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Molly Vivian Hughes - an educational pioneer from a Camborne family

Just outside of Camborne lies the secluded hamlet of Reskadinnick, and at its centre is the farm house from which shoots of the Vivian family spread their influence far and wide.

Joseph Vivian married Anne Cock (known as Nancy) on the 7th December 1818 at the pretty Gwithian church on the north coast of Cornwall. The bride brought the dilapidated, but beautifully-sited, 17th Century farmhouse of Reskadinnick in to the family. Joseph used some of the wealth he had accumulated as a mine agent abroad and at home to improve and renovate the property and its grounds for their family. Reskadinnick would be the setting for a long and happy marriage between Joseph and Nancy, though they were not insulated from the economic highs and lows common to all those connected with the mining industry.

An obituary of Joseph Vivian has been transcribed on the Cornwall OPC page, and can be accessed here.

Ten children were born to the couple over a period of twenty years; seven would reach adulthood, and the eldest - William Cock Vivian - became a centenarian prior to his death in Camborne in 1919. The childhood of this generation is described in 'Vivians - a family in Victorian Cornwall' - written by Molly Vivian Hughes, and based on the recollections of her mother, Mary, and unmarried Aunt Tony. It contains a wealth of fascinating insights in to the life of a well-to-do family through the Victorian era, combining vivid descriptions of both the scenic landscape and social conditions of the era. There are many insights in to the educated yet permissive upbringing that the children of Joseph and Nancy enjoyed, but it does not skirt the deep sadness resulting from family tragedies: the drowning of a toddler son at Reskadinnick, and the death of Nicholas at St Guy's hospital aged 20, just as he was on the cusp of a promising career in medicine.

Molly's mother was born in 1823, and married Molly's father - Tom Thomas, an engineer-turned-stockbroker from Lancashire - relatively late in life, by the standards of the time, in 1859. Initially, the couple lived in the north of England, and their two eldest sons were born there; later, they moved to Canonbury, north London, where two more sons, then their daughter, Mary (but known as Molly) was born in 1866.

We know so much about Molly's life because when in her 60s, she authored a series of four autobiographical books. The first - A London Child of the 1870s - explores her early life, being educated at home by her mother, and her relationships with her elder brothers, and ends with the death of her father when she was aged 13. The next volume - A London Girl of the 1880s - describes her enrolment at the North London Collegiate School under its first, illustrious Headmistress - and the first person to use that title - Miss Frances Buss.

Miss Buss insisted on high standards of education from the teachers who worked at her establishment, and helped to bring about the creation of the Cambridge Training College for Women (now Hughes Hall, part of the University of Cambridge); this institution made a significant contribution in making the teaching of girls a more respectable and organised profession than it had hitherto been. Molly, who had experienced at second-hand the education given to her older brothers, was herself to become an important figure in changing the expectations for girls' education and bringing them towards parity with that offered to boys: she was in the first cohort of students to pass through the Cambridge Training College for Women, and later the first Head of Bedford College Training Department between 1892-1897.

The third of Molly's autobiographical tomes - A London Home in the 1890s - covers the period during which, after a ten-year courtship, Molly married Arthur Hughes - a teacher-turned-Barrister based in London, in 1897. After their marriage, Molly set to becoming a home-maker, as was the expectation at this time, at their first home together in Ladbrooke Grove, west London. It was here that their first child, a daughter, was born in 1898, and sadly died in 1899; they later moved to New Barnet, with three sons born between 1900-1908.

Molly and Arthur's life together came to a tragic end when Arthur was killed in an accident involving a tram near to his London Chambers, in 1918. Needing to minimise costs, Molly moved with her sons to the village of Cuffley Hertfordshire, then a rural setting at the

terminus for the trainline out of London. To support her family, and pay for the schooling of her three sons, she returned to the paid workforce as an educational inspector in the London area, and this busy period of her life, as she juggles the demands of work and caring for her growing sons, is the subject of the final volume of her autobiography: A London Family between the Wars. With increasing age, her eyesight began to fade, and in 1948 she moved to South Africa to live with her middle son, Barnholt; Molly died there in 1956, and a eulogy in the Times makes clear that she was a very much liked and respected character (ref 1). The high standards of her work were accompanied by a helpful and sympathetic personality, and with much good humour; her dedication to the welfare of her sons shines through all of her writing.

A regular summer visitor to her mother's family home at Reskadinnick throughout her own childhood, Molly continued to visit this peaceful spot as an adult, bringing her own children to the place she loved so much, and to visit her Aunt Tony and Uncles Joseph and William who still lived there. She was very close to her aunt, even more so after her mother's death (in London, 1890) and the last of the books she published - A family in Victorian Cornwall - was perhaps the first she wrote: her Aunt Tony passed away, at Reskadinnick, in 1914, and much of the book is based on reminiscences gathered during their times together.

Molly's writing evokes the dust and fun and duty of times long gone, allows us to vicariously experience them today, and enrich our perspective of the past.

Books written by Mary Vivian Hughes:

A London Child of the 1870s – published 1934

A London Girl of the 1880s – published 1936

A London Home in the 1890s – published 1937

A London Family Between the Wars – published 1940

Vivians – A family in Victorian Cornwall - published 1980


Reskadinnick House remained in the Vivian family after Molly's Aunt Tony passed away in 1914: her Uncle Joseph is mentioned as living there is 1919 (ref 2), and Joseph's eldest daughter, Lucy Stephens, was living there with her husband and family in 1928 (ref 3).


Ref 1 - Mrs M V Hughes - A Stirling Friend. The Times, 15th June, 1956.

Ref 2 - Death of a Camborne Centenarian - Cornishman newspaper, 3rd September 1919

Ref 3 - Sudden death of Mr Joseph Vivian - Cornishman newspaper - 6th September, 1928

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