St Agnes Poorhouses
Several years ago I read somewhere that in his 1688 will Nicholas Kent of Mingoose provided for almshouses to be built in the parish of St Agnes. I always wondered where they could be and supposed they were in the village and had long since been demolished and replaced with other buildings. There seemed to be no other record of them.
Then recently I was looking at the large late-eighteenth-century volume of maps of all the Enys lands (EN1367). There was one map of Mingoose, the valley that stretches from the Truro to St Agnes road down to the sea at Chapel Porth. Clearly marked were the poorhouses, not in the village at all but a good mile away from it, on the side of the road opposite what is now the old station yard and Presingoll Farm and Barns.
They were built at the extreme edge of Kent’s lands, well away from his house and surrounded mostly in his day by moors and commons. They would have seemed very isolated.
The Kents were a mining family who prospered in the seventeenth century. Nicholas Kent’s father Michael is described in documents as a ‘tinner’, Nicholas as a ‘yeoman’ and his nephew as a ‘gentleman’. Nicholas came to own the whole of the valley and in his will, made on 8 September 1688, he left the bulk of his estate to his nephew. He added a codicil that for 499 years the Poorhouses should be provided for out of estate income. There were to be ‘Houses or rooms for one or more poor Decayed widows not having pay of the parish’. The widows were to live without payment.
The will was proved at the Consistory Court at Exeter on 10 November of the same year. A further codicil was added on the same day, by which the Poorhouse was left not to Nicholas’s nephew Michael but to Hugh Tonkin. This is rather strange, as presumably Nicholas was now dead so how could he add to his will, unless it was some arrangement between Michael Kent and Hugh Tonkin? In that case you would expect it to appear in a separate document, not as a codicil. (EN114/9)
By 1833 the responsibility for the almshouse was in the hands of the Overseers of the Poor, a committee usually of churchwardens and substantial householders whose duty it was to set the poor to work and see that the ratepayers’ money was well spent. The account book of the St Agnes Overseers for that year shows £1. 3s. 5½d spent on repairs:
£ s d
Paid for 2 bushs. of lime repairing Poor House 1 6
Thomas Delbridge, mason, raising stones 1 6
Paid do. Labour Repairing roof & walls 9 6
Boy tending mason 2 days 10
John Penrose for slate (150 @ 1/9) 2 7½
Horse and Cart carrying stones & lime 2 6
Stephen Vodden, repairing roof 5 0
Only eight years later in 1841, despite all the cost of the repair work, the Poorhouse was demolished. On 30 September the minute book of the Waywardens of St Agnes records the decision ‘to allow Mr. Edw. Opie the sum of £15 and cornerstones to the height of twenty feet to be brought by Mr. Opie from the Alms Houses’. (quoted in Friendly Retreat, M H Bizley, Truro, 1955)
The only option now for the destitute of St Agnes was the dreaded workhouse. It was a few years before the Truro Union was built in 1849 – 50.