Looking for George Henry Guy: 2

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This month’s continuation of a short series based on ancestor research follows the story of Lesley Carter and her journey to uncover more information about her great grandfather.

You can view last month’s article here.

The next day we go back down to Truro and the County Records Office for our second session to look at ‘Sancreed Board School Minutes’. Sancreed Board School was actually in the village of ‘Newbridge’ and it was ‘Newbridge’ that my mother always referred to when talking of George Henry’s school-mastering career.

It appears, reading between the lines, that all was not quite straightforward in respect of George Henry’s appointment. It starts with his predecessor, Miss S O Dunstan who, in July 1882, resigns with effect from October 27th. This leads one Mr J Quick (board member or governor or equivalent) to give notice of a motion which makes my feminist hackles rise:

‘to call attention of the Board to the question whether it would not be advisable to have a School Master instead of a School Mistress at Newbridge … To be considered at the next meeting.’

Why might it be advisable to have a School Master rather than a Mistress? Pure sexism? Or is there something else afoot?

The motion is not considered at the next meeting of August 3rd but is carried over to the meeting after that, held on August 11th at the Newbridge School Room. Why the delay? Perhaps Mr Quick is stalling for time, because he is expecting something that hasn’t appeared yet. He moves Resolution 3 which is seconded by Mr H Thomas that:

‘considering a gentleman has made an informal application for the situation of Master for Newbridge School, the appointment of School Mistress be postponed for the present and that this meeting be adjourned until Thursday 17th inst to the Board Room Penzance at 3 o’clock pm. The said Master, Mr G H Guy to be invited to be present on that occasion and in the meantime to furnish the Clerk with testimonials of ability etc.’  

Resolution 3 is carried unanimously. And on August 17th 1882 it is recorded:

‘We offer Mr G H Guy of Pendeen, St Just, the sum of £40 per annum, one half of the Government Grant and the entire amount of School Fees as salary for the office of School Master for the Newbridge School.’

My suspicious mind is thinking that it seems too much of a coincidence that Mr Quick’s idea of having a School Master instead of a School Mistress is followed, ostensibly out of the blue, by an ‘informal application’ from one Mr Guy.

Do they perhaps know each other through Methodist or family connections? There are no other candidates for the post, although this may not have been unusual. And why is it ‘Mr G H Guy of Pendeen, St Just’? I thought he was living and working in Roche. Had he left his job already and moved back to Pendeen? If so, why, without another job to go to? And hadn’t he taken quite a drop in salary?

From £70 to £40, though perhaps half as opposed to a third of Government Grant, plus ‘entire amount of school fees’ more than compensate. There are a lot of questions buzzing round my head, but I put them to one side for now and plough on through the minutes, fascinated by the everyday details of school life:

‘Nov 4th 1886 Mr G H Guy (Schoolmaster) having reported that his family have measles and asks the Board’s advice on the matter. A surgeon was consulted and gives the [illegible] opinion on the case:

“That from the 12th day after the development of measles, a further period of 10 days at least of isolation from the house in which the measles exists is absolutely necessary to prevent danger of conveying the complaint to the children at school. So that Mr Guy must not personally carry on the work of master until Monday week at the earliest and must even then absent himself from his home until a clean bill of health can be given with regard to his household.”

‘Jan 6th 1887: He can either stay away from his family or appoint a substitute. Clerk to write to the Education Dept to see if it is legal to pay the substitute.’

The measles appear to have lasted two months. Then:

‘…the clerk be instructed to call Mr Guy’s attention to the unsatisfactory nature of the Inspector’s Report on the class subject ‘Geography’ and also to the teaching of the infants.’  


‘…the clerk be instructed to write to Mr Guy asking him whether he is tired with his present situation he being frequently applying for other situations.’

Things do not appear to be looking good for George Henry. Measles, unsatisfactory inspector reports, job dissatisfaction and the Board’s apparent disapproval of it. But he struggles on, his frequent applications for other situations apparently coming to nought. And, despite compulsory education for all children up until the age of 12 having been in place for some thirteen years, he seems to have a battle on his hands with sickly pupils and feckless parents:

‘Oct 4th 1893: Several parents were summoned before the Board for not sending their children regularly to School. Various excuses were assigned by the parents. Resolved unanimously that a month’s further trial be given them in order to prove whether they will carry out their promises to send their children better in future.’

No further details of the ‘various excuses’ are offered but one can imagine that if an opportunity arose for a child to do paid work in the fields or down the mines, then this may have been difficult for parents to resist. And then the weather:

‘Jan 6th 1898: A letter received from Mr Bolitho, Newbridge, concerning the attendance of his child to the effect that he would be sending it to school as soon as the coldest and the roughest of the weather is over.’

And then more child illness:

‘Feb 3rd 1898: (meeting held at the Temperance Hotel Penzance) Mr Guy, the School Master, showed a long list of children that was absent from the School because of sickness.’  

And then (and my eye pounces on this entry, knowing what is to come) adult illness:

‘Aug 3rd 1899: Owing to the sickness of Mr Guy, Master, the Chairman of the Board under the consideration of two other members deemed it reasonable to close the school last Fri July 28th for one month’s holiday.

Sept 14th 1899: Decided to advertise for a temporary replacement for Mr Guy during his illness.

And the denouement:

‘Oct 6th 1899 …the Clerk write to Mrs Guy a letter of condolence in showing their sympathy with her in the bereavement carried by the death of Mr G H Guy and also as a token of esteem of the work of Mr Guy which was so highly appreciated.’

My great grandfather is dead. Already. On only our second day of looking for him, he is no more. It is there in black and white, in the minutes, so it must be true. But there is no time to grieve. Life and education must go on.

‘We advertise for a certificated and trained head master to fulfil the vacancy caused in the school by Mr Guy’s death on 29 September (to the deep regret of the Board) and that the advertisement to appear in 2 weeks in the ‘Schoolmaster, and also in our local papers, The Cornishman and The Cornish Telegraph.’

I can’t help inferring from the parenthesis and the previous reference to George Henry’s itchy career feet, that the Board’s ‘deep regret’ may be a little disingenuous.

On Tuesday Oct 24, 1899, Mr J. D. Thomas, one of seven applicants for the job (not a set-up this time, then) is appointed at a salary of £80 pa. And thus George Henry Guy, my great grandfather, aged 54, is consigned to pedagogical history, less than one month after his death.

George Henry’s seventeen years at Newbridge School did not appear to have been easy ones – what school teacher’s life ever is easy? But I am wondering whether, if he hadn’t died, he might have been heading for professional trouble at Newbridge. He certainly seemed to be discontented and his performance was not always judged to be up to the mark. Not to mention non-attendance due to the measles.

This was a restless man, by no means perfect, and not exactly the paragon my mother had led me to believe. And, as I am to discover later, before he went to Newbridge, before he had gone to Roche he had sailed even closer to the wind. Why and in what circumstances he then left Roche, seemingly without another job to go to, remains a mystery.

The Cornish Studies Library must be the jewel in Redruth’s crown of thorns. When I was growing up in Penzance, both Redruth and Camborne were not always referred to with great approbation.

I have a vague recollection of my mother taking me to Camborne once to buy a coat. And as a sixth-former I remember a school outing to Camborne ‘Tech’ to hear a talk on Jean Anouilh’s ‘Antigone’ and falling instantly in love with the duffle-coated, long-haired lecturer. But apart from that, my image of Camborne and Redruth is based on the way people talked about them – wet and gloomy, grey and down-at-heel places which, having no coast or beaches to offer, had failed to pick themselves up after the mining industry died.

But today we are going there, to Redruth anyway. As we come off the A30 and drive into the town my wet and dreary image is vindicated.

We get out of the car at the top of the town and get blasted by a lash of rain and a biting cold wind. This is May and it may as well be January. The main street is deserted apart from one or two bedraggled mother-and-baby groups struggling against the wind and the odd old man hunched in a pound-shop doorway. We head for the library.

D gets to work looking for references on 19th century worker education. We’ve been wondering how George Henry might have made the transition from tin miner to teacher, what sort of educational provision would there have been at the time, in Cornwall, for people like him, whether there was any ‘Oxford’ connection.

Meanwhile I wander about, not really knowing where or what to look for, but nevertheless absorbing the atmosphere. This library is more generalised in its information on Cornwall than the Records Office which is geared to individuals.

In this library there is volume after volume on people, places, events, history, geography, local government proceedings, microfilm and microfiches of newspapers, maps, photographs, drawings.

You feel you would not be able to ask for a wrong thing from these helpful, committed and no doubt modestly-paid staff; they would have it or know how to get it. It is a crucible of all things Cornish, a mine of the County’s treasures and secrets and a defiant protest against the poverty and neglect in the streets outside.

But more than that, to me, it has a homely sort of feel. I feel a strong sense of belonging as I gaze at the tattered old books, as I smell that library smell of my childhood, as I link silently with all the other people in the room, staff and nosey parkers like me.

We are bound up together, whatever our specific reasons for being there, in this ‘otherness’ of Cornwall, of being Cornish by birth or adoption, by being connected to or part of this place. This place, this almost-island has its own history and language and identity which separates it, along with the river Tamar, from the mainstream, from ‘upcountry’ where, like the past, they do things differently.

I feel as though I am part of a large family. We may not know each other personally but we feel an affinity to each other. We somehow assume that we are on each other’s side, that we can be trusted without having to earn that trust because we are bound inextricably together by the love of our common land and heritage.


Lesley grew up in Penzance but now lives in Bath. A lover of literature, she enjoys stories on landscape or place and is thinking about writing some of her own stories or memoirs on this theme.