Richard Sargent of ‘Ridgelake Cottage’ South Petherwin

I was born in Liverpool in 1948. I never knew my mother’s or indeed, my father’s parents, as they had all passed before I was born, and neither my mother nor my father talked about them much.  

All I knew of my mother’s side was that her mother was from Lancashire and her maiden name was Annie Moss. All I knew of her father was that he was from Cornwall, a soldier, and his name was Richard Sargent. 

After some research on Ancestry.co.uk,  I found that the Sargent side of the family came from the village of South Petherwin and they lived in a cottage called Ridgelake, North Hill, for most (if not all) of the 1800s. However, by 1903, all of my South Petherwin ancestors had either passed or had left the area to make lives elsewhere. Ridgelake Cottage itself disappeared from Census records after 1901.  What happened to it I wonder.

My grandfather Richard was born to Elizabeth Sargent on 15th June 1868. His birth certificate shows the address where born as ‘Ridgelake’. The Birth Certificate also states ‘Father unknown’. Why my grandfather eventually ended up living in Liverpool is a mystery, but he seems to have had an interesting life.

Many of the Sargents worked as agricultural labourers at Penfoot Farm and Richard is shown in the 1881 census as being the Grandson of John and Sarah Sargent (nee Pearse), and also working at Penfoot as an agricultural labourer. He was 12 years old at this time.

At 15, he leaves South Petherwin and is engaged as an apprentice ‘shoeing smith’ at his Uncle James’s Smithy in Trebullett. Richard is there for four years, but for some reason – and as soon as his apprenticeship finishes in 1887 – he decides to join the Royal Artillery (RA) in Devonport. His ‘joining documents’ state that he was; Aged 19 years and 9 months; Height 5’ 7 1/2”; Weight 140 1/2 lbs; Complexion: Fresh; Eyes: Hazel and Religion; Wesleyan. 

I have no idea why he decided to join the RA, but my initial thoughts were that as artillery guns were generally horse-drawn, the Regiment would likely be in need of shoeing smiths. However, the branch he joined was known as the Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA) and as such, the guns would have been stationary, with no need for horses, or indeed smiths.

Richard spends most of his first year at Devonport before embarking on a ship bound for India. He doesn’t come back to the UK for another 15 years.

Things seem to go very well in India and in 1891, Richard is put on the ‘Unattached List’ and Promoted, first to Bombardier, and then Sergeant. (The term ‘Unattached List’ refers to those British Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) who were seconded from their regiments to do duty with the Indian Army, mainly in an administrative capacity). In Richard’s case, he was probably involved with ‘Ordinance’. 

In 1899 he completed 12 years service and promptly re-joined for another 5. However, in early 1902, the RGA seems to go through some reorganisation and in December of that year, Richard finds himself back at Devonport, and things for him start to go downhill. 

Over the Christmas/New Year period of 1904/5, he spent 10 days in hospital suffering from ‘alcoholism’ and was swiftly punished for ‘misconduct’. He loses his stripes and reverts back to Gunner. In August 1907, he’s further reduced to Gunner Class 2. Things don’t seem to be good for him.

By March 1908, his 21 years in the RGA came to an end and he’s discharged as a Gunner, with ‘Very Good Character’ and seemingly, back on an even keel. Records show that his forwarding address was stated as Lifton, in Devon (by this time, his mother Elizabeth had married John Downing Wise, a Lifton shoemaker).

Richard leaves the army with a pension of £130.00 per annum – equivalent to £12,340 in today’s money.

He doesn’t stay long in Lifton, and in October 1909 he married my grandmother Annie Moss in Liverpool. The marriage certificate states that his occupation was Blacksmith and his Father’s name was John Sargent  (this is the only record I have of Richard’s Father’s name, and I still don’t know anything else about him apart from his occupation which is recorded as ‘Farmer’).

Between 1911 and 1914, Richard worked in Liverpool as a Docker and then a Clerk and he and Annie had four children during this period.

Being an army ‘Reservist’, Richard gets called up to The Royal Garrison Artillery at the start of  WW1 in 1914 and is transferred to Fort Rowner in Southampton for initial refresher training. From here, he’s posted to Culver Battery on The Isle of Wight, where he becomes a member of the crew that operates one of the Batteries’ two 9” guns. The primary purpose of these guns was to defend the Island’s torpedo boat anchorage from any long-range fire from enemy cruisers.                                 

Richard was stationed at Culver for the duration of the war.  He was demobbed back into civilian life on 10th July 1919 and returned to his life in Liverpool.

Only three of my Grandparents’ six children survive into adulthood: my mother, my Uncle Richard, and my Aunt Emily, and after this time, I have no further information about my Grandfather apart from the date he passed, which was 19th April 1928, aged 50.

In May this year, my wife and I drove through South Petherwin on the way back from a week’s holiday near Bodmin. Our intention was to ‘walk the village’ and discover a little more about where my ancestors came from. Unfortunately, the weather was very bad, so we decided (after a short stop by the school), it would be better to push on home to Warrington. 

As we knew that the Sargent family were of the Wesleyan religion, we had a quick walk through the Wesleyan Chapel Cemetery before we left. There, we discovered the headstone of another two of my ancestors; my Great Uncle Richard and my Great Aunt Grace Sargent. They were the last occupants of Ridgelake Cottage (unless someone out there knows different?).

I wonder if any other Sargents are buried in that Cemetery?

We will be back.

Robert Colquhoun