Old Age in Cornwall

It has long been noted that the climate and atmosphere of Cornwall has been the reason that many inhabitants have felt better within themselves and ‘different’ to the inhabitants of other counties. It has also been attributed to the longevity of the people living there, perhaps only challenged by the Welsh and Scottish and Irish.

The Celts.

For health, eighty and ninety years of age is ordinary in every place, and in most persons accompanied with an able use of the body and senses. In the parish where God hath seated my poor dwelling, I remember the decease of four, within fourteen weeks space, whose years, added together, made up the sum of 340.

Richard Carew

…in the language of the West, they should not call a person of seventy or eighty aged.

A Cornish correspondent of Mr. Polwhele’s observed,

George Worgan, in his 1811, General View of the Agriculture of the County of Cornwall, mentioned an interesting paper, drawn up by the Rev. John Trist, vicar of Veryan, on the population of his

Parish. There, in 1810 lived 1220 inhabitants, and Trist in a manner out of the norm for the times. Recorded the age at death of all persons within his parish for thirty years.    These records produced some interesting statistics.

1 in 8 exceeded 80 years of age.

1 in 53.5 exceeded 90 years of age

Trist quoted Jonas Hanway, an 18th philanthropist who had noted,

1 in 32 live to the age of 80

According to the London Bills of Mortality, of that time,

1 in 40 live to 80 years of age

1 in 24 attained the age of 80 years

Dr. Price, wrote of a parish in Shropshire,

The proportion of deaths, to the sum total of the living, is less than has been recorded in any political computation whatever, being as one to ninety.

Reverend Trist

In Cumberland, where, throughout the diocese of Carlisle, the ages of all persons buried have been noted in the parish register for thirty-five years past, in consequence of an injunction of a former  Archdeacon, we have had the opportunity in many, particularly in some of the most populous parishes, of ascertaining the proportion of persons who had attained the ages of eighty and ninety. We were induced to undertake the search in that county as often as we had the opportunity, in consequence of the prevailing opinion of the longevity of its inhabitants; the circumstance of the registers was peculiarly favourable, and the result was in general the same as Mr. Trist found it to be in his parish of Veryan, that one in eight had attained the age of eighty; in some parishes we found that one in seven had attained that age, and even in the populous parishes of Carlisle, so much more unfavourable to longevity, the average, including infants, was one in ten.

MAGNA BRITANNIA of 1814 by Daniel and Samuel Lysons;

1 in 8 attained the age of 80 years

In some parishes this reduced to 1 in 7 attained the age of 80 years

In Carlisle therefore

Mr. Trist supposes that the result of his data will afford a fair estimate of the state of the other parishes in Cornwall, situated as Veryan is, on the southern coast.


Richard Carew recorded in Survey of Cornwall  in 1602,

  • One Polzew lately living, reached unto 130
  • A Kinsman of his to 112
  • One Beauchamp to 106
  • Jean Brawne, the beggar, a Cornishman by wandering (for I cannot say by inhabitance) though Irish by birth, outscoreth a hundred winters by I wote not how many revolutions.
  • Prake of Talland, aged 110

More records;

  • The Reverend Thomas Cole. Minister of Landewednack, who died and was buried there in 1683 is said, in the register, to have been 120 years of age.
  • … relates an anecdote of his walking to Penryn and back, a distance of thirty miles, not long before his death, on the authority of Mr. Erisey, who met him on the road. Michael George, sexton of the same parish, was buried March 20, 1683, aged, as is said in the register, upwards of 100 years.
  • Borlase speaks also of an old man of the name of Collins, upwards of 100, whom he saw on a tour to the Lizard: this man (Sampson Collins) was buried at Ruan-Major in 1754, aged 104.
  • Borlase tells us also, on the authority of Mr. Scawen, of Molineck, of a woman who died at Gwithian, in 1676, at the age of 164. There is no entry of this woman’s burial in the register, but by an inquiry, obligingly instituted by the present rector, Mr. Hockin, we find she is well known by tradition among the oldest inhabitants. Her name was Cheston Marchant. The tradition of the place is, that she had a new set of teeth and new hair in her old age, and that travellers, who came to see her out of curiosity, frequently took with them a lock of her hair: it is said also, that she spoke only the Cornish language, and that she was many years bedridden. (The name of Cheſton occurs more than once as a female name in the pedigree of the Nansperians, a family who lived in the neighbouring parish of St. Erth)

Dr. Borlase in the MAGNA BRITANNIA in 1814;

  • Mrs Trevanion, who died at Bodmin in 1769, aged 102
  • Mr Richardson of Tregony, who died in 1770, aged 102
  • Mrs Blanch Littleton of Lanlivery, aged 101 (the three last on the authority of the Annual Register)
  • A lady at Egloshayle, aged 112
  • Maurice Bingham, a fisherman at St Just, who died in 1780, aged 116.
  • Elizabeth Kempe, of Wendron, who died in 1791, aged 104.
  • Catherine Freeman, a Scotch woman who died at Falmouth in 1793, aged 118.
  • John Roberts, of St Keverne, aged 107
  • Priscilla Rouse, aged 101 of Manaccan
  • Edward Roberts, aged 102 of Manaccan
  • Mary Sarah aged 102 buried in 1803 at Gluvias
  • Jane Studiford aged 102 buried in 1803 at Gluvias
  • Mary Jenkins of Crantock, deceased aged 102 in 1806
  • Mary Jenkins father aged 101
  • Mary Jenkins mother aged 103
  • Elizabeth Woolock, of Nantallan near Bodmin in 1806, then aged 102 and able to ride single to church at the distance of three miles
  • Mrs Zenobia Stevens, of Skilly-Waddon, in the parish of Towednack, who was buried at Zennor in 1763, at the age of 102, was tenant for 99 years of the tenement of Trevidgia-Warra, held under the Duke of Bolton’s manor of Ludgvan-Lees, and we are informed from good authority, that when she went, on the expiration of the term, being of course in her 100th year, to the Duke’s court at St Ives, she excused herself from drinking a second glass of wine, because it was growing late and she had some way to ride home upon a young colt. Her daughter, Mrs Zenobia Baragwanath, lived to the age of 98 or 99.
  • Elizabeth Fradd, aged 103, was buried at St Kew in 1803
  • Henry Martin, aged 101, was buried at Stithian in 1812

Mr. Richard Polwhele in History of Cornwall (1803-1808)

There are many centenarians in the UK currently and several in Cornwall, but statistics show that until Cornwall became less ‘Cornish’, there were more centenarians there than anywhere else.