Catherine Rowe, strength in a small package

Photo of Catherine Rowe, later Jelbert

Catherine Rowe, later Jelbert

My great-grandmother Catherine Rowe was small in stature but mighty strong of body and character.

I’ve been asking family members for their recollections of Great-Granny and will write something a lot longer and more detailed eventually.  However it seemed mean to write about her sister Susan, parents, her Uncle Fred [published offline], Auntie Alice, grandparents James and Catherine Rowe, oldest child Mary but to miss out Catherine herself.

Catherine was born in 1896, the younger daughter of Susan Sullivan and Benjamin Jaco Rowe, “the finest man who ever lived!” in the Cornish fishing village of Newlyn.  Her father was originally a fisherman who co-owned and fished in a lugger called the Eleanor, but he was working as a baker dealer by the time she was 16 and she helped her parents in the shop.

They must have been reasonably comfortably off as Great-Granny could play the piano, and could pick up and play tunes easily, and was good at vamping on the piano.  All her life she loved music and it inspired and uplifted her.  She would go to choir practice in the Methodist Chapel just up the road leaving the house smelling divine from her baking, then everyone would come back to her home and keep singing while tucking into her baking!

She married dairyman Stephen Jelbert, who would walk 5 miles each way after working on his farm to come to Newlyn to court her.  One night he stepped over a boulder in the dark, only to discover it was a goat; unsurprisingly it also got a huge fright and ran off. After they married Catherine and Stephen lived on the farm, but after she was injured they decided to move into Newlyn.

Photo of Catherine Jelbert nee Rowe

Catherine Jelbert nee Rowe, 1963

They had four children, Mary, Stephen, Benjamin and Anne; there was a gap of 10 years between Stephen and Benjamin and I just recently found out what I’d wondered, that Catherine had been pregnant during that time but had lost twins.

The family made ice-cream from a churn in their back yard and Catherine would turn it for hours; she also ran the house and sometimes served in the family shop.

I remember her from when I was young; when we went down to stay with my grandparents in school holidays we would see them almost daily. Also during the holiday we would always go for a meal at their house, sitting in the living room round a table while she and my great-grandfather wandered around with heaped plates of food for us, never sitting down themselves.  I also remember they had a yard with an outside toilet; that must have been quite a novelty for me, to have been etched in my mind – I never have liked spiders…

Great-Granny died in 1979.  I was too young to go to her funeral but every visit we make the pilgrimage up the hill to Paul Cemetery where she and Stephen lie.

Thanks to family who’ve started giving me stories – keep them coming, all welcome!

Lynne Black, June 2015

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