Celia Fiennes journeyed through Cornwall on horseback in 1698. In her journal she provided brief accounts of some of the towns she saw.
Having endured an hour-long crossing of the Tamar on the Cremyll ferry, she took the southern route to the west. She seems to have been most impressed, and a little scared, by the ‘very steep, stony hills’. Descending one she came to Looe, ‘a pretty big seaport, a great many houses all of stone’.
Fowey turned out to be a ‘narrow stony town, the streets very close’, while St Austell was a ‘little market town’ with ‘houses … like barns up to the top of the house’. The town had ‘very neat country women’, one of whom introduced Celia to clotted cream. She wasn’t so pleased however by the ‘universal smoking, both men, women and children have all their pipes of tobacco in their mouths and so sit around the fire smoking.’
Staying at the Boscawens’ house at Tregothnan, Celia decided to turn back ‘for fear of the rains that fell in the night’. However, at St Columb she changed her mind as the weather improved and headed back west on the main road. This was ‘mostly over heath and downs which was very bleak and full of mines’. She found Redruth to be ‘a little market town where on market day ‘you see a great number of horses little of size which they call Cornish Goonhillies’.
Celia continued to Penzance, noting on the way that ‘the people here are very ill guides, and know but little from home, only to some market town they frequent’. Marazion was a ‘little market town’. Penzance looked ‘snug and warm’ with a ‘good quay and a good harbour’. A visit to Land’s End followed, where she met with ‘very good bottled ale’. She commented that the cottages were ‘clean and plastered’ inside, despite looking like barns from the outside, as in Scotland.
Returning eastwards, Celia went via Truro – ‘a pretty little town and seaport … built of stone, a good pretty church’. But Truro had seen better days and was in parts ‘a ruinated disregarded place’. Leaving Truro, she travelled east via St Columb and Camelford, ‘a little market town [with] very indifferent accommodation’.
The final town on her itinerary was Launceston, ‘the chief town in Cornwall, ‘encompassed with walls and gates ‘and ‘pretty large’, although most of the place was ‘old houses of timber work’.
Interestingly, despite travelling as far as the Land’s End, she made no mention of the Cornish language.
4 thoughts on “Cornish towns in 1698”
I would love to know the source of this account (and similar from early 1700s if there are any)
Hi Cathy. It’s from The Illustrated Journeys of Celia Fiennes 1685-c.1712, ed. by Christopher Morris, 1995. A fascinating book.
Hi Bernard, Love your bits and pieces and look forward to them. Some time ago I put together a list of on-line books for the oldcornwall site. This included a copy of Mathews book on the History of St Ives etc. I noticed someone quoted it on the Institutes site, so this may help. You will find it on the Parishes page.
Keep up the good work
Kind regards George Pritchard
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Once again absence of proof is not proof of absence. The attitudes of the Anglo-gentry of Cornwall are well known, as is their hatred for our language and culture, and they would have unconsciously imparted it on their guest even if she did not already carry it with her. Carew had slated our language and so she, as English gentry, may have considered any mention of it beneath her.