Withiel: stay at home farmers

One question the Victorian Lives database will help to answer is how the likelihood to emigrate varied by occupation. For instance, a quick check of the current state of the database, probably over 90 per cent complete, shows that of those men who were working in mines in 1871 and had survived to 1891 at least 18 per cent were living overseas. For farmers and farmers’ sons the equivalent proportion was 10 per cent. Conversely, while 60 per cent of the farmers and farmers’ sons of 1871 were still found in Cornwall two decades later, for miners that figure was just 26 per cent.

Fore Street, Withiel around the end of the 19th century

Withiel, a farming parish in mid-Cornwall west of Bodmin, reflects that finding. All three of the Withiel children in the database were sons or daughters of the farmers who worked the small farms of this hilly parish. In 1861, the largest of the three farms – at 150 acres – was being worked at Hendra by 72-year old William Varcoe and his wife Mary, who was 25 years younger. William did not survive the 1860s and his son Richard took over the largest part of the farm, even though there were two older sons. Richard continued to farm at Lower Hendra into the twentieth century helped by his wife Ann who he had married in 1881.

Thomas and Nancy Julian were helping Nancy’s father Thomas run a smaller 33 acre holding at Withielgoose in the 1850s and 60s. The couple took over the farm when the older Thomas – born in 1774 – eventually expired, moving during the 1870s to another somewhat larger 90-acre farm at the nearby churchtown. During this time Emily, their daughter, stayed at home. When her parents died Emily stayed on, helping her older brother and sister who took over the farm. All three remained unmarried.

The Methodist chapel, built in 1879, at Ruthernbridge on the parish boundary

Finally, William Rowse was the son of William and Christiana who in the 1850s had moved from a small farm in St Austell parish to another 22-acre farm at Retire in Withiel. They then disappeared from the historical record. It’s very possible this somewhat more mobile family had taken the further step and moved overseas.

2 thoughts on “Withiel: stay at home farmers

  1. I always wonder if you are going to write a book including all these blogs and then the kind of statistical data you refer to here. It would be so very interesting. Victorian Lives parish by parish!

    Another thing that strikes me is the immense cost of chapels (as shown here) and churches. Where did all the money come from? I know there were benefactors but how important, financially, were the very poor who you often describe and who would have attended chapel or church, to actually paying for their construction?


    1. ‘All these blogs’ would be quite a long book but a selection of the blogs and some expanded context had crossed my mind. I wonder if there would be a market for it though.


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