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The Hammers of Towan: a 19th Century Cornish Family

If all history is local, then perhaps much of local history is family history. In "The Hammers of Towan: A Nineteenth-Century Cornish Family", Sue Appleby recounts the story of a 19th century family – and a vanished world – that is simultaneously a microcosm of a Cornwall caught up in the tumultuous flux of industrialism, emigration, and social change, and an intensely personal account of family solidarity and conflict.


Centered around the life of Appleby’s great-grandfather Philip Henry Hammer, his three wives, and their children, The Hammers of Towan presents the life and times of a Cornish tenant farmer, the tradition of Cornwall’s mining industry, the dispersal of Cornish workers to such remote locales as Tasmania and South Africa as the local economy declined, and such universal domestic topics as marriage, children, remarriage–and their attendant pleasures and tensions.


The product of extensive research in published and unpublished sources, and family stories and photographs, The Hammers of Towan is also a sensitive and well-crafted narrative that sheds light on broad historical trends without forgetting the humanity of its protagonists. Complemented by handsome black-and-white line illustrations by Deborah Eckert, this book will be a welcome addition to the libraries of family and local historians, genealogists, students of 19th and early 20th century social and economic developments, and anyone interested in the universal family experience.

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What people are saying ...

"I've just finished reading your book! I really enjoyed it and it gave me some insight of Cornish life of that time. I enjoyed reading about the traditions, the corn, the people dressing up in costume roaming the streets during festivals. Great little book." - Greg Jones, August 15, 2021.

"In this closely observed and carefully crafted story of the Hammer family in nineteenth-century Cornwall, Sue Appleby  explores the life of a Cornish tenant farmer, his wives, and offspring. Drawing upon the rich material of her own family history, she investigates the varying fortunes of her great-grandfather, Philip Hammer of Towan Farm, Porthpean, near St Austell, and in so doing brings alive the social history of nineteenth-century Cornwall – including the extraordinary Cornish diaspora which scattered Philip’s sons and daughters as far afield as Australia and South Africa. The tale of one family, it is also the story of Cornwall itself. Sue tells it with passion and penetrating insight – an important addition to our understanding of Cornwall’s fascinating world-wide heritage." - Professor Philip Payton, Professor of History at Flinders University, South Australia and Emeritus Professor of Cornish & Australian Studies at the University of Exeter, May 2021

"You really have an interesting family to write about as an introduction to Cornwall and its heritage. I wish I’d had a copy in Cornwall when I stayed just along the cliff from Charlestown. I do hope the Hammers continue to become well known and Cornwall’s social history is fascinating." -  Irene Robinson in an email to the author, June 29, 2021

"Glad to been given a copy... Family history. Amazing stuff... Thank you for the delightful book."  -  Mark James Kemp, January 9, 2016



"I could sense the fragrance of my Cornish mother's pasties as I read through Sue Appleby's remarkable journey through her family history. Indeed one Cornish story is all our stories as Sue's brilliantly researched and detailed history of The Hammers of Towan tracks us through the mining, farming and fishing heydays of early 19th century Cornwall before the heartbreaking decline later in the century prompting waves of migration - in the case of some of the Hammers - to Australia and South Africa as well as "up country" to different areas of Britain. When copper and tin prices fell worldwide and cheaper sources were discovered in the British Commonwealth as well as the Far East and North & South America, "Cousin Jack" hard rock miners were sought widely for their expertise. Even though the Cornish inventions of the steam engine and hydraulic drilling equipment played vital roles in the Industrial Revolution, Cornish miners sought their fortunes - or raw survival - in far flung corners of the world. Appleby's great-grandfather Philip Henry Hammer was, however, a successful farmer who was married 3 times and had a flurry of children and Sue has the gift of bringing them alive for us against a backdrop of historic detail. Sue Appleby's family disapora touches us all, and I long for a sequel to this work to bring us closer to her mother's journey and indeed her own journey to Antigua."  -  sulis on, April 13, 2015



"Based around the life and times of  Philip Henry HAMMER (1834-1904) of Charlestown, this is a tale of fortune found in the Ballarat gold rush and the subsequent elevation of a miner into a tenant farmer and miller on his return to Cornwall. There is a brief history of the growth of Charlestown as a port and a description of farm life on Towan Farm in the mid 19th century. The text is supplemented by family photographs, sketches and abstracts from historical documents. The book is an easy, informative read and provides not only details of the Hammer family but also an insight into the social and economic factors of the period, which in due course influence the lives of the Hammer children."  -  Colin Trebilcock in the Cornwall Family History Society Journal, No. 153, September 2014, p.16.



"The Story of my FamilyThe Hammers of Towan tells the story of a part of my family that I knew little about - it helped me place them in Cornwall and allowed me to imagine the type of life they had. A must for any member of the Hammer family and also for those who want to learn about life in rural Cornwall. Thank you Sue for all your hard work and dedication and congratulations of achieving the publication of your work." -  Hawksby on, August 27, 2014



"The Hammers of Towan is a book that is simultaneously an account of a Cornwall family's history during the nineteenth century and also a window unto the social and economic circumstances and developments of Britain for the same period. The book gives insight as to how at the human level, Britain's industrial and imperial expansion affected rural communities and families by influencing the change of prevalence from extended to nuclear family organisation, of average family size, of occupational pursuits away from mining and farming and correspondingly, relocation to far flung places of the Empire like Australia and southern Africa and to the cities of Britain. As you follow the course of the lives of Philip Henry Hammer, his wife Jane Opie Hammer, their progeny, intimates and acquaintances from 1834 to the dawn of the twentieth century, the subtext of a swiftly changing Britain is evident although the author makes great effort to highlight the mode of traditional rural Cornwall life based as it then was in agriculture and mining. If I could be granted one wish, it would be to learn more about the children of Philip Henry Hammer and his third wife Emily Jane Brokenshire." -  Richard B. Lai Choy on, August 5, 2014



"An interesting family history, telling how several generations of the Hammers adapted to the economic changes of their times in Cornwall."  -  RobW74 on, July 21, 2014



"I haven't read it all yet, but it is looking good and is giving us a great deal of background information. Really good!"

-  Katherine on, July 17, 2014



"The Hammers of Towan is a delightful and interesting account of the family and of mining in Cornwall in the 19th century.  

I was so interested to read about the construction of Charlestown Harbour, as my husband and I spent our honeymoon in Charlestown sixty three years ago.  We stayed at the Pier Hotel, which overlooks the harbour, and used to watch the loading of the china clay into the boats moored up to the quay.  I really admired the courage of the family who travelled to Australia, Tasmania and South Africa in what must have been harsh times.  I was sorry when I had finished reading this book...  Well done Sue !"  -  Audrey Betts, April 24, 2014    



"Very Captivating ! Sue Appleby tells the account of the Hammer family in a way that draws the reader in, making him/her feel like a part of Cornwall during that time. The details that Appleby provides about the Hammer family is impressive, and the book directly (or indirectly) provides insight into Cornwall's role in the Industrial Revolution, which I really enjoyed. This is a story about a family and Cornwall and its history, told with both enthusiasm and passion that is very hard to miss. The extensive research undertaken undoubtedly adds to the details of the Hammer family and their travels to countries such as South Africa.and Australia. I enjoyed this book. I especially enjoyed the writing style that just completely drew me in to the Hammer family, Cornwall, and its history. "  -  Sheryl A. Stephen on, April 18, 2014



"A wonderful insight in 19th and early 20th Century Cornwall.  I can only endorse Professor Philip Payton's description of this little book. It is  well researched, well written and contains many interesting insights into Cornish life in the 19th Century. The history of the Hammer family itself was fascinating ... even for someone with no connection with the family, but the descriptions and information contained therein would be very useful to any local historian studying that period. I thoroughly enjoyed it!" - Michael Inglefield on, March 28, 2014






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