Work on an insider’s guide to Poldark’s Cornwall is proceeding apace. A month has passed and I now have first drafts of four chapters. These are The Mine, The Cottage, The Road and The Chapel. In the meantime – a taster from The Mine.
‘pick out the hard ore by the glimmering of a small candle’
Here’s Reuben Clemow, in the first book of the Poldark saga, waiting to go to work down a mine. He’s wearing an ‘old hard hat with its candle stuck to the front by clay’. Candles would be the sole source of illumination. He’s also carrying some tools, including what’s called a ‘heavy iron jumper’ in the book. This wasn’t a cardigan, but a rod, usually called a borer, used for drilling holes in the rock. But first Reuben had to descend to his place of work. This was done by climbing down ladders from one ‘level’ of the mine to the next. These ladders weren’t all vertical by any means, lying at various angles. Care had to be taken as the ladders could be worn and slippery and rungs broken or missing. Once at his workplace, Reuben and his partner would take turns holding and twisting the borer as the other wielded a hammer to beat the borer and drill it into the rock. When it was deep enough, gunpowder was packed into the hole, the powder tamped down and a fuse set and lit. The miners retired to a safe distance and waited for the resulting explosion to bring down some ore-bearing rock. Beating the borer and removing the ore and the waste rock were the two central tasks of the underground miner. Of course, there was a lot more to it than that. Expertise in knowing which way the lode of ore was trending and experience in setting the fuses in the days before the safety fuse had been invented (by a Cornishman) were all critical.
More to come next month.