Family History: GenTravelling around Cornwall.

As this post is published we will be travelling into deepest Cornwall, not on a tourist jaunt, but as “Gentravellers” exploring five generations of the Waters family, Dr B’s maternal ancestors. In one week we have five questions to answer:

  1. Between 1783 and 1881 what caused the family to move from Gwennap to Goonvrea to Chacewater to St Blazey and finally to leave Cornwall for Cumbria in 1881?
  2. Which  copper and tin mines did they work at?
  3. Which Methodist chapels did they worship at?
  4. What was the effect on them of Corn Laws, Enclosure Acts, and the development of Trevithick Steam Pump Engines?
  5. What is the story behind the creation and ending of a “different” family business?

Here’s a set of maps showing the area of interest and the specific mining villages.

Waters family in Cornwall, England

Family Outline

In 1753 my 4x Great Grandfather, Richard Waters, was born near Gwennap. He was a miner all his life digging copper, then tin from the depths of Cornish rock. He died in the same place he was born.

Richard had a son, William (1), born in 1783 also in Gwennap, and he too was a miner. But by 1841 he had moved with his family to Goonvrea near St Agnes where he continued to work in the mines until his death in 1864.

William (1)’s son Joseph was also born in Gwennap in 1812, but by the time his father was recorded in Goonvrea, 1841, Joseph was married, living and working as a miner in Chacewater. By 1848 Joseph had moved again, working in the mines around St Blazey.

William (2) was born to Joseph and his wife Jecoliah in Chacewater in 1841, before moving with them to St Blazey by 1848. In 1872 his third son was born, William (3) also in St Blazey, who was my Grandfather.

To round off, by the census of 1881 William (2) and William (3) had moved to the rich iron mining village of Haverigg in Cumbria. My mother emerged as the 13th child of William (3) in 1920 making us both Cumbrians …… not Cornish!

Early Victorian travel

Areas of Interest

If you can follow all that on the map of Cornwall above they may not seem like great distances compared with today’s motor car and railways, or even the migration from Cornwall to Wisconsin in the 1800s. But these relocations must have been driven by a great need because in those days folks weren’t moving an entire family to have a better sea view or to be closer to better schools. It must have been hardship of one kind or another, probably mine closures, but that is one of the questions, and why would one mine be better than any other if the cause was the global collapse of the tin market?

A second area of interest is the rise of Methodism in Cornwall with followers being branded as non conformists, preachers like John Wesley preaching outdoors because they were banned from preaching in established Protestant churches. I think that many of the chapels that were built during this era I’m investigating have since been knocked down, but there must be quite a bit of history to be found about them. We must also make a quick visit to Gwennap Pit, the “amphitheatre” where Wesley himself is said to have preached to 20,000 Cornish folk as part of his regular visits to the county on horseback.

John Wesley at Gwennap Pit, Cornwall, England

And Finally …

The final piece of research concerns a photo I recently found online which was taken in St Blazey in 1903 apparently. I dispute the date, because the two young men named and supposedly shown on the cart were only 4 and 6 years old at the time. It was the St Blazey annual “show”; take a look at the family name and business on the cart that won second prize! Now THAT is rather different from working down a tin mine!

Waters Family Butchers, 1903?

And finally finally, maybe no detailed articles for a week as we move from village to village, but do look out for our regular “Pasties & Places” postcards!





Categories: 1800s, Cornwall, Waters

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7 replies

  1. I hope you take photos of the amphitheater. I’m interested to see what shape it’s in!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Have fun digging up family history!


  3. Interesting stuff. I may be thick but I don’t understand the point that you are making about the final photograph (a great picture by the way).
    I see you have changed your profile picture again. The comment about ‘obscure heritage’ intrigues me. I assume from it that it is more difficult to investigate family history in Nepal?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Andrew, just settled down in our Newquay hotel after a long drive across the morning then an afternoon around St Agnes exploring the local museum, a cemetery, a famous coastal tin mine, and a Mechanics Institute! Champa slept in the car! The point, I think, about the final photo, is that I made a discovery that some of my Cornish ancestors were NOT tin miners but butchers, and that the date I was given for the photo cannot be correct because in 1903, Bernard and Leo Waters were much younger than shown in that photo. Regarding my dear wife’s family tree, you’ve given me an idea for another post about why it’s impossible, maybe another conversation with Sid!


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