, where he married a local girl, Dorcas Slee, in 1875. From a chemist’s shop Thomas then moved to a grocer’s. On the death of his wife in the late 1880s his younger sister Georgina went to Launceston to keep house for him.

Family support was critical for Thomas. By 1901 he was back in West Looe and working as a fisherman. In that year he was lodging in a two-roomed cottage with his sister and brother in law and their four sons as well as another younger brother. By 1911 joined by two of his children, Thomas had established an independent household again, while continuing to work as a fisherman.

However, his son George had a job that must have been rare in a place like Looe, or anywhere in Cornwall for that matter. He was a commercial traveller for a billiards table manufacturer. By the end of the nineteenth century the old game of billiards had been joined by snooker, invented by a British army officer in India in 1875. The popularity of snooker soon grew among the gentry, with demand for tables booming by the 1900s by which time the game was moving down the social scale and into clubs and institutions.

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