Zennor: the end of the road

Back in September 2021 I rashly set out to write a blog on every parish in Cornwall as I worked to complete a database containing information on the life-courses of a sample of over 4,000 Cornish children born around 1850. Finally, with more than a sigh of relief, 243 blogs and over 100,000 words later, we have reached Zennor.

We began with Advent, an upland parish on the edge of Bodmin Moor; we end with another upland parish, but this one on the coastal margins of the West Penwith granitic outcrop at the other end of Cornwall. While Advent was a farming parish, Zennor in 1861 was home to a large mining community, with more than half of the local men employed in the local mines. It’s appropriate that we end with a rural mining parish, given that the nineteenth century Cornish economy was so dependent on the health (or lack of it) of its mines.

By the 1910s mining collapse had emptied Zennor of its people. D.H.Lawrence, who stayed in the parish in 1916-17 decribed it as ‘very primaeval … like the original darkness, and a pale sea breaking in, like dawn. It is like the beginning of the world, wonderful.’ This is the view from the cottage he and Frieda rented. Lawrence was less enamoured of the Cornish people.

Zennor was no exception. As mines relentlessly fell silent its population steadily shrank, from a peak of 933 in 1861 to just 294 by 1911, less than a third of its mid-century total. Given that fall, it’s surprising that only four of the 17 Zennor children in the Victorian Lives database are known to have died overseas. However, another seven, a relatively high proportion, remain untraced and several of those are also likely to have made trips across the oceans.

Some left quite late, having lived through the economic contraction that followed the early 1870s. For example, Ellen Pascoe was the daughter of a stonecutter at Trewey near Zennor churchtown who also had a ten-acre smallholding in 1881. Ellen didn’t marry until 1884. During the late 1880s her husband left to try his luck in the American mining frontier in Colorado. Ellen followed in 1892 with her son and a step-daughter, joining him at Gilpin, Colorado.

Some who left didn’t make it overseas. Stephen Michell Daniel was born into a mining family at Halsetown, St Ives, moving to Zennor in the late 1850s. Stephen left ten years later for the iron mines of Yorkshire, at first working near Middlesborough and then moving south to Normanby in Ryedale. In 1881 he was boarding in a household where the wife of the household head was from Zennor – perhaps a relative. But things did not go smoothly for Stephen and, like his home parish, he had to negotiate harder times. In 1888 he was sentenced to seven days in prison at Wakefield in West Yorkshire after being convicted for being a rogue and a vagabond.

Zennor chuchtown in the 1980s. The tourists have arrived!

During our journey through the parishes of Cornwall we’ve met a millinery millionaire who made her fortune in the States, a prolific author who became one of the UK’s best-selling novelists, a politician who spent time at the heart of the establishment and a couple of lads who murdered their father. But the greater number of our ancestors spent their lives less spectacularly, finding ways to put bread on the table while avoiding a stay in those newly efficient Victorian institutions – the workhouse and the prison. The case of the roving miner from Zennor, Stephen Michell Daniel, serves as a fitting memory to the more anonymous of our forebears lost in the maze of the past.

Postscript What now? I intend to spend the next few months catching up on some academic literature and applying myself to a couple of unfinished book projects, so the appearance of blogs on this site is likely to become a lot more erratic and intermittent, to say the least. However, there is now a wealth of material on Cornwall and its people in the posts and pages here. Hopefully, these offer a lasting resource for those interested in Cornwall and its past. Pop back regularly to check them out and if you have any questions, corrections or comments (or suggestions for blogs) do get in touch.

10 thoughts on “Zennor: the end of the road

  1. All I can say is – congratulations and congratulations. What a wonderful whirlwindy tour of Cornwall you have so kindly offered us for free over the past 18 months! It has been such a pleasure and a privilege.

    I said already that it would be great if you could perhaps capture all the blogs in a book, though I am not sure if there are tedious permissions to go through for the pictures? Perhaps this book could be made electronically available if you do not see a ready market for a printed one (which I would love of course!)?

    I personally think that it could be great to offer chapters, so to say, to holiday maker providers so that visitors can learn about the parish they are actually staying in. I think that is very important – to cultivate a sense of place and respect for the place that so many have called home before them.

    I do see there could be a trade off with your time and not getting an income, but maybe something can be arranged, so that you are paid eg 3 pounds a download of a parish blog? I am sure you must be in touch with the parish recorders and that is another way to make sure your blogs are reposted and widely read. That is the key thing.

    Good luck with future projects and please don’t forget us entirely!


  2. Thank you for the parish-by-parish tour of Cornwall. It’s been fun and enlightening and has spurred me to have a look for people I never expected to find (and some I haven’t found yet). I look forward to more here on the blog as time permits. Congratulations of this vast accomplishment!


  3. To Cornish studies resources

    I am interested in engaging a research that will provide information on my family, (the Wellingtons) that resided around St Buryan and Sancreed in the 19th century. They left for Victoria Australia during the 1850s – 1860s as a result of the tin mining collapse in Cornwall.

    I have not been able to find information as to where they resided and what their life was like in formal during this period. If you could provide to me the name of a person who you would recommend then I will contact that person to see whether they would like to be engaged for the research that I would like to have undertaken.

    Kind regards

    Paul Wellington


  4. Thank you so much for the regular editions of this blog, which I shall miss appearing in my mailbox. You so deserve your “sigh of relief” after that enormous amount of work. I imagine that you are itching to get on with other projects. As someone continually dabbling with my family tree, these blogs have not only provided snapshots of Cornish social history, but helped me with a perspective into my own ancestors lives and often prompted me into other lines of research, resulting in much more than just names and dates on a spreadsheet.

    Wishing you all the best.


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