Contextualising Poldark: cottage conditions

The last TV series may have veered sharply off the rails. However, re-reading the early novels of Winston Graham’s Poldark saga is a reminder of how he wove his plot around some not inaccurate historical observations.

Cornwall was a place of major change in the Poldark years from 1783 to 1820. High pressure steam engines and deep copper mining heralded an economic revolution. Proliferating Methodist chapels and two mass revivals cemented a religious revolution. Growing dissatisfaction with ‘old corruption’ and boroughmongers hinted at a political revolution. The decline of some traditional pastimes and moralistic attacks on idle pursuits was evidence of a social revolution.

Meanwhile, an ongoing war between smuggling gangs and revenue men simmered in the background, crowds periodically erupted into food rioting, wrestling tournaments attracted large numbers, upper class men regularly drank themselves under the table.

I now have first drafts finished for six of the nine chapters of my ‘Insider’s Guide to Poldark’s Cornwall’. Since the last update at the beginning of August I’ve added chapters on The Sea and The Crowd. Here’s a flavour from Chapter 2: The Cottage.

At the end of our period Clement Carlyon, a Truro doctor, memorably described the cottages of the mining districts: ‘wretchedly built and damp and dirty in the extreme. At their doors may be seen the usual mud-pools, which in winter overflow and render the approach to these inconvenient, whilst in summer these semi-fluid accumulations of putrid slime continue to exhale offensive and deleterious miasmata from their dark green surfaces’. This wasn’t just the case in the mining districts …

Three more chapters to write and then some major revisions and additions to make.

Housing at Bude in 1880

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