Cornish archaeologist, author and artist, John Thomas Blight (1835 - 1911), is perhaps not as well-known as he should be: he was born in Redruth, educated in Penzance, and developed a passion for the ancient hillforts, dolmens and landscapes of Penwith long before preservation of heritage was a widely accepted concept. (1)
John had siblings both older and younger than himself. His father, Robert (1805 – 1881) was a talented scholar and teacher, and he ran a well-regarded school in Penzance up until his death. John’s eldest sister, Grace Thomas Blight, is indicated as a ‘school-mistress’ on the 1851 census,
when she was 20 years old, suggesting that both the sons and daughters of Robert and his wife, Thomasine, were well educated. Thomasine (1809 – 1895) was from a farming family in Cury, a village on the Lizard peninsula.
Grace became the most well-travelled of the siblings; she married a United Methodist minister six years her junior – Edwin Harris – at Heamoor (just outside Penzance) in 1864. Edwin must have met Grace whilst he was based in Cornwall; he was a Minister on the Helston Circuit in 1861, and this area included Cury, where her mother’s family lived. Edwin was subsequently based at Launceston & Stratton, from 1862 until their marriage; afterwards, the couple lived in many locations across the UK; their four children - born between 1868 and 1873 - were all born in different places! It seems that these were the only four grandchildren of Robert and Thomasine Blight.
I have created a Google Map to show the many locations where the family lived, compiled from information found in the online edition of the ‘Free Methodist Manual, 1899’ (2); from Cornwall, they travelled as far north as Whitehaven, on the coast to the west of the Lake District National Park, and east to Holt, in Norfolk. Grace would have had acquaintance with much of the landscape of England, either by travel in horse-drawn carriages, or on the railway network which had expanded rapidly during the 1840s.
It's been intriguing to explore how far and how frequently Edwin and Grace moved around the Methodist ministries in the UK, and the Manual from which the information was drawn (2) shows just how common this practice was; residencies of only one or
two years were not uncommon. It must have been a very busy – and fulfilling – life. While the Minister in each Circuit, the incumbent would have numerous Chapels and Preaching Rooms to preside over, in addition to providing guidance for their smooth running, helping to raise funds for their maintenance and of course, writing and delivering sermons. As a part of the Helston Circuit, for example, 13 separate chapels and preaching rooms are listed, in locations as far apart as Crowntown and at Lizard - see the map above - and at Camelford, North Cornwall, no less than 29 separate locations were part of the Circuit!
!In recognition of the high population density, larger cities were sub-divided into areas, with London having eight separate areas defined; Edwin served in London (1st) Division (see map by clicking the button below) between 1866 and 1869; his and Grace’s first child was born in Middlesex during this period.
Grace, and her husband, both enjoyed a long life, and they are present on the census of 1911 (aged 80 and 73, respectively) visiting the Vivian family – Hugh Phillips, his wife Clara, and their daughter Clara Evelina - at Pengegon House, near to Camborne. The house was demolished around the turn of the millennium, and the area around it developed as a housing estate, but the wonderful, elevated position remains, with views out towards the North Cliffs of the Cornish coast. Edwin and Grace must have enjoyed such views of the Cornish coastline and enjoyed being back in the County where they had met and married.
It is fascinating to get an insight in to the extent to which Grace Harris (nee Blight) experienced life in Victorian (and Edwardian) England, and to muse that this almost-nomadic lifestyle was one shared with many Ministers who travelled across the length and breadth of the UK to tend to the needs of communities. A browse through the Free Methodist Manual is an antidote to the assumption that our forebears remained in relatively isolated communities, and that our modern-day impetuous to travel is a novel phenomenon!