Turbary


The right to cut turf on Mingoose Burrow

For many centuries in Cornwall the only domestic fuel was turf and the right to cut it, known as turbary, was jealously guarded. The mining industry’s demand for wood had left a treeless landscape and although coal was imported from early in the eighteenth century to power the steam engines it was too expensive to be used in the home for cooking and heating. The turf was cut from the moorland with a digger known as a ‘piggal’ and piled to dry. It was then stacked outside the house alongside the furze, which would give only a quick blaze. A turf fire could stay in overnight without having to be relit in the morning.

 

In his 1688 will Nicholas Kent of Mingoose left to his wife Jane ‘Two Journeys Cutting of Furze and two Journeys Cutting of Turf on my lands and Commons of Mingus’. A man working for two days (‘journeys’) could cut enough squares of turf to provide a farmhouse with fuel for a year.

 

Nearly two hundred years later the landowner is still protecting his rights. In 1846 the Enys Estate, having by now acquired Mingoose, instructs an agent to collect evidence to show that only tenants of the estate had the right to cut turf. It seems that Duchy tenants from neighbouring properties had been trespassing and that Enys was prepared to go to a lot of trouble to assert his right. The area concerned is on Mingoose Burrow, to the east of the Truro to St Agnes road and stretching from the present-day Seven Milestone Garage down the hill to the old railway bridge and up to the station yard and Presingoll Farm and Barns.

 

The agent writes out the depositions. The first witness is not very helpful. Richard Benney, a 74-year-old miner, says that as a child he walked to school through the eastern part of Mingoose Vean, which was then under cultivation, but that he never saw anyone cutting turf. This part of Mingoose is at the head of the valley to the south of the stream and close to the burrows.

 

James Mollard, 67 and a miner, admits that he had cut turf at Mingoose Burrow with his father and others. Amongst them were Walter Peters and James and John Jenkin, who lived near Mingoose Great House, the Mingoose House of today. He was ordered off by Clemens, the hind (or steward) of the owner John James Esq., and later by the owner himself.

 

Joseph Newton says that his sister lives at the end of Schol Lane adjoining the burrows and that he used to cut his father’s turf there. This is the cottage on the corner, where the lane to Mingoose leaves the main road. He says nothing about whether he thought it was legal or not.

 

Three elderly women are next, Ann Job aged 85, Ann Bartle who doesn’t give her age and Ann Tyack aged 70. They could possibly be the last of the ‘one or more poor Decayed widows’ provided for in Nicholas Kent’s will. The almshouses were built up the hill from Scoll Cottage, opposite Presingoll Farm and Barns, a short step for the legal agent to gather his next deposition. The elderly ladies cautiously say they never had any turf.

 

Thomas Nicholas remembers James Bartle cutting turf there. He was discovered and made to pay one penny per load.

 

James Bryant, aged 64, started work at the stamps in the valley when he was 12 and his employer John Gerry sent him to cut turf and take it to Mingoose Green where he lived. Mingoose Green seems to have been along Mingoose Lane (or Scoll Lane or Station Lane) and now part of Trenerry Farm.

 

Alice Martin, aged 64, resided with her parents near the Alms house and Duchy tenants never cut turf there, only Mingoose tenants.

 

John Clymo is 82. In 1795 he came to Mingoose and engaged himself with John James as his hind. Mr James took him around his property and desired him amongst other things to look after the commons and quarries. He continued to do so until Mr James’s portion of Mingoose was sold to Mr Enys.

 

The last deposition comes from Joseph Newton, aged 52. From the age of 15 he assisted his grandfather and uncle as Land Agents to the Enys family in St Agnes. For the last 25 years he has protected the commons, burning turfs taken by other than Mingoose tenants. He brought before the Magistrates one man who was convicted as ‘a wilful and malicious trespasser’.

 

Further evidence is provided by extracts from Mr Enys’s Cash Book, sums by Mr Warren his Steward, kept in the early nineteenth century. After monies received from a ten-twenty-fourth share of copper produced in the valley between 1804 and 1815, there appears:

24 May 1820   Goyne fined for cutting turf…                                              1/9

24 July 1820    Several Duchy tenants and other trespassers cutting turf… 2/6

 

It is not known whether there were any prosecutions brought by the Enys Estate after 1846 using the evidence of turbary compiled here. Soon the importance of turf declines and before the end of the century coal, needed for the Cornish ranges being installed in even the humblest of cottages, becomes more available. Hawkers begin to offer it for sale from their donkey carts, crying their wares like the fish sellers. The days of turf wars are over.

John Branfield

SOURCES

A K Hamilton Jenkin, Cornish Homes and Customs, J M Dent & Sons, London, 1934

Enys Collection, Cornwall Record Office, EN 115

 

 

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