Cornwall and the Scilly Islands; The Banfields

This post concerns the ancestors of my mother, Anne Banfield Wren. Her family came from to the US in 1924 from England, by way of Canada. Most of her ancestors were born and lived in Cornwall, including a very special part of Cornwall called the Scilly Islands, a group of islands just off the tip of Land’s End. Scilly has been inhabited since before the Romans, when those mysterious folks called the megalith builders left traces (cairns) that still exist.  The Romans and others visited the islands to mine tin, possibly settling as well, and there are speculations that Scilly was connected to the mythic Lyonesse, and also that it was the secret Cassaterides of the Phonecians . “Modern” history in the islands starts with Queen Elizabeth, who granted the islands to Sir  William Godolphin, whose family governed the islands through the next three generations. Charles II, fleeing the roundheads after the Battle of Bodmin, hid out on the islands for six weeks prior to leaving for France in 1646. Cromwell then determined to subdue the place, and sent troops and built a tower (picture to the left) that still stands.

The members of my family who were Scillonians came to the islands some time in the 17th or 18th centuries. Although I can’t determine when they arrived, there is fairly reliable data that shows that the Banfields have a link back to Ursula Godolphin (great grand-daughter of Sir William) through the Crudge family. The Banfield name apparently comes from Somerset. Other families (Edwards, Mumfords, Crudges) married and re-married in a very “complex” way over the years leading up to the period that I actually have data for, starting around 1850 or so. At that time, the Banfields were farming at Holy Vale, and the Edwards were farming at Trenoweth. My great grandfather, a Uren from Penzance and son of JG Uren, married an Edwards (Ethel by name) and left England to lay telegraph cables in the Far East. His first child Jack was my mother’s father.

Later posts will describe several of these players, including JG Uren, the august personage in the center above, and his sons Charles and George Gilbert. The graphic below shows how the Uren, Banfield, and Edwards families fit together.

I visited Cornwall and Scilly with my mother and sister when I was 12. At that time, several of my mother’s Banfield aunts, uncles and cousins were still alive. Her uncle Alec and wife Elsie lived in Looe, an impossibly picturesque village on the southern Cornish coast. Her uncle Jack owned a large pig farm outside of Redruth. And her cousin Roger owned the family home at Holy Vale, on St Mary’s in Scilly, and operated it as a guest house. Alec and Elsie had a small car, and we spent our time with them driving around Cornwall and Devon, memorably to St Ives, and to the “actual” Jamaica Inn in Devon.

The picture to the right shows Holy Vale and various Banfields in the early 1900s, but does not include a formidable woman named Ellen Harvey (Farquharson) Banfield. She was remembered as tiny but tough, like her grand-daughter Anne, my mother. I have tried everything to find out how the Farquharsons got to Scilly from Scotland, but no luck. The other picture below shows Ellen’s husband Alex Banfield with the Duke of Windsor (and future Edward VIII) who was visiting Holy Vale circa 1910.

JG Uren, author of “Scilly and the Scillonians”, and described in another post, mentions the Banfields and Holy Vale, as well as the Edwards of Trenoweth, as prominent farmers. Both had cashed in on the boom in flower farming to satisfy the London markets. Ethel Edwards of Trenoweth is my great grandmother, having married GG Uren, also described in another post. In Scilly we met Jack Edwards, Ethel’s brother, who was still farming. Alas, time marches on, and today others own Holy Vale and Trenoweth.

A cousin of mine, Roger, has documented the Banfield diaspora at this location. There are lots of other resources if you’re interested in Scilly. A great starting point is the Isles of Scilly Museum.

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