We tend to suppose that people in the past didn't really have holidays, but maybe that isn't true…. On 8th January 1856 the Reverend Henry Usticke wrote to his brother William, who lived in London, to report on local news including William's mining interests around St Just. Henry wrote:
“As Christmas is now over the Works will be going forward again as over the holidays nothing worth naming was done. They go on well at Gwele Olds . Water in Whele an Boys is very quick but they are obliged to draw it at £20 per month till Ladyday.”
Gwele Olds is the property we now call Wheal Owles, recently celebrated as the site of Ross Poldark's Wheal Leisure and Wheal Grace. Whele an Boys is at the top of the hill between Nancherrow and Truthwall. Lady Day, 25th March, was traditionally one of the quarter days from which contracts run. 25th March also used to be generally recognised as the first day of the year, but in 1752 Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar and at the same time 1st January became New Year's Day. April 6th under the new Gregorian Calendar corresponded to 25th March (Lady Day) under the old Julian Calendar and this is why the UK financial year begins on 6th April.
William Usticke's mine workers were tributers, self-employed contractors who managed their own small mining crews or “pares”. One such was John Wallis, known as Pickle, who worked at Gwele Olds. Henry Usticke's letter seems to be saying that the tributer pares had a holiday as well as the owners.
The Whele an Boys mine was very wet and this is often discussed in the Usticke letters. In about 1712 an adit had been driven to drain the mine into the Kenidjack river. Henrich Kalmeter described this when he visited St Just in 1724: water was drawn manually, he said, possibly by a rag and chain pump or maybe by a barrel on a windlass, up the adit from 20 feet below to discharge it from the mine.
In 1754 Henry had written to his brother that they “would struggle with water no longer” at Whele an Boys but would leave it until March. However in his letter of 8 January 1756 Henry Usticke says that there is an obligation to to continue draining the mine until Lady Day. This sort of obligation was quite a common condition imposed by a landowner upon miners. The landowner, or Lord of the Soil, had a vested interest in making sure that the mine was maintained as he derived an income, the Lord's Dish, from it.
So, while the tributers may have taken a holiday it seems certain that some men must have been at work raising water as a condition of the lease. In his next letter Henry Usticke says that the water charges are £25 per month and goes on, “The stuff broken there [at Whele an Boys] is very little in proportion to the expense.” In February 1756 Whele an Boys is “knocked on the head and the pumps drawn up” and Henry describes it as “An unfortunate adventure.”
The Usticke letters can be found in Cornwall Record Office in Truro
The Kalmeter Journal was translated from Swedish by Justin Brooke and published by Twelveheads Press in 2001.
Whele an Boys and Gwele Olds can be found between St Just in Penwith and Botallack.