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Bodmin, Cornwall and E. A. Wallis Budge

When people read that E. A. Wallis Budge was born as the illegitimate son of a country girl in Bodin, Cornwall, in 1857 they don't necessarily know what this birthplace suggests about his background. What were Bodmin and Cornwall like? Here's a quick glance...

Cornwall is the English county most remote from London and other major British cities. Cornwall is culturally and historically associated with Celtic culture and the Cornish people, whose now-extinct Cornish language once predominated. Before its annexation by the English in the 9th century, Cornwall had been the home to such legendary or semi-historical figures as King Mark of Cornwall and King Arthur. Since 1337, the eldest son of the English monarch has been the duke of Cornwall. In more recent centuries, Cornwall was associated with smuggling and piracy along its rocky coasts.

As Britannica says, "The climate of Cornwall is closely affected by the proximity of the sea. High winds and sea mists are common; rainfall is frequent and heavy, especially on high ground. Temperatures are warm in summer and relatively mild in winter. As a result, the vegetation is luxuriant, especially in sheltered coastal areas." The economy of Cornwall has always been a rural economy based on farming, cattle grazing, and mining, particularly tin.

While now, perhaps, more popularly thought of as a holiday destination, in the middle of the 19th century Cornwall was considered by Londoners as a poverty-stricken rural backwater.

The town of Bodmin in the county of Cornwall, where Ernest Alfred Thompson Wallis Budge was born in 1857, is one of the oldest towns in Cornwall, and the only Cornish settlement recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086. Wikipedia tells us of Bodmin that "The name of the town probably derives from the Cornish 'Bod-meneghy', meaning 'dwelling of or by the sanctuary of monks.' Bodmin developed historically along with the main road to Land’s End, the westernmost point in England, so jobs in coaching inns and hotels in Bodmin were popular alternatives to farm labor or mining.

Bodmin lies next to the famous Bodmin Moor, a barren 80 square mile tract of land on which prehistoric megaliths and stone circles stand among the rocky heaths. The famous Jamaica Inn, built on Bodmin Moor in 1750, was immortalized in Daphne du Maurier's 1936 novel Jamaica Inn and was popularly associated with the activities of smugglers. The Cornish moors are familiar to many of us as the setting for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novel The Hound of the Baskervilles.

At the time of the first census in 1801 Bodmin was a little town with a population of fewer than 2,000 people. However, by 1851 it had more than doubled to over 4,300.

Ernest Budge's Cornish family was solidly of the rural laboring poor. His grandfather, Richard Budge, was listed in the 1851 census as a 44 year-old waiter at the Royal Hotel in Bodmin. His 36 year-old grandmother Jane Budge was listed as "waiter wife." Budge's uncle William was a 15 year-old "horse-keeper" and his 14 year-old mother Mary Ann was listed as a "scholar."

Thus, when Ernest Budge was born in 1857, with the name of his father blank on his birth certificate, his mother Mary Ann was the 18 year-old daughter of a waiter in a small Cornish town in a rural county far from urban life and the centers of education and learning.

In a profoundly class-conscious society in which the wealthy were still able to purchase commissions in the military, there was no system of public education, and the universities, dominated by the traditional Anglican elites, still didn't allow Catholics or Jews to take a degree, it is difficult for us to today to understand the difficulties faced by a young man born in Budge's situation.

Hi success, when compared to that of his more privileged peers, is all that much more remarkable.

[Information from Wikipedia,, Rootsweb, and Wallis Budge: Magic and Mummies in London and Cairo (Rev. Ed., 2021)]

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