News From Geevor
I’ve been asked to share news from Geevor, who are very much looking forward to inviting you back, very soon.
‘The Cornish Diaspora and the resilient women of St Just and Pendeen’
Much has quite rightly been written about the ‘Cousin Jacks’, the Cornishmen who went abroad in search of work when times were hard in Cornwall or when lucrative contracts were on offer to Cornish miners whose expertise was in demand across the world. However, extraordinarily little has been written about the impact this had on their wives.
In 2018 historian Lesley Trotter published a book entitled ‘The Married Widows of Cornwall’ which explored how women managed when their menfolk went abroad to work, sometimes for years at a time. The scale of this phenomenon is not always recognised. Lesley found from Census data in the second half of the nineteenth century some 660 cases of women in St Just and Pendeen living in homes from which their husbands were absent and working abroad. And this is an underestimate as it just covers husbands who were absent on the day on which the Census was taken, ignoring any who were away from home for periods during the ten years between Censuses.
In her book Lesley used the stories of individual women to show that every woman’s experiences were different but what clearly emerges is the remarkable resilience shown by these women. Those who stayed behind when their husbands left Cornwall looked after their families and their homes alone and coped with financial hardship, the death of children, and the uncertainty of whether they would ever see their husbands again. Some showed great ingenuity, starting their own businesses, and finding new ways to support their families. Others went abroad with their husbands and children making new lives for themselves, often in remote locations many thousands of miles away from where they were born.
Pendeen Community Heritage, the local voluntary sector organisation which manages Geevor, is developing an exhibition around this topic this year. It will focus on the stories of women from St Just and Pendeen, starting with eleven detailed case histories of local women which have been specially researched for this exhibition by Lesley Trotter.
This is the first phase of a three-stage project. Next, the focus will be on what happened after Geevor finally closed, looking at the stories of the men who went abroad to work after the closure and the lives of their families. Finally, we will explore the stories of those people from other countries who moved to St Just and Pendeen over the years in search of a better life and found employment at Geevor.
The project fits in well with two other initiatives Pendeen Community Heritage is working on currently about the social history of the local community and the role of Geevor in St Just and Pendeen. The first of these involves developing our large oral history archive and making it more accessible to locals and visitors alike while the second is a joint photographic exhibition at Geevor in partnership with Penlee House Museum and Gallery. This will start on the day that Geevor reopens when the COVID-19 restrictions on museum opening end.
In the meantime, we would like to gather more stories about the lives of women from St Just and Pendeen whose husbands went abroad to work in the 19th century and the first few decades of the twentieth century.
If you have any photographs that you would be willing to allow to be used for the exhibition or have stories you would like to share or if you would like to volunteer to work on the project in some way please contact Geevor by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or by writing to the Chair, Board of Trustees, Geevor Tin Mine, Boscaswell, Pendeen, Penzance, TR19.7EW.