Alice Rowe, the Workhouse and the Venerable Blacksmith


Penzance Harbour by Liz Pycock, Flickr, Creative Commons

Alice was the fifth child of mason John Rowe and his wife Sarah Sampson, a butcher’s daughter. Born in late 1859 she grew up in Penzance but when she was about seven the family moved, probably for work, to Whitchurch in Pembrokeshire, South Wales.

She was her parents’ fourth daughter and would have grown up in a largely female household with siblings Elizabeth, Catharine, Sarah, Thomas and Annie. After the family moved to Whichurch a new baby was born: John Daniel.

Then scandal hit the family and that same year [1859] 10-year-old Alice would have seen her oldest sister, 19-year-old Elizabeth, have a baby out of wedlock [she later married the baby’s father].  The family moved back to Penzance when Alice was 12 and her mother Sarah is likely to have died c 1863 when Alice would have been aged 12-13.  Her sister Catharine married in 1864 and their father got re-married, to a widow named Cecilia Alder, in December 1865 when she was 16.


Madron Church by grassrootsgroundswell, Flickr

By 1867 her oldest sister Elizabeth was located in Southsea, Hampshire with husband Philip Tripp and their four children. It looks like she may have been staying near Catharine who had her two eldest sons in Portsea, Hampshire, in 1866 and 1868.

Catharine had moved on to Alton by 1870 but Elizabeth was back in Penzance where she died in spring 1870. Her two older children Annie and Samuel moved in with their Rowe grandparents, but for some strange and horrible reason her two infant Tripp nephews left with their father Philip, and when he left for India he left them in Ashley Down Orphanage in North Bristol, Gloucestershire.

So all in all Alice had a pretty eventful home family life with loss and illegitimacy a big part of this.

By late 1870 she herself was pregnant outside of marriage, her baby was christened on 30 June 1871, and named Elizabeth ‘Lily’ for Alice’s late older sister.  Shockingly poor Alice had been living for at least the last three months of her pregnancy in the Union Workhouse, Penzance which housed 400 people had had been built in 1838. I think this especially shocked me as sister Elizabeth had had her illegitimate daughter looked after by grandparents, but perhaps Alice had fallen out with John and Cecilia or maybe  their household was full.

I don’t have information about how long Alice was in the workhouse, but I do know that in in 1873 she was pregnant again, this time with twin boys. They were christened William Henry and Thomas Edwin in 13 January 1874 in Madron Church. I believe their father would have been William Henry Jenkin, a blacksmith from Madron Churchtown. When the twins were born Alice was 24 and William a 54-year-old widower who had a previous family of six with his first wife Elizabeth who had died two decades earlier.  Of the twins, only William survived into adulthood, it appears Thomas died young.


Anvil, by Doctor_Bob

I don’t know how their day-to-day relationship worked, but Alice had another child called Sarah Jane Jenkin Rowe who was baptised in Madron on 7 March 1877 but with no father’s name recorded. However little Sarah had died by early 1878.  Alice would have been pregnant again with Janette Ann who was baptised on 25 July of that year. Janette was followed by Wilfred John who was baptised on 21 August 1879. Again they were baptised in Madron with no father named, again I believe both most have died in infancy.

On 4 April 1880 Alice, pregnant again, and William finally married, in Madron parish church where their children had been baptised.  Their final child, Edgar Nelson Jenkin, was born that summer and was baptised on 25 July 1881.


In 1891 William, Alice, and sons William and Edgar were living in Madron with 17-year-old William working with his father as a blacksmith.

In spring 1900 when  Alice was 50 and William 81 their youngest son Edgar married Beatrice Louise Paul, aged just 18. Within a year he was away, with the 1901 census listing his wife home alone at what looks like the Regent Bakery on Rosevean Place, Penzance.

Their older son Henry married sailor’s daughter Martha Jane Dennis on 6 April 1901 in Madron Church.

Two months later the family had tragic news: Edgar had died in Kronstad, South Africa. This explained why he wasn’t home for the census but was an unexpected location, although it was the time of the Boer war so perhaps he was a soldier, although I haven’t found military records for him.

In late 1902 Edgar’s widow Beatrice re-married; her second husband was Stanley Edyvean and he was a motor engineer. They had six children together, moving away for a time to St Austell [Cornwall], but later they moved away to Warwickshire where Beatrice died in 1860 in Bedworth.

Back in Madron, Henry and Martha had also become parents, although by 1911 only one of their three children, Meryyn, born 1908, had survived infancy. His 60-year-old mother Alice Jenkin nee Rowe, who had outlived all but one of her seven children, died in in late 1910 leaving her 91-year-old widower Henry living with Henry and Martha in 1911.  Old Henry died later that year.

When you hear facts like that about people’s life, often grim, it’s hard to get a sense of the person behind the stats.  Was Henry grim and hated his job?  A family man? Annoying? Obsessive and dull? Or jolly? Or something else entirely?

Well apparently Henry was venerable.  When Henry turned 91 in 1910 it was reported in The Cornishman that

“Mr W H Jenkin, the venerable blacksmith, of Madron, celebrated his 91st birthday on Tuesday.  As usual the respected old gentleman was the recipient of a large number of birthday greetingse [SIC]. Considerably over a hundred picture postcards conveyed happy wishes, whilst others showed their appreciation of the veteran by sending birthday presents as a kindly remembrance, some coming from Australia, Africa, America, and different counties to the home country.  Amongst others who called to shake hands and have a chat were Mrs Robins Bolitho and Mrs Fitzgerald, Rev W B Tremenheere, and Rev Darch. Although over ninety Mr Jenkin converses very freely, clearly remembering incidents of 70 and 80 years ago, and highly amused his callers with some interesting reminiscences of when he was a boy.  Mr Jenkin greatly appreciates all the kindness shown him by so many friends which, he says, makes him fell as if he may yet see the century.”

Well although he didn’t make his century, I’m so happy that Alice may have had good company and a social circle to see her through good times and bad.

Text © Lynne Black, 17 April 2016;
Anvil photo by Doctor_Bob on MorgueFiles,
Penzance Harbour photo by Liz Pycock, Flickr, Creative Commons
Photo of St Madron’s Church, by Grassrootsgroundswell Flickr, Creative Commons license
First published: 17 April 2016:

18 thoughts on “Alice Rowe, the Workhouse and the Venerable Blacksmith

  1. Pingback: Elizabeth Rowe, c1840, whose life tripped up | starryblackness

  2. Pingback: Catharine A S Rowe b1843, mason’s daughter, carpenter’s wife | starryblackness

  3. Pingback: John Rowe, b1817 and his eventful family life | starryblackness

  4. Sarah Jenkin-Green

    I am Williams great great granddaughter, my father the Late Peter Jenkin his great Grandson

      1. Mary Chown nee Nicholls

        I am also a great-great granddaughter of William Henry Jenkin by his first wife Elizabeth Pooley. My paternal great-grandmother was their daughter Mary Ann Jenkin (1839-1929) who married Nicholas Thomas Nicholls, dairyman of Landithy, Madron at Madron on 26 November 1864. My paternal grandfather was their son Walter Henry Nicholls (1877-1954). My later father was Walter’s son, John Douglas Nicholls (1914-1974). I was born in Penzance and now live in Newlyn.

      1. Alexandra Coppock

        Hello Cuz! My sister Kate will be interested in adding your details to the family tree she’s working on !
        Best wishes

  5. Alex Coppock-Bunce

    I am Beatrice and Stanley’s granddaughter – she lived in Oxford with him until he died. He was Chief Engineer on the Great Western ( Road Transport) . Mum, their youngest daughter is still alive at 93 but the other 8 children have passed away. If you would like to get in touch please do for lots more information.

    1. starryblackness Post author

      Thanks Alex. I’m not currently working on this branch so it’s just as well I write these blog posts as they capture details I’d never otherwise remember, I don’t have a head for facts and figures.
      93 is an amazing age! People certainly worked hard and were made of stern stuff then.
      I don’t think we’re related but hopefully this will come up in someone’s search results and you’ll get linked up 🙂 Genealogy research sometimes seems to take complicated paths to destinations.
      Best wishes

  6. Kate Gordon

    Hi this is Alex’s sister Kate. We were told Edgar Jenkin had gone to South Africa to make his fortune at a mine owned by his uncle. And the uncle died of cholera and Edgar sentimentally kissed him after he died then fell ill himself.

  7. Priscilla James

    I am also great great grand daughter of William Henry Jenkin by his first wife. Their son Edwin was my great grandfather. His son Charles Percival was my grandfather.

  8. Mary Chown

    Hi Priscilla, we must be 3rd cousins because William Henry Jenkin and his first wife Elizabeth Pooley were my great-great-grandparents. My paternal great-grandmother was their daughter Mary Ann Jenkin (1839-1929) who married Madron dairy farmer Nicholas Thomas Nicholls. Edwin Jenkin who married Elizabeth Pauline Lashbrook was the younger brother of my great-grandmother Mary Ann Jenkin. I am living in Newlyn. Do you live locally?

  9. Kathryn Gordon

    We were told Edgar Nelson Jenkin had gone to South Africa to work in a mine where his uncle (don’t know which) was the owner. Grandma (Beatrice) said he died of cholera after kissing his uncle who had just died. She thought she saw his ghost appear in her room on the night when (she heard later) he died.

  10. Tim Kent

    Hi. Just thought I would confirm a little about Edgar Nelson Jenkin. As said he died in South Africa in 1901 having gone out there to work with his uncle rebuilding bridges destroyed in the war. He got a fever and died on the 24th June. I have a newspaper article on this if you would like.

    Tim Kent – Great Great Great Grandson of WH Jenkin.

    1. Alexandra Coppock

      Hi there,
      I’m Alex, granddaughter of Beatrice .
      My sister Kate is working on the family tree too and we would love a copy of your article please. Our Mum June is still alive but unwell and is 96! Only remaining daughter of Beatrice and Stanley .
      My email is
      Very many thanks cousin!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s