Brian delves into Liskeard’s past

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Long before the offices of the Cornish Times moved to Webb’s House on the Parade, the King of Saxony was a guest at what was then Webb’s Hotel, the finest establishment in south-east Cornwall. It was 1846. A less salubrious tale from the time features the same building: two years earlier, 20-year-old Selina Collins had been deported for seven years for prostitution. She had “accosted” Sam Hender of St. Cleer outside Webb’s dining room and stolen his watch.

This is one of forty true stories of the struggles and successes of little-known Liskeard residents, with over eighty images, which feature in a new book published by Liskeard & District Museum.

‘A Peek into Liskeard’s Past’ is a long-awaited look at life in our ancient Cornish market town, first recorded in 1000 AD, and which saw a boom in copper mining in the second half of the 19th century.

The author is Brian Oldham, Museum volunteer, current President of the Liskeard Old Cornwall Society and regular speaker, and walk leader with many local groups and societies. Heavily involved in Heritage Open Days and the preservation of ancient monuments as a regional representative of the Liskeard Archaeological Society, Brian has been interviewed on a variety of local topics on BBC’s Spotlight and Radio Cornwall. During his short stay in Liskeard – just eleven years – Brian developed a particular interest in the social side of the town’s history, particularly its changing 19th century fortunes.

Brian’s approach when compiling “peeks into the past” was to take a small snippet of information and expand it further using modern research methods. The “snippets” are diverse: the tombstone in the cemetery which tells us that the cause of death was “by the fall of a block of granite while he was watching the erection of the town hall”, or even the ‘Newspaper article relating to the respectable liberal constable of ‘Tommy’ Robartes of Lanhydrock, who spent seven days in Bodmin prison for non-payment of the school fee.

Many fine Victorian homes, inhabited by very well-to-do stalwarts of society, still exist in Liskeard, but life was not wonderful for everyone. So, in addition to the occasional mayor and lawyer, Brian wrote about the poor in the workhouse, the children working in the mines and living in squalor, the many tradesmen, and the many other servants.

The book comes highly recommended by those who have already looked at it: among them is Mayor Simon Cassidy.

“The book is well-researched, funny in parts and sad in others, but ultimately brings Liskeard to life and tells the story of its people and their daily lives,” said Cllr Cassidy.

“Brian makes history personal and brings to life those too often overlooked in today’s history books.

“His research in our museum has led to a huge source of knowledge…he is the go-to person for all things historical in Liskeard and the wider region. He is without a doubt the official unofficial historian of our city.

The author, designer and indexer are all Liskeard residents, making this a truly local publication that is sure to appeal to those with only a passing interest in social history. Currently available in The Book Shop on Barras Street and the Liskeard & District Museum on Pike Street, or online at www.lalibrairieliskeard.comthe price is £9.99, with all proceeds going to support our local museum.

Brian will be at The Book Shop on Friday, March 11 from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., with a book reading at 10:30 a.m.

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