My husband’s fourth great grandfather John Gilbart, born about 1760, was a Cornish Copper Company (CCC) employee, promoted from Copperhouse near Hayle in West Cornwall to manager at the Rolling Mills at St Erth.
Cornish copper mining was at its most productive in the nineteenth century, declining as copper prices fell, from the mid-nineteenth century on. The Cornish Copper Company commenced smelting at Camborne in 1754. From 1758 it was located on the Hayle estuary, ten miles to the southwest. The mills at St Erth used water power to roll copper into thin sheets.
These sheets were used mainly to plate the bottoms of wooden ships. Coppering helped to prevent barnacles growing. This increased a ship’s speed and its lifespan. It also prevented worms from burrowing into the wood and weakening it. Sheathing with copper significantly increased the time a ship could remain in service between overhauls. It was held copper sheathing could double the number of ships at sea at any time”. In 1779 each ship on average required 15 tonnes of copper applied on average as 300 plates. The 14 tons of metal required to copper a 74-gun third-rate ship of the line still cost £1500, compared to £262 for wood. The benefits of increased speed and time at sea were deemed to justify the costs involved.
The ‘Royal Caroline’ painted by John Cleveley and in the collection of National Maritime Museum Greenwich. HMS ‘Alderney’ (1757) was built to the same shape and dimensions. In 1784 the ‘Alderney’ was described on Lloyd’s Register as being copper sheathed.
The Battery Mill ceased in 1809 when the Cornish Copper Company closed.
John Gilbart married Elizabeth Huthnance on 3 January 1798 at Gwinear. They had 13 children.
John Gilbart was a member of the first Copperhouse Methodist Society and the founder in 1783 of the St Erth Methodist Class. The first Methodist chapel was built in St Erth in 1796 and the present chapel was built in 1827.
The chapel includes a monument to Francis Tuckfield (1808-1865), who was one of the first of the few missionaries who attempted to convert Australian Aboriginals to Christian belief.
In 1837 Francis Tuckfield married Sarah Gilbart of Battery Mill, the daughter of John Gilbart. They departed for Australia less than a month later.
Picture of plaque kindly sent to me by the St Erth Methodist Church
The chapel also includes a monument to James Gilbart (1825 – 1923), grandson of John Gilbart. The plaque mentions John Gilbart “who built the first chapel at St Erth in 1783”.
John Gilbart died in 1837.
Row of houses in Battery Mill Lane The three houses were probably the count house and managers’ houses for the former Battery Mill (which used water power to roll copper). Image from https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/3106054
In 1841 my husband Greg’s fourth great grandmother Elizabeth Gilbart nee Huthnance (1774-1847) was living in Battery Mill, St Erth. Her age was stated to be 65. Her occupation was given as ‘independent means’. In the same household were six of her 13 children, at the time all six unmarried:
- John Gilbart aged 40.
- Thomasine Gilbart aged 30.
- Margerey Gilbart aged 25.
- William Gilbart aged 25, iron factor.
- Thomas Gilbart aged 25, farmer.
- Jane Gilbart aged 20.
In the same household was Elizabeth Gilbart’s grand-daughter, Elizabeth Edwards, aged 9. Elizabeth Edwards was the daughter of Mary Edwards nee Gilbart, Greg’s 3rd great grandmother. The Edwards family which included five other children lived in Bridge Terrace St Erth. Perhaps Elizabeth was just visiting her grandmother overnight.
The household also included a female servant, Elizabeth Davey, aged 15.
James Gilbart, an iron factor, the son of Elizabeth Gilbart, lived in the adjacent cottage with his wife Ann Gilbart nee Ellis, aged 50, and two daughters, Ann Gilbart aged 14 and Maria Gilbart aged 10.
(These ages may not be strictly correct. In the 1841 census the census takers were instructed to give the exact ages of children but to round the ages of those older than 15 down to a lower multiple of 5. For example, a 59-year-old person would be listed as 55.)
Elizabeth Gilbart died on 1 July 1847, leaving a will that was proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury on 18 December 1847. Her will mentioned annuities to be provided for various children, specific books and furniture
- Pascoe, W. H CCC, the history of the Cornish Copper Company. Truran, Redruth, Cornwall, 1982.
- The history of St. Erth Methodist Church: https://www.sterthmethodists.co.uk/aboutus.htm
- 1841 census viewed through ancestry.com: Elizabeth Gilbart: Class: HO107; Piece: 144; Book: 1; Civil Parish: St Erth; County: Cornwall; Enumeration District: 5; Folio: 72; Page: 19; Line: 12; GSU roll: 241266 ; Mary Edwards Class: HO107; Piece: 144; Book: 1; Civil Parish: St Erth; County: Cornwall; Enumeration District: 5; Folio: 69; Page: 13; Line: 1; GSU roll: 241266
- Will of Elizabeth Gilbart proved 18 December 1847 viewed through ancestry.com The National Archives; Kew, England; Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 2066