Who were the richest families of late Victorian Cornwall?

In 1885 a letter appeared in the West Briton listing what were claimed to be the 27 richest men in Cornwall with their reputed incomes. Here’s the richest nine. (For a rough modern equivalent of the income multiply the figures by 120).

NameHouseAnnual income
Thomas Charles Agar-RobartesLanhydrock£75,000
John Charles WilliamsCaerhayes£60,000
Evelyn BoscawenTregothnan£50,000
Duke of Cornwall£40,000
Gustavus BassetTehidy£32,000
William Henry EdgcumbeMount Edgcumbe£30,000
Thomas Simon BolithoTrengwainton£30,000
Edward BolithoTrewidden£30,000
Sir John St AubynSt Michael’s Mount£25,000

Interesting to note that three of these families could trace their position back to the medieval period, three had become wealthy in the 1500s and 1600s and the other three were products of Cornwall’s industrial period.

One wing of Lanhydrock House was destroyed by a fire in 1881. Rebuilding was completed in 1885.

The letter appeared at a time when criticism of the landed class was growing. The correspondent, writing under the pseudonym ‘A Cornishman’, asked if it was not ‘a fact that some [on his list] are almost totally unknown in the county – unknown even by sight – absentees in fact, drawing large incomes .. but giving scarcely anything in return?’ He continued: ‘do we see them , as was the custom formerly, taking an active part in the management of our Quarter Sessions our infirmaries, our hospitals, our savings banks, and other benevolent institutions? Alas! I fear the answer must be in the negative.’

Socialism in Edwardian Cornwall

It’s not generally well-known that Truro and Camborne were relatively early centres of socialist activism. In May 1904 W.A.Phillips, standing ‘boldly as a representative of the workers and a Social Democrat’ was elected to Truro Town Council in a by-election in Truro East. This was the first council seat won by a socialist west of Bristol.

Phillips was a member of the Social Democratic Federation (SDF). This had been founded in 1881 as an avowedly Marxist party. In 1900 it joined with the Independent Labour Party and others to form the Labour Representation Committee, the forerunner of the Labour Party. The SDF remained part of the Labour alliance until 1907 and it was during this period that a branch emerged at Truro.

Victoria Square. Now all consumerism and park
and ride buses. In 1904 echoing to demands to
build a better world

By September 1904 the SDF was holding open air meetings in Victoria Square, Truro and in the same month a public meeting in the Town Hall on the housing of the working class. A speaker from the Workmens’ National Housing Council was reported as saying

‘There was just one difficulty about most of the towns in Cornwall that he had seen and that was while houses were being built for the middle and better class people and the better paid artisan class, comparatively little was being done for the poorer workers, who were most in need of accommodation’

Interesting to note how things have changed.

By late 1904 an SDF branch had also been formed at Camborne and there were optimistic plans for similar branches at Redruth and St Agnes. In the general election of 1906, the Camborne branch was confident enough to put up a candidate. Perhaps unwisely, they chose an outsider, Jack Jones, a builders’ labourer from West Ham. Later, in 1918, he went on to become an MP in his home borough. But in 1906 in the Mining Division he won just 109 votes, or 1.5%, as the Liberal candidate cruised to a landslide victory in a year when all the Cornish seats went to Liberals.

Socialism in Cornwall had to wait. For a century and counting.

Cornish surnames where the spelling obscures the origin

Sometimes the changing spellings of surnames can tend to confuse us.

The first example is fairly obvious. The name Lidgey began life in the early 1600s in Redruth and on the Lizard (where it was more likely to be Ludgy). It doesn’t take a great deal of detective work to find the placename Lidgey at St Gluvias, spelt Lugie in 1613. Earlier, in 1342, this was spelt Lusy, the/s/ being pronounced /dg/ in Cornish by the later 1500s. (The placename is either from les, plant, or possibly lus, bilberries.) Sure enough, in the 1540s there was a John Lusye living at St Gluvias.

Lanxon is much more ambiguous. It’s been suggested that it comes from Lanson (the town). But it’s more likely to have originated in the English placename Langstone or Longstone. Admittedly, early spellings are ambiguous. Walter and William Lanston were found at Blisland and Camelford on the north west fringes of Bodmin Moor in 1543. While that might indicate they hailed from Lanson, there is also, significantly, a place called Langstone in the parish of Blisland. There were also folk called Langston or Langstone in various places in south-east Cornwall in the late 1500s and early 1600s, no doubt from another two places called Langstone to the east of Bodmin Moor.

During the later 1500s Langstone became the most common spelling and the variant Lanxon also emerged, both found in roughly the same two areas. However, while Langstone in the south east seems to have died out by the 1700s, Lanxon prospered in the district around Blisland. This strongly implies the modern Lanxons are likely to be able to trace their ancestry back to the place Langstone in Blisland.

Loam is the most puzzling of these three names. Its first appearance was not until the beginning of the 1700s in St Agnes. However, before that date several people named Lome are found in the records. This was clearly the original spelling, but its meaning is not obvious. The geography of the surname before the mid-1600s doesn’t give us many clues but also doesn’t preclude a Cornish language origin. But what?

The fall of the Arundells of Lanherne

By the end of the fifteenth century the Arundell family of Lanherne at St Mawgan had climbed to the top of Cornwall’s pecking order. Yet, by the 1600s the family was declining fast. The reason was simple enough. Their stubborn commitment to Roman Catholicism after the Reformation of the 1540s made them suspect in the eyes of the Government. But the details of their fall can be confusing, not least because in the 1500s four heads of the family in a row were all called John.

The Arundells first emerged in the early 1200s, holding a single manor at Treloy, near present-day Newquay. Their rise came over the following two centuries, mainly as a result of a succession of lucrative marriages which added a score or so manors to their estate. During these years, the family seat was transferred from Treloy, via Trembleath in St Ervan to Lanherne, where the family was based by the 1370s.

The Arundells were Lancastrian supporters in the 1400s and remained loyal to Henry VII during the Cornish risings of 1497, being rewarded with yet another manor. By 1501 John Arundell was the wealthiest man in Cornwall and as receiver-general of the Duchy when Henry VIII became king, the most important as well.

Sir John #1

Sir John Arundell #1 (1475-1545) was content to administer the Duchy and remain in Cornwall. His eldest son Sir John #2 determined to keep his head down as his fellow landowners embraced Protestantism. Meanwhile, the Arundells clung to their traditional faith. The rising of 1549 brought the first problems, when Sir John failed to answer a call to serve against the ‘rebels’, who were led by his cousin. He was kept in custody in London and examined, pleading sickness had prevented his attendance. This didn’t wash and John was confined to the Tower from 1550 to 1552, before dying in 1557.

Nonetheless, the family’s position was restored during the reign of Queen Mary (1553-58). Sir John #3 retained a powerful position in Cornish society as late as 1570. As A.L.Rowse wrote, in what is still the best account of these years, the Arundells ‘gave as little offence as possible’, although they were ‘aloof (and) increasingly isolated from the rest of (Cornwall)’.

Sir John #3

The breach finally occurred in 1577 when Cuthbert Mayne, a Roman Catholic missionary priest, was discovered at Golden, the house of Francis Tregian, another Catholic who had married an Arundell. Mayne was executed and Tregian imprisoned. John Arundell #3 was indicted for not attending church and restricted to London, spending periods of time in the Tower. His final stay there came with the Anglo-Spanish crisis of 1587 and the Armada invasion scare. He died shortly after.

It wasn’t the extended period away from Cornwall after 1577 or spells in prison that proved the final straw for the family but the financial pressures for being declared ‘recusants’, or non-attenders of the Church of England. John Arundell #4 was paying a fine of £260 a year by 1599 and the Crown had confiscated some of the family lands under a law of 1586.

Although John #4 was allowed to return to Cornwall in 1604, the family’s continuing refusal to recant and give up their Catholicism ate away at their wealth. The last male Arundell, another Sir John, died in1701, although the family line continued via marriage into a (by now much wealthier) cadet line of the Arundell family in Wiltshire. In the late 1700s most of the Cornish lands were sold and in 1794 Lanherne itself was given to Carmelite nuns fleeing the Low Countries. It remains a nunnery, offering few hints of its former status as the power-base of Cornwall’s leading family.

Lanherne in 1973

Cornish towns in 1698

Celia Fiennes journeyed through Cornwall on horseback in 1698. In her journal she provided brief accounts of some of the towns she saw.

Having endured an hour-long crossing of the Tamar on the Cremyll ferry, she took the southern route to the west. She seems to have been most impressed, and a little scared, by the ‘very steep, stony hills’. Descending one she came to Looe, ‘a pretty big seaport, a great many houses all of stone’.

Fowey turned out to be a ‘narrow stony town, the streets very close’, while St Austell was a ‘little market town’ with ‘houses … like barns up to the top of the house’. The town had ‘very neat country women’, one of whom introduced Celia to clotted cream. She wasn’t so pleased however by the ‘universal smoking, both men, women and children have all their pipes of tobacco in their mouths and so sit around the fire smoking.’

Staying at the Boscawens’ house at Tregothnan, Celia decided to turn back ‘for fear of the rains that fell in the night’. However, at St Columb she changed her mind as the weather improved and headed back west on the main road. This was ‘mostly over heath and downs which was very bleak and full of mines’. She found Redruth to be ‘a little market town where on market day ‘you see a great number of horses little of size which they call Cornish Goonhillies’.

Celia continued to Penzance, noting on the way that ‘the people here are very ill guides, and know but little from home, only to some market town they frequent’. Marazion was a ‘little market town’. Penzance looked ‘snug and warm’ with a ‘good quay and a good harbour’. A visit to Land’s End followed, where she met with ‘very good bottled ale’. She commented that the cottages were ‘clean and plastered’ inside, despite looking like barns from the outside, as in Scotland.

Returning eastwards, Celia went via Truro – ‘a pretty little town and seaport … built of stone, a good pretty church’. But Truro had seen better days and was in parts ‘a ruinated disregarded place’. Leaving Truro, she travelled east via St Columb and Camelford, ‘a little market town [with] very indifferent accommodation’.

Launceston’s Southgate in the 1960s

The final town on her itinerary was Launceston, ‘the chief town in Cornwall, ‘encompassed with walls and gates ‘and ‘pretty large’, although most of the place was ‘old houses of timber work’.

Interestingly, despite travelling as far as the Land’s End, she made no mention of the Cornish language.

More Cornish surname puzzles

Actually, two of the following are not too puzzling. Their point of origin seems clear enough even if their later geography is less so.

Keskeys is the most straightforward. It clearly originated in the place of the same name in St Erth parish. That was spelt Caerskes in 1363, which takes us closer to the Cornish meaning of a shady or sheltered fort (caer = fort, skes = shade or shadow). The surname itself made a relatively late appearance in the records in 1641. There were a handful of Keskes, Keskeys and Keskeas, one venturing as far as Padstow, but the majority remained in the St Hilary/Ludgvan district neighbouring St Erth.

Lambrick is another surname derived from a place. But which place? There are two places now called Lambourne, one at Ruanlanihorne and the other at Perranzabuloe. This originally meant either a holy site on a hill (lanbron) or a pool by rushes (lynbron). The Lanbron at Perrranzabuloe was split into two settlements as population grew in the 1200s or early 1300s. One was called Lanbronmur (great Lanbron) and the other Lanbronwegha or Lanbronwigen (from Lanbronvean or little Lanbron?) The development of the name Lanbronwegha to Lambriggan by 1584 provides a model for the Lambrick surname.

Lambourne and Lambriggan at Perranzabuloe in 1879

Sir William Lambron, who owned the Lambourne manor in the 1390s, shows this was an early family name. But the earliest example of Lambrike in 1525 was not found at Perranzabuloe but at Tregony, near the other Lambourne at Ruanlanihorne. There we also find Pascoe Lambourne in 1543. In the seventeenth century Lambricks moved west, to Truro, and then on to Constantine. They didn’t stop there; in the mid-eighteenth century marriage registers the name was most frequent on the Lizard.

There are speculative suggestions that the surname Kinver had an origin in the Cornish language, possibly involving the element keyn (ridge). However, its historical geography suggests another story. The surname Kenver was indeed found early, and in the west. Thomas and Blanch Kenver at Sithney in 1524 and 1543 could be evidence for a Cornish language derivation. Later, in the 1570s Kenvers popped up at Bodmin. And then there was a 200-year gap.

No Kenvers or Kinvers were recorded in the registers until the 1760s. They then appeared well to the east, at Jacobstow in the north and Treneglos and South Petherwin near Launceston. While there were no Kinvers earlier in 1641, there were Kinners and Kenners at South Petherwin and around Launceston. It looks as if the name Kinver evolved from Kinner, which was originally Kenner. There is a place called Kennerleigh in Devon, based on the Old English personal name Cyneweard. Is this a more likely source?

Fishy business: research on Cornwall’s inshore fisheries

Two relatively recent articles on the Cornish inshore fisheries and the men employed in them are reviewed here. The first looks at access to healthcare and identifies the constraints facing ‘fishers’. The second contrasts the Cornish inshore fisheries with the coastal fisheries of Tuscany. It identifies the strategies employed by the small-scale fishing sector in the face of structural change in EU fishing policy and the UK administration of it. Direct-selling and diversification are cited as possible strategies to sustain these traditional fisheries.

Mevagissey harbour

On a wider note, it’s interesting that there’s a steady flow of academic articles addressing the fishing industry, despite its small size and limited current role in the Cornish economy. We await articles on the healthcare issues of supermarket workers, the problems faced by the workforce of fast-food outlets or call centres, or the sustainability of shopkeepers in Cornwall’s market towns. It’s good that Cornish fishing is receiving continuing attention. But are the more numerous workers in other sectors being inadvertently ignored in the academic fascination with a ‘traditional’ Cornish industry that is intrinsically bound up with ideological constructs of Cornwall?