Magna Britannia: Volume 3, Cornwall. Originally published by T Cadell and W Davies, London, 1814.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. Public Domain.
The number of persons in Cornwall, assessed, in the year 1377, to a poll-tax, from which only mendicants and children, under fourteen years of age, were exempted (including the religious of both sexes, who were taxed separately, and amounted to 686), was 34,960. This tax was levied immediately after a great plague, by which this county, and particularly the town of Bodmin, had been much depopulated. Carew says, that it had been a question, whether Cornwall had been better stored with people than it was in his time; some holding the affirmative, says he, "vouch to prove it, the general decay of inland towns, where whole streets, besides particular houses, pay tribute to Comdowne castle, as also the ruines yet resting in the wilde moores, which testifie a former inhabitance:" "touching the decayed inland townes," he observes truly, that "they are countervayled with a surplusage of increase of those on the coast, and the desolate walles in the moores have begotten a seven-fold race of cottages near the sea-side." The decay of the Cornish towns appears to have attracted the attention of parliament before Carew's time, and it seems not to have been confined to the inland towns, Truro as well as Bodmin, Launceston, Liskeard, and Lostwithiel, being included in an act of Parliament, passed in 1540, for the repairing those towns, and others therein mentioned. By this act, it was provided, that proclamation should be made for all owners of void places, which had been occupied by buildings, or of decayed and dilapidated houses, to rebuild on those sites; if they should neglect this for three years, the High Lord, under whom such houses had been held, had power given him to rebuild on his own account; if such High Lord neglected it for the space of two years after the expiration of the former time, the same power was given to any persons or bodies politic, who had rent-charges on the premises; on their failure so to do for the space of one year, the same power to go to the corporations of the several towns; and in case of their neglect for three further years, the power to revert to the first owner, and so on as before (fn. n1). It does not appear that any thing of consequence was done under this act. Since Carew's time, in consequence of the extension of the mining works, particularly since the coppermines have been worked to so great an extent, some of the most desolate moors, particularly in the neighbourhood of St. Agnes and Redruth, have become "very well stored with people;" indeed Redruth itself has long since Carew's time grown into a town; St. Austell also, from its vicinity to the great mine at Polgooth, and from its having become a great thoroughfare on the road from Plymouth to the Lands-End, has grown from a mere village to be a considerable town.
The populous town of Falmouth, containing, with its suburbs, near 5,000 souls, has risen from a village, almost too insignificant for notice. Mevagissey also, now very populous, is of more modern date as a town of any consequence.
The total population of Cornwall, according to the census of 1801, was 188,269 persons, that of 1811, 216,667, making an increase, within the last ten years, of 28,398, supposing the account of both periods to have been taken with equal accuracy.
The climate of this county has been ascertained, by experience, to be peculiarly favourable to life and health, its inhabitants having been long noted for their longevity. "For health," says Carew, "eighty and ninety years of age is ordinary in every place, and in most persons accompanied with an able use of the body and senses. In the parish where God hath seated my poor dwelling, I remember the decease of four, within fourteen weeks space, whose years, added together, made up the sum of 340." A Cornish correspondent of Mr. Polwhele's observes (fn. n2), that in the language of the West, they should not call a person of seventy or eighty aged. In Worgan's agricultural survey of this county is an interesting paper, drawn up by the Rev. John Trist, vicar of Veryan, on the population of that parish, which, in 1810, consisted of 1220 persons. Having kept his registers, as it appears, with great accuracy, during an incumbency of thirty years, and very judiciously noted, as ought to have been done in all cases, and as is now enjoined by authority, the ages of all persons buried, he has ascertained that, infants included, the proportion of persons buried within these thirty years, who had exceeded eighty years of age, was one in eight; those who had exceeded ninety, one in fifty-three and a half. Mr. Trist, in a note, has quoted an opinion of Mr. Jonas Hanway, that the general average of those who attain the age of eighty is one in thirty-two. By the London bills of mortality it appears, that one only in forty lives to eighty. Dr. Price has quoted, as an extraordinary instance, a parish in Shropshire, in which one in twenty-four had attained the age of eighty. Mr. Trist supposes that the result of his data will afford a fair estimate of the state of the other parishes in Cornwall, situated as Veryan is, on the southern coast. "The proportion of deaths," he observes, "to the sum total of the living, is less than has been recorded in any political computation whatever, being as one to ninety (fn. n3)." In Cumberland, where, throughout the diocese of Carlisle, the ages of all persons buried have been noted in the parish register for thirty-five years past, in consequence of an injunction of a former Archdeacon, we have had the opportunity in many, particularly in some of the most populous parishes, of ascertaining the proportion of persons who had attained the ages of eighty and ninety. We were induced to undertake the search in that county as often as we had the opportunity, in consequence of the prevailing opinion of the longevity of its inhabitants; the circumstance of the registers was peculiarly favourable, and the result was in general the same as Mr. Trist found it to be in his parish of Veryan, that one in eight had attained the age of eighty; in some parishes we found that one in seven had attained that age, and even in the populous parishes of Carlisle, so much more unfavourable to longevity, the average, including infants, was one in ten.
Carew has recorded the following extraordinary instances of longevity:—"One Polzew," says he, "lately living, reached unto 130; a kinsman of his to 112; one Beauchamp to 106; Jean Brawne, the beggar, a Cornishman by wandering (for I cannot say by inhabitance), though Irish by birth, outscoreth a hundred winters by I wote not how many revolutions." He speaks, in another place, of one Prake, of Talland, aged 110. The Rev. Thomas Cole, minister of Landewednack, who died and was buried there in 1683, is said, in the register, to have been above 120 years of age. Dr. Borlase relates an anecdote of his walking to Penryn and back, a distance of thirty miles, not long before his death, on the authority of Mr. Erisey, who met him on the road. Michael George, sexton of the same parish, was buried March 20, 1683, aged, as is said in the register, upwards of 100 years. Dr. Borlase speaks also of an old man of the name of Collins, upwards of 100, whom he saw on a tour to the Lizard: this man (Sampson Collins) was buried at Ruan-Major in 1754, aged 104. Dr. Borlase tells us also, on the authority of Mr. Scawen, of Molineck, of a woman who died at Gwythian, in 1676, at the age of 164. There is no entry of this woman's burial in the register, but by an inquiry, obligingly instituted by the present rector, Mr. Hockin, we find she is well known by tradition among the oldest inhabitants. Her name was Cheston (fn. n4) Marchant. The tradition of the place is, that she had a new set of teeth and new hair in her old age, and that travellers, who came to see her out of curiosity, frequently took with them a lock of her hair: it is said also, that she spoke only the Cornish language, and that she was many years bedridden. Mr. Polwhele mentions Henry Brenton, a weaver, of St. Wenn, who died in the reign of George I., aged 103; Mrs. Trevanion, who died at Bodmin in 1769, aged 107; Mr. Richardson, of Tregony, who died in 1770, aged 102; Mrs. Blanch Littleton, of Lanlivery, aged 101 (the three last on the authority of the Annual Register); a lady at Egloshayle, aged 112; Maurice Bingham, a fisherman of St. Just, who died in 1780, aged 116; Elizabeth Kempe, of Wendron, who died in 1791, aged 104; Catherine Freeman, a Scotch woman, who died at Falmouth in 1793, aged 118; John Roberts, of St. Keverne, aged 107; Priscilla Rouse, aged 101, and Edward Roberts, aged 102, both of Manaccan; Mary Sarah, aged 102, and Jane Studiford, aged 102, both buried at Gluvias in 1803; Mary Jenkins, of Crantock, then (1806) lately deceased, aged 102 (her father, said to have attained the age of 101, her mother that of 103); and Elizabeth Woolcock, of Nantallan near Bodmin, then (1806) living at the age of 105, and able to ride single to church at the distance of three miles. With respect to Elizabeth Woolcock, Mr. Polwhele was misinformed; although, by common report, she was considered many years older, her age, we are informed, did not exceed ninety, at the time of her death, which happened about two years ago.
Mrs. Zenobia Stevens, of Skilly-Waddon, in the parish of Towednack, who was buried at Zennor in 1763, at the age of 102, was tenant for ninety-nine years of the tenement of Trevidgia-Warra, held under the Duke of Bolton's manor of Ludgvan-Lees; and we are informed from good authority, that when she went, on the expiration of the term, being of course in her 100th year, to the Duke's court at St. Ives, she excused herself from drinking a second glass of wine, because it was growing late, and she had some way to ride home upon a young colt. Her daughter, Mrs. Zenobia Baragwanath, lived to the age of ninety-eight or ninetynine. (fn. n5)
Elizabeth Fradd, aged 103, was buried at St. Kew in 1803. Henry Martin, aged 101, was buried at Stithian in 1812.