Contrasting Cornish surnames from places

Boswarthack or Boswarthick is a surname that I haven’t yet covered in either book or blog. It comes from a place in Constantine parish spelt Boswodek in 1330 and Bosvathek in 1519. This apparently meant a settlement by a water-course or stream.

In the 1500s the distribution of the name Bosvathek (also spelt occasionally Boswathek) mostly clustered around its point of origin.

It began to be spelt with an <r> as early as the 1580s and this had taken over as the predominant spelling by the 1700s. There were still quite a few families with this surname, as the map below indicates. Yet, by the 1861 census, only two household heads called Boswarthick remained (at Stithians and Perranarworthal – both quite close to its point of origin.)

For contrast, here’s a map of the surname Polglase, a locative name with multiple origins. For a map of Polglase in 1861 see here.

Maps for the surnames Goad and Gribble

Here are a couple of maps for two surnames that first appeared at a relatively late date. Goad is probably a variant spelling of Coad. It was first recorded in 1638 at Menheniot but didn’t start appearing in the registers in any number until the 1670s when it suddenly turned up in multiple locations. Gribell or Grible was found at Sancreed in West Penwith from 1584 although the first record of the name was well to the east, at Bodmin.

You can find maps of these in 1861 for comparison here.

Remember, if you want information on a surname that hasn’t appeared in my book or been a subject of a previous blog do let me know.

Maps for the surnames Morshead and Symons

You can find maps of these in 1861 for comparison here.

Symons is the main spelling form of all those surnames that derive from the original Symon. This was a popular biblical name in the middle ages. The Symons group of spellings in Cornwall accounted for 62% of Symons/Simmons/Semmens in the 1950s, a proportion unchanged from the mid-1600s, when Symon and Symons comprised 66% of the total. In the early 1500s however, only a handful were not spelt Symon.

Remember, if you want information on a surname that hasn’t appeared in my book or been a subject of a previous blog do let me know.

The East Wheal Rose mine disaster

On this day in 1846 39 lives were lost in one of Cornwall’s worst mining disasters. This occurred at East Wheal Rose, a silver-lead mine near the village of Newlyn East. At the time it was one of Cornwall’s most productive mines, employing 1,266 men, women and children. The account in the Royal Cornwall Gazette reported that between 1 and 2pm on Thursday, July 9th, ‘one of the most awful thunderstorms ever known’ had broken near the mine. ‘Dense, heavy, purple-black clouds … poured down floods of rain’. The surface of the mine was awash within minutes and the water rushed northwards, the land sloping that way. As it did so it broke into the shafts and ‘rushing down into the levels … loosened and broke the timbers beneath, the consequence of which was the falling in of some other parts of the mine northwards.’

The site of the disaster in 1879. By this time the mine had closed.

Those in the more productive southern part of the mine fortunately had time to escape. Samuel Bastian, who was working there, explained at an inquest that ‘at about 1 o’clock, the candles … were all blown out by a rush of wind, which alarmed the men … they proceeded to grass as fast as they could’. Once there they discovered the water rushing into the shafts to the north. At Michell’s engine shaft 18 men came up but then no more as the flood continued to cascade into the depths.

Another witness, Ralph Richards, stated that the men who had rushed out tried frantically to divert the water from the shafts by makeshift dams and other means, but they were unsuccessful. Around 200 men eventually escaped from the flood by climbing up the ladders or by clinging on to the chains of the whim (winding) engines that had been set to work. At the time Richards was giving his evidence 43 men were unaccounted for, but four came to surface early the following morning, the last at 7am.

One miner – Frederick Sanders – was killed at the neighbouring North Wheal Rose mine. It was stated at his inquest that, after their candles had been blown out by the rush of wind, ten miners had gathered at the engine shaft. However, ‘the water was pouring down the shaft’. ‘Deceased attempted to get up the engine shaft against the stream’. He tried to convince the others to go with him but they wisely refused. ‘He was never seen alive after that’. After ten minutes the whim engine was set to work and six of the group got to the surface by holding on to the chain, while three others managed to escape via another shaft.

The ages given in the papers of the men who were killed provide a picture of the structure of the underground labour force at this time. The median age was 23, the youngest 15 and the oldest 58.

For those interested in surnames, the names of those reported missing were Bailey, Bartle, Bennett, Bice, Bishop, Clift, Eastlake, Ellery, Hosking, Jeffery, Kevern, Lampshire, Lanyon, May, Merifield, Michell, Pearce, Pengelly, Phillips, Pollard, Rowe, Stevens, Tippet, Tonkin, Trebilcock, Waters, White, Wilkins, Williams.

Extending the definition of Cornish surnames

Here are two surnames that haven’t appeared in either book or blogs. The reason they didn’t feature is because they are more common in places outside Cornwall and neither reached the number of 1861 household heads required for inclusion. Yet both were present by the middle of the 1600s and have a long history in Cornwall.

The first record I can find of the name Yeats is the burial of Arthur Yates at Boscastle in north Cornwall in 1627. From there this surname, more likely to be spelt Yeats in Cornwall than Yates, had by the mid-1700s dispersed to mid and west Cornwall. Over half the Yeats households were then found in the Wadebridge district of mid-Cornwall. By 1861 however, it had ramified in Camborne, a reflection of the population expansion there caused by the mining boom. As a result, the centre of gravity of the name in Cornwall shifted even further west.

Our second name – Watts – was present in large numbers at an earlier point, as early as the 1520s. It was then usually just Watt, with just a handful of parishes in east Cornwall showing the additional -s. By 1641 that had completely turned around, with only two Watt men listed (at Feock), the other 44 being Watts. The name was quite widely dispersed in Cornwall by the 1800s. However, it’s clear that it was most concentrated on the Isles of Scilly. It was present there in numbers in the 1730s. Lack of early records prevents us from deciding whether it was taken to Scilly from Cornwall, or arrived from somewhere else, or emerged independently.

Both names have generally accepted origins. Yeats is from the word gate, given to someone living by a gate or possibly to someone who was a gatekeeper. Watts is from the popular medieval first name Wat, a short form of Walter.