Canon Diggens Archive

Parochial Records.

“The State Of The Working Classes”

It is a strange coincidence that the early days of 1800 correspond in a marked manner with the opening years of 1900.

As the Napoleonic War devastated Europe and caused distress, poverty, and economic disturbances, a hundred years ago - so the "Great War has laid waste fruitful lands, slain the noblest of our sons, and upset the whole fabric of our financial, industrial, and commercial conditions".

A century before the battle of Waterloo the St. Keverne labourers seem to have lived on the brink of starvation - despite the fact that very often the father, mother and children worked for wages.

Every kind of food was dear in those days, and dress was expensive. The wages of an agricultural labourer was from 6/- to 7/- per week, whilst that of his wife was usually 6d per day of ten hours. Boys and girls earned 2d or 4d per day.

The price of wheat made it in such cases unprocurable - what bread they ate was made of barley. Bread and Scald milk constituted their breakfast. For dinner pilchards and potatoes at home ~ or a pasty with turnip potatoes and fat bacon when out at work - furnished this chief meal of the day. For supper barley bread and scald milk appeased their hunger.

Water mills, such as the one on the north shore at Coverack, ground the grain that the farmers sent,

How hard the labourers had to work may be shown by the following: William Milden lived at Lanarth Gate. He went to Tear Waste to work - wheeled three hundred barrows of manure (a day's work). Then he took a bag, walked to Penryn via Helford, bought half a bushel of barley, brought it home on his back, got it ground at Tregonnal Mill, waited to get it ground, brought it back to his home on his back - all in a day. Date not given,

The state of the working classes did not improve. As the century advanced work itself became scarce.

In an entry in the Old Account Book under date 1764 we find.

"At a public meeting at the House of Sampson Incledon, Innkeeper, White Hart, to consider the state of the poor of this parish, who are a heavy charge, and for want of employ and by being dispersed in the several villages of the parish, are become very insolent and troublesome". It was resolved that the churchwardens and overseers should contract with Miles Exelby for the hire of a House for lodging, maintaining, keeping and employing the Poor for a term not exceeding 7 years. Six pounds was to be the rent and for each poor person Exelby was to receive a sum not exceeding 1/6 per week (not inclusive of medicine and funeral expenses).

"Henceforth none should receive relief but such as shall be willing to go to the Poor House. A sum not exceeding 25/- per annum might be allowed to each person for clothing". In cases of extreme necessity persons in receipt from the Parish of not more than 10/- per year besides - and house rent - might remain outside.

There being, no unions, each parish was responsible for its poor.

Sammy was a pious man who lived in the early part of the 19th Century,

The chicken was clucking around after the manner of its kind. Its sinful pride offended Sammy so to reduce the fowl to a proper state of humiliation he plucked it alive.

Vestry Date 12th Dec. 1821. It was Resolved that every man wanting employment is to receive a list from the Overseers and to begin to work with such person as the overseers shall direct and to receive for his work from his employer l0d per day, inferior labourers 8d. (if the person is unable to maintain himself and his family on his earnings the Vestry may give him some relief). In the event of any labourer returning any day without being employed the overseer is to find employment for him.

Feb 4. 1822. No Boarman to have more than 14d per day. On April 10th same year. We have the Election of a Select Vestry,

"It is hereby resolved that a Select Vestry be established and the undermentioned persons be appointed to form the same for the time allowed (Act of Parliament) in addition to the Minister, Churchwardens, and Overseers of the Parish for the time being".

Thomas Rogers - Trethans
Richard Mildren - Trevean
John Barker - Parc an tidno
John Roskruge - Pennall
H. Pascoe - Trenoweth
Thomas Roskruge - Trenbraze
Henry Richards - Arrowan
Henry Mark - Grougwith

This extended Vestry was soon plunged in the midst of work arising from the various applications of the poor.

Shoes, hats, aprons, petticoats, gowns, sheets, shifts, tea, shrouds, furze, work, money, allowances, etc.

On Oct. 10th 1822. The Vestry passed the following momentous resolution which practically reduced the labourers to serfdom.

"Resolved that the labourers shall work to any of the farmers of this parish for the most money per day any farmer will give. Such wages to be priced every fortnight by the Select Vestry and no farmer shall be allowed to agree with any labourer or employ him unless he pay him full wages and be authorized to do so by the Select Vestry.

Every labour man shall receive from the overseers so much wages per day in addition to his wages paid by the farmer so as to make his wages adequate to his family, and no labourer shall have more wages than 1/- per day.

It was the above resolution that opened the door to a shocking practice which brought at the time great discredit on St. Keverne.

On Oct 14. 1822 there is a record of the men who were knocked down to the different farmers for a fortnight, and the prices they fetched.

One man realized 1/-
  4 fetched 9d each
  1  -- " --   8½d
16  -- " --   8d
  1  -- " --   7½d
  6  -- " --   7d
  9  -- " --   6d
  1  -- " --   4d per day

The Select Vestry made up the wages of the married men with families to 1/-. 1/1d. and ½d per day, according to the number of children, and resolved that no able man should be let on hire under 6d per day.

At the Michaelmas Meeting of the Vestry, when the Report for the previous half year was read, it was shown that a saving of 8 pounds 18shillings and 2 pence. had been effected on the weekly pay, and "cloathing" provided.

Notwithstanding the increasing pauperism and the poverty of the times, they felt it their duty to use every exertion to detect imaposition, encourage industry, and give to the aged and deserving poor every comfort and support.

With respect to the labourers generally called "Boarmen" they hoped to ensure for them constant work and full wages.


Weekly Pay
1821 for 6 months 99. 14.   8
1822 48. 10.   8
Total Expenditure in 1821 for 6 months   690. 2.  0¼
Total Expenditure in 1822 for 6 months   681. 4.  2½

Less than the former 6 months   £




Such were the effects of twenty years of warfare, the disbanding of immense forces on sea and land, bad harvests, selfish legislation, and the inherent prejudice against the use of all machinery. No wonder was it that the country was in a state of chaos and that some of the sufferers took the law into their own hands.

Wherever corn was stored hungry crowds were to be found.

At Padstow five sloops filled with barley were sacked. But as the cargoes were being carried away a company of militia under Thomas Vyvyan, Esq , and Captain Jones intercepted the marauders and rescued the booty.

Miners from Camborne, Redruth, Breage, Sithney and Wendron went to the Helford River with the intention of carrying away the corn stored at Bishop's Quay. They too were surprised by a company of Sappers and Miners stationed at The Dry Tree on Goonhilly Downs and their plans were frustrated,

Bread riots were frequent and often the sky was red with burning ricks of straw, corn and hay.

On the next sale of men in St. Keverne, Nov. 25. 1822. the market was very flat.

In December there was evidently some uneasiness or dissatisfaction evinced. At the next sale Jan 6. 1823. 9d was the top price and 3d the bottom.

Jan 23. 1823. It was resolved "That the Boarmen shall be placed out to the , farmers in proportion to their holdings according to the Parish Value Every able man to be paid by the farmers to whom they are sent ninepence per day and every inferior man sixpence per day etc."

The following Lady day. The expenditure on the Relief of Poor showed a decrease of 68. 6.10 on the wages account and 53 .12.6d. on the clothing ditto.

But the cutting down of expenditure evidently led to greater destitution.

Constables were appointed "in order to cheque and suppress the system of depredation that had so long existed in the district and to restrain the turbulence of the disorderly in the said Parish of St. Keverne",

The men chosen were Thomas Russell. Richard Mildren. Richard Johns and Simon Roskiily,

On May 17, 1823. Elizabeth Lory was elected a member of the Committee who a year previously had deemed it necessary to import corn - especially barley for the benefit of the poorer class immediately distressed. Certificates were given to those in need which enabled them to buy at less than cost price sufficient grain to last them till harvest. In 1839 a New Act came into force and a Board of Guardians was appointed

Total Distress Fund   £ 1,010. 9. 0.

For nearly one hundred years grim poverty had rendered the lives of those who lived on weekly earnings almost unendurable. Men were little less than slaves, being compelled to work for the Farmers.

The following entries in the Account Book reveal a state of things which irritated employers, and provoked the employed. Hunger, discomfort, often sickness, made the men discontented and unruly. The women weary, starving and worried, were cheerless and fretful.

Wars, bad harvests, a national debt of 800.million - universal distress, a nation's exhaustion. The Prohibition by Profiteers of imports of foreign corn (less the price of wheat etc, should drop) brought about riots and destruction,

July 23. 1837
Note:- John Hill, Coverack , took Dolly’s farm as from the Michlemass at the rate of £5.3.0d p.a.. It should be optional with him either to keep the house up or let it run down.

Entries from the Parochial Records
To John Taylor Straw for the bed   1d
To John Taylor Tapeing her shoes   1.0d
To shaving Thomas Gilberts children's heads 6d

The next entry shows that Tradesmen were not free agents as regarded the taking of apprentices.

Received from Roskiliy for a fine for not taking Thomasin Barker an apprentice £10. 0. 0.

Received of Jacob Lory a fine for not taking Thomasin Barker an apprentice £10. 0. 0.

In 1794 Barley was 10/- per bushell, Wheat 19/9, Pork 5d per Ib. Beef 5/-. Potatoes 5/6 per bushel. Salt 1/- per lb. Butter 7d. Oats 6/- per bushel.

In 1795 The unsettled state of Europe becomes apparent in the various items of expenditure. Paid the Cryer of Helston and expenses the same time in getting a man to serve in H.M.'s Navy, 4/7d

Paid as Earnest to Richard Barnard to serve for this parish 2/6d

In 1805 paid towards getting men for the Army of Reserve £30.10s.10d

Paid John Barker the Bounty being drawn in the Cornish Militia 7. 10. 0.
Paid Henry Mark ditto 7. 10. 0.
Paid to James Tripconey ditto 12. 0. 0.

The trouble of placing boys as apprentices evidently did not diminish as the
following curious entry implies.

Paid for a Warrant for four persons to take their Lotts for apprentices. 1/0d

Furze and turf at this period were evidently cut ad limitum. We have these and other records.

To cutting 16 loads of turf for the poor at 10d per load 15/4d
To carrying same at 2/o   £1.12.0,
To a man cutting turf for the Poor House 6/0d
To carrying 4 loads of turf at 2/5d per load 9/0d

In 1800 Rates had risen to 6/6d. Potatoes from 6/- to 15/- per bush
Fish from 1d per 1lb to 1½d. Wheat from 30/- to 45/- and 48/-. Barley from 15/- to 23/-.

In 1801 Rates had still further advanced to 8/9d. And the overseers had laid out on the purchase of corn for the Parish £75. 1. 11d.

Oats were 15/- per bushel. Barley was 40/-. Wheat was 60/-. Potatoes 21/-. Pork 8d per lb.

These suddenly dropped again in 1802,

In 1800 John James had been paid the original cost of purchase money and Deeds for the Poorhouse and Premises. £24.7.6d.

The Poor
Copied from an old document.

1. There is no local Act for the Management of the Poor in the Parish of St. Keverne!

2. Our Parish is not united or incorporated with others for the Management of the Poor.

3. At present there is no board of guardians or an elected Vestry. An open Vestry is held on the first Monday in every month for the purpose of hearing the disbursements of the overseers read over, and of considering the wants of the poor, and of consulting about the necessary burials of the Parish. The Overseers call a special Vestry on any emergency by public notice in the Church. At their Vestries any rate payer who chooses may be present and deliver his opinion and note.

4. There is a Poor House and two Cothouses belonging to the Parish for the reception of paupers.

5. There is room for thirty persons in the Poorhouse, for eight persons in the Cothouses. The greatest number that has been in the Poorhouse at any one time is Forty. The greatest number in the Cothouses at any one time is 12.

6. We have no Rules or Regulations for the Management of our Poorhouse.

7. There is a contract for supplying the Paupers in the Poorhouse with food, washing, and fuel, at 1.10.0½d per head weekly.

8. The Contract being only for food, washing, and fuel, and the Parish Apothecary supplying the medicine for the Paupers in the Poorhouse in common with those who are out-door paupers, and the clothing being charged in the general expenses of the Parish, and not separately for the Poorhouse, the eight query cannot be answered accurately.

9. The Overseers give temporary relief to the able bodied poor in the idle seasons of the year by endeavouring to obtain employment for them, if they cannot find employment, by money payments, but very seldom by the payment of rent.

10. The Overseers endeavour to take some work such as breaking up new land or hedging, from a neighbouring farmer for the unemployed, or they are placed in a Quarry to break stones for the road, or they are sent to any of the farmers who are likely to require their labour. If no employment can be obtained the able bodied are paid in money at the rate of 7/6 weekly, for a man, his wife and 3 or 4 or more children under the age of 9 years, and at the rate of 6/- weekly for a man